There are many different ways to get out on the Bay. We invite you to learn about the most common human-powered boats and boards.


Canoes are open-hulledboats about 12 to 19-feet long. Paddlers use single-blade paddles and face the direction of travel. A canoe is better suited for protected waters such as sloughs and creeks than the open Bay.

Dragon boat

The roots of dragon boat racing go back over 2,000 years to the southern provinces of China. The modern dragon boat is open-hulled and 40-feet long, and holds 20 paddlers (sitting side by side facing the bow or the direction of travel), a drummer who sets the cadence, and a person who controls the direction of the boat. Dragon boats are involved in many races and festivals, and some designs are stable enough for the open waters of the Bay.


Kayaks are small, relatively narrow, close hulled, and use a double-bladed paddle. There are many different styles of kayaks, with the sea kayak being a popular type found on the Bay. Kayaks are well suited for touring and many have space for equipment for overnight excursions.

Kayaking, San Francisco Waterfront


Kiteboarding or kitesurfing is an adventurous sport where an individual is attached to a large maneuverable kite via a harness that propels the rider and a board across the water. Fans of this sport consider the Bay Area a world-class destination for kiteboarding. Baywinds Park and Crissy Field are good locations to see this sport in action.

Kiteboarders, Baywinds Park

Outrigger canoe

The outrigger canoe is closely tied to Polynesian culture, where it is believed that the outrigger canoe was developed. There are many variations of outrigger canoes types, but an open-hulled one that seats six paddlers is popular. The outrigger canoe is very stable because of the outrigger, is well suited to the Bay’s open waters, and is popular for racing.

People in outrigger canoe, with Golden Gate in background

Outrigger Canoers, photo provided by Jennifer Villamin


A rowboat is a wide, heavy boat that is usually rowed by one person. It is well suited to touring since it is stable and there is space for equipment. It is often used to get to shore from a larger boat moored offshore.


The shells used in rowing are very narrow and long and generally hold one, two, four, or eight rowers. The oars are held in place, usually with an oarlock. There are two types of rowing: sweeping where every rower has one oar; and sculling where every rower has two oars. Rowers face the back (stern) of the boat and there is often a coxswain who helps steer and guide the boat. Rowing is generally done in calmer waters.

Stand up paddleboard

Stand up paddleboarding (SUP’ing) has its origin in the Hawaiian Islands. It consists of a board and paddle and is a fast growing sport. SUP’ing is versatile and suitable for touring, racing, and surfing and a wide range of athletic types. Several outfitters in the Bay Area offer SUP yoga and pilates lessons.

Surf Ski

A surf ski is a long, narrow, lightweight kayak with an open (sit-on-top) cockpit, usually with a foot pedal-controlled rudder. A surf ski (with an experienced paddler) is a very effective craft for paddling in big surf. Its narrowness and length helps it cut or punch through large broken waves. Surf skis are extremely fast and are often used in competitions.


Whaleboats, or “Monomoys” were used in life-saving rescues and whaling for most of the 20th century. These open-water boats weigh about one ton and carry a crew of ten: eight rowers, a coxswain, and a bowhook. Team racing and touring is popular, and whaleboats are very stable.


Windsurfing combines elements of surfing and sailing. There is a long board, usually six – ten feet long, powered by wind on a sail. Bay conditions are well suited to windsurfing and many fans consider the Bay Area the best place on the West Coast for boardsailing.