To many the idea of cruising conjurors up swanky boats with all the amenities and comforts of home but for a totally different experience it is worth considering cruising in a kayak or canoe. The best way that I can think or describing this to someone who has never tried it is to think of back packing on water. I first started kayak cruising when I was in junior high school, each summer a couple of the teachers would organize a one week trip down the river Thames in England and over the course of 5 days we would cover some 70 miles stopping each night at a rustic camp ground staying the night and then moving on down the river to the next stop. I remember thinking how magical the whole experience was, carrying everything that we needed in our kayaks, being completely self sufficient yet having a grand old time. I enjoyed every minute of it and have done at least one trip every year since.
The first timer is likely to have a lot of questions not least where and when to go and what will I need. The best advice I can give is to start gently and as you gain confidence, skill and experience you can progress to longer and more difficult trips. For a first trip is is best to limit the distance that you have to travel by kayak and the easiest way is to do an out and back cruise over a weekend. It is hard to give specific advice as to where exactly to go and this will depend to some extent on your local waters. The ideal is a secure place to park your vehicle and off load your kayak or canoe then paddle some three or four miles to the camp ground, stay overnight and then paddle back the next day. Study guide books and maps of your local area, ask other paddlers or the local canoe and kayak in your area for advice and plan it out. This may seem daunting at first but after a while planning out a trip will become easier and you will have a pleasant time deciding where to go next. There are some long distance trails in North America for more experienced paddlers which are only accessible by canoe or kayak; going through spectacular scenery these truly do offer a get away from it all experience that you will never forget.
Because you will be carrying your gear with you the sit on top style or recreational kayaks are not really suitable. The ideal is a either a decked kayak that you sit in rather than on or traditional open style canoe. I can't say one is better than the other as it depends to some extent on whether you prefer a canoe or kayak and the type waters that you will be paddling on. Here size does matter although for your first short trips you can get by with what you have. As skills progress a longer, lighter and sleeker craft will makes things more pleasurable as they slip through the water with greater ease. A short stubby boat is hard to push along and will increase your fatigue levels. In addition to the boat you will also need a tent, sleeping bag and other camping essentials for staying overnight. Because you can typically carry more in a canoe or kayak than you can in a rucksack there is a tendency take too much. Lighter is better because although you will not be carrying it on your back you will have to push it through the water and a heavier canoe will make you tired faster.
Safety is important and if at all possible go with a group. We have a saying in my club 'less than three there should never be'. That way if one person gets injured or incapacitated in some way one person can stay with them while the third goes for help. Don't forget to wear your PFD and take warm clothes and a lightweight but waterproof jacket even if the weather looks good. Hypothermia can be a real danger especially early and late in the season. Finally consider joining the American canoe association where you will find lots of information on their website about paddle sports, local clubs in your area and courses to improve your skills. For inspiration read any of the beautiful books by the Late Bill Mason, I especially recommend ' The Song of the Paddle' which is available from online booksellers for less than $20. Another good introduction is
American National Red Cross. Canoeing. ISBN 0-385-08313
Finally as a note if you are watching the embedded video at work it is over an hour and half long!