Bob, you would definitely sacrifice a lot of quality and features that you get with a normal video camera, but for many people's needs and desires it would probably be a perfectly adequate solution.
Here's a small bit of help - at least my opinion. I looked around about a year ago and ended up with an HV30.
High or standard definition: You've got to decide this first. HD is the future, it's no longer cutting edge, and there are affordable options. I'd go HD.
Format: I think the best choice right now and the choice of the future is flash memory camcorders. The image quality now is actually exceeding the HDV (miniDV) camcorders. Hard drives have moving parts and are either not, or not easily removable and therefore less desirable than flash. Another tape downside kayaking is I've had my camera shut down on me due to moisture - twice I think, once in a tropical jungle when it was raining and another time in Colorado when it was raining.
There are a few caveats: solid state uses an AVCHD codec which requires significantly more horsepower from your computer to edit. For me this was a strike because my computer was about the minimum recommended by most people and I didn't want to buy a new computer. miniDVs use HDV which requires less processing when editing. The other reasons I went miniDV was because I have old tapes from a lost camcorder that I wanted to be able to play and the cost is (at least was) significantly less for the camcorder itself (for stance, at the time, this was a way for me to get the IQ & features I wanted for sub $600, vs. closer to 800-1000 for a flash roughly equivalent). Also miniDVs are considered a reliable long term storage mechanism. However, digital storage is getting better and cheaper.
So I would go flash memory if you can find the right price point and it doesn't force you into a new computer that you don't want to buy.
Sensors: For the price point you're looking at, you'll probably only find 1 sensor (I think they're all using CMOS now), except (maybe?) 3 from Panasonic. Usually means worse performance in lower light because they're smaller than 1 large one. This probably isn't a major factor either way.
The other thing you get w/ Canon that I don't think (could be wrong) anyone else is offering at the sub 1k price point is 24p and 30p modes in addition to 60i. If you don't think you'll use it, it's irrelevant, but you can get a pretty cool look using the 24p - video samples abound.
Other considerations: I wanted to use my camera for some interviews so I ruled out anything that didn't have an external microphone. For kayaking I don't think the mic is too important (unless you really like high quality white noise), but if you care about getting good audio it's a deal breaker. Unfortunately lots of lower end cameras don't have the external mic option. Optical image stabilization is a big big plus on a camcorder because the shakier the footage is, the more unwatchable. It was a must have for me. Some manual controls like focus, shutter speed, aperture, etc. are nice, but 99% of the time I use the automatic settings.
As for models I'm not much help - they change too much. Sony, Canon, and Panasonic all seem to have really good reputations in the camcorder industry. I recall Samsung was putting out a well rated camcorder that was relatively inexpensive with great video quality, flash, but I think I nixed it for lack of a microphone jack.