“What kind of kayak should I get?” I get asked that question at least once a week by someone who is looking to get into the sport. I always answer this question with a question of my own, “What are you going to use it for?” Most of the time, I get the same reply “For kayaking,” and more often than not the answer is coupled with a slightly confused facial expression because they don’t understand the context of my question. Why is this? Because there is no general catch all answer when selecting a boat. Aside from the people who are looking for something for a specific purpose like multi-day touring or ocean kayaking, most people want something that can do multiple things. They want a boat they can paddle on a lake, but maybe they might want to try fishing out of it, and maybe there is a river near them that they have always wanted to explore and so on and so on. For most people most of the time, I recommend a recreational kayak. Why, because they are versatile boats and more often than not, offer the most capability.
Recreational Kayaks are by far the most purchased kayak on the market today. They are great boats for what they are designed to do which is to get you out on the water and have fun. They are used by everyone from vacation paddlers to fisherman and fill a gap that many years ago was empty. Generally, they are stable, have larger weight capacities than other type kayaks of their size and come with great features that beginner and intermediate paddlers can appreciate like dry storage compartments, paddle holders, rod holders and adjustable seats. Companies like Ocean Kayak/ Old Town, Perception/ Wilderness Systems and others have done a great job offering quality boats that are designed for recreational purposes, but there was a trade off. To get that stability and capacity, sacrifices were made in speed, tracking and lighter weights when compared to other performance oriented boats. Yes, there are some manufacturers who are making recreational boats with great hull designs that are narrowing that gap, but they are still not there yet and the price of those boats puts them out of reach for some.
The next question is “should I get a “sit-in” (SINK) or “sit-on” (SOT)?” Most will say that is a personal preference, and for the most part, it is as long as you take the following things into consideration.
Where you live: Do you live in a warm or a cold environment. If you are in Florida where for the most part it’s never cold, it’s not that much of an issue, but if you are in Washington or other northern states, it is. Especially if you plan to paddle in the colder months and the water you paddle has a tendency to become choppy. Generally, you will stay drier and possibly warmer in a SINK than a SOT, but that does not matter to some. I am not in any way saying if you live in a colder area that you should stick with a SINK, because many people use SOT’s in cold environments with the right equipment and gear and are very happy, but this is something to consider when making that decision between the two.
Where you are paddling: If you are paddling or fishing flat water, it does not make much of a difference, but if you have aspirations to take it fishing in the surf, off shore or in open water it does. I have seen people fishing in SINKS 1/4 to 1/2 mile off shore on very calm days and they did fine, but once the water became choppy, they began to take on water and spent just as much time pumping out their boat as they did fishing. SOTs are self bailing so that is not an issue. If your plans include any type of white water even class 2, though there are some who will paddle in a SOT, it is generally better and safer to be in a SINK.
Entry/Re-ntry and Exit: All of your journeys are going to begin and end with getting in and out of your boat. Many a kayaker from the novice to the expert has at one time or another flipped his boat while doing this. It happens to everyone, so know that going in. The more times you enter and exit, the less it happens, but it will happen. For the beginner, a SOT looks like it would be easier to enter and exit from, but now SINKs like the Old Town Vapor, Hurricane Sport
and others are being made with very large cockpit openings almost making ease of entry a mute point. If you plan to enter and exit your boat while out on the water, which I frequently do while fishing in waist deep water, it is easier to do this from a SOT, but with practice, you can still do it in a SINK. Still, it will be a matter of comfort and preference.
The last question I usually get is “How big of a boat should I get?” In my opinion, and the advice that I usually offer is once you have identified the boat style and design that will work for you and your type of paddling, get the longest boat you can taking the following things into consideration.
Can you handle this boat by yourself? We all have to load and unload our boats. Unless you store your kayak at the waters edge, we all have to transport them. If you have someone with you when you paddle, this is usually not a problem but if you are by yourself, it can be. If you plan to paddle by yourself, these are the considerations. Can you load and unload the boat from your car/truck/trailer by yourself? If you can’t, chances are you won’t be using it very much. Can you get it from the car/truck/trailer to the water and back by yourself? Most of us when moving heavier boats use a kayak cart and they do a great job, but I have seen many times a person loading a boat that was too heavy for them to handle onto a cart only to have it fall off because they could not get it centered and damaged their hull. If you are going to paddle alone, get a boat you can handle.
Is the length of the boat going to limit my use? I know this sounds like a silly question but I think it is relevant. The longer the boat, generally the faster it will be, you will get more storage, better tracking etc., etc. But, for that added speed, you give up maneuverability. How much maneuverability will you need for your intended use? Rudders can help with turning, but in some situations they don’t matter. For example, years ago, a friend and I were paddling 16 foot boats on a lake in Louisiana that bordered a cypress swamp. The dark shadows and calm water of the swamp looked inviting so we decided to paddle into it. All went well for the first hundred yards or so until we realized we couldn’t turn or maneuver through the trees and we couldn’t turn around. Because of the trees being so close together and our boats so long, we could only travel forward or backward. It was kind of like trying to turn your car around inside your garage with the door closed. We ended up having to paddle backwards out of the swamp hitting a lot of obstacles along the way. Had we been in 10 or even 12 foot boats, we probably would not have had a problem. So consider where you will be taking your boat when making the decision on length.
If the world was a perfect world, we would all have a fleet of yaks for each and every purpose we desired but unfortunately, most of us can’t do that. We choose one boat with hopes that it accommodates all of our needs or at least most of them. Taking all of the things listed above into consideration will help you with that choice and ensure that you get the kayak that best suits your intended uses and will be a joy for you to paddle for years to come.
Find your Headwaters,