A relaxing day on the water, a warm breeze rolling by and some incredible scenery you could never see on two feet—those are just some of the simple joys that come with kayaking and a few of the many reasons you should give it a try. Before you buy a sit-on-top kayak (or any kayak, for that matter), you should take stock of where and how you plan to do most of your paddling. Most kayaks can be used for a variety of activities, but understand that no one kayak excels at every activity. Choosing a boat means mulling over a long list of characteristics and compromises. Be wary of anyone who tells you about the “best” kayak overall, there is none.
There are, however, a few guidelines to help you decide which boat is best for you:
Length, Width, Speed
Length and width affect speed and maneuverability. When it comes to speed, it’s all about surface area. A long, thin line allows paddlers to slice through the water quickly which is a real advantage if you plan on touring, but a drawback on twisty rivers. A 17 foot-long kayak will go much faster than a 9 foot-long kayak, but a 9 foot-long kayak will turn easier than a 17 foot-long kayak. A narrow kayak is faster than a wide one, but wide kayaks tend to be more stable (depending on hull shape).
Hull Shape Affect Performance
Depending somewhat on width, flat or smooth-bottomed kayaks (U-shaped) have more secondary stability, while keeled kayaks (V-shaped) have more primary stability. U-shapes may feel tippier at first, but stay stable in moving water (rivers, surf, etc.) while V-shapes feel most stable in flat water. The tri-form hull of most sit-on-tops combines both primary and secondary stability with a long center keel to keep you going straight, and two “shoulders” that act like sponsons for secondary stability. This tri-form hull generally sacrifices a little speed, but adds a lot of stability (which is great for cross-over sports like fishing or diving).
V-shapes encourage a boat to go straight (good for touring), and smooth bottoms encourage a boat to spin (good for surfing, kayak polo, or river running). Whether or not a kayak goes straight is referred to as “tracking.” You’ll want a kayak with good tracking to cover distance on flat water, but you’ll want less in whitewater. Chances are, for recreational paddling, you’ll want a kayak with a keel (some kind of V-shape on the bottom), so you can travel more efficiently. If you expect to spend equal time on flat and moving water, consider buying a short kayak with a keel (it’s all a continuum, remember). “Rocker” is another term used to describe hull shape. Think of the keel as something you’d notice on a kayak cut in half. Rocker is most noticeable on a kayak cut cross-ways. A kayak with a lot of rocker would look like a “U” in a cross-ways view. A kayak with little rocker would look like a line. Keeping in mind the idea of surface area and water displacement, you’ll want a lot of rocker (one round point touching the water) for maneuverability, and you’ll want very little rocker (a long, thin line of points touching the water) for touring.
Single or Tandem
Do you plan to paddle solo or tandem? This is one of the most basic questions you’ll have to answer. While one person can paddle a tandem alone, it requires sitting in the rear of the kayak while ballasting the front. The kayak will move, but not at its optimal level. On the other hand, it’s a lot of fun to go out with a partner, often safer, and usually cheaper than buying two boats. There are a few tandem sit-on-tops that have a jump seat between the front and rear seat wells. This seat arrangement makes it possible to balance weight for better performance when paddling alone, and may be a good option to try if you want to paddle both tandem and solo.
Your body determines how the kayak will perform. You probably wouldn’t buy new pants without trying them on first. The same rule applies to kayaks. When you test paddle, you aren’t so much looking for mechanical failure as you are trying to get sense of how the kayak fits. It goes beyond just height and weight-people carry weight and proportions in different ways, and these differences translate into how you balance in a kayak. You can always learn how to work with different kinds of kayaks-experts tend to balance better than beginners-but know that it will take time and practice, especially if you decide on a specialized kayak.
Inflatable kayaks are exactly what you imagine – kayaks that are inflated and deflated before and after use. They’ve become increasingly popular over recent years, particularly as advancements in technology have allowed them to become progressively similar to hard shells in terms of performance. Inflatable kayaks are more stable and less likely to capsize because of the buoyancy, but in inclement weather, hard-shell kayaks are more stable because they sit heavier in the water. This means that the rigid kayaks are also a better option if you want to venture out into the ocean with your kayak. When choosing a whitewater kayak, if you are going to go for very rough waters, you may want the sturdier hard shell kayak. However, as the inflatable material continues to improve, many inflatable kayaks can now handle class IV rapids. An inflatable kayak can be stored in a corner of the garage or in the trunk of your vehicle. They also have tons of storage on board, with a lot of it being dry storage. If you are wondering, “Are inflatable kayaks safe?”, you should know that most are very safe. They have multiple air chambers to ensure you always stay afloat, even if your kayak becomes damaged. However, damage is rare because the material that is used is extremely durable.
There are a few other things to think about when choosing a kayak. Where will you store it? Can your garage or basement hold a 16 foot-long kayak? How will you transport it? Do you have roof racks or would you rather put the kayak in a truck bed? Even color choice is important. Do you want to be seen, or would you rather be camouflaged? Considering these issues early on will ensure you enjoy your kayak for many years. Here are some great kayak choices:
Sun Dolphin Aruba Sit-in Kayak
The Sun Dolphin Aruba 10′ Sit In Kayak, is a great kayak for any water enthusiast. This kayak is crafted of a rugged UV-stabilized Fortiflex High Density Polyethylene hull and features a deluxe adjustable seat with high back support and adjustable foot braces. There are carrying handles for easier portage and a convenient storage hatch and water bottle holder..
Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 12OT 12′ Tandem Sit on Top Kayak 2 or 3 Person
The Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 120T tandem kayak is a sit on top kayak perfect for those wanting to fish, explore, or paddle with a companion. The Skipjack 120T is a stable kayak that performs well in surf, rivers, and flat water and is easy to paddle for any age or experience level. Equipped with 3 seating positions, the Skipjack 120T easily holds 2 adults and a child or it can be paddled solo from the center position. The Vibe Skipjack 120T tandem kayak is a great way to introduce kayaking and kayak fishing to someone new.
Vibe Kayak Yellowfin 13OT 13′ Tandem Sit on Top Kayak 2 or 3 Person
Share the journey with the Yellowfin 130T. Our all new tandem kayak with framed hero seats and foot braces means all day comfort, while the rudder ready hull provides maneuverability and performance. Equipped with 3 seating positions, the Yellowfin 130T easily holds 2 adults and a child or it can be paddled solo from the center position.
Intex Challenger K1 Kayak, 1 Person Inflatable Kayak
The Intex Challenger K1 Kayak is sporty and fun with a streamlined design for easy paddling. Great for experiencing lakes and mild rivers with a friend, this Sports Series kayak is perfect for one adult. Lightweight and compact, this kayak is a snap to assemble, and allows you to take the fun of kayaking wherever you go. Made with rugged vinyl construction, this sturdy kayak has an inflatable I-beam floor for comfort and rigidity. Quick inflating or deflating is a breeze with a Boston valve on each side. The Challenger K1 Kayak provides added accessories including: two 86”aluminum oars and an Intex high-output pump for easy inflation and deflation.
Intex Explorer K2 Kaya 2-Person Inflatable Kayak
The Intex Explorer K2 Kayak is sporty and fun with a streamlined design for easy paddling. Great for experiencing lakes and mild rivers with a friend, this Sports Series kayak is perfect for two adults. Lightweight and compact, this kayak is a snap to assemble, and allows you to take the fun of kayaking wherever you go. Made with rugged vinyl construction, this sturdy kayak has an inflatable I-beam floor for comfort and rigidity. Quick inflating or deflating is a breeze with a Boston valve on each side. The Explorer K2 Kayak provides added accessories including: two 86”aluminum oars and an Intex high-output pump for easy inflation and deflation.
Extra Durable Waterproof Dry Bag
This waterproof dry bag provides superior protection with a great design! Protects from water, dirt, dust, and sand. It is made from durable 500D PVC tarpaulin, with a waterproof level of IPX-3 giving you reliable protection for your valuables.
Paddle Leash with a 2 Rod Leash Set, 3 Leashes + 1 Carabiner
A versatile and complete Paddle leash and Rod leash system with 3 leashes and a (1) carabiner. The leashes have a very unique light tension bungee section that elongates with light forces and retract back neatly. The kit contains 3 leashes and 1 aluminum carabiner to attach your gear to the boat. Light weight, small diameter make these one of the best gear leashes available.
Aleader Men’s Quick Drying Aqua Water Shoes
This quick-dry amphibious shoe goes where other athletic shoes wouldn’t dare to tread. Hydrophobic engineered mesh offers lightweight breathability, while a contrast stitching lateral support system locks down the foot for stay-put performance in or out of the water.
SeaWag Waterproof Case w/IPX8 Certificate
Fully waterproof. Take your phone anywhere, even underwater. Protect your device from all elements. Make phone calls as usual thru the case with touch screen capabilities. Use all functions of your phone. Take photos and videos underwater. Tested to 25 m/80 ft.
Best Kayak Anchor Accessories
This galvanized anchor doesn’t need a painted coating to keep it resistant to rust. The anchor line is 40ft long and allows for more horizontal drag and a better hold. They also include a nylon storage bag, a buoy ball and a stainless steel hook for situations requiring a quick disconnect.
Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest
Enjoy a comfortable day grabbing wakes in a Stearns Adult Watersport Classic Series Vest. The comfortable, US Coast Guard-approved PFD is designed with four adjustable chest belts and two large armholes for better movement. With webbed 1-in. straps, a durable 200D nylon shell and PE foam inside, this life jacket is sure to be on the boat with you season after season.
Stearns Child Watersport Classic Series Vest
Your little adrenaline junkie will enjoy a comfortable day grabbing wakes in a Stearns Child Watersport Classic Series Vest. The comfortable, US Coast Guard-approved PFD is designed with three adjustable chest belts, an adjustable crotch strap and two large armholes for better movement. With webbed 1-in. straps, a durable 200D nylon shell and PE foam inside, this life jacket is sure to be on the boat with you season after season.
Hydro Flask Double Wall Vacuum Insulated Stainless Steel Leak Proof Sports Water Bottle
From office to trail, staying hydrated on the go is easy with Hydro Flask. The TempShield technology keeps cold drinks cold for up to 24 hours, and hot drinks hot for up to 6 hours. Stay cool and hydrated all day long, no matter where your adventures take you. Comes in assorted colors.
Kayak Plastic Paddle Holder Clip
This paddle clip is able to hold your paddle firmly so that it does not slip away. This paddle is to mount in a convenient location on your watercraft It can also be used for gear storage in garage and securing nets on boats / kayaks.