A Guide To Choosing The Best Sit On Top Kayak For Beginners

Best sit on top kayak for beginners

So you’ve decided to take to the water in a kayak, but not just any kayak. You want a sit on-top kayak that is perfect for the beginner. As you are probably already aware there are different sit on top kayak types designed for different types of activities. Using the wrong sit in top kayak for the wrong activity can mean you end up in the water a lot. Let’s see if there are some sit on top kayaks that are better for beginners than others.

How To Choose The Best Sit On Top Kayak For A Beginner 

Quick overview of the 3 simple steps to choosing the best sit on top kayak for a beginner:

  1. Choose the type of sit on top kayak that is designed for your chosen activities (there are different types).
  2. Pick a kayak that is within a safety range that is the most stable but that will not compromise your future skill development (more on how to do this later).
  3. Consider the length and width of the kayak so it is suitable for your size and weight requirements.

It’s that easy!

Beginner kayakers

But, of course you will probably need me to elaborate and explain each of the above points better so you can pick the best sit on kayak for your needs.

So, let’s go!

Why we don’t include a long list of sit on top kayaks

We could give you a long, or short, list of sit on top kayak models and tell you why we think they are perfect beginner boats for specific activities.

But simply giving you a list would do you a major disservice.

Giving you a list of sit on top kayaks would be a disservice to you.

As a beginner you need to know which TYPE of sit on top kayak you need before you know which model is best.

Once you understand which kayak type is better suited to your specific needs, and why, you won’t need an “expert” to tell you which boat model is the best. You will be able to tell that for yourself, even as a beginner!

5 Things To Consider Before Looking For A Beginners Kayak

There are 5 key considerations that you should use to drive your decision when it comes to picking the correct sit on top kayak (or any other type of kayak) for your needs.

They are:

  1. The activity you will engage in with your kayak.
  2. The stability requirements for the kayak.
  3. The capacity of the kayak.
  4. The length of the kayak.
  5. The width of the kayak.

The activity you will engage in with your kayak

As you will see as you progress through this article there are specific kayaks that are deigned for specific activities.

Sit on top kayaks come in a variety of hull designs.

A kayak with one hull design may be perfect for one activity but totally unsuitable for another.

For example, a kayak designed for recreational use in calm water is a bad choice for whitewater rapid use.

The activities you will engage in when using your kayak are of such importance when it comes to choosing the correct boat, especially as a beginner, that careful consideration needs to be given to them before making a buying a decision.

For this reason we have dedicated half of this article to this subject. More on this later.

The stability requirements for the kayak (this is super important for beginners)

As a beginner your biggest concern will be the stability of your kayak – at least in the beginning. Stability issues are the number 1 reason beginner kayakers give-up and leave the water for good.

So, stability should be a concern for you.

However, this doesn’t mean you should simply pick the most stable kayak.

Stability is a learned skill in kayaking and the more you take to the water the better your stability will become.

So simply choosing the most stable kayak may hold you back from engaging in certain kayaking activities that you intend to pursue after you gain proficiency at paddling.

Therefore, as a beginner you should choose the most stable kayak within the range of kayaks designed for your chosen kayaking activities.

Don’t be afraid to get a different model though if it will better fit your needs later as your skill levels grow.

Choose a stable kayak but make sure it is one that you can “grow” into.

The capacity of the kayak

For the most part any solo standard sit on top kayak will be suitable for most people to use. Obviously this changes with a change in weight of the user.

You must be sure that the kayak you buy is capable of handling your weight and the additional weight of any gear you will be bringing along with you.

There are also tandem sit on top kayaks available which are designed to carry two people and ones that can carry two people and a child.

The same weight restrictions apply to those boats.

The length of the kayak

Generally speaking a longer and narrower kayak will be faster while a wider kayak will be slower but much more stable.

A long kayak will tend to track straighter.

It will also glide further after each paddle stroke and will move faster than a shorter one thus making it more efficient and easier to paddle.

Length can also add to the capacity of a kayak and to a certain degree its stability.

However, a shorter kayak will be easier to maneuver and easier to paddle.

For taller people a longer kayak is preferable as the additional leg room will prevent discomfort and cramp on long trips.

The width of the kayak

The width of a kayak has an impact on the stability of the boat.

A wider kayak will be more stable than a narrow one.

But, on the flip side, a narrow kayak is usually easier to paddle and maneuver.

If you are tall then a wider kayak will be a better choice for you as it offers more stability for people with a higher center of gravity.

It will also allow you to spread your legs apart more.

When a sit on top is not always the best kayak for beginners

When it comes to kayaking uses, from recreational outings to boat camping and angling, a sit on-top kayak can offer the beginner many advantages over the more traditional sit-in kayak.

However, be aware that a sit-in kayak can also offer many different advantages to the beginner that a sit on-top kayak cannot.

As a beginner kayaker you should make sure you definitely need a sit on-top kayak rather than a sit-in kayak.

If you are even the slightest bit unsure if a sit on-top kayak is the best choice for you read our article Sit-In vs Sit-On Kayak. A Guide to Picking the Best One For You.

5 Types Of Beginner Sit On Top Kayaks

A sit on top kayak, like a sit-in kayak, can have one of several different hull designs.

The different hull characteristics on different sit on top kayak types are designed to make each specific boat type more suitable to specific environments and uses.

There are sit on top kayaks for all types of activities and environments.

The 5 most common activities sit on top kayaks are used for are:

  1. Whitewater rapid riding.
  2. Kayak surfing.
  3. Ocean touring.
  4. Recreational boating.
  5. Fishing.

There are kayak types specifically designed for each of the activities mentioned above.

So, the type of sit on top kayak that is best for you will depend on the type of activity you plan to use it for.

Let’s take a quick look at the different types of kayaks that are best suited to the above mentioned activities so you can first determine which type of sit on top kayak you need.

Best sit on top whitewater kayak

There are kayaks with hulls that have been specifically designed for riding whitewater rapids.

Whitewater kayaks are typically short, with round bottoms (a soft chine) and have lots of rocker.

Whitewater sit on top kayak
Whitewater sit on top kayak

This allows them to handle rough water better and stay upright.

But it also makes them slow and “tippy” on flat calm water.

For an explanation of chine and rocker read this.

Best sit on top surfing sit on top kayaks

Surfing kayaks are very similar in design to whitewater kayaks and it is not uncommon to see them use interchangeably for both types of activity.

As a beginner it is unlikely you will want either a whitewater kayak or a surfing kayak.

Surfing sit on top kayak
Surfing sit on top kayak

So let’s continue and look at more appropriate sit on top kayak types suited to the beginner.

Best sit on top touring kayak

Touring kayaks are designed to be used to cover long distances and also have hull designs that allow them to be used in the ocean.

The best ocean kayaks will be sit-in kayaks where you can insulate yourself from water spray and waves entering the cockpit.

However, sit on top touring kayaks do exist.

Sit on top touring kayak
Sit on top touring kayak

Touring sit on top kayaks are great for boat camping adventures (see our boat camping guide to ensure you are well prepared for such expeditions).

Touring kayaks offer lots of room for gear and provisions.

Best recreational sit on top kayak

Recreational sit on top kayaks are designed to be used in good weather and calm water.

They have flat bottoms with very little rocker which makes them very stable and hard to tip.

Recreational sit-on-top kayaks
Sit on top recreational kayaks

A flat bottomed kayak offers exceptional stability on calm water and is therefore the first choice for most beginners but remember what we said about “growing” into your boat.

As long as a flat bottom kayak is used in calm water it is difficult to tip it over.

Most recreational kayaks are suitable for beginners because they’re wide and ultra stable.

Best sit on top fishing kayak

A fishing kayak is the type of kayak that is usually brought to mind when you think of a sit on top kayak.

A sit on top fishing kayak will have at least one elevated seat that resembles the the type of swivel seat found on a bass boat.

Most fishing kayaks have flat bottoms making them exceptionally stable on calm water.

They are therefore excellent to cast-off from and stand on while fishing.

However, their flat bottom hull makes them very unstable for use in choppy water.

Even though you may see them being used in the open sea, like Jon boats which you may also see in the ocean, flat-bottomed kayaks are unsuitable for use in ocean waters even close to the shoreline.

The only exception is during very calm conditions.

Sit on top fishing kayak
Sit on top fishing kayak

Most fishing kayaks designed for beginners are very similar to recreational kayaks.

However, they will have additional features to help the angler, such as rod holders and plenty of space for equipment and catch.

The best kayaks for beginners will always twin safety with skill-building

As a beginner kayaker you should first hone your skills and gain experience paddling in calm water.

Because a flat bottom kayak is best suited to calm waters and offers the most stability on those waters it is by far the best pick for a beginner kayaker.

Unless you plan to use your kayak for specific purposes, such as touring or surfing, a recreational or fishing kayak is your best choice as a beginner.

A flat bottom sit on top kayak will offer the beginner exceptional stability on calm water.

This will give you more opportunity to practice your paddling skills without worrying about capsizing your kayak.

It will also allow you to enjoy your kayaking more while you are learning the skills of paddling.

How To Pick a Kayak. Finding The Specific Model That Is Best For You

Now that you know which type of sit on top kayak is the best choice for you, you should read our article showing the top kayak brands so you can find a specific boat to suit your individual needs.

Rather than picking from a list of sit on top boat models that excel in performance in each of the kayaking activities covered above you should make your choice of kayak based on the length and width that is most suited to you as well as well as its basic design characteristics.

Remember that kayaking comes with dangers so be sure to stay safe.

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