A Beginners Guide to Choosing the Best Sit On Top Kayak

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-in kayak types designed for different types of activities. Using the wrong sit-in kayak for the wrong activity can mean you end up in the water a lot. But is the same true for sit-on-top kayaks? Are some sit-on-top kayaks better for beginners than others? Let’s take a look and see.

How do you choose a sit-on-top kayak that is best for a beginner?  Choose a type of sit-on-top kayak that is designed for your chosen activities. Pick a kayak within that range that is the most stable but that will not compromise your future skill development. You also need to consider the length and width of the kayak so it is suitable for your size and weight requirements.

Why no long list of sit-on-top kayak boats?

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 doing this 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 because you will be able to tell that for yourself, even as a beginner!

5 Things to consider before looking for a beginner 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 for your needs.

They are:

  1. Activity.
  2. Stability.
  3. Capacity.
  4. Length.
  5. Width.


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.


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.


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.


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

Be sure you need a sit-on and not a sit-in kayak

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.

Which type of sit-on top kayak do you need?

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 most common activities kayaks are used for are:

  • Whitewater rapid riding.
  • Kayak surfing.
  • Ocean touring.
  • Recreational boating.
  • 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.

Whitewater sit-on-top kayaks

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

Whitewater kayaks are typically short, with round bottoms, or a soft chine, and have lots of rocker so they can handle rough water and stay upright but this makes them slow and “tippy” on flat calm water. For an explanation of chine and rocker read this.

Whitewater sit on top kayak
Whitewater sit-on-top kayak

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.

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

Surfing sit on top kayak
Surfing sit-on-top kayak

Touring sit-on-top kayaks

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.

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.

Sit on top touring kayak
Sit-on-top touring kayak

Recreational sit-on-top kayaks

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.

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.

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

Fishing sit-on-top kayaks

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 except in very calm conditions.

Most fishing kayaks designed for beginner use are very similar to recreational kayaks but they will have additional features to help the angler, such as rod holders and plenty of space for equipment and catch.

Sit on top fishing kayak
Sit-on-top fishing kayak

What type is best for the beginner?

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.

Which specific model 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.

We could give you a list of excellent sit-on-top boat models that excel in performance in each of the kayaking activities covered in this article but at the end of the day your choice of kayak will be based on the length and width that is most suited to you as well as basic design characteristics and look of the boat.

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

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