General Question

gorillapaws's avatar

Kayakers: Do you have any suggestions for an introductory sit on top model?

Asked by gorillapaws (20658points) May 31st, 2012

I’m looking to buy my first kayak and am pretty sure I want to go with the sit on top style. I’ll be paddling on a river in flat water for the most part (I might to some very tame whitewater when I get more experience). I’d like something stable, durable, with a decent amount of storage. I don’t need anything too fancy or high tech (plastic construction is fine), but I don’t want to go so cheap that I’ll regret it later if it starts to have issues.

I’d love to hear your thoughts/suggestions for brands or models of kayaks that you would recommend or things to avoid.

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18 Answers

rooeytoo's avatar

I have had both. The sit on top model I used mostly for surfing the waves. The sit in model I used for everything else. The sit on was not comfortable for touring or fishing, but it was a lot of fun in the waves or being towed behind a boat. I think you are right not wanting to go for the cheapest model, somewhere in the middle is good. Just go sit on them and see what feels comfortable and discuss with the sales people. But I would think twice about a sit on.

Will be interesting to see what the others say!

wallabies's avatar

You probably want the sit inside version for flatwater or rapids. Some people when they flip the kayak over in a sit inside version panic and can’t get out. So that can be dangerous. If it worries you, the best thing to do is probably to practice flipping so you are used to it. Can vouch for the sit on top being great for catching waves. Just make sure you tie your paddle to yourself or the boat if you go out by yourself, lol. Also the geometry of the hull makes a difference. For a first boat, I would just get whatever cheapest you can find to test it out and plan on getting something better after you have a better idea of what works for you.

wildpotato's avatar

May I ask why a sit on top? If you’re scared of getting out when rolled, take a pool class. I say this because if you’re doing primarily river kayaking, you might want to consider a sit in model, though I’ve also used sit on tops for rivers and they’re ok. I don’t know as much about sit on tops because I never researched them, but I do have a few tips. Specifically, you’ll probably want a boat no longer than about 13’ for maneuverability on most rivers. My boyfriend just bought the 12.6’ sit in version of this Kestrel ‘yak two days ago, and he is very happy with it so far. Current Designs makes great boats. My own boat, which I use or rivers and lakes, is this guy – not a sit on top, but it has it’s own light weight & portability advantages, and it moves like a dream.

It’s really best to try the ‘yak yourself before buying. I suggest you look for paddle stores in your area, then call each one and ask when they hold their demo days. Most happen in June (my place in central Jersey is having theirs this weekend), so this is perfect timing for you. Alternatively, some places will do demos for two or three boats you pick out any day of the week.

CWOTUS's avatar

I wouldn’t get a sit-on simply because of the comfort factor: no back support. I think you wouldn’t get as much use from that as you might suppose, just for that reason.

If you’re concerned about stability issues, look for a kayak that’s broad, flat-bottomed and relatively short. It won’t be the best paddler, and if you try to keep up with people in sea kayaks or similarly dart-shaped boats, you’d be disappointed speed-wise, but you’ll be stable as hell.

As for experience, I’ve been a boater for a half-century… and on a kayak once. I might do it again someday. I’d go for the sea kayak, myself, for almost any water condition other than going over waterfalls like Rush Sturges and his ilk: They go over extreme white water and waterfalls in kayaks. Insane. Lovely.

Kayak8's avatar

My best recommendation is to locate your local kayak dealer. This time of year they typically will hold a number of “demo” days where you can actually get into boats on the water and paddle them around to see what YOU think of the boat. What is comfortable for one paddler may not be at all comfortable for another.

Kayaks are like clothing, they need to fit you and feel comfortable if you are going to be wearing one all day. Most casual boaters do NOT wear spray skirts (not enough spray to worry about). Without a spray skirt, you would find it VERY difficult to remain in a boat that turned over. Gravity being what it is, you will drop out of the boat.

Not sure why you are leaning toward the sit-on-top. Not that it is a bad idea, but you didn’t explain why you think that is the boat for you.

gorillapaws's avatar

Thanks for all of the great feedback. My best friend just bought a sit on top version and really likes it, and one of the sales guys I talked to also seemed to push me in that direction. Some of the advantages were stability, ease of getting in and out, being more friendly for beginners, not getting too hot because your legs are exposed to the wind, they’re self-bailing. After hearing every single response above questioning this choice, I’m very much reconsidering now.

The Potomac Catalyst 100 was the sit-in model that seemed most appealing when I was at the store a while ago. Are there any concerns you guys have based on what you can see from the site, and the uses I’ve got in mind. I should also mention I’m a bigger guy (250 lbs), but far from obese. I’m also hoping to get out on the river regularly for exercise, since my house is very close to the James River.

CWOTUS's avatar

That’s a pretty little boat, @gorillapaws. If you’re going to do light paddling, day trips, smooth water with little current or wind to worry about, then that (or something like it) will probably suit you very well. If you were going to do longer trips, camping, heavier current and/or weather, then I’d recommend the sea kayak route (probably even with a rudder), because of the increased capability of that boat for those conditions.

I hope you enjoy whatever you get!

rooeytoo's avatar

No one mentioned a rudder, I liked a foot type rudder, made it easier to steer? I haven’t kayaked for a few years, are they out of fashion now?

That is a nice looking kayak!

Kayak8's avatar

Rudders or skegs are great on flat water. If someone is going to do any river paddling (and, again this has to do with which rivers and where), you don’t typically use a rudder or take a boat made of anything but plastic. There are usually too many places where the bottom gets scraped on rocks or gravel (or logs). A sea kayak is typically way too long for paddling on a river, particularly if there are a lot of hairpin turns. There are a few rivers I have paddled in Michigan that even a 12’ boat was too long.

I noticed that Potomac kayaks are sold exclusively at Dick’s sporting goods. I would just tell you that I have been to a number of different Dick’s stores in the past and have never talked to anyone there who knew the first thing about kayaking. They seem to take sketchy canoeing experience and assert that it applies to kayaking (sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t).

The description of the material used to make Potomac boats is a proprietary material and sounds very similar to the material used in Hurricane kayaks. I have a larger friend (under 250) who split the kayak where the colored deck joins the white keel because it really wasn’t designed for a larger paddler.

Potomac is actually made by Pelican.

If you would be comfortable pm-ing me your general location (nearest big city), I can see what reputable boat dealers are offering demo days in the next few weeks so you can actually paddle several boats to compare. An alternative is to look up local (near you) canoe liveries and call a few to see who puts kayaks out on the water for customers. Get out on the water and paddle a few boats before you commit to one based on what a Dick’s clerk recommends!

rooeytoo's avatar

Who could argue with someone whose user name is @Kayak8! :-)

Kayak8's avatar

@rooeytoo I have been paddling for many, many years in many, many places. One of my buddies is making an effort to paddle in every state. I went with her when she did Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Paddling with gators will get your heart racing! She assures me I could have won Olympic gold for speed alone when I felt one gator was a bit too close for my comfort level. For Christmas she sent me a rubber gator with a little plastic kayak in its mouth!

I just love helping people take up my favorite sport. My vanity license plate also makes my interest clear and between it and the kayak racks on top of the vehicle, I get stopped by a lot of people with questions about paddling (where to go, what boat to use, etc.). I just love turning people on to the magic experience kayaking can be if your boat fits and someone shows or explains some basic paddling technique and a few tips for how to read a river.

gorillapaws's avatar

So I bought the kayak I linked above earlier today (it was on sale) before getting the chance to read @Kayak8‘s post. It comes with a warranty, so hopefully if there’s an issue with the deck separating from the hull, I can have it addressed by the manufacturer. If they won’t at least I won’t be out a huge fortune, and will have a better perspective for my next purchase down the road.

Thanks again for everyone taking the time to share their advice. I’m heading out with my buddy tomorrow.

@Kayak8 if your travels ever take you to Richmond, Virginia, I’d be happy to introduce you to the James River.

rooeytoo's avatar

@Kayak8 – I have seen people kayak amongst the BIG crocs in the Northern Territory and I think they are nuts! I’m not sure if gators get as big or as aggressive, but I can imagine being in the water with them would make you go very damned fast!

I like kayaks because you feel as if you are a part of the water instead of sitting on top of it. I had a sit on in Queensland and I did fish from it. It was so easy to maneuver in the mangroves but it wasn’t particularly comfortable. If we ever get into a suitable climate again, I will probably get another.

Kayak8's avatar

@rooeytoo If it wasn’t comfortable, you weren’t in the right boat! The right boat, outfitted correctly, can feel like your favorite recliner.

@gorillapaws I do wish you well with your purchase andI also want you to enjoy kayaking. You might want to contact Old Dominion Kayaks and demo some of their boats (it’s free). I demo new boats anytime I get the chance. It gives me ideas for some outfitting changes to my favorite boat (old Dagger Crossover). You are lucky to have a bunch of good rivers very nearby (James, Appomattox, etc.) There is very likely a local paddling club that offers roll classes and can teach you some fundamentals.

Appomattox River Company has a boat, pictured here that is very similar to my go-to boat but about a decade newer.


gorillapaws's avatar

I went out on a good sized private lake this weekend and had a blast. I really love how close to the water you are, and paddling feels much more natural than when you’re in a canoe. The tracking on the 10’ boat I bought isn’t so hot, but I guess that’s to be expected with a shorter boat. The seat felt great and kept me in a nice vertical posture, and the dry hatches really came in handy. I used my friend’s sit-on-top and could appreciate the ability to “lounge” on it, and the scupper holes were nice for keeping cool, but overall I think I preferred mine.

I’ve been watching techniques from youtube’s channel. It’s nice for the basics. @Kayak8 I may try to get involved with a local paddling club down the road.

Thanks again to everyone for taking the time to share their advice.

wildpotato's avatar

@gorillapaws Glad you had a great time! If the tracking bugs you, see if they sell an add-on skeg for your Catalyst – or if they don’t, you can DIY.

Kayak8's avatar

@gorillapaws Glad you had a good time! You may want to purchase some flotation bags to go inside your boat if you plan to do a lot of lake paddling. Example here

mrflavor1's avatar

@gorillapaws, i have a catalyst 100 also and the only complaint i have is that the seat is a bit uncomfortable. How do you have it so that it keeps you upright?

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