When learning how to choose a kayak it is important to select the correct size, weight and style based on both your body type and your intended use for the boat. Kayaks come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and it is essential to understand how the various options will affect performance.Size and configuration are the two most important considerations in determining the maneuverability, speed, stability and weight-carrying capacity of a kayak. Of all of these characteristic, stability is the most critical safety factor when selecting a kayak.
With so many factors to consider, choosing a kayak may seem a bit confusing. However, the process of selecting a kayak becomes less complex once you understand how to match the characteristic of the kayak to how and where you will be using it.
How To Choose A Kayak: What’s The Right One For Me?
While your body size is an important consideration when selecting a kayak, features will depend largely on the type of paddling you plan to be doing.
First, for beginners, whether you will be using your kayak for shooting Class V rapids or fishing calmer waters, for the sake of your safety and an emphasis must be placed on stability. You need to ask yourself will you be paddling on large bodies of water that are exposed to high winds that produce big waves or will you be cruising smaller, protected bodies of water like small lakes or ponds. Water temperature is also another key factor, as a less-stable kayak could prove very dangerous in extremely cold waters.
Past safety issues, speed preferences and maneuverability are perhaps the two most important considerations. A longer and narrower kayak will be faster in rougher waters whereas a shorter, wider and slower vessel is better suited to more leisurely paddling. However, the length of a kayak alone will also affect stability.
When considering paddling, there is typically an inverse relationship between maneuverability and stability. Here you have to ask yourself if it is more important for you to have a kayak that is fast and responsive or more difficult to flip over. Beginners should start with a wider, more stable, model until they build enough skill to move up to a less stable, but faster, kayak.
With these considerations in mind, here are all factors you need to consider when picking the perfect kayak setup for you:
Sit-In vs. Sit-On Top Kayaks
A first consideration when picking a kayak is whether you prefer a sit-on or sit-in model. Sit in models have a cockpit that surrounds your torso with your legs being placed beneath an enclosed deck. Sit-on models have a flat, completely open deck that you and all your gear sits on top of.
Just like with choosing length and width, there are pros and cons to both designs.
Sit-on kayaks tend to be the most user friendly. Most sit-on kayaks are designed for recreational uses, like fishing, so these models are typically wide and very stable.
Sit-in models are easy to get into and do not confine you legs, making this type of kayak a great choice for children. Sit-in kayaks are self-bailing, meaning any water that gets into the boat will drain right out through small holes, or “scuppers,” along the sides of the boat.
Combined, these features make sit-on kayaks perfect for beginning or cautious paddlers, rougher-water conditions, warm-water environments and activities like fishing and swimming.
However, the downside to sit-on model kayaks is that you are almost certain to get wet while paddling, whereas sit-in models will, generally, keep you dryer.
Sit-On Top (SOT) Kayaks
Sit-in kayak models tend to have a lot more options in regards to shape and size. Sit-inside kayaks are better for cooler waters were the paddler wants to stay dry or desires a faster-moving kayak. The downside to a sit-in model is that it will swamp if it flips over, making it difficult to recover. Sit-inside models fit into three separate categories:
• Recreational sit-in models are shorter, typically nine- to 12-feet long, and wider with large cockpits that don’t feel confining. These models are best for leisurely paddling and fishing and camping activities.
• Sit-in sea kayaks are built for speed and to negotiate either rough or calm waters. However, sea kayaks are much less stable than recreational models and have smaller cockpits that many people find confining. If going for a sea kayak, it is not a bad idea to take a sea-kayaking course to learn how to recover from capsizing.
• Touring sit-in models usually run between 12- and 15-feet long. These models are a great compromise between a recreational and a sea kayak and a perfect blend of comfort, performance and stability.
Once you have decided on a sit-on or sit-in model kayak you will need to decide on the length, width and weight capacity of your new kayak.
Length Of Kayaks: Understanding The Ideal Length For Your Boat
Determining the best length of your kayak can be somewhat confusing, especially if you want to use it for multiple purposes. However, the length of a kayak is a critical factor in determining if you will have fun on the water.
A long and narrow kayak, such as those usually used on open water, approximately 17 feet long is best for paddlers who have a need for speed. However, the longer a kayak is the longer it takes to make course corrections.
Paddlers who aren’t concerned about quick maneuverability will do well with a longer kayak. Also, since longer models provide for better tracking, a longer kayak is much more enjoyable to paddle over longer trips as it requires much less energy to maintain a straight line.
Shorter kayaks, under 12 feet, are best suited for fast-moving rivers with Class III and V rapids. However, shorter models are not well suited for fast, long-distance travel. Shorter kayaks are typically better for children and smaller-stature adults.
Shorter kayaks are designed to be able to make quick and precise turns to maneuver around obstacles. For example, a nine-foot kayak will be much better suited to a winding and narrow river with lots a rocks than a 16 footer that cannot be turned quickly.
As a general rule, the wider a kayak is the more stable, and slower, it will be. This is simply because the wider the hull is the more surface contact it will have with the water, creating more surface tension and friction.
As opposed to kayaks with wider hulls, a narrower kayak will move more easily through the water because it creates less friction. This makes a longer kayak faster on calm waters and gives it the ability to slice through rough waves and choppy waters. However, here the trade off is the narrower a kayak is the easier it will tip over.
Smaller-stature individuals should carefully take the width of the kayak into account. Individuals with shorter arms may have a harder time paddling a wider-hull kayak as they have to strain to reach the water. While a longer-handle paddle can help in these situations, the longer handle will make the paddle more awkward to maneuver.
A wider kayak offers more stability because it has more surface area in contact with the water across it midsection, or “beam.” With a little practice, a wider kayak can provide you with the option of standing up when paddling or for activities like fishing. However, both speed and tracking performance are traded for stability.
Many people who use their kayaks for camping or fishing tend to be gear junkies. If you fit into these groups you will want to carefully consider the gross-weight capacity of your kayak. A good rule of thumb when selecting a kayak for these types of activities is to get a kayak that is capable of carrying your body weight plus 150 pounds. As an example, if you weigh 150 pounds you should pick a kayak that has a 300-pound weight capacity. However, if you are picking a kayak for recreational paddling you will typically only need to add 100 pounds to your body weight.
Legroom vs. Storage
Your configuration and weight capacity are not the only considerations when picking out a kayak. A few other things to keep in mind include the type of kayaking you intend to do, the length of trips and possible storage requirements.
Take into account how much leg room and storage you will need. An adjustable foot-peg option will enable you to fine tune the distance you need for your legs. Some kayaks have a center console, and while these are great for storing items you need to keep within easy reach, a console will eat into legroom space.
Now that you are armed with all the information you need to make an informed decision on answering the question of “What size kayak should I get?” you will be able to go out and pick the perfect setup for you. Keeping these rules in mind will assist in narrowing your search and help you to have many great days on the water.