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Deciding What Type of Kayak is Right
Welcome to the wonderful world of paddlesports. Before purchasing a kayak, first decide where you intend to use it and what type of paddling you plan to do.
Like longer, even overnight tours? Go with a longer sea kayak. Planning to just tool around in the local bay? Consider a rec kayak or sit-on-top. Avid angler? A fishing kayak might better suit your needs.
Sometimes called “ocean kayaks,” these are kayaks that you sit on top of rather than inside. They’re easier to get on and off of than sit-inside kayaks; let you swim and snorkel off your kayak; and are easy to climb back on from the water. They’re also more comfortable for some taller/larger paddlers, with more room to stretch out; and are less confining than sit-insides. These attributes also make them great for angling. Downsides include being exposed to the elements (not as good for cold weather), less in-hull storage, and they can be wetter if the waves kick up.
This option favors paddlers living in cooler climates or headed on longer trips; you stay drier and more protected from the wind than you would be on a sit-on-top. In these kayaks, you sit inside a closed cockpit, keeping you warmer and drier. They also offer better in-hull storage for gear, making them better for long distance paddles. These kayaks come in both touring and recreational versions, depending on your ultimate use.
Rec stands for Recreational. These kayaks are sit-insides catering to a more entry-level paddler than someone planning to take long crossings or overnight tours. Rec kayaks are shorter, wider and more stable than traditional (and narrower) touring kayaks, and offer larger/spacious cockpits. This comfort and stability, however, comes with a tradeoff in hull speed; they’re a bit slower than touring kayaks and require more effort to paddle long distances. Bonus: because they’re smaller, they’re easier to transport.
Also known as sea kayaks, these kayaks are generally longer and narrower than rec kayaks and better suited for longer crossings and multi-day trips. Their length and design offers increased speed, more precise tracking and greater storage capabilities, while thigh and leg braces enhance control when edging and turning. Many come with foot-controlled rudders for steering, fore and aft storage hatches, and bungee rigging for deck storage.
If you plan primarily on fishing from your craft, this is the type to get. Fishing kayaks are sit-on-top kayaks distinguished from other sit-upons by the addition of such accessories as rod holders, bait platforms, tackle compartments, options for fish-finder and other electronic add-ons, and more. Some models come with pedal-powered propeller systems. These kayaks are generally wider and made to be extra stable (to support casting while standing) and often have larger maximum capacities for gear (and fish!). As a result, they are also heavier than comparable rec models.
Pedal-powered craft are the newest type of kayak to hit the market, propelled via a removable pedal-drive system that drops through the hull in front of your seat (note: you can also propel them with a paddle, and stow the paddle when in pedal mode). Pedaled as if you are riding a bike, they can reach speeds upwards of 5 mph, faster than you paddle, and are steered with a rudder operated by your hand. While their origins stem from fishing (i.e. they keep your hands free), they are becoming more popular for general rec use as well, and are great for birding, sight-seeing, and exploring.
Your body frame is one factor to consider in determining boat length; you want to be comfortable, especially in a sit-inside with a cockpit (note: with adjustable footrests, many small kayaks can still be paddled by taller people; conversely, shorter people can also paddle longer touring kayaks). But hull length also comes into play for performance. In general, the longer the hull the faster it is, making it more efficient on longer paddles and crossings, but the harder it is to turn.
Maximum capacity as listed by a manufacturer includes the weight of the passengers plus all their gear. If you’re planning on carrying overnight gear (or your dog), consider this number, which is not to be confused with maximum paddler weight.
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