How to Choose a Sea Kayak

So, what do you look for when buying a sea kayak? How do you determine that a kayak is right for you?

Well, here are the factors to consider. 

Build Quality

The most common materials for making sea kayaks are polyethylene, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and sometimes wood. Each of them has its pros and cons.

a. Polyethylene

This is a type of plastic that is widely available and relatively cheap. Polyethylene is preferred for many different reasons.

First, it is not as stiff as the other materials. It bends slightly. This means that it handles well in case of impact and will rarely get damaged. 

Since making polyethylene kayaks is not costly, the canoes are affordable.

But plastic boats aren’t without downsides. 

The material is not lightweight. Seeing how long sea kayaks can be, you may be dealing with a lot of weight. Transporting them is a pain.

The material also degrades when exposed to the sun. This, however, is easily solved using UV treatment. 

Because polyethylene is a little soft, poor storage can distort the kayak.

b. Fiberglass

Kayaks made using fiberglass are stiffer than polyethylene boats. They are more expensive but also lighter and perform amazingly.

With a fiberglass kayak, UV damage won’t be much of a problem.

Fiberglass boats have many of the qualities found in premium kayaks but cost less.

c. Carbon Fiber

Carbon fiber kayaks can be quite expensive. 

The material is super stiff and extremely lightweight. This makes the canoe easier to carry even when it is long. The stiffness reduces its impact strength.

But the performance is impressive. This is one of the best materials for making touring kayaks.

d. Wood

Kayaks made of wood are aesthetically pleasing. But that is not the only reason why people love them. 

They are lightweight and glide exceptionally on the water. These boats also tend to be long-lasting and easy to repair.

However, wooden kayaks are not ideal for rough conditions and rocky areas. Some of them can also be quite expensive.

Size

Sea kayaks are long. They range from 15 feet to 18 feet long and about 20 to 28 inches wide. This long and narrow shape helps them slice through the water with impressive speed.

What kayak size is right for you?

With length, comes speed and great tracking. But longer kayaks can be hard to control, especially for beginners. They will also, most likely, be heavier.

A narrower boat has minimum resistance and glides effortlessly. However, this also means that it will be less stable.

So find a balance depending on your experience.

Width and length are not the only important factors when it comes to size. Your kayak should be comfortable as well, more so if you like going on long expeditions.

Look at the cockpit opening length and width. You want to be able to get in and out of the cockpit with ease.

But keep in mind that a sea kayak cockpit shouldn’t be too big. If it is, you will have a hard time controlling the kayak. Remember you have to attach a spray skirt too.

Weight and Capacity

A heavy ocean kayak can frustrate you. Transporting it is a struggle. It will also sit lower in the water and this can slow it down.

But again, the lighter a kayak is, the more you should expect to pay for it. 

Find the lightest canoe you can afford. However, remember to assess the quality of the materials. There is no use in having a light but cheaply-made kayak. It will not last.

The capacity of a boat doesn’t just refer to its weight capacity. Manufacturers already include it in the product description. You can easily calculate your weight and that of your gear to find the right one.

So think about the storage capacity as well. Is there enough space for you to bring all your gear?

Some people opt for tandem kayaks so they can have more space for multi-day trips. But as you can imagine, paddling a tandem canoe alone is not easy. And you don’t know what to expect in the water.

I believe that an 18-foot single-cockpit kayak will have enough storage for one kayaker.

If you want to bring a lot of stuff, get a longer kayak but not a tandem—unless you plan on kayaking with someone else.

Other Features

a. Hull

A kayak’s hull affects how the boat will perform in the water. Flat and pontoon hull types sacrifice speed. They are not common in touring kayaks so we won’t dwell on them.

The V-shaped hull, as the name suggests, has a V shape. It slices through the water with ease, allowing the kayak to track straighter.

While boats with this type of hull are fast, they have poor primary stability (the stability of a kayak when placed upright on flatwater). The secondary stability is amazing though.

A rounded hull also has poor initial stability but great secondary stability. Kayaks with this type of hull are more maneuverable and have fantastic speed.

b. Rocker

The rocker of a kayak refers to how curved it is from its bow to the stern. More rocker means that it is more curved, with the stern and bow lifted (like a banana shape). This makes a boat more maneuverable.

Less or no rocker is preferred for sea kayaks because it improves tracking.

c. Rudder or Skeg?

Not all sea kayaks come with a skeg or rudder. But this is still a big debate among kayakers.

A skeg is a retractable fin located in the hull close to the stern. It is deployed or retracted using a lever in the cockpit.

A rudder, on the other hand, is a blade located at the stern and can be deployed or raised. It can be moved from side to side by the use of foot pedals (or a hand lever for pedal kayaks).

In the case of weather-cocking, either one of these two will help you keep your kayak on track.

They both have their pros and cons. Whether one is better than the other depends on the kayak design. Some do well with a skeg while for others, a rudder is better.

Sea Kayak Q&A

Q: What Is a Sea Kayak?

A: It is a long, narrow kayak designed for paddling in open waters. Sea kayaks or touring kayaks are comfortable, fast and have lots of storage space for long kayaking trips.

Typically, they have storage compartments at the front and back. These compartments are watertight and keep the boat afloat, should it flip, filling the cockpit with water.

Q: Is a Longer or Shorter Sea Kayak Better?

A: This depends on how long your trips will be. For long trips—overnight or a few days—you should go for a long sea kayak. It will have more storage for all your luggage. Besides, tracking and speed will be remarkable. For short trips, a shorter ocean kayak will do. You don’t require much cargo space and you will appreciate the maneuverability.

Q: What Is the Difference Between a Sea Kayak and a Regular Kayak?

A: A sea kayak is just one of the many types of kayaks.

Generally, a regular kayak refers to a recreation kayak. Rec kayaks are shorter and wider. As you can guess from the name, they are used for relaxed cruising. They don’t come with any fancy features and they are ideal for complete beginners. Most of them are sit-on-tops.

A sea or touring kayak is long, narrow, and fast. Most sea canoes are sit-ins.

Q: Do I Need a Rudder on My Sea Kayak?

A: There is no straightforward answer to this. Some kayaks will need a rudder, others won’t. Many sea kayaks will track just fine without one.

But when the wind is strong, you may wear yourself out with correctional strokes. And this is where a rudder comes in handy.

Conclusion

You can’t afford to make a mistake when choosing a sea kayak. You will be spending hours in that cockpit and you don’t want to be miserable. Make sure that the size is just right. Check the construction quality too. Polyethylene kayaks are cheap but heavy. Fiberglass is great if you are on a budget. If you expect to go on long trips, get a longer boat with enough storage for all your stuff.

Do you have any questions about sea kayaks or want to share your experience? Feel free to leave a comment below. Happy kayaking!

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