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The San Diego Kayaking Meetup Group Message Board For Sale & Wanted › Choosing a kayak. Advice?

Choosing a kayak. Advice?

Bill S
Fair Oaks, CA
Post #: 6
I am starting to shop for a kayak and see a number of design choices out there. I plan to do 75% of my paddling in Mission Bay or San Diego Bay, but want the option of going offshore (La Jolla, Pt Loma, etc) and not worry about swamping and sinking!

Length: I want as long as possible because it rows faster. 16' probably good enough and manageble.

Width: Wide enough to be stable and I don't have to be a expert to keep it balanced. I like to drift occasionally and be able to shift around the boat to get into a hatch without tipping over.

Seat: MUSt be super comforable and supportive. I like something raised up so I don't have to have my legs totally flat. Like to be able to bend knees, etc. Since I have such rock hard muscular legs, I am not that flexible! wink

Weight: I don't want to pay big $ to save weight. 60-80 lbs is light enough.

Cockpit: Sit-on -top look safe in that easy to right if they get turned over without bailing. But is exposure to wind and cold water too much around San Diego in Fall, Winter, Spring? Some "recreational" kayaks have fairly large, open cockpit which is comforetable for legs, but can't put a skirt around to keep out water. The "touring" kayaks generally seem too skinny and I''m not comfortable with spray skirts and small cockpits. SOm which is better?

Misc: I like cup holders, a tray, ut I don't really need waterproof storage for long treks.

So, anyone got a recommendation or more ideas?

THANKS! smile

Dave B.
user 3012408
Group Organizer
Lakeside, CA
Post #: 5
Hi Bill
My first piece of advice is to rent a few different kayaks before you buy one. There are alot of trade offs between sit-on-tops, touring and recreational kayaks. A longer boat is faster but wider slows it down. At 16' you're not likely to find a boat wider than 24". Recreational kayaks can be as wide as 30 or 32" but only 9 or 10' long. They do make skirts for those larger cockpits but they're more expensive and a less secure fit because of the size. Most sit-on-tops are stable enough to stand up and dive off of. you can move around, get into the hatches. Some come with the cup holders, trays, fishing rod holders, and all that stuff. The trade off is that greater width is what makes them so stable. So it takes more effort to paddle one. There are exceptions. There are sit-on-tops with narrower beams. They're faster but not quite as stable. Sit on tops are usually a wetter ride partially because of the scupper (drainage) holes. Touring kayaks go faster with less effort. A skirt isn't always necessary but it can keep you drier in rough water. With a skirt and your pfd on, they're warm enough to paddle on chilly winter days. You can tip one over easier, but you certainly don't need to be an expert to keep one balanced. Every kayak that i can think of does require you to keep your knees bent, though i guess a sit-on-top would give you better range of movement. Coming out to our meetup events is a good opportunity. The price of a rental is very reasonable.
Bill S
Fair Oaks, CA
Post #: 7
Thanks for your overview, all makes sense.
I guess I don't mind paddling a little harder with a wider boat if I get great stability, but is its top speed limited relative to the narrower boats?

What do you think of rudders? What do they really do and are they worth it?
Also, what kind of kayak you have and why did you choose it?
Would you consider any alternatives?
Bill S
Fair Oaks, CA
Post #: 8
Just saw this on REI website, good for fundamentals:

These all-around boats are stable, easy to handle, fun and affordable. Most have large open cockpits for easy entry and exit. They are great for lakes, tidal areas and slow-moving rivers.

Day Touring
This wide-ranging category includes everything from small touring boats to canoe/kayak hybrids. In general, day touring boats are designed with beginners and recreational boaters in mind. Most are shorter and lighter than regular touring kayaks, so they're easy to turn, maneuver and transport. They have less capacity for carrying gear than the larger boats. They're also easy on the wallet! These boats can be used just about anywhere, short of whitewater rivers.

Multi-day Touring
Touring kayaks are built to handle long trips and big gear loads. They're roomy and comfortable, with covered decks to protect you and your cargo from the wind and water. They're also quite easy to paddle, with sleek, efficient designs that cut through the water, track well and keep a low profile so you don't get blown off course. These boats are ideal for open water paddling on oceans and lakes.

Inflatable kayaks let you enjoy the fun of kayaking without the hassles of transporting or storing a full-sized boat. REI carries tough, well-built inflatables that can handle years of hard use. Some are even built for handling serious whitewater! Inflatables typically cost less than rigid-hull boats, and most can slip right into your backpack or the back of your vehicle.

Sit-on-top kayaks are designed for fun. They're easy to use and a breeze to get on and off. Sit-on-tops make great bases for swimming, snorkeling, diving and more. Shorter models are great for surfing! Most are designed for day use, but some are built to handle everything from river running to overnight touring. Some styles even feature hatches for internal storage.


Fiberglass is lightweight and stiff, and can be shaped into extremely efficient, responsive hull designs. (Stiffer hulls are more responsive and require less internal bracing. This means a lighter boat with more room inside for legs and gear.) Fiberglass is most often used in top-of-the-line kayaks. Fiberglass hulls are made of layers of woven fabric, bonded together with a polyester resin for strength and rigidity. An outer gel coating provides protection against abrasion and exposure to ultraviolet light.

This category includes Kevlar?, fiberglass and carbon blends which are extremely durable and lightweight. They tend to be more expensive than polyethylene or rotomolded plastic boats. Airalite? is a thermo-formed material similar in appearance, stiffness and weight to traditional composite materials, but it's considerably less expensive.

Polyethylene plastic is less expensive, more impact-resistant, and more abrasion-resistant than fiberglass. Polyethylene can be molded into complex shapes using a variety of molding processes. Polyethylene boats can be a bit slower than the slick fiberglass or composite models. Exolar? resin, a newer plastic material that's being used in kayaks, is 40% stiffer and more durable than superlinear polyethylene.

PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)
This flexible, clothlike thermoplastic material is used to make inflatable kayaks and rafts. It's tough and abrasion- and puncture-resistant, and it comes in a variety of thicknesses.

Longer kayaks tend to be easier to paddle over long distances than shorter boats (once you get them up to speed). They also stay on course better and hold more gear. Shorter kayaks weigh less, are less affected by winds and are easier to turn, maneuver and transport. Recreational kayaks are typically shorter, between 9 and 15 feet in long. Touring boats are anywhere from 12 to 18 feet, with the average being about 16 feet. Tandems, (two-person kayaks with two cockpits), average about 18 feet.

Width (Beam)
Wider kayaks are easier to enter and exit and are more stable on the water. They also have more room for gear. These include most of the recreational boats which range from about 25 to 30 inches in width. Narrow boats are a little more "tippy," but they tend to be lighter and more efficient through the water. They also track better. Narrow boats are usually easier to "roll" back up after a capsize than wider boats. Touring kayaks are usually a bit narrower than recreational boats, and range in width from 21 to 25 inches. Tandem touring kayaks are typically a bit wider.

The point at which a kayak bottom turns upward and becomes the kayak's side is called the chine. Smooth, rounded chines provide good secondary stability and easier bracing and rolling. Sharper, more pronounced chines can enhance tracking and initial stability.

Entry Line
The edge of a kayak's hull where it cuts through the water is called its entry line. Sharp entry lines slice through the water efficiently for better speed and easier paddling. Blunt bows ride up slightly on incoming waves for better buoyancy and drier paddling in windy, rough conditions.

Rudders and Skegs
Rudders and skegs are typically used on touring kayaks for steering and stability. Depending on your paddling ability and the types of trips you'll be taking, you may choose to get a boat with a rudder or a skeg, or you may be a purist who prefers a boat with neither. A rudder helps you turn, maintain a straight course and keep your boat steady in rough water. It is operated by maneuvering foot pegs attached to wires and can be raised when not needed.

A skeg, or a keel that can be lowered and raised offers stability and causes the boat react with wind or current, depending on its position. You should know how to turn using body weight and paddling strokes when considering buying a boat with a skeg. The same can be said for boats with neither rudder nor skeg. These boats are a joy to paddle for their smooth lines, but you need to be proficient at turning and handling the boat if you venture into anything more than calm, sheltered waters.

Cockpit Shape
Large cockpits are easy to enter and exit, and they allow you to store larger items inside the cockpit area. Small cockpits help hold you inside the kayak for easier rolling and maneuvering in rough conditions. Small cockpits are also easier to protect with spray skirts, which keep water from getting inside. Before you buy any kayak, make sure the cockpit and seat are comfortable!

Foot Pegs
To kayak efficiently, you need to brace your feet against the kayak hull. Make sure the foot pegs (or heel pockets) designed for this task are comfortable. Adjustable pegs allow more than one person to paddle a kayak.

Storage Space
Make sure you have enough storage space for the kinds of trips you have planned. If your storage space is inside the kayak, check for reliable seals on the deck hatches and internal walls (bulkheads). If the storage space is on top of the boat, make sure you have some way to strap down all items securely.

Airtight hull sections closed off by bulkheads or inflatable air bags will keep your kayak afloat during a capsize. Make sure the bulkhead walls are sealed well, or that the air bags are tough and well-made and can be secured inside the hull. If you're considering a sit-on-top kayak, it should have self-bailing drainage holes.
Dave B.
user 3012408
Group Organizer
Lakeside, CA
Post #: 6
In my last reply I left out what kind of boat I have because it's really about which boat is right for you. The boat I chose is a 15' touring kayak. I used to watch a group of kayaks paddling in the Mission Bay channel. Someone told me, that group paddles up to La Jolla. For years I thought about how nice it would be to have a boat that could do that trip. 15' is a little on the short side for a touring kayak but it gets around pretty good. It came with a rudder on it. A rudder is not a good substitute for turning strokes with your paddle. Using a rudder with a good turning stroke is helpful when you're trying to turn a long kayak. Using a rudder is effective in a good crosswind. The wind will push the back of the boat more than the front. The back is lighter when it's empty. Your legs weigh down the front. I think a rudder also helps when you're paddling with the waves on the ocean. It seems to help keep the waves from pitching the back end of your boat off to one side. The downside is that it adds drag which is noticable at speed.
To learn more about your options you might check out Canoe and Kayak Magazines Beginners Guide. A few years ago I was shopping for a canoe and I picked up a copy of their December buyers guide. I felt that they explained everything with good detail and without bias. I found that some dealers and manufacturers tend to exagerate things like the stability, straight tracking, and manueverability of their boats.
I got the impression that you've been leaning toward a sit-on-top. That might be the right boat for you. But before you put down your hard earned money try a touring kayak and maybe a recreational kayak. Then you can make a well informed choice.
- Dave
user 3151978
San Diego, CA
Post #: 1
Come in to Aqua Adventures sometime and we can help you wade through the choices. You can also try out all the different types of kayaks so you can feel for yourself how much slower (or faster) one kayak is from another. Kayak design is a HUGE topic that is best discussed in person with a professional like you'll find at Aqua Adventures, however, as a start, please eliminate most recreational kayaks if you plan on paddling in the open ocean - they simply are not safe for open ocean conditions. A long sit-on-top (like the Ocean Kayak Prowler 15 or the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 16, or the Hurricane Aqua Sport Phoenix 14 would be excellent choices. Sit-inside kayaks are drier, warmer, and generally faster, but you do need to learn a little about what to do if you capsize. While they may feel a bit wobbly day 1, by day 5 you don't even notice. It's one disadvantage of buying a kayak for a're only a beginner for a few weeks. Anyway, if you take a lesson, you'll learn a lot about what sit-insides are all about. Everything you learn will be useful for sit-on-tops too. We have a basics lesson on Sunday at 2pm - call if you want to sign up for it! (619)523-9577
Aqua Adventures Kayak Center
Dave B.
user 3012408
Group Organizer
Lakeside, CA
Post #: 7
That's excellent advice. And as far as I know, Aqua-Adventures is the most reputable kayak instruction business around.
Bill S
Fair Oaks, CA
Post #: 22
Thanks. Based on internet reading, I think the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 16 sit-on-top sounds promising, particularly as I don't like spray skirts and plan to do some launching through the surf.

I'm willing to accept a bit harder paddling for more stability. 26" - 28" is probably plenty wide and and 16' should be long enough to help achieve higher top end speed.

I want easy access cargo and compartments that you can get to when underway. I don't like those strap on things.

I also like the easy draining of a sit-on-top if you get swamped, don't need to drag it ashore to dump out water.

Finally, it's just not that cold in San Diego for day tripping. If I was an Eskimo in Alaska, or kayaking in the rain up in Seattle, then I'd need to be enclosed. But not here!
Bill S
Fair Oaks, CA
Post #: 53
Thanks for all advice. I did buy one finally.

I checked out Aqua Ventures used inventory first, but ended up buying a demo Cobra Marauder at a discount. I really wanted a sit on top and I think Cobra has a good design for my needs.

It's 14'3" with lots of really nice hatches and a large cargo hold in back. 30" wide and stable as an aircraft carrier. Seems to paddle quick enough. Scupper holes work great draining any splashes or drips out of cockpit, so will be good for surf launching and no bailing. Stays nice & dry and high back seat is like a lounge chair. Also has fishing rod holders.

Cobra Kayaks
Andrea Z
San Diego, CA
Post #: 45
Hey Bill,

Are you ready to delete this old 2006 post? Little bit of history in it.
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