Buying your first kayak?
Tips on Selecting a Kayak
Sit On Top
Single vs. Double
Rudders & Skegs
Try It First
Ready to select your kayak - See
what the Paddle Shack has to offer.
|Choosing a kayak:
what type of paddling are you going to do? Where are you going to paddle and
for how long? Kayaks are very specific to use and come in several basic
types. Whitewater Kayaks for fast moving rivers, Touring and
Recreation Kayaks for flat water, (lakes, inlets, bays and slow moving
rivers), and Sea Kayaks for open ocean paddling. What style kayak...Sit
In or Sit On Top...you choose will depend upon the type of
paddling you intend to do, your skill level and your personal preference.
Sit On Top style
kayaks generally are (pros) very popular with paddlers who: like to
play in the surf and have not progressed to having a bomb proof roll; great
for getting an all over tan; provide a very stable fishing platform; have
mobility or flexibility or emotional concerns that prevent them from using a
sit in kayak. Almost all sit on top style kayaks are self bailing...no need
to worry about swamping the boat! Sit on top style kayaks generally
(cons) must be wider to compensate for the resultant paddlers higher
center of gravity; are slower for their length due to extra width, do not
allow (without thigh straps) a paddler to effectively use his/her body to
control the boat; are a little more cumbersome to handle on and off the
In style kayaks generally have a more efficient hull design; allow
for greater gear storage; are dryer, allowing for an extended paddling
season for most paddlers; a properly fitted cockpit (the area you sit in)
will allow the paddler to very effectively use his/her body to control the
boat. A properly fitted white water, sea, or touring kayak should become an
extension of the paddler's body. Some would say you wear the boat rather
than sit in it. Sit in style kayaks will have different size cockpits
depending on the type of boat and water conditions anticipated. The raised
lip around the cockpit (the cockpit combing) allows a skirt (or spray deck)
to be utilized by the paddler. Skirts keep water...either from dripping off
the paddle, or from waves...from entering the boat. Just in case, be sure to
have some means of bailing the boat...a pump, sponge or scoop. Bulkheads
(walls within the kayak) form barriers limiting water infiltration, and with
a properly fitted hatch cover, provide a margin of safety (flotation) and
Foot Pegs. To date, there are no records of
indigenous peoples paddling sit on top kayaks...or white water kayaks...or
using rudders. The modern kayak has been transformed from a hunting tool of
survival to a recreational art form. There is an important feature of the
original kayaks that every paddler should insist upon. A secure foot brace.
No matter what style kayak you paddle, you will need a secure place to push
your feet against. Some boats have adjustable foot pegs, some have molded in
foot rests, some have a fixed bulkhead. What ever you paddle, be sure you
have some form of foot rest...a boat without foot rests is essentially
incomplete. Without footrests you will tend to slump forward, will not have
proper and comfortable posture, and most importantly, will not be able to
use torso rotation to effectively propel the
Whitewater Kayaks have no keel and don't track in a straight line.
This makes them very maneuverable and agile. The cockpit is tight and
designed to keep you in the boat even in rough conditions. The boats are
usually short, less than ten feet, many of the newer play boats are less
than seven feet.
Recreational Kayaks attempt to
combine tracking and turning in a smaller hull that will appeal to beginner
and low intensity paddlers. These kayaks usually have high initial stability
and large cockpits. These boats are perfect for flat water, lakes, ponds,
and gentle rivers and creeks but usually not whitewater. Many serve as
excellent platforms for fishing, hunting, or photography.
Touring Kayaks have a well defined keel
for tracking, have fair initial stable, and high secondary stability,
turning is enhanced by "edging". These boats generally have a large cockpit
interior for comfort on long paddling excursions. Most will have bulkheads
and large access hatches, which allow for safe dry storage. These boats are
perfect for flat water, lakes, gentle to moderate inlets, bays and wide
rivers. Some are fitted with rudders, and some even have outriggers or
provisions for a sail.
Sea Kayaks are designed for open ocean
paddling. They are usually low in the water to reduce effects of cross
winds, measure fifteen feet or more, most have smaller cockpit openings,
many will have bulkheads and smaller access hatches. Some have skegs or
rudders to help compensate for the effects of a wave or cross wind pattern.
They will have features such as compass housings, deck mounted pumps.
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Kayak Design Considerations:
Tracking: The biggest trade-off in boat design is tracking vs. turning.
Usually a boat that tracks well (goes straight) does not turn well. There
are varying degrees of these two characteristics in all boats, and some
boats that track well can be made to turn better if you are willing and able
to edge them when you turn.
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Stability: An important consideration when purchasing any boat is the
level of stability you require. Stability is defined in two ways. "Initial
Stability", (AKA "primary stability") is the sensation of tipsiness
that a boat has while at rest. This will influence the ease with which one
can enter or exit the boat. This will also determine how comfortable the
boat will be in low motion activities, such as bird watching, fishing, or
sunbathing. "Final Stability", (AKA "secondary stability") is the
sensation of tipsiness a boat will exhibit when the boat is underway.
Generally speaking, a boat with high initial stability will not be as stable
in rough conditions as a boat with low initial stability. Conversely, a boat
that feels tipsy while sitting immobile will feel to become very stable
while being paddled, and will increase in seaworthiness as conditions build.
To determine where you fall in your requirements, with regard to stability,
means that you need to assess what kind of activities you intend to do in
your boat. Keep in mind that your stability comfort level is likely to rise
as your paddling expertise increases, and this will be determined by how
much time you can devote to paddling. The most noticeable difference in
beginner boats and advanced boats is in initial stability. Advanced boats
often have less initial stability than beginner boats. Advanced paddlers
want a boat with high final stability because it is essential in difficult
sea conditions. Advanced paddlers also want a fast boat, and in many boats
initial stability, which generally is achieved with a wide beam, is traded
off for speed.
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|The choices are plastic,
fiberglass, kevlar, carbon, wood, inflatable plastic & fabric with frame.
Plastic is the heaviest of all popular materials, but more resistant to
damage. Polyethylene, (HDPE #2), is the most common plastic used. It can be
recycled from post consumer and industrial scrap and is easily recycled
again after its useful life.
requires welding or use of mechanical fasteners to repair a leak. Fiberglass is lighter,
(about two thirds the weight of HDPE), but is two to three times the cost of
Fiberglass is more rigid than plastic, (and more efficient in the water),
but can crack on impact. Fiberglass can not be recycled. Exotic materials
like kevlar or carbon fiber are lighter still, but are even more costly.
Wood boats are rare. They are attractive, but sophisticated techniques are
required for a classic look. A few companies manufacture
wood/epoxy-construction kit kayaks.
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Fabric over a wood or folding metal frame offers a
light although sometimes expensive option. The classic wood frame with fabric can be purchased
in kit form, but require hours of assembly. The metal frame boats are good
for hiking since they can be collapsed into a small carry able bag. These
boats are generally more expensive to buy than any other kind of boat.
Inflatable boats are another option for a more portable and storable kayak.
Generally speaking, these boats are better suited for whitewater or surf
conditions, as most will not track as well as a hard shell kayak. Prices
(relative to a hard shell kayak) range from very inexpensive to very
expensive. The quality and performance generally follow the price curve.
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|The contact points with
the boat are your feet, (on the foot brace), knees (on the underside of the
deck, or thigh braces), hips (on the sides of the seat), and your bottom (on
the seat). All of these points should provide you with support and be
comfortable. When paddling you will need to brace your feet and your knees
for stability and turning. A whitewater boat will be padded to provide a
tight fit and keep you in the boat during a roll. A looser fit inside a
touring or sea kayak as compared to a whitewater boat is desirable for space
to stretch and move about on long excursions. If you have large feet be sure
they fit comfortably under the deck and upon the foot braces.
The cockpit rim opening size is important for
entering and exiting. Newer Whitewater Kayaks have snug but fairly
large keyhole cockpits. This type cockpit holds the paddler snug, but also
allows for an easy and rapid exit. Touring Kayaks also favor a
keyhole cockpit very similar to the fit of a whitewater kayak. True
traditional Sea Kayaks have small cockpits, sometimes not much larger
than the paddlers waist. Small cockpits reduce the possibility of a large
wave caving in the skirt and swamping the boat. Recreation Kayaks
usually have very large cockpits, without the ability to keep the paddler
in the boat should it turn over.
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|The length of the boat is
important for several reasons. The longer the boat, the faster and more
efficient it will be in the water. The volume of the boat is important
depending on how much gear you are going to carry in it, and how big you
are. If you are planning overnight trips, enough room for tents, sleeping
bags and provisions are necessary.
|Single vs. Double
|If you like to paddle
together then a double is right for you. Like a canoe, you go everywhere
together. Single kayaks are much more maneuverable than doubles. Doubles can
carry more gear, but they need to carry twice as much gear than a single.
Most doubles can not be paddled effectively alone. Some doubles are more stable than a
single but are more difficult to rescue and pump dry.
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|Shock cord that crosses
the deck in front and behind the cockpit are handy for stowing gear where it
is easy to reach. Deck netting is handy for storing small items such as
gloves. Paddle float rescues are aided by effective deck rigging. Perimeter
safety lines are a nice addition to open water kayaks. Built-in compasses
and pumps are useful for long trips.
|Few hatches have a
completely waterproof seal! Hatches should be able to keep most of the water
out if you roll. If you have food and clothing you need to keep dry, place
them in a waterproof dry bag and then put them in the hatch compartment. If
you take large items, youíll need large hatch openings. Heavy seas and surf
can break or blow off hatch covers, so make sure they are securely attached
to avoid losing them. It is always advisable not to depend entirely on the
hatches for water tight integrity and for floatation of the boat. If
the compartments aren't full of gear, itís smart to use floatation bags.
Cargo space is related to size of the boat, but also to position of the
bulkheads. Generally speaking, it is better to have the bulkheads closer to
the cockpit, reducing the amount of water that can be shipped in the event
of accidental swamping. The cockpit can also be used for cargo, but may not stay dry. A
sea kayak should have bulkheads that are water-tight.
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|Rudders & Skegs:
|This is one of sea
kayaking's great debates. Most touring kayaks donít need a rudder or a skeg.
For long sea kayaks, (over 15 feet in length), a rudder is useful to go
straight in a cross wind. Some people like to use a rudder to steer, but
that is easily accomplished with your paddle. If you must have a rudder,
look for a design that is durable, easily stowed, and which has a foot brace
design that is easy to use. An alternative to a rudder is a retractable skeg. It will not steer
as a rudder, but will
help you trim the boat to be more controllable in varying wind/sea
conditions. Remember that any mechanical system such as a rudder is easily
damaged, and is no substitute for learning effective boat control.
|All of us have to get the
boat to and from the water, on and off the top of the car, or even portage
sometimes. At these moments, weight becomes significant. In simple terms,
rotomolded plastic is heavier than vacuum formed acrylic or fiberglass or kevlar.
Constant advances in design and materials seem to result in lighter boats
each year. Kayak carts are very handy with helping to move the boats.
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|Plastic stands up to abuse
better than fiberglass. It may scratch easier, but will resist a puncture or
fracture far better than fiberglass. Repair of a damaged boat, (made of any
material) is difficult if you donít have the tools or experience. You should
always consult the maker of the boat for the best way to fix damage The
intended use of the design also has a lot to do with durability. Most
touring boats are rigid and may be damaged with a hard hit on a rock.
Whitewater boats fair much better with hard objects.
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|Plastic boats run
$300-$1500, Vacuum formed acrylics Fiberglass $1500-$3000, other materials
such as carbon fiber can cost even more. The
bigger or longer the boat, generally, the higher the cost.
|Try it first:
|We can't say this enough! The way to
choose a boat is to try it first. Take time to try as many boats as you can before you
decide to buy. Look for dealers that rent boats or have demo models available. These are
excellent for trying different manufacturers and boat types. Call the
"Shack" and discuss when you might demo the boat of interest.
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|A common mistake of many
new paddlers is to under rate the importance of their paddle. Your body is
the engine, your paddle is the transmission, your very connection with the
water. The best car in the world is useless without a good transmission.
Your paddling enjoyment and ability is closely related to the quality of
your paddle. Although high price is not always a guarantee of high quality,
low price is a usually a good indicator of low quality. Besides your PFD,
your paddle is the most important piece of paddling gear that you will buy.
Get the best paddle you can afford!
typical bargain paddle with heavy shapeless ABS blades is a great gift for
someone you hate. Do you hate yourself? Set aside a reasonable amount of
your paddling budget for a good paddle...you will never regret it. Enjoyable
paddling begins with proper paddling technique and good equipment. A light
paddle will allow you to easily maintain your "paddle's box" resulting in
less effort and better boat control.
Paddle shape and length will vary with the type of
paddling you do, the boat you paddle, and your paddling style. A
recreational paddler with a wide boat and very relaxed paddling style will
typically use a blade with a moderate surface area and slightly longer
length. The touring or sea kayak paddler will typically use a narrow blade.
A white water or surf paddler will use a very large blade and short shaft,
allowing for better grip on aerated water and quicker acceleration.
We will be more than happy to discuss which blade
(paddle) is best for your paddling needs. For immediate response visit the
Paddle Shack or email us.
What else will I need to paddle the boat?
|You need, at minimum, a
whistle, a paddle and a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Please give some
thought to how you will remove unwanted water from your kayak; consider
always having a pump and sponge with you. It is highly recommended that you
learn the skills required to safely handle your boat before you go out on
the water. There are several very good videos and books that we recommend.
The best course of action is to receive some professional instruction from
certified instructors before you paddle. The Paddle Shack offers a variety
of paddling skill development programs from basic introductory sessions to
rolling and advanced skills. Click
for More Info.