Tests and reviews of different sit-on-top designs to help you get a better idea of what sit-on-top kayak to buy
We organise Sit-on-top try a kayak test days and can also include a selection of designs on our Sit-on-top kayak courses.
Not everyone can attend our try a sit-on-top test days so I’ve added this page to help people decide what sit-on-top kayak to buy.
We have 12 different sit-on-top kayaks to test so there is plenty opportunity to try before you buy. This is a good reason to sign up for one of our courses.
The people testing the sit-on tops kayaks are mostly novice paddlers. The sort of people who are thinking of buying/trying sea kayaking in Jersey but are unsure which Sit-on-top sea kayak to buy. However, I’ve added additional comments to help identify key issues.
Sit-on-top kayaks tested
Ocean Kayak: Mystos, Venus 11,Frenzy, Caper, Scupper pro, Prowler 4.5, Prowler 4.3
Wilderness Systems: Tarpon
Tootega Prophecy 135
Size of Sit-on-top kayak
The size of a Sit-on-top kayak makes a big difference to the overall speed and handling.
In general the shorter boats were slower and more manoeuvrable than longer kayaks which are better for exploring over a distance.
For many paddlers the big surprise was the difference in speed between Sit-on-top designs.
The Scupper Pro was clearly the fastest kayak with the Prowlers 4.5 and 4.3m coming in a rather distant second place. The Tarpon was slower which perhaps reflects it wider design
Once paddlers got the hang of edging the Scupper Pro and Prowlers they were surprised by their ability to turn.
Tip: If looking for a kayak to explore the coast and caves the longer Scupper and Prowler designs are more responsive than you might expect given their length.
Short sit-on-top kayaks tested
Ocean Kayak: Mystos, Venus 11, Caper, Frenzy
Ocean Kayak Mysto
The Mysto was popular for its light weight. The high seating position was seen by some as both a positive and negative. Shorter paddlers found the high seat harder to paddle. Others felt this also resulted in a high centre of gravity and perhaps more risk of falling in.
Self rescues were tricky.
Ocean Kayak Venus 11
The Venus 11 was popular with some smaller woman paddlers who appreciated the lighter weight making it easier to lift and shift.
The Venus 11 handles better than the Venus 10.
It is a wide kayak so shorter paddlers may find themselves reaching over as they paddle. This can be tiring and inefficient. A slightly longer paddle may help but this may also mess up your paddle style.
Ocean Kayak Frenzy
Ok for short paddle trips in a bay providing you are not too large. Handy if you are planning to let the kids paddle as well and want a fun craft. Some women paddlers liked this design.
Ocean Kayak Caper
The Caper received good reports as it is lighter and manoeuvrable. Over a distance it is going to be more work to paddle than the longer kayaks. Some larger and older paddlers quite like this design. Edges ok but there is a limit on how far you can lean this kayak before you lose contact with the seat and fall in.
A handy compromise kayak. You might grow out of it if you start wanting to do more.
This design got a lot of positive comments from people who liked its stability, speed and comfort.
Many assumed it would be similar to other short designs but it seemed to perform better in most areas.
This was one of the designs we considered when looking for a good sit on top kayak to use at Jersey Kayak Adventures. Our main reason for not choosing this craft was that we wanted to paddle a bit further with clients and found the Supper Pro allowed better skill development.
Good reports and worth considering if just used in bays. We have found it surfs quite well and is a good fun craft. Small paddlers find it is a bit wide.
Ocean Kayak Kia
The Kia is for children and is a great little kayak. It is also very fast.
The light weight of the Kia makes it easy to move about.
The height and weight of the child is a key factor when using the Kia. We’ve found it can be used by small children between 5-10 years of age providing they are not too big. This means you must try the child on the kayak before you buy in case they are too big. Do not buy untested purely because your child falls within the stated age range.
The back rest is a bit of a fiddle and is not very comfortable on its own. It is removable (and therefore prone to losing).
The RTM Piccolo junior kayak is very similar to the Kia but has an integral back rest.
Touring and fishing Sit-on-top kayaks tested
Ocean kayak Scupper pro, Prowler 4.5, Prowler 13
Tarpon 120 ,Tarpon140
Tarpon 120 and 140
Both kayaks were a surprise. With all the features we were expecting great things.
The adjustable backrests look very impressive but was largely ignored by the paddlers so this is an accessory that you may be paying for but not using.
Edging was not as good as expected. A few tests trying to tilt the kayak to edge was not as easy as with other designs. Nor did the Tarpons like being tilted over very far.
Though the Tarpons are very stable there is always a risk that in choppy waters you may need to call upon a kayaks secondary stability to avoid falling in.
Sacha spotted the problem. The adjustable footrests mean it is the ball of your toe that connects with the kayak in contrast to other designs where it is the heal. The result is that when you lean the kayak over to edge or try a support stroke you do not get the same level of connectivity.
Andy Benham during our 3 star course also discovered this problem. Once he switched to a Scupper Pro he was able to paddle with better connectivity and withmore confidence.
The Tarpon did not seem to have much speed when compared with Sit-on-top kayaks of a similar length.
The Tarpons are quite wide so you could find yourself having to lean over every time you plant the paddle in the water. If you have a short upper body this could be a problem. However, it must be noted that this is common with many wider designs of sit-on-top kayak and and is often a result of paddlers wanting lots of primary stability.
A few people commented that they found it heavy. 34kg is a fair weight to lift onto your roof rack.
People were surprised by its speed and handling though some did note it seemed a bit tippy at first. Once they got the hang of it the stability issue was not an issue.
The length was seen by a few as a bit of a storage/loading problem.
For short paddles to explore a bay with the family the Scupper Pro might be seen as a bit big. However, our experience is that most sit-on-top kayakers soon want to go round the headland and explore more of the coast.
The lower seat position is quite different to most other sit-on-top designs. This results in far better connectivity with the kayak but does mean you sit more in the water. The low seat-well gives better stability and connectivity with the craft so it is easier to edge and perform more technical paddle strokes.
Though the back rest is integral a seat makes a big difference. It is worth adding that you do need to maintain a good upright body posture with the Supper Pro. This leads to better paddle techniques but can result in the kayak feeling less comfortable. It’s probably not the kayaks fault but more often than not the paddlers difficulty in maintaining a good posture.
The Scupper pro is our main Sit-on top kayak due to its better handling and performance.
Prowler 4.1 (or 13)
A good stable craft which was liked by most paddlers on the sit-on-top kayak tests.
The Prowler edges rather well once you transfer your weight.
Small paddlers report the Prowler felt a bit large. They also found it hard to sit evenly across the centre of the kayak. I’ve come across instances of small paddlers sitting off centre with the result that the Prowler seems to constantly turn off to one side. In effect they were accidentally edging the kayak.
The Prowler 13 is very much a sit-on-top kayak in comparison to the Scupper pro. Larger built (15 stone plus) paddlers found it more comfortable than the Scupper as they fit the seat better.
Speed was quite good. Not as fast as the Scupper but faster than the Tarpons.
Many found it an easier kayak to lift and shift. The shorter length makes storage a bit easier.
Prowler 4.5 elite
The big brother of the Prowler 13 and best suited for the larger paddler.
The Prowler 4.5 handles very similar to the Prowler 13 but is faster.
Smaller built paddlers found it very big to handle. Our experience is that the large and tall paddler is better suited to the Prowler 4.5 design especially if over 17 stone. If you are a large but shorter paddler then the Prowler 13 may be a better option to consider.
Tootega Prophecy 135
This is a great kayak and one that seems to appeal to a wide range of paddlers. Though it looks wide, it is not a slow kayak and paddles quite fast and keeps up with paddlers using a Prowler. Designed (and built in the UK) by a British company whose designers are paddlers, this means they know a think or two about kayak hull shapes.
We initially bought this kayak for our larger paddlers. However, it is also popular with smaller paddlers and many women like it. The hatch cover is very good and far better than those found on many sit-on-tops. Even without a seat fitted it is quite comfortable. however, for better connectivity we use a seat. Well worth considering. Tootega.
Which sit-on-top kayak to buy?
Okay, this is all a bit subjective and is based on the feedback of various paddlers testing out some sit-on-top designs. What is interesting is that their comments were very similar to our own experiences. All found it useful to test and review different sit on top kayaks before they buy.
Most were surprised at how different the kayaks could handle
The key is to try before you buy. Even similar looking designs can have very different characteristics.
Consider what sort of kayaking you plan to do.
If you are average build and want to explore the Scupper Pro remains a good favourite. The slightly larger paddler may want to consider the Prowler 13. The tall and large XXL sized paddler may want to look at the Prowler 4.5 elite.
For short exploring and paddling in the bay the Feelfree Nomad and Venus 11 look like a good option if you are a smaller paddler.
The Caper is a good in between kayak and is a popular design. Well worth a look at if you are going to do a range of paddling, but you may soon move on to other designs.
Capsize and rescues with Sit-on-tops
During the try a kayak trials we did a few assisted and self rescues.
Short kayaks like the Mysto were quite hard to get back on board unaided.
If you are at the upper end of the kayaks weight range you may find there is very little stability during the self rescue stage.
A few paddlers found the smoothness of the hull and deck made the kayaks very slippery. Unless you can reach the carry handles or a seat strap there is little to hold onto. On the larger kayaks this difficulty can also occur.
If you have short arms reaching across to grab the carry handle,seat trap or deck line can be tricky.
All the above problems are reduced if you do assisted rescues. A good reason to not paddle solo.
If you have a very smooth kayak consider attaching a deck line to help give you something to hold onto when trying to climb back on board.
Get some sit-on top kayak tuition
Attend a sit-on-top kayak course so you begin to identify the best design for your needs and learn essential paddle skills. Not only will this enable you to paddle better and in more safety, it may also save you buying the wrong design.
Thanks to Stuart at Gone Paddling, John,Annette and friends who loaned kayaks.