Choosing a sit-on-top kayak and equipment.
I often get asked about buying a sit-on-top kayak. Here is some advice on choosing a sit-on-top kayak, equipment and things to consider so you’ll make a better choice when faced with what can appear to be bewildering range of sit-on-top kayaks and equipment.
Sign up for our kayak courses to get the most out of your kayaking around the superb coastline of Jersey. We offer reduced prices if you have your own kayak and kit.
Not all kayaks are the same. What is good for one person may not be suitable for another. This is a good reason to sign up for a kayak course or, join our free kayak safety skills classes and learn from local experts.
Buy: Sit-on-top kayak, a beginners guide by Derek Hairon. Full of top tips to help you make the right choices and how to improve your paddle skills. Published at Pesda Press.
Deciding what Sit-on-top kayak to buy is never an easy matter.
Your weight, height and the sort of kayaking you plan to do are things to consider.
Retail outlets-Where to buy from?
Why buy from a specialist kayak shop rather than online or via a discount -or non specialist- store?
Put simply, some retailers may not know much about the products they sell. They may have little knowledge of kayaking and often will not be able to give you much advice. Online stores make it hard to try out kayaks and kit. If it’s the wrong size it will be a lot of hassle to exchange. Go to a specialist kayak retailer.
Cheap sit-on-top kayaks are often made of poorer grade plastic so they may not be very good value. We have heard some horror stories about very cheap designs which easily break and fittings which fall apart.
Specialist kayak shops are more likely to know a bit about the kayak you want to buy and are often staffed by people who go kayaking. You might even be lucky to find one who will let you try before you buy. They usually sell quality products with good after-sales support.
What Sit-on-top kayak to buy. Tips to help make a better decisions
How often will you go kayaking?
An odd question but one worth thinking about. If you only go afloat four times a year then it may be better rethinking whether buying is the best option in the long term. How about signing up for a kayak class, tour or a course where all kit is supplied? This will help you compare kit and discover what is best for you. Plus, you’ll get lots of advice and top tips from people who know about kayaking which may help you make a more informed choice.
What kayaks do we use
We use Ocean kayak Scupper Pros. They travel well in a straight line and are faster and stable. You can see the full range of Ocean kayaks on their website. The Scupper Pro is now difficult to obtain so we are switching to the RTM Tempo which is very similar and equally good.
One of the reasons we chose the Tempo and Supper Pro is because they handle well and allow paddlers to develop a good technique. They are also quite fast and track well which makes them great for coastal tours. Shorter kayaks tend to turn a lot.
We also use Tootega Prophecy 135 kayaks for the larger paddler. Previously we used Prowler 13ft (4.1M) and 15ft (4.3M) models but found the keels wear out when dragged up the beach. Getting replacement rubbing strips was not easy. If you must drag the kayak do this so the bow is dragged on the sand as it causes less wear and it is also easier to repair.
The Tootega Prophecy 135 fits a wide range of paddlers. It is also quite fast and gets good reports from our entry level paddlers. It’s well worth looking at and is made in the UK.
Larger paddlers and kayak fishing
We have used both Prowler 13ft and 15ft kayaks. The Prowler 15 handles better but is a bit more awkward to store and transport due to the length.
The Prowler Elite received good reviews. The Prowler 13ft kayak is one of the best selling sit-on-top kayaks in the UK.
Longer kayaks tend to be more directional than shorter kayaks
Short kayaks are great for turning and nipping in and out of rocks but are harder work to paddle over a distance. Short kayaks can be quite wide. When the width and shortness is combined a kayak is often harder work to paddle any distance.
Rod holders can easily be retro-fitted and it is worth remembering that all the rod holders, depth sounder/fish finder fittings etc.come with a cost.
What do you want to use the kayak for?
If it is just a floating platform to mess about in the bay with the children then short boats are fun.
If you want to paddle distances opt for a longer sit-on-top sea kayak.
Glass fibre and composite designs by Kaskazi in South Africa get good reviews for speed and light weight.
Children’s kayaks and kit
How would you feel using gear two or three sizes to large for you?
Try to buy appropriately sized kit and kayaks fro children to use. They will have more fun and are more likely to continue kayaking.
We use Ocean Kayak Kias and the RTM version for children under 10 years.
Fatyak kayaks are good value, fun on the beach and in small surf. We tested the basic model which was popular with children. A great platform to have fun on. Tootega also have smaller sized kayaks which seem to be very good.
Children’s Wetsuits are sold in Jersey by Stuart at Gone Paddling at great prices. Wetsuits will keep children warm, protect them form the sun and also give them a bit more protection from bumps and bangs. Read my article about kayaking with children.
If youngsters are going to play with the Sit-on-top kayak then consider a flat stern to slide over. Ensure there are no sharp edges to rip wetsuits (or skin).
Try before you buy
What feels like a very stable kayak the first time afloat may feel a like a barge as you develop your skills. This is a good reason to avoid rushing out to buy a kayak. Sign up for a kayak course or try a kayak session to get a chance to try different craft.
Prices vary a lot. Buy from a specialist store. They will have a better idea about the product. Some shops do not know much about what they are selling.
Take care when buying second hand. You could be buying a stolen craft. Check for wear and damage especially around the keel (a very hard place to repair unless you have access via the rear hatch) and also in the drain holes. We have noticed that if you do not correctly fit some trolleys through the drain holes the seam can be damaged and leak. Repairing a leaking drain hole can be very tricky. You can spot if there might be a leak here by looking for any tell tale sings such as mold growing or moisture.
If you plan to buy second hand check the current retail price so you know what is the latest new price.
Local suppliers will know the products and be able to sort out problems. This also helps keep cash on Jersey -or in your local economy-.
Who do we buy kayaks and gear in Jersey from?
We often buy from Stuart at Gone Paddling in Jersey. He is a kayaker and sells quality gear. He is also very competitive on pricing. 07797728040.
Please mention us as if you buy from him.
What paddle to buy?
Paddles are your engines. Make the right choice to get the most form your kayaking.
Lightweight paddles are less tiring to use.
Large blade areas provide plenty of power but can be more tiring. Experienced paddlers often use them as they give plenty of power and connectivity with the water but some argue this is just increases the risk of injury.
Many sea kayaking paddles are elongated to give a more gentle action. The argument is that this makes for a ‘lower gearing’ and easier paddling over any distance.
People often talk about low and high angle paddling styles.
Low angle paddling may seem less tiring but is a less efficient and responsive method of paddling. It can indicate poor technique.
If you learn a high angle paddle style it is easy to drop to a low angle style when conditions demand. It is harder to move from a low to high angle paddle style.
Learn good forward paddling techniques.
There is a difference in blade areas available for children and women.
What paddles do we use?
Lendal Archipelago, Lendal Nordkapp asymmetric paddles on spun shafts and Lendal Kinetics. They offer good weight to strength ratios and are very well built. We also have Robson Costa Carbon paddles. They are very light weight but the carbon shafts need to be handled with care. We have found the paddles are very “springy” so there is a loss of power transmission. A downside is the black paddle blades which are hard to spot when people drop them in the water.
We also use Werner Shuna paddles. The light weight and strength make these designs more expensive. Werner Paddles have a very useful paddle selection FAQ section. Werner paddles, though expensive, are very well built and strong.
Our child sized paddles are Lendal Gremlins.
Paddles cost from £45-£300+ depending on construction. You get what you pay for.
Cagoules or paddle jackets for kayaking
We use Peak products. These are not the cheapest but seem to last well and stand up to centre use.
It is important to have a kayak cagoule (or cag) in case it gets cooler on the water.
Wind chill is a major cause of hypothermia. A light wind will take away your body heat so always carry some wind protection on board.
Wetsuit arms can be restrictive when paddling. We use Palm long John wetsuits which are cut for kayaking. Most of our staff use Palm wetsuits. We have Male and Female sizes as well as children’s sizes. We have started using Typhoon wetsuits but the ladies sizes are on the small side so you need to order at least one size larger. Sizing seems to vary a huge amount between manufacturers. This is a good reason to buy locally so can try the wetsuits for size.
If you kayak or fish all year consider a Dry suit made by Palm or Lomo. Prices have dropped a lot in the last few years and are now a very good investment. In an emergency they are a life saver especially if you paddle in cooler waters.
The Eckla trolley (that plugs into the holes on the Scupper Pros etc) is not as durable as the simple Eckla Canoe trolley. We have also found that the former design can damage the seams around the drain holes if the trolley is not installed correctly. There are many other designs about.
The C-Tug trolley from New Zealand is very good but bulky. this is an excellent an all terrain design.
You can make your own with a bit of DIY. We have seen one constructed out of plastic drainpipe that seems to work very well and used pram buggy wheels.
Kayak safety kit
Buoyancy aids (PFDs)
We use Palm centre buoyancy aids which are designed for kayaking and also the Nookie NKE range which seem to be lasting well but are quite basic. We are currently switching to Peak PFD’s. Though a bit more expensive they are a more comfortable design and look great.
Buoyancy deteriorates over time. After about 5 years the buoyancy may well have decreased by up to 50% or more.
Be very careful when buying second hand buoyancy aids as they may be of little use. Wash kit after use and store properly to prolong life. Wear the correct size.
Carry some form of communication on your person so that if you end up in the water it is easily available. Around Jersey a mobile phone will usually give you excellent coverage but ideally you should have a marine VHF radio. Ensure they are either waterproof or are in waterproof bags. We have found the Overboard brand good value and long lasting.
Tell someone where you are going, who you are with and what time you will be back. Do not forget to ensure they know what to do if you do not make contact and know who to alert.
Flares are very bright but only burn for a short tie so they can easily be not seen form shore. This is a good reason why it is sensible to carry a means of communication so you can summon help yourself. Flares can be used to aid location once you have alerted the coastguard.
Flares do have some downsides: they are costly, have a limited life-span, may not be waterproof, can burn you and are -in some areas- very difficult to dispose of safely. Never use out of date flares which may have become unstable and could miss-fire.
We have recently switched to using Greatland Laser flares . They are easy to use, have a long range, are long lasting and can be easily carried in a PFD pocket. They are good for helping aid location once you have alerted the Coastguard. I discuss these and other methods of location in my article in Ocean Paddler.
Paddle leashes and Tow Lines
If you are paddling on your own consider a leash for both you and the paddle in case you fall in. It is surprising how fast a kayak can drift away from you in even a light wind.
Buy or make a simple tow-line. This is very useful if paddling with young people who can get tired easily. A tow line also enables you to moor up your kayak when invited onto yachts or when taking a walk. Just make sure you have secured the kayak in case it floats away.
Think of a tow line as a helping hand to be used if someone is finding the going a bit hard.
Practice towing so you know what it feels like. Towing is harder than many realise.
Know your limits
Get experience paddling outside your comfort zone with people who are skilled to provide the safety back up. This is another reason to sign up for one of our courses.
Should you ever find yourself in difficult conditions you will then have some past experience to draw upon.
If you can think-“Yes, I’ve experienced something like this before” you’ll be in a better position to modify and respond to the situation.
Transport and storage
Car roof rack.
Often an unexpected cost. Car roof racks and roof bars to transport sea kayaks can be very costly. All car manufacturers have a maximum loading for a roof rack.
There is the added issue of loading and unloading the kayak and impact on your back.
Who will help you lift the kayak on and off the car? Many back injuries occur when trying to lift a kayak alone. A good reason to go out with others.
Some buy a small box trailer to carry kayaks and kit. This saves lifting and keeps wet gear out of the car. If you need to transport more than one kayak have a look at small kayak trailers. The cost can be similar to some car roof rack systems, but with no risk of damage to your car should you drop a kayak when lifting.
Never use elasticated “Bungee cords” to tie your kayak onto a car roof rack unless you wan tot see it fly off as you drive along. We have also had problems with low price straps which are not very strong or long lasting. We have had a few straps break and now buy the more costly straps with a breaking strain listed. They are a bit more expensive but at least we know our kayaks are secure.
Detachable roof roller.
In my book on page 12 I mention a roller to attach to the car roof rack. Sadly it is no longer available. However, there are a couple options.
Use the C Tug trolley upturned on the car tailgate. Attach a couple cords to hold it in position running from the roof bars to the C Tug and one down to the bumper. The upturned wheels can now be used as rollers.
Or, have a look at Van Guard for roller units that attach to the roof bars.
Storing your kayak
Somewhere safe and accessible. This may not be an easy option and a good reason why some prefer to just go on tours or courses where the cost of the kayak is included.
Sit-on Top Kayak Courses and training
There are also many Sit-on-top kayak forums on the internet. Most are very useful. Some who give advice on these forums may not have as much experience of kayaking as you might think from looking at their posts. It saddens me when I see paddlers spending ages discussing techniques and kit which had they bothered to get a bit of advice from kayak coaches would have saved them lots of time and cash.
We run courses to develop skills and seamanship. This can include taking British Canoeing Star tests, a standard of kayaking ability recognised world wide.
Our kayak courses and awards give you a solid technical and practical base. My book: Sit-on-top kayak will also give you lots of handy hints and tips to get the most out of your kayaking.
Even if you invest in your own gear we can still offer you places on our trips and courses at special rates.
The above is for information only and you kayak and use any of the advice at your own risk.
Get professional tuition, go on courses and learn to sea kayak. Be safe and have fun!
Updated February 2017