Sit on kayaks are a great way to begin learning to kayak or enjoy the sport at a relaxed pace. Air-filled plastic gives you buoyancy and without the feeling of being enclosed, you will feel safe to venture out on the water alone with only a small amount of training. But, it is still important to do your research before you make your purchase.
There are a whole load of issues surrounding manoeuvrability versus stability that need to be considered, as well as your skill level for handling your kayak. You also need to ask yourself if you need something that will help you develop your technique or just something that will give you chance to paddle out a few times a year. Do you need something that will wear well when it is dragged up the beach or something that comes with easy repairable parts? In this guide, we explain how to choose the best sit on top kayak for yourself, what to look for in each category, and which important features to consider when shopping for one online.
Our #1 recommendation
If you are on a tight budget then the top recommended kayak is the Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-on-Top Kayak. This kayak is a sturdy and well-made boat with great attention to small details such as the seats and the carry handles. The kayak is brilliant for beginners, as it is particularly stable. This is an amazing buy for around $500.
But, if you have a little more to spend and are committed to kayaking, then try the Malibu Kayak X-Factor Fish and Dive. As the name suggests, this is intended for people who want to use the kayak for fishing from or diving from. At a serious price of up to $1.3k you need to know you are getting a quality package. You get 4 fishing rod holders and a rear hatch with a built-in bag. It can hold up to 625lbs and has a high rocker, meaning it can cut through rough seas well. This kayak will make you feel safe and allow you to have fun without worry.
Typical sit-on-top kayak uses
So, why choose a sit on top over a closed boat or even a canoe?
First, sit on top kayaks are safer if you are likely to capsize a lot. This makes this kayak best for the beginner or casual kayaker but also those who want to stretch their skills into unknown waters. When you roll over you are simply tipped into the water. You can then easily right the kayak and get back on board with limited, if any, assistance. This certainly keeps the fun going for longer.
Next, these kayaks are pretty much unsinkable. They are an almost flat piece of hard plastic made buoyant by the air trapped inside. Try sinking an empty plastic bottle that has its cap on. Sit on top kayaks also have scupper holes, which bail out the water for you – so they tend not to get submerged by water creeping over the top. This makes these kayaks perfect for fishing – as the stability offered and the self-bailing leaves you free to reel in your catch.
Being open top means that people of all sizes can go out for a paddle and swim at the same time – the kayak acts as a natural platform off which to venture out into deeper waters and then return to shore easily when tired. It also means you have a lot of storage space, so you can take items with you. This makes your sit on top kayak a perfect vehicle for hopping between islands.
Really, the uses of sit on kayaks are only limited by your imagination. Makers have certainly thought to design special sit on kayaks meant for fishing, surfing, touring, scuba diving and gentle sea paddling for beginners. These are cheaper than there closed over colleagues and more flexible in their use – so a great investment for anyone interested in this water sport.
What to consider when choosing your sit on kayak
Use: There are many ways of using your sit on top kayak. You can use it to tour, to fish, dive from or swim from, running the rapids of a river or floating up the coastline. Your planned use of your kayak will change the design, weight and size of your kayak.
Size: Shorter kayaks are easier to turn and manoeuvre and longer kayaks are quicker and easier to paddle if you are going for long distances. The beam (width) of the kayak is important for levels of stability. The wider the kayak the more stable it is but will be slower and harder to paddle. There are also a variety of depths available. The taller the sides on your sit on top kayak the more storage room you will have. However, tall sides are susceptible to the impact of the wind.
Weight: There are two issues here. The amount of weight the kayak can hold. On average a kayak can hold 300lbs, which should be more than enough for you and your luggage. A tandem kayak can hold on average 600lbs. The other weight consideration is how heavy the kayak is itself. Transportation and storage of the kayak to the water is a major consideration. The lighter the better in this instance but be aware that light kayaks can also be more challenging to control on fast moving water.
Capacity: Kayaks can seat a single individual. A tandem kayak can hold two adults, a child or a pet. There is often capacity for luggage.
Material: There are three options available to you. Plastic, composite or soft shells. Plastic kayaks come in either polyethylene, which is the most popular material used or thermoformed ABS. Polyethylene is cheaper and resists damage well but thermoformed ABS is much lighter, though more expensive.
Composite is essentially high-end fibre glass with Kevlar and carbon. This is found most in more expensive boats and comes with the benefit of being reparable. Soft shells are inflatable and folding boats – almost cloth-like in texture and obviously much easier to store and repair with patch kits.
Design: When looking at the design you should consider the shape of the hull, the cockpit, the coaming, the seats, the foot pegs, the thigh braces, the hatches, the skeg and the rudder. You need to ask such questions as:
- Do you want a flat-bottom, rounded or vs-shaped hull?
- How snug do you want the cockpit to be?
- Do you want adjustable or moulded seats?
- Do you want enclosed storage areas or are you happy to use bungee over the deck?
- Do you want a skeg to help with crosswinds and cross-currents?
The main decisions will focus on whether your priority is performance, stability or comfort.
Accessories: When buying your kayak you also need to consider the paddle you want, the safety gear such as a buoyancy aid and a rack for your car. There are also options of fishing rod holders, cup holders, carrying handles, UV protection and much more.
Warranty: A kayak is an expensive purchase. You need to be sure that there is a warranty to cover damage or breakages. Some kayak makers are so confident that they offer a lifetime warranty. In most cases the average lifespan of a warranty is between three and five years and will not cover damage caused by any accidents you might have.
Best for kids
This is an awesome sport for kids to get involved with. Out in the open, loving the water, a chance to swim and a chance to get fit all at the same time. So, when encouraging kids to get into one of the greatest water sports out there – what sit on top kayak will work best?
Lifetime Youth 6 feet Wave Kayak (with paddle)
This is a great starter kayak for kids and comes with some pretty nifty features! The swim up deck is a particular favourite, as it means that if your child slips into the water they can easily get themselves back on board. This will offer the safety and confidence for the child that they are always able to paddle back to shore, even if they fall in! However, there are more reasons to choose this kayak:
- It is lightweight, making it perfect for kids to transport for themselves. This also means it is relatively easy to store, as it can be placed on top of other objects or on a simple hook or shelf.
- There are scupper holes that make the kayak self-bailing, meaning your kid is unlikely to find themselves submerged – no matter what the horseplay that is going on.
- It is made from a durable plastic for strength – meaning that the kids can give it a battering and it will last the course.
- There are moulded finger handles each side, to help with moving the kayak around.
This Lifetime Youth Kayak also comes with its own paddle and for a surprisingly low price. With all this, it is difficult to know why you wouldn’t want to give the gift of open water adventure to your children.
Sometimes we want to be alone but really the best sports are shared with others. A tandem sit on top kayak will allow you to share your love of open water with someone close to you – what could be better? There is a lot of choice available when selecting your tandem sit on top kayak – so here are some of the best sit-on-top kayaks of the bunch for you to select.
Ocean Kayak 12-feet Malibu Tandem Sit on Top recreational kayak
This is the ultimate in flexibility in kayak design. This 12-foot kayak allows for someone to go out alone, or with a partner or with a partner and your child. There are three seating positions – one in the bow, the stern and then one in the middle for the child. It is light enough to be taken out alone but comfortable enough for a small family. This alone makes this kayak one of our top choices. But, what other features can you enjoy?
- Two moulded comfort seats at the bow and at the stern, designed to be comfortable no matter what your leg length. There is also a moulded seat in the middle for the smaller bottom!
- There are gear straps for holding down bags and other equipment – even the paddle if you get off to swim,
- There is a skid plate – helpful for getting on and off the kayak – from the dock or from the water
- Overlapping foot wells, which means this kayak can sit three in absolute comfort.
This is a great all-round kayak – great for the ocean and for the river. It will bring the family together or act as a great touring kayak for a lone sailor!
Vibe Kayaks Skipjack Tandem
First of all, this kayak looks cool. It comes in two camouflage designs – whether it is green or blue camouflage, with cool back rests that make this look the part. There are two seating areas and two covered hatches for your kit. This is a tandem that you can imagine taking out for long tours along lazy rivers or up the coast for some exploration.
This is a kayak sold on its storage and its stability. It performs great on surf, in rivers or on flat water – and makes a great kayak to fish from.
What else does this Vibe Kayak offer?
- Four handles for easy handling in and out of the water
- Rear mounting with straps for extra storage
- Lots of space in the kayak – perfect for the leggy amongst us, or for storing the fish you catch
- Sturdy yet manoeuvrable – a little heavy to carry out of the water at a hefty 74lbs but this makes it better in the water
- Four mounting points, which can hold your fishing rod for you – making for a great lazy day on the lake!
Sold specifically for fishing, this kayak is also a perfect tourer that can be handled by one or two paddlers. It offers enough flexibility to suggest it is a bit of an all-rounder in the sit on top kayak world!
Ocean Kayak 16 feet 4.5inch Expedition Kayak
The longer and sleeker the kayak the faster these things can travel – something this long and this narrow promising some exhilarating rides. Despite its promise of speed and stealth, it can still hold two adults and a child – or your dog! It has a capacity for 600lb weight on board – so this promises a sturdy boat, as well as potentially quick! Here are some other features to tempt you:
- Comfort seats with moulded foot areas
- There is a tank at the bank for your things, held down with bungee – there is a smaller area in the bow too – making this a perfect kayak for touring
- There are handles at the sides, as well as at the bow and stern – making it easy to transport
- Ski plate, cup holders, paddle holders – this kayak has been designed for ease and comfort of use.
It may be quite long and heavy – making storage and transportation a little difficult – but it is designed to be loaded up with your kit, so you and your loved ones can disappear on an adventure for a day or maybe even weeks away.
Best under $500
Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit Recreational
If you haven’t got much to spend, it is still possible to enjoy this incredible sport on a budget. There are some quality boats in this price bracket but our recommendation is the Ocean Kayak Frenzy. You will find that anyone who has made this purchase will tell you how safe it feels in this kayak, even on rough water. This makes this a great beginner boat. It is not without its little bonuses though:
- It has a stern tank with a removeable bungee for storage
- Carry handles and cup holders, moulded into the boat
- Tri-form hull for stability and manoeuvrability
Best under $750
Perception Kayak Tribe Sea Spray
This is a stylish kayak that tracks well and feels stable in the water. What is particularly attractive about this boat is its weight – particularly important for transportation to and from the water. This also makes it easy to manoeuvre. The seat is adjustable, so it doesn’t matter how tall you are, you are going to be comfortable in this kayak.
- Added length to boost the speed
- Extra storage, to help if touring
- Great for beginners or veterans
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 Kayak
This is a great kayak for those who want to transport it on a standard car – at a length of 10ft and a reasonable 55lbs, it is convenient to load, transport and unload. It has plenty of storage, some that runs the full length of the kayak and tracks to allow for extra accessories. Along with these features, you can also enjoy:
- A seat that ensures back stability and ventilation to help with your stroke
- Cup holders
- Water-proofed hatches
Best under $1k
Ocean Kayak Prowler Angler Fishing
This is one of the first kayaks to have been released to the market for purchase by all and it is still one of the most popular. As the name suggests, this is specifically designed for fishing – with additional stability and storage. This doesn’t have to be the only reason you buy this sit-on-top kayak. This kayak comes with many features, such as:
- Fast, stable and quiet hull designed for calm and rough waters
- Large hatches in the front and rear
- Comfort plus seats, with 2 rod holders, 2 cup holders, 2 paddle keeps and a skid plate.
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 Kayak
This light weight and comfortable kayak is known for its durability and stability on the water. It is a kayak that cuts through the water and offers enough manoeuvrability to make it interesting. Like all Wilderness kayaks, this is a well-built craft that will last the course. You can expect:
- Enough storage for touring, diving or fishing
- Plenty of room for all levels of expertise
- Easy to transport
Malibu Kayaks X Factor Package Kayak
This kayak is excellent for use when fishing and diving. It includes a four-point rear hatch with a bag, with enough space for all your kit. It can deal with the biggest swell, as it has a high rocker which cuts through the waves. This is a stable ride, which will keep you safe and dry. The kayak includes:
- Capacity for people and equipment up to 625lbs
- 2 front and 2 rear rod holders
- Suitable for ocean travel.
Best under $2k
Wilderness Systems Ride 135 Kayak
Wilderness kayaks are top-quality makers and therefore get a number of their crafts into this best of reviews. This kayak offers some of the latest innovations in kayaks – including adjustable AirPro Freedom Elite seat and Keeper XL Foot Brace System. You can also enjoy:
- An Orbix bow, stern and midship hatch for amazing storage
- A tankwell with bungee, if you need more space for your equipment
- A Removable and sliding seat
Old Town Predator MX 2017
Predator is a great name for this kayak. The design is one of stealth and looks as professional as you hope. The comfort seat is adjustable and there is polyethylene hull makes this kayak super durable. This is best for fishing, as it is stable and comes with outstanding storage space. You can also expect:
- Slop-resistant exo-ridge deck
- One way scupper valves
- Side tracks that allow you to customise your accessories, from fish rod holders, cup holders and more.
Frontier Pinnacle Essential Adjustable 260cm – 280cm
The first thing you will notice about this kayak is that its seat is perched high on the deck. This gives you an excellent view of the water, whilst increasing your sense of stability in the boat. This 360-pinnacle seat is by far the best feature of an outstanding kayak, which comes with:
- A NuCanoe Black pak
- Zooka tube rod holder
- A 260cm – 280cm paddle aluminium paddle included
Best under $3k
2016 Hobie Cat Mirage Outback
With a high seat and a skeg, used for cutting through crosswinds and crosscurrents, this is a kayak meant for someone who loves the sport and has some expertise. This kayak is a mix of stability, manoeuvrability and speed. You will also enjoy:
- A vantage seat, with space beneath
- Glide technology with bluefins
- Lowrance Ready System, which makes the kayak ready for sonar installation, if you are a fishing pro.
Old Town Predator PDL Kayak
This is a beautiful design, with camouflage design and high perched seat, it feels perfect for those who love to fish on the ocean, lake or river. The performance crafted tri-hull and rudder control, this boat allows for some great performance. You also gain the pedal drive, which sets this kayak apart from other Old Town Predator kayaks. You will also get:
- Oversized hatch for your kit
- Skid resistant deck
- Adjustable seat for great comfort
Best for an unlimited budget
Hobie Pro Angler 12
And finally, if money is no object and kayaking is your life, there is the Hobie Pro – and from the title you know this will come packed with features that will make kayaker’s hearts beat faster. This is lightweight and easy to manoeuvre. It has bow hatch and rod storage for your fishing equipment, as well as has hands-free paddling so you can keep all your concentration on your fishing. This is a great kayak, with:
- An accessory mount, so you can customise your accessories
- Drainage scuppers
- A working area with a cutting board on top of the storage hatch.