Sit-on-Top Vs. Sit-In Kayaks

by Lawrence Adams
Choosing the right kayak can be a difficult decision.

Choosing the right kayak can be a difficult decision.

Choosing the right kayak is an extremely personal and detailed process. You must consider the type of kayaking you will do, where this will be done, your skill level, and what you want out of a kayak. Reading about specific kayaks from multiple manufacturers will ensure that you make an informed purchase when the time comes. Before you begin your search, however, you much decide between the two basic kayak types: sit-on-top and traditional sit-in kayaks.


One of the most common concerns when purchasing a kayak for beginners pertains to the kayak's stability in the water. Sit-on-top kayaks usually offer greater stability because their hulls are designed wider to counter the higher center of gravity. For beginner kayakers, the stability of a sit-on-top kayak may increase confidence in the water when first learning paddling techniques. Also, if you plan on fishing from your kayak, a sit-on-top will be more forgiving of sudden shifts of weight. Sit-in kayaks are generally less stable than sit-on-top kayaks, although the many movement-related advantages to sit-in kayaks often outweigh and even make up for their decreased stability.

Cockpit or Not

Sit-on-top kayaks may be more comfortable for taller and larger paddlers because there is no tight cockpit to slip inside. To paddle a sit-in kayak, a paddler must be flexible enough to gracefully slide into the cockpit and bend forward to adjust foot peddles if present. Additionally, it is easier to climb back into a sit-on-top kayak on the water because of the kayak's open deck. For beginners, this can be a key issue when learning recovery methods in open water.

Tour Kayaking

Sit-in kayaks protect paddlers from the elements, keep the paddler dryer and warmer and are able to haul gear for touring trips. If you plan to camp or paddle for many hours, a sit-in kayak may be a better choice because of its ability to protect you and your gear for long periods of time. Also, if you plan to paddle in any season other than summer, a sit-in kayak can drastically affect your enjoyment and health when paddling in less than ideal weather situations.


When paddling in whitewater in a sit-in kayak you must be able to complete a roll to right yourself in the event of a capsize. For beginners who want to surf in their kayak, a sit-on-top kayak will allow the paddlers to bail and recover with more ease than with a sit-in kayak. However, if as a beginner paddler you plan on taking classes to improve your techniques in whitewater, you might consider a sit-in kayak, which will allow you to capsize and right yourself in whitewater without swamping your kayak.


While a sit-on-top kayak offers more stability, the wider hull and absence of a cockpit drastically reduce the amount of control a paddler has at any time. Kayaks are largely stabilized by body weight and leaning. A sit-on-top kayak loses these aspects of control without the cockpit, which secures the paddler snugly in the kayak for maneuverability purposes. Because of this, sit-in kayaks are considered safer than sit-on-top kayaks for tours, day trips, and frequent whitewater paddling. Having confident control over your kayak results in safer paddles.


Recreational sit-in kayaks are less expensive than touring and sea kayaks. Sit-in whitewater kayaks vary drastically in price depending on manufacturer, shape and type of whitewater use. Sit-on-top kayaks are often priced around recreational sit-in kayaks and lower than those with longer, more detailed hull shapes. If you plan on getting a lot of use out of your kayak, a better made, more expensive sit-in kayak might be more suitable. However, if you are looking for a kayak to splash around in during the day, with little or no lengthy trips, a less expensive sit-on-top kayak will suit your needs well.

About the Author

Lawrence Adams' work has appeared in the "Marquette Literary Review" and "Broadview Press." He has a Bachelor of Arts from Marquette University in writing-intensity English and classical studies, with a minor in biology, and a Master of Arts in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

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