Selecting a Kayak
Where do you start your selection?
Perhaps the biggest problem you will have is selecting a kayak that will fit all your needs. There are as many styles, selections, colors and shapes so selecting the right one for you isn't always easy. Two of our business owners use no less than 3 different make/models of kayak to give them the optimum performance for Surfing, White Water and touring.
Selecting the proper kayak depends on many criteria:
- How comfortable are you with less stability?
- Where are you planning on paddling?
- Have you ever kayaked before?
- Have you taken a kayaking course or coaching before?
- What do you want to do from your kayak?
- Are you claustrophobic?
- Are you taking kids or animals?
The first few questions will help better answer the second half of the questions.
- How comfortable are you with less stability?
Spoiler alert, this ties directly into the next question! You see there are two main types of stability in kayaks, Initial Stability and Secondary Stability.
- Initial Stability is essentially how stable the kayak feels when you are sitting flat on the water. Does it feel very "tipsy" when you move around? If so then it's initial stability is less. This isn't necessarily undesirable as a kayak with less initial stability can quickly be put on its edge to turn, making the hull more responsive in the hands of a trained and experienced paddler. It also means the last stages of a roll may be a bit more smooth with less resistance.
- Secondary Stability is how "tipsy" the kayak feels when on "edge" or heeled over on it's side. Good secondary stability provides added confidence while edging your kayak to turn quickly, adjust your position in surf, high brace into waves...etc.
If you are new to kayaking we suggest a kayak with good initial stability. This typically means a wider kayak like a recreational kayak. These kayaks, however, are designed for flat sheltered water NOT OPEN WATER. Open water requires a longer narrower kayak...not comfortable in a kayak like that yet? Then don't paddle in open water in one that isn't designed for open water....it's pretty simple right?
- Where do you plan on paddling?
Where you plan on paddling can help you determine what kind of kayak you need. But first ask your self am I capable of paddling in the desired location? Every year Paddlers drown in the Maritime provinces from paddling related incidents. The get caught in the wind, they get caught in the tide and very often they succumb to hypothermia. Open bodies of water can pose all manner of threats to your paddling activity.
Open bodies of water
For open bodies of water we suggest a minimum of 13' and no less than 1 Bulkhead (wall in the hull from the bottom to the top of the hull) in the front (or bow of the kayak) and no less than 1 bulkhead in the stern. The length makes the kayak more efficient in the water meaning you wont get tired as quickly, a longer kayak will also track straighter and generally go faster in the water. The problem with most touring kayaks is they are narrower (again, this aids in the efficiency and the speed of the kayak) making them less stable. It is for that reason that we suggest a paddler have experience or instruction/experience before venturing off in open water for the first time. If you can't get back in your boat without help in less than 3 min then you may consider a recreational kayak and sheltered water to build up competence and skill. Not sure if you can get back in your boat in less than 3 min? Then you're probably not at the skill level yet (you haven't pushed your limits to the point you are in the water), either that or you can roll in which case the sky should be your limit!
Rivers, Small Lakes, Ponds and Streams
If your adventures will take into more sheltered waters then the smaller recreational line might be more suitable. For one they are more maneuverable (because they have less length to turn in the water), they are typically wider (which generally makes them more stable). Keep in mind that a portion of the boat connected to the cockpit and not separated by a bulkhead will fill with water in a capsize event. If the kayak you select is equipped with less than two bulkheads you may want to stay in areas that allow for easily swimming your boat ashore to get the water out.
- Have you ever kayaked before?
Why would this matter? If you have experience (we're talking real experience here) then you may be able to better handle a touring kayak. Have you ever purposely capsized your kayak? No? How do you know how you will react WHEN you capsize your kayak? What if you are in open water when it happens? Take the time to practice getting back into your kayak, learning where the Primary and Secondary Stability edges are. Learn what happens when you go past the secondary stability point. Learn how to roll, it will greatly increase your confidence. If you are a competent paddler then you will be more confident in a long narrow touring boat.
- Have you taken a kayaking course or had kayak coaching?
Taking a nationally accredited course or coaching like Paddle Canada, American Canoe Association or British Canoe Union is a great indicator of your abilities and thus what kind of Kayak would best suit your needs. Someone with a Paddle Canada Sea Kayak Level 1 skills should be comfortable in a touring kayak or sea kayak while they build their skills. Someone with Paddle Canada Level 2, 3 or 4 Sea Kayaking Skills should be competent in open water in either a touring or sea kayak. If you haven't taken any courses or coaching and aren't sure where your skills are yet then we recommend purchasing a recreational kayak and staying in sheltered waters like a small lake, pond, stream or small river. The Saint John River isn't small and the Bay of Fundy is no place for a small recreational kayak REGARDLESS OF WHAT PICTURES MANUFACTURERS POST!!!!
- What do you want to do from your Kayak?
What you want to do with or from your kayak will be a big determinant as to what kayak you may need:
- Fishing - Fishing kayaks come in to basic set-up, sit on top and sit in. Fishing kayaks are typically wider and less efficient for forward paddling BUT are more stable due to their typically wider hull.
- Touring - Touring Kayaks and Sea Kayaks are typically narrower and longer if you are new to kayaking this may not be the best starting kayak as their narrower hull typically means less initial stability then a recreational or sit on top kayak. If you are new consider a recreational kayak to build confidence at which point we do provide excellent market trade in value allowing you to trade up to a more efficient design. If you aren't new to kayaking and want to explore for long distances then a long boat is best!
- Photography - If you are looking to take pictures of scenery or wildlife you'll want stability especially if it's overcast and you want to keep your ISO as close to 100 as possible. Selecting the right kayak should be as easy as buying the widest to ensure stability but we must also consider where you are going. If you want to take pictures of whales then you will need 2 bulkheads and 13' + in length. A 13' or 14' long boat may be better as they are typically wider BUT remember a shorter and wider boat is going to require more strokes to get from point A to B as they are less efficient in the water! If you have a waterproof camera a longer sit on top may be more to your liking. If you have a DSLR then a slightly wider sea kayak or touring kayak maybe what the doctor ordered (depending on your skill level). If you plan on staking shots in more sheltered water like smaller lakes and streams then shorter wider recreational kayaks would be perfect!
- Camping - It really depends on where you want to go camping and for how long. If you are in sheltered waters any kayak with enough storage will do. If you are in open water and/or you are staying out for more than one day you may want to select a touring or sea kayak. Remember if you are paddling in salt water you will need to pack enough water to cook with and drink for the duration of your trip.
- Rapids - If you plan on traversing white water rapids then your best bet is a White Water Kayak.
- Diving - If you are interested in salt water diving from a kayak your best bet is a 13' + Sit on Top Kayak. The sit on top platform gives lots of room to lash down diving gear and provides a stable platform from which to dive. Make sure the kayak you select doesn't have a high free board/gunwale (height of the side of the kayak) as this will prove difficult to re-board.
- Are you Claustrophobic?
Do you feel constrained in small spaces like the cockpit of a kayak? Not sure how you will react in a capsize event? First, try renting a sit in kayak. Rent it in the summer when the water is warm and take it to the beach. While at the beach, capsize the kayak. Try it first with the skirt off, then with your hand on the skirt handle (make sure it isn't tucked inside the cockpit combing) capsize again. Remove the skirt by pulling on the handle once you are upside down then get out of the kayak. If you can handle that then you can handle a sit in kayak. This is also great wet exit practice, it's better to practice the exercise in controlled conditions, learning how you first react and training your body how you want it to react, so when it happens unexpectedly you are more prepared. If you struggle psychologically with this exercise you may consider a sit on top kayak.
- Are you planning on taking the kids, Grand kids or pets?
Sit in kayaks are typically designed for one occupant unless you get a Tandem Kayak. Some recreational kayaks like the Old Town Vapor and Loon allow for ample cockpit space for stow-aways. Be mindful of the kayaks max displacement (sometimes shown as allowable weight or paddler weight). Do not exceed this spec as it will compromise the stability of the kayak. Another option to consider is larger sit on top kayaks. Some are designed with room for a passenger and have ample displacement to accommodate them.
- Still not sure?