Choosing a Kayak
Buying a Used Kayak


............ < on the water >

Choosing a Kayak
Kayaks are available in a variety of models with specific designs for different water conditions. In choosing a kayak, first you'll need to decide what type of water you'll be paddling in - inland lakes, flatwater streams, ocean coast or whitewater rivers. Next, an understanding of some design basics will help you narrow the field.

Length: In general, longer kayaks are faster on the water and have greater cargo capacity. They are also slower to turn, and heavier.

Beam: This refers to the width of the kayak at its widest point. A wide beam gives more stability, and more room for gear. As width increases, however, speed and ease of paddling decrease.

Chine: This refers to a "corner", or edge, in the cross-section of a hull. Some boats have "hard" chines, while others tend to be more rounded. The harder chine boat has better initial stability (when you're first stepping in), and is easier to carve turns. The rounder chine hull has more final stability (when leaned over to one side), but will side-slip around turns.

Flare: The outward angle of the hull sides when viewed in cross-section. More flare increases lift and stability.

Rocker: This refers to the upswept curve of the boat hull bottom when viewed from the side. A boat with little rocker tracks well (holds its straight-line course) but is harder to turn. More rocker lets the boat be more maneuverable, but not as fast. Whitewater kayaks will have more rocker, while cruising kayaks have less.

Volume: The amount of space inside the boat. In general, higher volume means more buoyancy and more storage space. This assumes the volume is evenly distributed throughout the boat. (Volume concentrated in the middle, with the ends of the boat narrow, results in very different performance.) Kayaks with evenly distributed volume will have more storage capacity for gear and will float better in variable water conditions.




Touring These kayaks are designed for straight ahead efficiency and easy paddling over distance. Touring kayaks are usually long (15 to 19 feet), V-shaped hull cross-section, and little rocker. They have hatches for watertight gear stowage and lash down straps on deck. These boats are for cruising, overnights and extended trips.

Whitewater These kayaks are maneuverable, lightweight and durable, designed for rapids, obstacles and even surfing. Shorter than touring kayaks, less roomy and more rocker.

Singles Designed for the independent paddler, with room for gear but shorter and more maneuverable than doubles. Lighter and easier to transport.

Doubles Designed for two paddlers. The work load is shared, and distances are reached with less effort. Also good for parent/child paddling. A double is more stable than a single of the same design.

Sit-on-Tops This is an open kayak, with no cockpit to climb into. Very stable and fun, but not good for extended trips as there's no dry storage space. Sit-on-tops are great for snorkeling or swimming, as they provide a stable platform. It's easy to roll off into the water, and easy to climb back on.

Inflatables Buoyant and very stable, less expensive and easier to transport and store. Fun, and a good way to learn to paddle, but not nearly as fast or efficient as a hardshell kayak. Because the inflatable is on the water more than in the water, it is pushed around more easily by the wind.

Folding Kayaks Designed for portability, folding kayaks can be transported on planes or trains with security. A framework of metal or wooden struts locks together and a fabric covering is stretched over. These kayaks are more expensive and less efficient than hardshell kayaks, but they are well designed for their purpose and have stood the test of time and many well documented long distance kayak adventures.


Buying a Used Kayak

  • Wash down kayak inside and out. Sand, dirt and leaves can conceal cracks and flaws.
  • Check gaskets on hatches. Spray with a hose to check for watertightness.
  • Look for corrosion of bolts which fasten down deck fittings. They can be replaced with stainless. Cover inside ends with shoe goo or silicone to keep them from gouging your gear.
  • Elastic deck lines deteriorate with age and exposure to sun. They may need replacing. The grab loop cords at bow and stern may also need replacing.
  • Gouges and surface cracks can be repaired easily with epoxy or gelcoat repair kits. Surface shine can be restored with marine wax.
  • Indentations in polyethylene hulls can be smoothed out with gradually applied weights and a steady heat source, such as a hair drier.
  • Check cockpit coaming for cracks and jagged edges. These can and should be repaired with epoxy or a fiberglass repair kit.
  • Look for worn or frayed cables if kayak has a rudder. Check mechanical parts and fastenings.
  • It's best if the kayak is made by a manufacturer still in business. Replacement parts and feature upgrades will be easier to get.

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< on the water >