10' vs 12' Kayak

My family and I are getting into kayaking and I’m trying to decide between a 10’ and 12’ recreational kayaks. I’ve done a ton of reading, but I can’t really seem to find a major difference between the two boats.

Some information on us:

  1. I’m not a big guy at 5’ 10" 145 lbs. but have a fairly athletic build. My mom and sister are 5’ 5" and 110 lbs. and also are in pretty good physical shape but don’t have a lot of upper body strength.

  2. We will be kayaking primarily on the Ohio river, some of the smaller tributaries that run into it, and a few lakes around the area. I don’t see us doing any white water or rapids any time soon (probably never for them). These will mostly be used just to paddle around and take pictures though I do plan to do some fishing out of mine.

  3. The boats will be transported on top of a Subaru Forester. Mine may be strapped to the top of my Fusion from time to time. We will probably get a couple J style carriers for this.

  4. We’re looking at the Pelican Pursuit 100 and 120 to get us started.

  5. We have found the 100 on craigslist for an incredible price and in excellent condition.

    Our questions:
  6. All else being equal, what are the noticeable differences between a 10’ and a 12’ kayak?

  7. Both boats are about the same width. Does the extra 2 feet in length make any difference in stability (avoiding rolling over) on the river or lake?

    My initial thought Is to get them the 10’ so it will be easier for them to handle and get the 12’ for myself to ease longer paddles for fishing. Stability for them is probably the most important thing. Neither of them is going to want to be on the water if keeping the kayak upright is an issue.

    Thank you in advance for your help. I’m looking forward to getting on the water!

choosing kayaks

– Last Updated: Jul-25-12 10:58 AM EST –

I live in SW PA and often paddle the big rivers including the Ohio. Personally, I would not care to paddle a 10' rec kayak in a large river. They are slow and tedious to make any headway with. You may think of the Ohio as just flatwater, but with wind and the inevitable coal barges and power boat traffic you have to contend with waves and wakes as well as what can be sizable current during rainy season.

I know it is tempting to consider the cheap small "rec" boats as "starter" kayaks and no doubt there will be people on here who support that idea, but we are all entitled to voice an opinion and I am offering mine against that idea. Rec boats are OK for puddling around in a pond or for short floats on small creeks. But they have limitations. Being wide they offer little body contact with the boat for small to average sized people. Kayaks really can't be "one size fits all" and perform well since they are best controlled by body language. They have deep hulls too, so shorter folks will tend to bang their knuckles on the gunwales (sides) as they paddle.

Despite the perception of them as "stable" due to the wide flat bottoms, that characteristic also can cause them to capsize more easily if hit by a large boat wake or reflected wave. They are slow and balky to paddle and most don't track straight very well which means a lot of correcting strokes which can be tiresome -- a lot of beginners get quickly frustrated with the poor performance and yearn for something more nimble and effortless. You will also never learn any real kayaking skills from paddling them. The difference between paddling a slightly longer and narrower boat and one of these slugs is night and day.

Also, the cheap boats you are looking at do not have sealed bulkheads but are completely open hulls, which is a definite safety hazard in a big river. That means if they are swamped by a wave or flip they will be flooded and sink. You can add flotation bags in the hulls but that is extra expense. They also have gaping cockpits which usually will not support a spray skirt to keep water from getting in the boat from waves, rain or drips off the paddle.

If budget is your main limitation, look for used kayaks on Craigslist. You can almost always find superior used light touring or better rec style boats for what you would pay for the flimsy rec boats at big box general sporting goods stores. In fact I just sold two beautiful used touring kayaks for around $400 each on CL.

Before you waste any money on these purchases, I strongly suggest you find a local outfitter that can offer you on the water demos of various boats. Don't bother with the Big Box retailers (Dicks, Dunhams, Sports Authority, etc.). Look for a local outfitter (usually the same shops that sell backpacking and climbing gear) or one of the wilderness sports chains like REI, EMS or L.L.Bean. All of them offer either on the water demos or tours and lessons you can take with their rental boats. Until you have gotten a feel for what different boat styles are like (and an intro lesson in both paddling technique and basic boat handling a safety would be advisable too) you risk being dissappointed in hasty purchases of marginal boats. Resale on them is poor -- you would be lucky to unload them for half what you paid. Better in my opinion to put the upfront cash into better boats you will not quickly outgrow.

It is actually easier to load and haul longer and narrower boats on any car.

I have introduced dozens of people to river kayaking, always with my good touring type boats over 12' in length, and everyone whose first experience was with shorty rec style boats vastly preferred the ease, comfort and speed of my touring boats over the others.

As I said, there are others who will contradict my opinion but I think it is fair for you to hear both sides and make your own choices. If you were just floating around in a pond I would not have such a strong take on this, but the Ohio is a major industrial river and taking rec boats out on it would be like trying to ride a tricycle on the Interstate.

try before you buy
If you can, go to a kayak dealer who allows demos. It only takes a couple of minutes to understand and feel the difference a couple of feet makes–everything else being fairly equal.

I would advise you to set your sights a little higher if possible. There is an enormous difference between 10 and 12 foot kayaks and say 13.5 to 14 footers.

Be very careful not to try anything in the 16+ category, or your whole game plan will have to be revised.

more specifics on sizing
I agree on the sub 16’ length. The most versatile kayak for light day touring is one 12’ to 15’ and 25" or less in width at the center, with a normal sized cockpit and sealed stern and bow bulkheads. My favorite kayak for the Ohio and feeder streams is a 15’ long by 22" wide light touring model. I can easily paddle up or down stream smoothly, can get out of the way of barges quickly and it pops over big boat wakes like a cork – I can even surf the long rolling wakes from the bigger ships. I’m 5’ 5", about 160 lbs and in moderately good shape (I’m also 62 and have no trouble loading it or any of my other kayaks up to 18’ long so longer boats are not a headache to haul).

But, again, PLEASE try out some kayaks first and get some basic instruction so you understand what you are getting into. No boat, no matter how cheap, is worth dropping your hard earned cash if it isn’t well suited to what you want to use it for.

We often see inquiries from people wanting to start kayaking with ultracheap little discount “bathtub” boats. You have to understand that for those of us who are familiar with the sport, it is like people telling us they are planning to buy a $79.95 bicycle from Walmart to ride on challenging mountain bike trails. We are just trying to assure you understand the potential dissappointment and even danger of trying to use cheap “toys” for active sports.

Thanks for the advise. What now?
Unfortunately, there are not any local dealers other than the large retailers. The only one that was in the area went under… I may have to travel a bit and look at other dealers. It doesn’t seem like there a lot of dealers within a couple hours driving that will allow you to try them on the water, but I haven’t talked to many.

As for the buoyancy issue, I had already looked into getting some closed cell foam and making bulkheads in both of them. I would at least put in some float bags until I can build them.

When looking on craigslist, should I even consider 10’ kayaks or should I stay with something 12’ or greater?


Low end 10’ boats are barges.

– Last Updated: Jul-25-12 3:07 PM EST –

12' is where you can at least feel a little performance.

What general area are you in? That would help in guiding you to resources.

I’m in Parkersburg, WV. I haven’t been able to find anything in this area. If you know of any shops, that would be great.

Hmm, yes you are kind of landlocked. It might be worth the 3 hour drive to Lake Arthur, north of Pittsburgh the weekend after next for the regatta there. Wind and Water sports near the lake always brings lots of demo kayaks for people to try and they are a huge dealer. Fun event, too.

why the capsize concern?
Is it an issue swimming or is the usual silly beginner idea that it is practical to get on the water in a small boat without being prepared for the unexpected?

You should not put yourself on the water with two relatives freaked out about a capsizes, especially if you cannot handle it on the water. Get training, learn more first.

need to get out in kayaks first
You are making some presumptions about kayaking that would be dispelled if the whole family would actually take a Saturday and arrange a trip on the water with a local outfitter. The perception that kayaks are constantly capsizing unless they are as wide as a barge is a common misconception. I agree with Celia that anyone who takes a kayak out should be prepared to deal rationally with the situation IF the kayak flips (not a huge deal, just climb back in – but you should practice this in quiet shallow water so you know how to do it.) But capsizes are not an everyday event in most casual paddling environments. I kayak a lot, often in rough water and always in long narrow boats, and I have not capsized in 3 years and that last time was my own fault and right beside a dock (zigged when I should have zagged trying to climb in.)

I still think it would be worth your while to do a family outing to the Lake Arthur regatta that weekend and also go to Wind and Water, the boat dealer up there.

Yes and Yes
Willowleaf is right, and the key point here is “casual paddling environments”. Celia takes the conservative approach and invariably assumes you will be far from shore and far from help, and that things can and will turn crappy without notice. But I’ve been paddling with “casual kayakers” on inland waters in “casual paddling environments” for close to ten years, and considering the huge number of kayakers and the large number of trips, this amounts to a total number of paddler-days well into the thousands. Yet I’m still waiting to see a kayak capsize on flatwater. And if the day finally comes where one of these casual kayakers DOES capsize in such a situation, well, quiet rivers ain’t the ocean, and they can do the same as what happens when boats tip due to hitting rocks or trees in easy moving water, except that the recovery process will be even easier.

have had friends dump
A few times I have had friend I took out locally capsize in our calm local rivers – in each case they did something dumb. One tried to stand up in the cockpit so she could adjust a cushion she stuck behind her. Of course she went right over. By the time I paddled over to help she had climbed back up and re-entered the cockpit, cowboy style (it was intuitive – she had never practiced it, but she is quite athletic.) She was wet and embarassed but once I pumped a couple of gallons out of the boat we were on our way.

In the other cases people leaned way out of the boats either to grab something or because they were goofing around and trying to splash another paddler. Again, more embarassment than actual woe although one guy soaked and damaged his camera.

All these events happened in sheltered sections of the Mon River, the main feeder that becomes the Ohio, the river where the OP is planning to paddle. So it does happen and it is important to be aware that it can and prepared to deal with it without panic. The biggest risk in that river is large boat wakes and the “urban clapotis” that can result when wakes and wind driven waves reflect off walled in banks and over shallow sand bars. I have surfed substantial wave sets on these rivers in such conditions.

First and then
I have a 10’ rec kayak that I paddle in sloughs and mostly flatwater. Not white water, nor the open seas. It’s fine for my use.

But it’s a “starter boat”, no matter how well I can handle it. You’ll likely want something bigger if you progress.

Take a lesson first in larger boats with a qualified instructor. Once you feel comfortable and understand how to use a kayak, the larger boats won’t seem off to you, they’ll seem right.

There’s nothing wrong with a 10’ or 12’ rec boat. Though they’re slower than sleeker touring boats, I find that my touring buddies paddle hard to keep up with me. That’s until I hit wind and tides, at which point I"m paddling hard to keep up with them. Just depends upon where you are and what you’re trying to do. I’d take mine fishing (I don’t fish) before ever taking one of theirs. To get you out on the water it’s a great start and as long as you get your safety gear (that includes flotation bags front and rear, you’re fine. Up to the point that you want to progress or handle tougher water, that is.


– Last Updated: Jul-26-12 12:20 PM EST –

I would NOT choose Pelican, I have used past models, and they were very poor in handling, very uncomfortable, and they did not track at all.

I did not use the model you are looking into, but I, on the whole, would never buy a Pelican.

Supposing that you are sold on the idea, however, get the 12 foot version, because it will track slightly better.

Grante, I say all this from the point of view of someone who wants to go somewhere. If you intend to just float around and drift, then these will do fine. If you want to do any long trips, however, get something better. (Perception or Old Town would be a good place to start.) Also, you do not need a touring kayak if you are just going to go on small trips. I have one now, a 13 foot Conduit 13, but beforethat I had a ten foot Old Town Trip/Vapor. The performance of the Conduit is far superior, but the Vapor/Trip was not bad either. Don't get something very cheap, but also don't spend more than you want to.

Couple options within an hour of Pburg
There’s a paddle shop in Chillicothe that used to be willing to let people try boats out on the small lake/big pond right behind their building. I don’t know if they still do that, but it’s worth a phone call:


The canoe liveries on the Hocking River in Logan, OH often sell their used boats. I would bet they’d let you try them out first. The river is very slow/flat right next to their shops.


No guideboat guy - not this time

– Last Updated: Jul-26-12 7:07 PM EST –

Reread the original post. The person is indicating that his sister and mother are unwilling to take a boat out if staying up[right is a concern. I don't think it is a reach to restate that as they are fearful or would be very upset. That also means that they could be tense in a boat and help it to occur - as did a friend just a week ago in a boat that should have been impossible for him to take over (a Pungo). The guy was all of 6 feet from shore, happily for him because he didn't have a clue what to do after swimming. No boat wakes even.

I am advising the OPer that it is unwise to risk being in a situation where you could have a wet, unhappy or maybe panicked mother and/or sister and not be able to handle the problem. Especially if they could blame him for choosing a bad boat for them (since it would obviously be the boat's fault....).

This could happen close to shore or well out - the Oper could have a similarly discomforted (putting it mildly) relative on their hands and one person in this equation has to be confident of what they are doing.

I don't think this is extremely conservative advice. Just advice that keeps the family at the same table come Thanksgiving.

(I'd be more casual if he was asking about a friend rather than his own family.)

I didn’t read it that way

– Last Updated: Jul-26-12 9:07 PM EST –

Oh shucks, don't be so sure that no one else might be correct in this case (as is implied by your belief that I need to re-read the post to know what was said). I DID read the post, and I agreed with willowleaf. Naturally I'm wrong if I disagree with you, but consider this. BOTH of us were "reading between the lines" to arrive at our respective interpretations of that part of the post. I based my interpretation on what I have seen to be a common attitude among people who've never been in small boats, and that's as far as it goes. You missed it completely in willowleaf's post (sorry, couldn't resist), but that's why she wanted them to get out in some kayaks before doing anything else, so they could actually experience the fact that tipping over isn't automatically a great risk.

There was no direct indication in the original post that panic or fear was THE reason for concern about capsizes. Since I've seen many examples of the attitude first described by willoleaf, it seemed likely to me that these folks aren't all that hyped about the idea of paddling in the first place, and especially not if keeping the boat upright required loads of skill.

Not only did I used to know people with that attitude, I was one of them! My idea that kayaks were inherently ready to tip at any moment came from all that I saw of kayaking on TV back in the 70s (including the Olympic slalom events) and stories told by a high-school buddy who was a hardcore whitewater kayaker in the days before such a thing was common or "cool" (his stories weren't poorly told, I just didn't have the background to know how to correctly interpret everything he described). Also, the idea was reinforced by an article in National Geographic in those days about a family trip down some big western river, where the only family member in a kayak was also the only real "pro" of the family, and he was rolling his boat very frequently, while everyone else was in "easy", "stable" boats (If I read the same article today I would not reach the same conclusion at all). On a related note, I knew lots of people in those days, including my own dad, who believed that canoes were pretty much useless for fishing, trapping or duck hunting because they were far too "unstable". I doubt if any of those people ever set foot in a canoe, and their preconceived notion was probably the main reason why.

Until the OP clarifies why frequent capsizes would cause certain family members to quit, I'll stick to my assumption as you will undoubtedly stick to yours. I don't think I'm "reaching" nearly as far for my logic base, though.

If a 12’ hull and 10’ hull are the same general shape and have the same maximum beam (width), the 12’ hull will be slightly more stable and also have a higher top speed.

I have no experience with the Pelicans under consideration, but Pelican long has been near the low end in quality for canoes and kayaks. Thus the low price.

I am not a rec kayaker, but they are the dominant crafts I now see all over the country being paddled on calm waters by everyone from kids to senior citizens.

I have no reason to believe they are inherently less safe on these waters than longer and more expensive touring canoes. They may be less or more fun to paddle depending on the psyche, goals and interests of the individual paddler.


– Last Updated: Jul-27-12 1:04 AM EST –

I consider the Pelicans to be generally little more than beach or pool toys. All the models I have seen are thinly molded, dumpy designs with chintzy fittings which reportedly break loose (the seat supports especially) and coamings that will not accept a spray skirt.

Remember that the OP states an intention to paddle in a high volume, wide and deep industrial river, a major Mississippi feeder in fact, not a duck pond. And along sections where exiting the river is not an easy option due to steep shorelines.

You wouldn't drive a 50 cc minibike on the turnpike -- I feel the same way about tiny rec boats on big rivers.