12ft, 13ft, or 14ft kayak?

Hello everyone,

I have been searching for a kayak to buy for about 5 months now and I am not having any luck. I was going to try and get used or at least try some out but it just isn’t happening. My local kayak shop (over an hour away) doesn’t carry what I want to try and no one within an hour has let me test one in the last 5 months (looking via craigslist.) So I guess I am just going to have to research, use some advice, and then make a choice to live with.

I hate having to make such long posts but to explain I will have to. I am 26 years old, 110 lbs, a little under 6 foot tall. I need a kayak for slow moving rivers with possible tight areas. If I say rapids everyone flips out so we’ll just say I won’t be going over any rapids. I am not worried about storage room.

I know what I am looking for will not excell at tight spaces OR flat water, I will only be buying something in my length range.

I have two topics, first on length. I am not worreid about tracking, only speed (though they kind of go together.) Is anyone able to give me a rough estimate on max speed of 12ft, 13ft, and 14ft or does it rely on too many other factors besides waterline length? The other thing besides speed I would like to know about is turning ability. Naturally I know I won’t be in a WW boat so I won’t be able to spin in circles but how large is the difference in turning roughly on the 3 sizes without a rudder.

Second topic would be on my purchase. I can have my local shop special order me one but it will pretty much be at MSP unless a blem model is available. I would like to keep my money within the kayaking community and not go to some big retailer. Is there other websites I could order from online? How would the shipping charges be? Any experiences ordering online?

I am sure I missed mentioning something so just let me know and I will reply. I really appreciate everyone’s help throughout my discovering of this now lifelong sport. If you recommend a boat these are the only brands my shop can order (Jackson, Wilderness Systems, Perception, Dagger, Hobie, Mad River, Native, Liquid Logic, Wave Sport, We-no-na, and Current Designs.) Currently I have a “bathtub” from Walmart (Aruba 10.)

The longer the waterline the faster the potential top speed will be if, and a big if, you have the power to drive it to to top speed.

The narrower, less wetted surface, the easier it will be to paddle to cruising speed.

So long and narrow for speed.


Times two !
Jack L

Thanks everyone
Any experiences ordering online or is it just like any other purchase online?

Considering this is a wonderful kayaking community; opinions on ordering online vs having local store order from manufacture?

I’ve bought canoes online
UPS is not your friend. If possible I would avoid the stress.

If you’re not really committed to a particular boat craigslist will come through eventually. If you’re letting test paddles be the deal breaker, I’ve never test paddled anything I bought on CL on the theory if I don’t like it I can sell it and get my money back. Sit in it in the yard is all you really need. Do you fit? Is it damaged? Don’t overthink it.

There’s a poly CD Squamish for sale in AL on the p-net classifieds for $600. It’s for smallish paddlers, longer than 14’, this boat is liked by many smaller paddlers…

Current Design is the kayak division of Wenonah Canoe. CD makes some great boats but they are costly. Mad River does not make kayaks. Hobies are heavy pedal powered craft. Native makes wide fishing kayaks. Liquid Logic, Jackson and Wavesport are mostly whitewater brands. So that leaves Wilderness, Perception and Current Designs.

I suspect you are overthinking this selection process ( I worked for many years in the wilderness sports gear sales biz and I recognize the symptoms.) I will give you advice from the perspective of someone who has guided many folks through this sort of quandary.

As others have suggested, you should focus only on around the 14’ touring boats range. Narrow your choices to the narrowest, lowest volume 14 footers each of those 3 brands makes and then pick the lightest one that fits best with your budget. Do NOT buy on line. Order it from your local independent shop - most will match the prices of on-line dealers and you will not have to pay freight. Have it shipped to the shop and you pick it up there so they can inspect it and handle any returns or quality issues.

You probably do not need a rudder. By the way, the rudder is not used to turn the boat, it is for tracking correction in wind and current.

In CD, consider either the Vision 135R or 150R. I suggest these because they are lower volume and you are quite slender. In Perception, consider the Expression 14.5. A little deeper than the Visions so heavier. I would not recommend the Carolina, as it is a bit sluggish. In Wilderness Systems there is the tried and true Tsunami 140.

All these boats are somewhat similar and all around $1200. You would probably be happy with any of them. Selecting one would be like picking a Ford, Chevy or Dodge pickup - they are so similar that any one would suit your usage and be very versatile, so pick the color and minor features that appeal to you and commit to one.

Definitely 14’
LOL, I can speak from experience having started out with a 10.5’ bathtub, then a used 12’/26" beam which was much nicer than the 10’, then finally a new 14’/22" beam.

If you’re going to buy new, be sure the cockpit is a good fit. Hopefully your dealer has floor models you can sit in at the store.

What’s your foot size? Why 14’ or less?
Some smaller boats for smaller paddlers have limited foot space, so foot size info would be good.

Some kayaks longer than 14’ still turn pretty well and are plenty good enough for slow rivers. The Eddyline Fathom LV is 15’6" long and turns plenty well enough for slow rivers and has plenty of foot room. If you weren’t so far from central IL, I’d let you try mine (which is for sale).

A used Perception Shadow 16.5 also turns plenty well enough for slow rivers, even though it’s 16’6" long, since it’s actual water line length is closer to 14.5’. Foot room may be an issue for you, though if feet are larger than size 9.

A used Perception Sonoma 13.5 would also fit your needs, if you’re lucky enough to find one. Very nimble and has room enough for a bit larger feet and longer legged paddlers. A spunky & quick little boat.

I haven’t paddled any of the newer offerings from the manufacturers that you listed, so I can’t advise you on them.

Have you checked with Kansas City Paddler? http://www.kcpaddler.com/kayaks

Good luck.

Speed versus length, and other issues.

– Last Updated: Dec-30-14 8:19 PM EST –

Length will affect speed, but it's also a factor in maneuvering easily in tight places. I think I agree with everyone else about going with a 14-footer, but here is some information about speed and some thoughts on maneuverability.

The theoretical maximum speed is called hull speed. That's the speed at which the boat becomes more or less "trapped" between its bow wave and stern wave. Waves travel faster with increasing wavelength (distance between the waves), which is why longer boats are faster than shorter boats. However, as has been pointed out already, it takes more power to move a longer boat, and when a short boat and long boat are paddled at slow to moderate speeds, the short boat moves through the water more easily. 14 feet isn't all that "long" in this case though.

Hull speed is not an absolute thing for all boats, and boats designed expressly for speed (very narrow and with sharp entry lines) encounter a "less absolute" limit on their speed, while more average designs most likely will "hit the wall" when hull speed is reached. However, it's unlikely you'll be jumping straight into a boat that's made just for speed, and so the calculated hull speed is "close enough".

Hull speed in miles per hour = the square root of the waterline length x 1.54. So, the practical maximum speeds for 12', 13', and 14' are 5.3 mph, 5.5 mph, and 5.8 mph, respectively. Your maximum practical *cruising* speed will be less, probably by at least 0.5 mph, since the effort needed to propel the boat increases quite rapidly up to that speed where you don't have the strength to go faster.

As to maneuverability, I use a 14-foot canoe in tight places and it's fine. I've noticed that kayakers, on average, tend to prefer shorter boats for tight spaces or in swift water than do canoers, but there's no reason you can't use a 14-foot kayak in such places too. Still, if you are frequently dealing with such obstacles as downed trees to the point that you are often right among them, that would be a good reason to go with something shorter. Shorter boats don't necessarily turn sharper, they just turn with less effort. Any boat can pivot in place, but some do it easier than others (length is not the only factor either).

At your weight and build, don't get something wider than you need (anything as wide as a typical rec boat, or close to it, is wider than you need). I'll leave it to the kayak experts to say more than that about width.

One last thing about length. You weigh only 110 pounds, which in spite of your height categorizes you as a "small" person. You might do fine in a boat that's even longer than 14 feet, but I'd be careful about choosing one. I've seen small people in a 16- or 17-foot kayaks who were "pushing too much boat" for their amount of strength. Small paddlers in long boats who are not in the too-much-boat category are apt to be in sleek, narrow boats that most people wouldn't start out in.

I agree
Not being able to test paddle hasn’t been a deal breaker, there just haven’t been any deals or anything I could pretend to be interest in just to sit in around me. Though I would really like to feel how they turn.

Thanks Willow
Knew you would come through, haha.

I thought the rudder was used to assist with turning, thanks for the info.

Appreciate all your information! I will research those and see what my local store can do. Though those are above my 14ft limitation…

I really feel like 14 feet is going to be pushing it for trying to get my kayak into the areas I want to be in. The one person I go with will most likely have a crossover like the dagger Katana, though I will be solo quite often. I know the type I want is a world of difference from a crossover but just letting you know.

I have rather large feet, size 13. I have heard about that being an issue, mainly with boats designed more towards women since my body weight is similar.

I really don’t think anything over 14 feet is going to be able to get into the creeks I might be using it on since there are some tight turns. Slow rivers was the best way I could think it describe it and I will be on those but I will also be on creeks.

Thank you for all the information. I definitely like the thinner boats. I got in a CD Squall and loved it but I felt it was too long for my use.

I never really thought of it that way, all boats can pivot so really it doesn’t matter how well they can turn unless you are in fast moving water and need to turn quickly which a touring boat really shouldn’t be in, haha.

As a young and keen paddler, you would have a lot of fun and grow a solid skill set in a crossover boat, as someone suggested above. Many of the brands you name make such boats.

In a 14-footer, the Dagger Alchemy is outstanding. I’ve used one extensively in the ocean, but I’ve also experimented with it in a river, doing eddy turns. It’s not a WW boat, but it is very maneuverable for a fully outfitted sea kayak and still maintains a decent speed. With your height/foot size, you might need the L version.

we have
the WS pungo 14, it has been from the tight swift pine barrons flatwater to the coastal areas of Acadia NP.

that said, our next boat looks like it will be the WS tsunami 12 or 12.5, more nimble than the pungo, lighter and perhaps more versitile

forget the Visions, Bigfoot
You probably want to forgo the CD Visions, then, since they are 12" deck height rather than the 14 of the other boats I suggested. You will need the extra 2" under the deck for your size 13 shoes.

Are you maybe trying to get a “one size fits all trips” boat? You probably know by now that is not really a realistic option. Why don’t you look for a cheap old school whitewater boat for your “winding stream” trips, like a Perception Dancer? You could rig a fixed skeg for it (wood, plastic or metal screwed to the keel) for flatwater tracking. And get the 14 foot range touring boat for trips where you are on more open water and want speed.

It’s surprising how long of a boat you can get through tight streams. We took a 16’ canoe deep into mangrove swamps of the Everglades and managed to navigate fine. I’ve taken my 15’ roto kayak (Venture Easky 15LV – which would be a great boat for you if they still made it) into all kinds of waters, from the open ocean to twisty class 1 and 2 rocky streams and have yet to find a place it did not perform well.

You do have unusual proportions which make fitting a kayak a bit trickier. You are so slender for your height and shoe size you need to be wary of picking a boat that is too wide. Even the standard light touring 24 inches may make you feel like you are swimming in the cockpit. You may need to consider adding minicell to the sides of your seat to give you good hip contact for control of the boat. A 22" boat would be a better fit but they tend to be longer since you need to compensate with length to get displacement volume.

Have you considered building a boat or having one built? There are builders from whom you can order a custom skin-on-frame to suit your body metrics. Skin on frames made with urethane coated ballistic cloth are tougher than most people realize. Not designed for whitewater, but they are light and fast and the skins are strong and resilient enough for normal river and stream use.