Advice on purchasing a sea kayak

I’m relatively new to kayaking and looking to purchase myself a used sea kayak. I have experience kayaking on lakes and sheltered coastal areas. I used to live inland, but now I live near the ocean (Vancouver Island), and would like to kayak regularly around the island. I would primarily do day trips, but would like to do some overnight trips eventually. I’m a small woman - 5’2", maybe 130lbs - but pretty active/fit. I’ll be taking some kayaking lessons once the pandemic dies down to make sure that I can use the boat properly and safely.

I’m looking at a Perception Expression 14.5 kayak (4 years old) and a Tempest 170 kayak (8 years old). I am hoping to get some advice on which might be better suited to me. They are both being sold at the same price, but the Perception comes with some accessories (cart, life jacket, paddle).

I am leaning towards the Tempest, as it seems like a good quality boat. However, I am a bit concerned with the size of the Tempest when handling it on land. I won’t always have someone to help me load/unload it from my vehicle; will the extra length and slightly higher weight make it significantly more difficult to handle on land than the Perception?

What is your opinion on which boat might be better suited to me?

The Tempest 170, is too big for you. A 165, maybe as well. Depends on how your body is proportioned.

The Expression comes with a real high seat back. The seat back will get in the way with rescues and skirt fit.

If you aren’t in a rush, I would hold off on buying until after your lessons. But given the pandemic and how the kayak schools are likely closed, maybe it is worth getting a boat now to play with as you wait for the classes to startup again. For used, expect to pay between 1/3rd and 2/3rd of new price (the better shape and newer, the higher the price).

You fall on the smaller size for many boats, so may find that many boats are too large for you. Some boats come in sizes, and if so, look for one that says small or low volume (LV) and you are more likely to fit.

The web site description for the Tempest says for mid-size paddlers, but I know that one fits me (at 6’ and 220 pounds). So I suspect it may be too large for you.

The Expression description on the REI web site does say for smaller paddlers. But looking at the picture, it does show a pretty high seat back. If that seat back can;t be lowered to below the combing height, it would limit the use of a skirt (which would be needed for pretty much any coastal paddling).

I don’t think that the seat back can be lowered, but I think that the seat can be replaced with a back band.

How about a Necky Elaho 16.5?

I think you’ll appreciate a lighter boat every time you load it and it could be a deciding factor in how often you use a boat. Best to handle the boat and practice loading it before you buy it to make sure you can handle it relatively easily…if you have to spend a little more to get a lighter boat I don’t think you’ll regret it. It’s also best to test paddle any boat you’re considering to make sure your personalities are compatible.

I agree with Peter CA.

Paddle shops, real paddle shops not big box, will often let you try out different kayaks for fit and paddling. Individuals not so much. The lessons and the hands on time are worth the effort.

At your size/weight, the T170 would be too big to edge well. The T165, if you can find one, would work well. I am lighter than you and a hair taller and happily paddled a T165 for more than 5 years, both daytripping and kayak camping. It really is a good kayak.

Any plastic or fiberglass sea kayak of similar dimensions will feel heavy to lift or shoulder carry. I never owned a light sea kayak (owned several over the years) and minimized the burden by using portage carts and a trailer. I rarely rooftopped.

The advice to hold off buying until you’ve demoed and rented a fair bit makes sense. You live in a region where you can push your skills as much as you want, so take your time choosing the boat so that it allows you to learn without excess height, depth, or length handicapping you.

And take lessons with good instructors, too!

If you can try the boat before buying, do it. But if you are buying used and found a great deal, don’t overthink. Get the boat and use it. If you buy for a good price, it should be easy to sell for the same price or even higher. Especially a popular design like the T170. The more you paddle, the more you learn about what you like and dislike.

That said, I agree that a Tempest 170 is too big for you. I’m 5’11 220lbs and it was a good fit.

I have a 15’ Expression with back band and a 17’ Tempest. Of the two I prefer the Expression because I.m able to sustain a faster crusing speed with the same effort. I.m 6’ 190 lbs. but 82 years old so I don’t cruise very fast.
Of the two the 14.5 Expression would be a better choice,but rhere are probably better options suited to your size and weight.

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Thanks everyone. I’m looking at a poly Necky Eliza 15.3 now, which probably fits me better. The kayak seems to have really variable reviews though.

Alternatively, a Chatham 16, which seems to be good for small paddler’s too… However, the owner said there is slight delamination in the cockpit, which I assume should be worrying?

I’ve never paddled the poly Eliza, but have several friends who seem happy with theirs. Note that the poly Eliza and composite Eliza are quite different boats. It is confusing that they share the same name.

Lessons first then buy. What you are looking at right now is prohibitively too big for you do anything with, but until you have a couple of lessons and understand how you need to be able to make the boat handle you are shooting in the dark.

There is no fault in not knowing what you don’t know. But it can a long time of regret if you purchase a boat and then find out after the first two lessons that you have invested badly.

also if/when there are demo days again, even if you have to travel a couple of hundred miles to attend.

First, you need to have a boat that is capable for the waters you intend to paddle. If that is going to be around Vancouver Island, it had better be a sea kayak and you need lots of experience before you get too ambitious with when and where you go.

There is a very good reason to at least consider a boat around 17’ and that is for the potential speed. I’m pretty sure you are likely to encounter some fairly stiff currents from time to time. Shorter boats just don’t have the speed to deal very well with paddling against currents.

It is not unusual to see smaller women in longer boats. I have paddled with little older women that looked way out of place in the boats they were in, but they wouldn’t trade for anything. You just have to try out as many boats as possible and find out what works for you.
Do not be overly influenced by first impressions. You might try a boat that looks about right, but on your first try the boat just seems like too much. Don’t be too quick to check it off your list. My favorite boat by a long ways was not at all impressive to me the first time I paddled it. i was not a beginner by any means, but the boat just demanded certain things that I was not ready for. I won’t go into which boat that is, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I have paddled just about everything that’s out there.

You need to get educated on what to look for when you start looking at used boats. You mentioned that one boat you looked at had some de-lamination. Unless you are into fixing things that might turn into a very big deal, I would walk away from that one. Be especially wary of used and even new polyethylene boats for warpage due to improper storage, or even factory flaws, etc. That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with poly boats in general. Most particular, you have to sight the keel line. It has to be absolutely straight and don’t confuse that with rocker.

Handling the boat on and off the water is every bit based on lots of practice and technique. At 77 years old, I do things handling my boats that I wouldn’t have attempted at a much younger age when I was probably twice as strong.

You are very lucky to live on Vancouver Island, lots of rental options. I have no affiliation with the following places but if you’re interested in renting a few boats your size: Blue Dog Kayaking in Mill Bay I believe had a SKUK Pilgrim you could rent. Very pricey boat but renting it will give you an idea of what a boat is supposed to feel like at your size. Also Sealegs kayaking in Ladysmith had a Boreal Designs Storm 15 in their rental fleet last time I looked. Not sure how small it actually is but we’re hoping to hit both of those places for rentals next time we’re down that way. Comox Valley Kayaks also had quite a rental fleet last we were there if you’re further up the island. I can’t say for the poly Necky but my family (of petite people) quite like (and own) the following plastic boats: Zephyr 155, Valley Avocet RM and Dagger Alchemy S. You might also find an Arctic Tern on the used market, I’ve seen them pop up far more often than a used Pilgrim.

The waters off Vancouver Island are cold, deep, and subject to complex tidal currents. One area gets currents up to 15 knots (28 km/hr), accompanied by extreme turbulence, to give you an idea of how bad it can get.

Therefore, I agree with the advice to wait until after sea-kayaking lessons before paddling in those waters. Make sure by the end of the lessons you feel confident you can execute the paddle-float re-entry technique even in rough conditions and cold water. Pay attention to other techniques they may teach, too. You could end up saving a fellow paddler’s life if you learn how to assist someone else who has capsized in deep water. And try to get your lessons from a reputable local outfit; they will be able to share their knowledge of the local waters, including tips about tides and weather and other hazards.

OK, I know that wasn’t what you asked. But a good teaching outfit will also tell you what to look for in a kayak. Most important is fit. If you are going to be in your kayak all day, you don’t want the seat to turn into a torture device. You also need to be snug enough (with the footpegs set correctly) to be able to rock the kayak from side to side using just your hip motion. You should not be rattling around in there loose; you and the kayak need to move together so you can properly control it. Don’t buy a kayak without at least sitting in it first.

I would also never buy a “smooth” kayak - one that has neither a rudder nor a retractable skeg - unless I could be sure I’d never be paddling in windy conditions. I tried one once, after reading reviews that said it was such a great design it didn’t need a rudder or skeg - and guess what, it needed a rudder or a skeg. What happens is if you try to go downwind you can’t keep it going in your chosen direction - it “weathercocks.” You can get it to go straight downwind by being very careful not to let it veer, but as soon as it’s diagonal to the wind forget it.

And before you buy, check the reviews here on Look for any indications that a particular model is unstable or behaves unpredictably, or for complaints about leaky hatches (or of course poor structural integrity). Few models have these issues, but you definitely want to avoid the ones that do. And of course you want a true sea kayak, one with a cockpit designed for a skirt and with watertight bulkheads separating the forward and rear storage compartments (these provide your emergency flotation) from the cockpit.

Sorry to be so longwinded!

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Oh, and I’m a 5’-4" 140 lb woman, and I easily load my 17’-8" fiberglass sea kayak onto Yakima racks on my Toyota Yaris sedan (and previously a Subaru Legacy sedan) by myself. A shorter kayak would be MORE difficult for me - I’d probably have to find a different method. My method works best with Hully Rollers on the rear bar; saddles are fine for the front bar. Here’s what I do:

(1) Cover the car’s (closed) trunk with a piece of protective fabric (blanket material or carpet scrap, soft side down).
(2) Position the kayak diagonally on the ground, with the stern behind the car lined up with the Hully Rollers and the bow next to the car. The middle of the kayak should be a bit behind the back edge of the trunk.
(3) From a position about 1/4 to 1/3 the way back from the bow, pick the front of the kayak up and put it so it’s resting on the back edge of the car’s trunk with the bow in the air above the Hully Rollers.
(4) Go to the back and pick the stern of the kayak up so the bow is resting on the (padded) bar between the Hully Rollers, then push the kayak forward until it’s in position.
(5) Strap the kayak down, tie on the front safety line, and put away the piece of fabric or carpeting that was on the trunk.

This works best in a gravel parking area. On smoother pavement you might have to come up with a way to prevent the stern of the kayak from sliding backwards when you pick up the bow.

P.S. - The Yaris is one of those cars where there is no strong place in front to tie the front safety line. But fear not! REI sells these nifty straps (only $7 a pair) that attach to bolts on the car along the edge of the hood. They’re called Hood Loops, made by Seattle Sports.