Advice sought for a beginner kayaker

Hi. I’m a 45-year old woman, 5’10" , 155 lbs with very little upper body strength. Have to load and unload the kayak on top of my Toyota highlander into thule j cradles. Fairly new to kayaking. We have a sun dolphin Aruba 8’ kayak purchased from Walmart. It’s Advantages are light weight and fairly easy to load. The price was just $96 plus tax. That’s the one I’m using and my legs are too long for it and the molded seat is terribly uncomfortable on my bottom. I can kayak for an hour in it before getting too uncomfortable. So now I’m looking for at a larger kayak but need it to be lightweight. I researched and came up with the Hurricane Santee based on weight. There’s a Santee 116 sport Demo model available at a kayaker outfitter for $599. Is that a good deal? What are the benefits and drawbacks to a thermoform kayak? I will primarily kayak on lakes and bayous and using concrete or asphalt public boat launches. I’m concerned about what if I drop the kayak loading or unloading it and it hits the concrete launch ramp? Any advice and suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

A couple of ideas .
J cradles are a pain especially with a high vehicle.

Fold your front seat down, and load the kayak inside your vehicle.

When you get a longer kayak, use padded factory bars or a set of saddles and load from the rear of your vehicle.

Looked for used boats and try before you buy. A good idea is to take a couple of lessons and try out different styles of boats. Don’t get stuck buying a low performance rec boat. You can usually find a decent kayak used for the same price as a low performing rec boat.

Ideas on fixes for you
Lose the Jbars and get saddles, or just foam pads on the cross bars. The safest way (for your back) to get a boat up is to slide it, and Jbars make sliding a whole lot more difficult, especially on a tall vehicle. Sometimes I think sales people get points for selling the darned things.

A longer boat - one where one end can be propped up against the top of the vehicle and the other on the ground - is actually much easier to load than a short boat. By sliding up, you are never carrying the full weight of the boat. You can get a towel and hang it over the back, or get fancy with an Amagansett Roller Loader. I am not far off your size, out of shape, and I can slide up a 65 pound 17 ft plus sea kayak with the Roller Loader.

Get a kayak cart to make it between car and launch. A very basic one that just holds one end would be fine for the more civilized launches you are using.

As far as I have seen, thermoform will take some amount of dropping on hard pavement. I haven’t seen one go from the roof of your vehicle type to the ground, but I have personally helped drop a couple on hard pavement or tiles when footing went south. The boats were fine.

Take the advice from Seadart to spend some time in boats before buying the next one, and consider doing this enough to get used to a narrower boat than your present one. It is likely that part of your back problem is from the amount of work you have to do to even get a paddle into the water because of reaching around a bathtub wide boat, compounded by a cheap seat. You could go with something like a used 13 to 14 ft boat and find a massive improvement in both, for very reasonable money.

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Santee 116 Sport
Is that an entry level rec kayak?

Yakima Boatloader or Thule Outrigger
I’ve used the Yakima boatloader accessory on my 2003 outback with great success. once you rest the bow on the pole, (which slides into one of the crossbars when not in use)you are essentially lifting 1/2 the weight and have much more control. i still need stepstool to secure straps cuz I’m short.

one very costly option -
Thule Hullavator

Here is how it works:

Check Hurricane’s Site
The Santee 116 Sport is middle to lower end of their rec kayaks. The 126, next in that category, has an adjustable seat and, according to Hurricane, better glide and a more efficient hull for example. These may be worthwhile features for your needs.

All rec kayaks are entry level kayaks. There is a range of features in rec kayaks, from pretty much nothing to the above items and some deck rigging, to forward bulkheads as you move to rec/touring boats. I would suggest that you try out some boats with more features, see if you like them. You can usually get more boat buying used, and that way you don’t have to panic about scratches. It’s in there.

longer is easier, also consider folders
I’m 18 years older and 5 inches shorter than you and also agree that longer is more manageable than shorter, both on the water and for loading.

I don’t use anything fancy for loading boats on my cars and was even able to single handedly load a 17’ 65 lb kayak on my old Hyundai Santa Fe, a pretty tall vehicle. With a longer boat you just lift the bow up from the behind the vehicle and rest it on the roof edge and then walk to the rear of the boat and lift and slide it forward. For hauling, a collapsible cart is handy for heavier boats, though I can easily carry most of my kayaks (which are around 15’ average and 32 to 44 lbs) on my shoulder.

Actually, I find loading longer boats onto a J-rack not all that hard with my Subaru Outback and with the old Volvo wagons I used to have. Similar to the back loading method – lean the bow against the car and lift and tip it into the front J-rack then pick up the stern and lift it onto the rear one. But it’s harder with a taller SUV and I would not want to try it with a boat shorter than 14’.

You might also want to look at folding kayaks – these are a great deal lighter than plastic boats and come in a range of models now. You don’t have to break them down every time you use them and can keep them set up all season if you like and haul them on the roof rack. Some are incredibly light, like the Pakboat Quest 135 (less than 30 lbs). And it’s really great to have a kayak you can stash in a closet in a duffel bag over the winter or check as baggage on a plane and take with you anywhere you want to paddle.

welcome new kayaker
I’ma57yr.old and my Dad is 80 started kayaking about 2yr. small rivers and back water.Load on j racks my 11 ft. perception american sport by myself not much trouble yet I’m 6ft. Love my yak and got it at MC sport for around 300.00 sales going on this time of year.