Advice when going to a boat demo?

I hope to go to a paddle event and demo some boats Saturday.

As a newbie who’s been in two different but similar boats once each…how do I know what I’m looking for?

Do I take the organized approach and try to make each trial the same - turn right, turn left, back up, go straight…and just see what feels right to me? What is it about some similar boats that people like better than others?


boat demos
You can probably only answer that question fully after you have some more experience.

One feature that you should certainly consider, especially in kayaks, is whether the boat fits comfortably or not. Try to spend some time in it too make sure it is not going to become uncomfortable after a few minutes.

You should certainly try basic maneuvers. If you are a kayaker and know how to roll, I would certainly try rolling the boat. Cockpit size is another feature in kayaks that should be carefully considered, although preferences vary a lot from person to person.

I have seen beginning paddlers reject boats because they initially felt “tippy” to them, and go with a boat that feels stable but winds up being too inefficient to suit their needs. Many times, the sensation of initial instability goes away after 15 or 20 minutes on the water.

Unfortunately, demos are usually conducted on flat water, which limits your ability to fully test a boat that you intend to paddle in current. You can evaluate the ability of the boat to turn, but can’t usually assess how the boat would respond to crossing current lines.

Consider yourself fortunate if there is some wind when you demo the boat so that you can evaluate it’s handling in wind, tendency to weathercock, etc.

Finally, if you are going to have to lift this boat onto a roof rack by yourself, make sure you lift it above your head, or lift it with a partner, if that is how you will get it on your vehicle.

You’re lucky to be of normal size so
that you CAN demo boats. I can’t demo most kayaks, c-1s, and OC-1s until I have outfitted them to my personal dimensions.

But this has helped me learn that it is quite possible to make good boat decisions without a demo. I select boats by hearing or reading what others say about them, by reading between the lines, and by using my experience with various boat designs to predict the behavior of a boat I haven’t tried. With about 14 boat purchases spread over 35 years, I have made only one serious mistake, and a demo would not have shown me in advance that I was making that mistake.

The oft-parroted “demo demo demo” advice is practical only if you can fit yourself properly into the boats you try, if those boats are trimmed for you, and if you have enough past experience in various boats to understand what you are trying. I think a lot of paddlers who are relatively new to the sport are well-advised to select a boat with a reputation for good performance, good hardware, and good fit, and to lean on a good dealer for help with outfitting.

Leave the multiple demos to us self-styled “experts” who think we know what we are doing.

Before you go…
There are some things you need to do before you go.

Ask your self some questions:

What do I want to do? - Looks like you have a good start here -“I’m primarily interested in wildlife and bird viewing. Paddling is more the means not the end.”

Where will I be paddling?

Who with?

How often?

How will I transport the boat?

How might this change in a year or two?

Do some research - Not on individual boats, but on types of boats and features.

Start here - - Click on Articles and then Guidelines.

Look at Atlantic Kayak Tours Expert Center for info on buying your first boat:

There are lots of other sites.

Try as many boats as you can - and try to figure out why you like/dislike them.

Listen for the oposite of what the sales folks say about their boats. 'This boat tracks like it’s on rails" may mean “With your skills, you’re going to have trouble turning this boat in some of the confined places you will be birding.”

Have fun.

Dress to get wet :wink:
You will get wet even if you do not swim - the demo boats are pretty wet from entering/exiting and the occasional capsize -:wink:

Also, wear low profile paddling shoes (or similar - Target and other stores sell these beach mesh shoes with rubber soles for about $5 a pair). This will let you examine the fit of the boat better - you do not want to try bare foot or with some huge sandals in general.

Unfortunately, testing kayaks without some hours on the water under your belt cannot tell you too much, so do not expect much out of a demo day if you are really new to paddling. Unless you feel comfortable leaning turning and can feel how the different boats are responding to your usual paddling input, the only tangible benefits would be just to see how things fit, how much they cost/weigh, and the like. Can’t even tell if the seats are trully comfy unless you spend hours at a time in each boat…

That said, try to grab the best paddle you can from the bunch they have on site and do not let go. Keep the same paddle for all your testing. You can experiment with several paddles of course to compare, but try to paddle all boats with the same paddle and try to have it properly sized for you (usually that means to take the shortest paddle of what they usually have at hand - go check the paddle wizard at Werner’s or Epic’s web sites to get an idea what to look for first).

some things I look for

– Last Updated: Jun-04-09 12:03 PM EST –

First I agree with g2d that it's hard in a demo to really know how suitable a boat is and so reviews help if you really can tell WHY they do or don't like it.

I first check for basic fit. Are the knee braces comfortable and effective. Do I feel cramped or like I'm swimming in a big pool. Related to fit I will do lots of edging of the kayak back and forth seeing how both the fit is and how the primary and secondary stability feels to me.

I then try basic strokes seeing both how well it turns and how well it goes straight. If there's a little wind I'll paddle at angles to the wind and see how much it weathercocks.

I may also look at things such as where the water line is with me in the boat -- am I sitting high like a cork or is water practically washing over the deck. Relate this to how you might pack if you do long trips.

I also look over hatches and deck rigging and figure how well it fits how I like to pack.

Rough water testing is often hard in demo situations. I'll look for whatever I can including some boat wake or a harbor exit area to get a feel.

Doing some rolling and/or some self rescues might be a good idea. For example a high rear deck may may either of these more difficult.

After demoing a boat re-read any reviews from others that relate to conditions you hope to paddle and see if the reviewer's situations related well to yours. I rely on reviews to fill in the gap of what was practical for me to test at a demo.

Lifing and other things

– Last Updated: Jun-04-09 1:01 PM EST –

First, I respectfully disagree with the idea of any female, unless they are Freya Hoffmeister, by themselves lifting a boat over their head and onto a car rack. You slide, you carry via kayak wheels - at no point should you be handling more than 50% of the boat's weight over your head, doing this alone or with a partner. Leave the other approach to the guys.

Take a look at the thread on Advice titled "I can't get it up..." You'll see some discussion about this there.

As to how to demo - as pblanc mentions the usual tendency is to go out when you don't know how to paddle yet and get a boat that is too short, too wide and too big a cockpit. Which is followed at season's end with buyer's remorse. At the least I'd make sure that you have the reps look at how you fit in the cockpit and make sure that your have the useful contact points including hitting the thigh braces. Beyond that, look for a boat that DOES challenge you, at least some.

Also, a lot of newbies worry excessively about tracking when demoing. Until you learn how to paddle the boat is not going to track very well. So hoping for wind is a great idea, you can at least get a comparison between how much the wind pushes various of the boats around.

Where is the demo and where would you be paddling?

Bring your GPS
You cannot really tell if the boat is fast or slow without the GPS. Also one of the few things you can learn about a boat in flatwater is the comfort level so try it for 20 minutes per boat minimum if they’ll let you. If it becomes uncomfortable before 20 minutes it’s not likely to be the boat for you. Boat comfort is THE MOST important thing for long term paddling success.

Ignore tippiness it will go away in a few hours. In fact I’d recommend that if you want to paddle in rough water you might need to buy a boat that feels tippy at first.

Buy a boat over 14 feet long onless you are paddling tiny creeks, whitewarer, or cypress swamps where you have to zig zag around the knees. 14 feet and longer boats are much much faster.

How about any person of certain strength
I go with Celia here, but would fine tune it to say any Person of a certain size and strength. Same goes for guys. Any person should know what the upper limit is for them to heft a maximum weight especially one that is unwieldy up in air above their shoulders. The main reason being the shoulder is extremely vulnerable as is the neck and lower back in this position.

I saw some statistics and putting boats onto and off cars ranks as one of the most frequent kayaking accidents.

The point is
whatever is required of you to get the boat onto the car, try to make some evaluation that it will be possible for you to do it.

At demos all of the nice rotomolded plastic kayaks have often already been placed at the water’s edge. I know more than one person who paddled such a boat and bought one without ever trying to pick it up, only to find that they couldn’t easily get it atop the car, or found it was such a struggle that they never wanted to use it.

And for what it is worth, I knew two different Minnesotan women who did solo trips in Quetico in the “off-season” of 1 to 2 weeks duration. The boats?

A fifteen foot and a seventeen foot aluminum tandem Grumman.

And I’ve boated with female whitewater open boaters in the southeast who, if I had suggested that they shouldn’t be lifting and carrying their boats because they were women, would have knocked me down. And then started kicking.

boat on car for demoing
I’m not sure I would consider car topping as part of demo evaluation. Most people have (or hopefully soon will) some idea of a category of boat (longer touring, small rec, surf, etc.) and for any such category the car topping issues are about the same. I doubt most would set out hoping for a longer touring boat, see it’s a pain to car top then buy a short rec boat instead. Rather they would research other options on how to get their desired type of boat up. So a person should normally separately (though before making a purchase of a boat) think about how to best get a boat on the car. By the time they purchase a boat they should already have a suitable rack system in place and likely even tried it out with some rental boat.

If you get in the boat and…
it feels comfortable, and you enjoy paddling it, and you can say to yourself I think this is exactly what I want, then get it.

If it is not comfortable, feels unstable, and you are leery of it or have any doubts, don’t get it.



WW different
yes, it’s not always good for the car but I can get my Inazone 220 up. Frankly though, I partly slide that too but up the side.

I assumed the OPer is talking about boats bigger than teacups.

DO NOT dress like a boat!

Comfort and Handling

– Last Updated: Jun-04-09 4:40 PM EST –

Comfort is high priority and so is handling. If you demo on a calm day you won't learn much. How you and the boat get along in a stiff breeze matters a lot. Try to demo on a windy day and paddle at different angles to the wind. If you think you'll be paddling on windy days consider a rudder or a skeg.

As a rule of thumb you lower the skeg just enough to keep your bow from turning into the wind.

A lot of boats behave about like this:

Wind at your face = no skeg
Wind in your ear = half skeg
Wind at your back = full skeg

How to buy a boat
You have gotten a bunch of good, objective suggestions. But . . . you are buying a boat. The objective stuff must be up to snuff for you, but if you are someone who can really appreciate a good boat, the most important factor is love.

You have tried the boat, researched it, and it has measured up to all of your rational analysis. Now, the most important part: Can you love this boat? Do you find it beautiful, do you want to spend time with it, do you care for it? I have every hope my kayak (love at first sight) will be with me much longer than my last marriage.