Are Pelicans as bad as I think they are?

I am sometimes asked by beginners about what kayak they should get that is cheap.
I have owned many kayaks from rec boats to a surf ski, but never a Pelican or similar big box toy. A friend has one he says is ok, but he always paddles his better boats.
My impression of those cheap boats is that they are heavy, slow ,poorly designed slugs.
I advise beginners to look for used boats.
Am I being an elitest?

I know someone with a pelican. In my opinion, it’s a good boat for what it is
I am actually thinking about researching their Hobbie knock off drive unit fishing yak.

Well, here’s a free spirit on the 26th day of his coastal exploration in either a Pelican or maybe a Sun Dolphin. Duct tape and all. He seems to be having a good time (and the common sense to stick close to the shore).

If I won the Pelican that is in the Win Stuff contest on this site (, I would use it for kayak fishing.

Hopefully Pelican isn’t all bad, as they recently bought Confluence Outdoors, the makers of Dagger, Wilderness Systems, Perception, Mad River Canoe, etc.

I also hope those brands don’t get degraded. I have 3 WS boats and enjoy them all.

I think those brands will be fine. From the little looking at a pelican that I’ve done, and based on their success, I would say that they are very good at making kayaks. The type and quality are exactly the market they are after. Kinda like Budweiser. Hard to even call it beer but the brewmasters are none the less amazing. It is actually fairly difficult to make an exact same beer over and over with no detectable differences, especially when it’s pale and lacking strong flavors. Just like pelican, regardless of what you think of the product the production is exactly what they are after.
I would bet that they acquired Dagger, wilderness systems, mad river and the others because they want to get into that market building those quality / price point kayaks and canoes without having their bargain brand name to overcome.

I started with a 10’ Sundolphin… basically a Pelican. Honestly, it’s what got me hooked on this sport.
If not for the smoking deal of $249 CAN For the kayak and paddle, I might not be kayaking today. That first summer, I took off for hours at a time at the cottage lake. That winter, took a self rescue class, realized I was using a kayak that would sink if it took on water… no bulkheads etc.

Upgraded to a 12’ current designs kestrel 120, this spring, heavily looking at upgrading again to a Stratos 14.5L.

They have their place. Great for small quiet lakes, cottages etc. I did end up installing a float bag in the Stern before I just sold it to help fund the new purchase… but ya, it got me hooked.


In general cheap “rec kayaks”: have improved a bit. Specifically, many now have a drain plug, and some have a small foam pillar for support but often that pillar is just in the very end or ends of a boat. Many now also have a small hatch insert which is really just a very small wet storage area.

Sealed bulkheads, closed cell pillars, decent back bands are definately lacking. I understand why the Sundolphin/ Pelican crowd choose to float rather than actively paddle. Their seats don’t promote an upright posture,

I’ve told a lot of rec boaters to squeeze in some pool noodles or beach balls because a rec boat full of water is an unwieldy dangerous thing.

I see a lot of smiles on folks faces so in that sense they are very good boats.

This thread is an example of the reason I stopped participating on this forum. I continue to lurk just for the sake of trying to learn some things along the way. I have two canoes and two kayaks that could only be called a budget fleet. But I have done a lot of paddling in all of them and have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the water. I paddle mostly quiet water but have done some mild class 2 a few times. These boats have never disappointed me.

But at various times on this forum I have had every one of my boats called various derogatory terms like junk, tubs, garbage, barges and totally worthless. I have had a couple of them described in negative ways that quite frankly I did not understand based upon how they perform when I use them.

This type of attitude does nothing to encourage paddlers of such boats to be a part of a paddling community in any way. It in fact encourages them to stay away.

So yes, IMHO, you are being elitist.


Bill_in_TR, every boat I have is a piece of junk or at least it is when I’m finished with it. The best boat is the one that gets you out on the water. Like you, I sometimes have the “wrong” or not the best “tool” for the job but still enjoy being out. String was asking if folks would be better off buying a better built (used boat) than what is currently being sold new at your local walmart. I believe the answer is yes; if you are willing to invest the time and take advice from others, then buying used is a good option. There are “better deals” to be had than one at your local dept. store but additional effort and thought about the intended usage/environment is required.

I for one have been impressed with how nimble some rec boats handle but I would feel much better about the pelican/sundolphin brands if they provided a bulkhead. They rely on their initial stability as their primary safety feature.

Unfortunately, paddle education is generally not provided by the manufacturer or big box seller. Where I live, in wv, I’ve seen a number of different groups promote safety and stewardship. The coal river group, tristate paddlers (facebook), wv paddlers (facebook) all encourage pfd use, limiting drug/alcohol consumption, and dressing for immersion. The Coal River Group’s “tour de coal” and “kevin’s lazy river float” are annual events that now feature hundreds of rec boaters on the coal river.

As far as boats go, every boat I’ve ever owned is flawed. What “rec boats” do a good job at is getting folks out on the water. They are very economical, readily available, and come in many bright colors. Their initial stability encourages a sense of security, and their large open cockpit makes entry and exiting easier and the boats don’t feel confining. They float well, as long as you remain upright . They track well, given their short length and some designs even turn well. They do tend to be heavy, lack outfitting that encourages a boat- body connection, and most are very slow on the flats. Because they lack sprayskirts, bulkheads, and structural integrity they are less suited for more specialized environments.

As one of my good buddies says to me, “Tony, if you want to paddle with a bunch of crap ( my paddle, boat, semi-dry suit) go right ahead.” Strangley, I’m not offended. Perhaps my favorite paddling read was “Two Coots in a Canoe”. There’s something nice about knowing that if your boat does disappear (after being left unattended overnight on the river bank) that you’re not out that much.

Are rec boats pieces of crap? Yes, all boats are pieces of crap. The real question is how well will it do what you want it to do? I recently had a registration issue with my camper. I had the choice to not go on a planned paddling trip (Lousiana bayou paddling) or sleep in my car. I chose to go and sleep in my car. I also paddled a short ww boat against a headwind on flat water, and did the swamp paddling with poor beta (no detailed maps). Could I have done it better? Yeah, but I’m still glad I went. Rec boats are kind of the same way. Rarely are they the best choice for active paddling but you’ll be glad you went anyway. The real question is, “are you an eliteist if you don’t want to suffer needlessly?”



I agree with almost everything you had to say and I appreciate your perspective. But the root of my objection is the often downright insulting comments made about many of the less expensive boats out there. I understand the used boat market can often save a bunch of money on a “higher quality” boat. But very often prices on such a used boat can still be significantly more than a less expensive boat is new. And I have done modest modifications to my lesser expensive boats over the years that make them work quite nicely for me. But the expense was spread out over time and much cheaper as a DIY effort.

I am sorry but unlike you I have found some, not all, of the insults off putting.

All that said, I was looking for someone to give me a comparison between a Pelican and a Pungo, for instance. Both are rec boats but my observation is that there is a big difference in handling on the water. But that is just an observation. I’ve never paddled a Pelican. And I have never put anyone’s boat down.

As I mentioned, I loved my Sundolphin… got me out there, super stable and affordable.
After I installed a float bag in the Stern, not much different than many other 10-12’ yaks with a rear bulkhead out there.
Just sold it to help fund my next kayak, but it was sad to see it go. Had many friends and family out with me in it, and they too appreciated it’s ride and stability.

There’s a boat for everyone… depends on what your hot buttons are.

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Well I can’t compare a Pelican to a Pungo but I have a 10 foot Pelican SINK that is about 15 years old. I have no problem paddling it straight or maneuvering it any place I have ever taken it. It tracks fine as long as I don’t flop around and sit properly. And I consider myself just an average paddler. I have occasionally beaten and abused it on rivers and it has stood up to anything I have done to it. I have paddled it around Lake Jocassee for many an afternoon and I know enough to stay within swimming distance of shore.

It came with skirts although you have to make sure it is snuggly fastened. I did install inflatable flotation eventually although I went a number of years with just some styrofoam blocks.

My little Pelican has given me many pleasurable hours on the water. But I have lost count of the number of times it has been put down on here. Just reread the title of this thread.


alas String I’ve never paddled a pungo so can’t compare. The pelican paddled better than I thought it would, tracked better than my ww boats but just as slow, turning better than I expected but again not what I’m used to. I’v taught people with sundolphin sit on tops but haven’t paddled one. As newbies they struggled and said the boats (sit on tops) felt tippy to them.

What is more important than the boat itself is what you do with it.

Mostly I repurpose boats and push their limits- My sevylor ducks are generally considered pool toys by the boating community. They will give you an aggressive wet ride in class IV (use cam straps as thigh straps). Swimming ability in rapids a must. Think athletic teenagers at 3ft in the new river gorge for maximum thrills and spills.

I outfitted the madriver adventurer poly canoe with d rings (liquid nails for adhesive). I use an old air matress for flotation- took it down tandem with my kids on the “upper new”, bluestone, and greenbrier (high water) quite a few times. That boat is so danged heavy to load, mostly it just sits under the porch waiting for someone who wants to go for a tandem spin but I got no issues with the way it paddles when I do get it out. Kinda nice to paddle a canoe with built in cup holders and seat backs.

I’ve repurposed the perception mirage as a flat water boat (adirondacks, okefenokee)- but the seat is so danged hard nobody wants to paddle it on day two. They complain their butt gets sore. The kids and me would rather paddle the slower crossover (xp) but it ain’t as fast…meaning you get pretty tired. A 12r might be in my future.

Sometimes the best boat is the easiest one to drag, On wood infested creeks just forget how the boat paddles, you want something you are willing drag up and over (think downed redwoods in WA) and under-through (rhododendran thickets in WV). My wavesport diesel works good for this. So for true bushwackin’ with a boat, forget your canoe with its portage yoke, you want a lightly outfitted plastic ww kayak and use your pin kit webbing as a shoulder harness to drag the boat around.

If you’re battling a tide, strong winds, or a large open expanse a long skinny boat with a low profile is best for making headway but I never seem to be in one. A tripper/discovery/bluehole/ mamba/shiva/diesel will work but you gotta be patient and persistent. Beat the wind by getting up early, Keep the distances short, limit the exposure, and dress for the long swim, and stay together. For whitecaps that are breaking behind you (moosehead, chesuncook) enjoy the ride. Before things get too big, lash or tie the canoes/kayaks together- the wind and the waves will do the work. You’re safer rafting up than going it alone. If you wrap a canoe, retrieve it, stomp it out and paddle it out. If you lose a boat, jump into another boat (raft or duck or canoe ) or hike out. That can even mean borrowing a buddy’s shoes/booties if you need to. If things get out of hand pull the plug- meaning pullover to a safe spot and consider your options. This is especially true if it gets dark (hopefully you’ve got a headlamp) but sometimes you can press through anyway. None of those adventures involved a pelican kayak. It seems like I’m already wearing gear and boats out at an alarming rate. So box store kayaks aren’t exactly on my radar.

Could someone modify a pelican to take down the grand canyon?- Sure, but it won’t be me. That’s way to adventuresome. You’ll need some mad skills and big kahonas to pull that off. Now that would be a youtube video I’d like to watch. Since Verlen could paddle up the grand canyon then it seems to me that least someone oughtta be able to take a pretty pink or lime green pelican down it. I’m sure the park service will be thrilled at that prospect.

Yes, if you think they are bad, then they are bad but not based on any objective info or actual experience. For under $200 you get a decent boat to paddle in calm water for an hour or two several times a year. Want better quality and more features and comfort, then spend more.


Well I have paddled my 10 foot Pelican SINK that I bought for less than $300 new about 15 years ago all day on rivers and lakes many times a year. I never felt compelled to purchase something with more features. I have done a modification or two DIY, nothing elaborate or expensive. I have found my seat to be perfectly comfortable on these paddling days. So I guess it is as bad as people think it is.

Pelicans are about the worst kayak you can buy. They are made out of a thin polyethylene that oil cans ate the slightest pressure. Boats like these are the reason that we do not have more serious paddlers. After a couple of times paddling in one of their boats, you never want to paddle again.

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Been paddling mine regularly for 15 years. No oil canning whatsoever. It has stood up to some pretty rough abuse by me over the years dragging it over logs, up on to rocky shores, dropped it a time or two loading it. I don’t know where you got the flimsiness impression. Have you ever had one? Probably not.

Mine has not turned me off to paddling in the least. Nor has any of the rest of my cheap fleet. I just keep on paddling. Sometimes I even turn my paddle upside down to give the elitists more to crow about.


All the Pelicans I know of are thermoformed, which means they are made of ABS plastics. ABS is much more rigid than polyethylene (which is rotomolded). I’ve not owned a Pelican, but oil canning was not an issue I thought they had, as they used a relatively thick layer of ABS (as compared to Delta or Eddyline, 2 higher end manufacturers that also use thermoforming).

I looked at their product line on the web site, and it does look like they have a coupe of models that are rotomolded. But vast majority are thermoformed.

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