Beginner boat

Just thinking of starting kayaking after taking a lesson with our local Forest Preserve. Want to do small local lakes and perhaps a calm river. I am rather tall, 5’6.

Would like to buy a inexpensive first boat… any suggestions? Need most stable. 8 ft or 10 ft?? Sit on or sit in?? Accessories?

Any help would be appreciated.



You’ll be best served by buying used. Here’s a recreational kayak plus a fairly decent paddle for $350 in Springfield:

And a similar deal near Chicago:

Actually 5’ 6" is considered small to medium in kayak sizing. Your weight is relevant too. The Dirigo and the Swifty are each pretty wide and have a gaping oversized cockpit, so they will be somewhat slow and not suitable for deep water or windy rough conditions.

It’s typical for beginners to list “stable” as a condition but that is relative. A wide flat boat is stable sitting still on calm water but is less able to handle waves and boat wakes than a narrower boat. A wider boat is also more effortful to paddle and will tend not to track as straight. If you plan to paddle with others in longer boats you will work to keep up. You would also need to purchase an inflatable flotation bag to stuff in the bow of the hull since this model (and most short rec boats) does not have a bulkhead compartment to keep it from filling with water (and sinking) in the event of a capsize. Spray skirts don’t work too well on the oversized cockpits either, so expect to be wet when you paddle because of splash and paddle drip.

It is usually better to try out a range of types of kayak before settling on what you want to buy. There is no substitute for sitting in a boat in the water to see how it feels. When you took the class I would presume you were using boats that they provided? What sort were they?

A cheap boat like one of the ones in the ads will get you out on the water but will limit the places you can use it and you will not develop a lot of skills with it. But you will likely have fun and for that price you can trade up by selling it eventually or keep it for a friend loaner when you move to a boat that is more of what you want if your interests progress to wanting more speed and flexibility of use.

8’ long boats are pretty useless for anything but sitting in a pond or floating small creeks. They just don’t track well. 10’ are marginal. A 12’ kayak will give you quite a bit more flexibility and ease of paddling. These are usually around 24" to 25" wide, which feels significantly better than the 28" of the shorter rec boats but is still not as narrow as a sea kayak. These often have somewhat more vee to the hull so they track better.

I’m your height and usually use 15’ day touring kayaks that are around 22" wide. I have several and often loan them to beginners who I take paddling with me – none have ever had a capsize problem or reported they felt “unstable”. Touring kayaks do tend to feel a little “wiggly” when you first get in them (just as a bicycle feels scary when you first learn to ride) but they are really quite stable. Don’t let concern about “stability” drive your choice. I dislike the term “beginner kayak”. You can’t really learn to ride a regular bicycle by riding a trike or to drive a car by driving a golf cart. Same with kayaks. You will develop skills to match the boat you have unless you start with a boat that is too short, fat and spacious to be able to practice good skills.

You need a 14 Tsunami
Everybody else is wrong.

See how easy that was?

Thanks Willowleaf
What a really nice, descriptive, informative posting Willowleaf. Thanks.


She could trade up to that in time
But even a used Tsu 140 runs about $700, a little over what most beginners want or need to spend.

And honestly, some of us find Tsunamis a bit boring to paddle and unnecessarily heavy for their size. They’ve kind of become the default “safe sedan” of day touring kayaks to which dealers steer female newcomers to the sport. I feel there are more interesting and pleasurable mid-range rotomold boats in that price and size range to consider.

Like I was saying…

brand loyalty
Yeah, it’s like the old “Ford vs Chevy” pickup truck argument – everybody has their brand loyalty. My best friend loves her Tsu 140 but when we’ve swapped boats just for the hell of it on day trips I couldn’t wait to get back in my own boat.

For your location, I’d think a sit-on-top might not be a good idea. SOTs are great where the temperatures encourages getting in and out a lot and getting wet isn’t a problem. They’re not as popular in colder climates where staying dry has more value.

Depending on your weight, something like a Tribute 12 might work better than a more typical “beginner boat” such as a Pungo. At your size you probably don’t need something as wide as a Pungo.

Good suggestions.
And very nice, informative post, Willowleaf. How good of you to find two ads for the OP.

Either of those boats would serve well for the stated purpose, and both would make good loaners if she decides to get a longer boat later.

Conduit 13
I really like the Conduit 13 for a beginner Kayak. Yes, it is a little more money than you can get other rec boats for used, but with this you get bulkheads front and rear with storage, a comfy seat, a cockpit opening big enough to easily get in and out of yet still small enough to secure a spray skirt to. It is too wide to really roll but yet still a sprightly paddler. For the money it is probably one of cheaper “real” kayaks on the market and has a lot to offer.

It is a bit on the heavier side but once you learn how to handle loading a kayak it is no worse than others I have loaded.

Good luck in which ever kayak you choose.

Sam in IN

agree on the Conduit 13
They are often on sale this time of year and it is, indeed, probably the least expensive NEW kayak that is fully outfitted with safety features and competent in most moderate waters. If you don’t have the patience or confidence to look for used, it is a good option.

My Eddyline Fathom LV for $1300.
I’m in Urbana, IL. You can come down and try it out on a scenic lake. I can supply paddle and spray skirt.

You didn’t state your price range.

This boat does require some balance and confidence, but is a great fit for your size and weighs 50 lbs.

If you don’t like it, hey, you still got to make a scenic road trip when the fall colors are just starting.

nice boat
for that price.