Buying the perfect sea kayak


I’m looking for advice regarding sea kayaks.

I’m 5’8” and weigh 160 pounds. I have about 5 years of paddling experience, mainly from kayaking on rivers (not white water) and in the ocean. I’m interested in buying a sea kayak but find it very difficult to choose the right one.

I’m looking for a kayak with the following specifications and characteristics:

  • Long and narrow (fast)
  • Suitable for multi-day touring and expeditions
  • Suitable for rough conditions (good secondary stability)
  • Quality all the way
  • Comfortable multi-adjustable seat
  • Large hatches +/- a day hatch
  • Price: Around 2000 - 2500 $
  • Material: Fiberglas, hard plastic or Airalite.

    I’ve found a lot of reviews on specific models from different companies, however I’m having troubles finding a website where different sea kayak models are tested, compared and rated with respect to different aspects (manoeuvrability, weight, quality of materials, hatches etc).

    I’m considering something like Eclipse 17.0 from Perception.

    I’m perfectly aware that finding the ideal sea kayak for my personal needs requires more than just reading reviews and comparisons, however a thorough evaluation and rating of different sea kayak models by some experienced kayakers would be a great help for me when choosing the models to try out before buying a sea kayak.

Sea Kayaker & demo, demo, demo
Sea Kayaker Magazine has the most comprehesive reviews of sea kayaks. Many on this board have bought what they gelt was the ‘best’ kayak for themselves --and that turns out to be many different kayaks.

Read the reviews here.

And the most important is to test paddle as many models as possible. This is maybe the best time of year to demo boats.

for the specs you’re listing
and the money you’re willing to spend,

your best bet would be to look at used fiberglass.

I think the eclipse is a great starter kayak, but if you have 2500 to spend, there are so many better kayaks to spend that money on,

you can get pretty much any used glass kayak on the market for that kind of money.

i would look at demoing a number of kayaks.

only way to find out…

– Last Updated: Apr-24-05 10:20 AM EST – to demo. For your size range, you might find the Current Designs Andromeda or Slipstream to be good fits (the Eclipse is ok, but a little bigger than you might need, and not available in glass anymore; the Airlite version is a little flexier than you'd think).

Get thee to a decent sized paddling shop (even if you have drive a distance) and take a look at some boats in person. Keep in mind that at this point in the season, special orders on composite boats are already starting to back up (with Current Designs, they're quoting lead times of 3 to 5 months already), so it might be that if you can find the boat you want, you will have to hope to find colours you like in stock somewhere. Otherwise it could be that you'll have to order now and plan on paddling later in the year.

Buyers Guide
I have to agree with reading a buyers guide first. I bought the one by Sea Kayaker years ago and was very glad I did.

You sound a lot like me
5’7", 165lbs, was checking out the Eclipse but I disappeared when I sat in it, so I sat in a Shadow 16.5 and felt like I just put on a finely tailored suit. I bought the Shadow in it’s last year of manufacture @ a $400 discount.

May I suggest Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 (which I have), or Tempest 165. This boat will fit all the criteria you listed and I’m very happy with mine. It cruises nicely on flat water but is also designed to handle very rough conditions. The 170 is rock-solid in 2 foot seas and 25kt winds.

I am currently eyeballing VCP Aquanaut to possibly add to the armada. I haven’t tried one yet but it’s on my honeydo list (I’m my own honey right now). As far as I have been able to see, the Aquanaut is my “perfect”* boat.

*Terms subject to change without notice.

Eclipse is way too big for you unless you’re carrying an extra 50lbs all the time. Forget the adjustable seat business,that’s modern marketing so the kayak feels good to a wide variety of potential customers paddling less than 15minutes at demos. If you like how the kayak paddles you can make or modify a seat to fit you well. That price range is low for average retail prices in fiberglass so you’re either looking at used glass or the small number of direct to customer manufacturers like QCC or Eddyline. Looking for “fast” and “good for rough water” will require a LOT more from you as a paddler.

You’re not big so getting a kayak for 80% of your paddling where your size fits well makes more sense than getting a big kayak that you’ll load up only 5% of the time.

For values in new boats that meet your goals you could look at Eddylines NightHawk16(or is it Night Heron? 16’x22") or QCC600.

At 5’8"/160lbs I’d really restrain the urge to get a big boat that’s ideal for a 200lb paddler since you’ll regret it everytime it’s windy or rough.

Thanks for the entusiasm
Thank you very much for your responses to my question.

I’m really impressed about the enormous enthusiasm that surrounds this discussion forum.

Having read the responses I think I’ll start by buying and reading the 2005 Buyer’s guide edition of Canoe and Kayak Magazine which I expect will be available soon. Then I’ll visit some of the bigger paddling shops in the area, talk to a few experienced sea kayakers and ask them about their personal experiences and finally of course try a bunch of different demo boats.

It seems like the Eclipse (Perception) would not be a very good choice for me after all since I’m only 5’8” and weigh 160 pounds. I must admit that I initially had imagined a relatively large kayak, since I would like to have the opportunity to carry a lot of gear with me in case of multi-day touring or an expedition, but as stated by LeeG I would probably regret it when paddling in windy or rough conditions the 80%-95% of the time that the kayak would not be loaded up. Finally, I sense that most of you recommend a fiberglass sea kayak in preference to plastic. Is this because it’s easier to repair or because of the difference in weight and stiffness?



Or check the Buyer’s Guide
for Paddler Magazine for free:


– Last Updated: Apr-25-05 9:43 PM EST –

Velkommen til PNET Danish.

I spent just a little time in Denmark last summer but I noticed a lot of Prijon boats, sold with different names than in the US. You probably already know that these are decent plastic boats. I've paddled the Kodiak (it has a different german name, Isbjørn kansje? ) model on several long trips and liked how it handled but I am about 40 lbs heavier than you. They make smaller models that are good. Some of the advice here just may not apply because of the brands that are available in DK. I also suspect that boats are less expensive in the US but I could be wrong about that. I'm planning a trip back to Denmark next year so I would be interested in hearing where to paddle and where to rent seakayaks sometime.

since plastic kayaks in the US don’t cost more than $1500 I assumed you were looking beyond plastic. If you’re total budget for kayak and gear was $2000-2500 then yes plastic is a reasonable choice. But so would a used fiberglass kayak.

Perfect sea kayak.
You’d be selling yourself short if you didn’t demo the WS Tempest 170 Pro. It has all the characteristics you mentioned. I am close to your size and the boat fits me like a glove.

Since I’m searching for a boat myself I’ve checked the Prijons, too (yes I’m from Germany). The Kodiak is for the bigger ones, the Barracuda for the fast ones, the Catalina for the small ones and the best-selling Seayak for mid-sized paddlers. Reviews are right here on this side. The plastic is still the best. I also ordered the Seayak-test from the US-Seakayak Magazine, and with a rudder they recommended it.

Some Danish links
(asuming you are still in Denmark as your profile indicates)

Glass tends to be lighter weight for the same length than plastic (matters lots when hauling it off the top of the car), and while it does require maintenance it doesn’t have the tendency to deform and get really slowed by the effects of abrasion or oil canning over time. Most people find that those two characteristics make the glass boat more desirable - and at the money you are willing to spend you can easily get into a decent used/demo glass boat.

Eclipse doesn’t like rough water
You mention rough water. The Eclipse doesn’t behave well in rough water. Even with the rudder down it will want to broach with every little wave. That’s frustrating and tiring. It does have good secondary stability (too much even?) but that doesn’t mean that it handles well in rough water.

I agree with LeeG that the Eclipse is too big for you anyways. Good luck in your search and remember “try before you buy”, including in conditions you plan to use it in - although I admit it may not be easy to find rough water.


What kind of paddling will you do?
DANISH SAID: "I’m looking for a kayak with the following specifications and characteristics:

  • Long and narrow (fast)
  • Suitable for multi-day touring and expeditions
  • Suitable for rough conditions (good secondary stability)
  • Quality all the way
  • Comfortable multi-adjustable seat
  • Large hatches +/- a day hatch
  • Price: Around 2000 - 2500 $
  • Material: Fiberglas, hard plastic or Airalite."

    You listed the aforementioned criteria, however, the some important information was left out. That is, where are you going to paddle it?

    Do you want a fast ocean boat, or will it be in more protected water. Some boats intended for the ocean are a bit slower in flatwater. How’s the ride in following seas? Some boats are great down wave and a good paddler can take a less speedy boat and blow away “faster” boats given the right conditions.

    Do you want a rudder, drop skeg or a hull shaped to not require either? How about perimeter deck lines, recessed/non recessed deck fittings and bungie configuration? Any ideas there?

    What kind of hatches do you want? Will the color coordinated panels that fit over neoprene slip covers do or do you want something more robust like VCP or Kayaksport? What your thoughts regarding day hatches are now, they may change if you actually have a boat with them.

    Does maneuverability fit into your plan? On trips it’s a lot of fun poking in and out of rock gardens along the way and not worrying about it being just fast. Most of the time my boat is not on an “expedition,” it is on a “weekender.”

    How about the volume of the cockpit? Some boats have room for you and your foot pegs and a footpump and that’s it. The guy doing a T rescue on you will appreciate having to pick up a few hundred less pounds of water for your consideration of that. Other boats will ship enough water for an aquarium for the new exhibit in New York City.

    What are your thoughts on the bulkheads and the bulkhead material? Some make use of composite, others use foam and others still use plastic sheets and glue. The seam of the hull and deck is important so you may want to read up on what the manufacturer does there. There are 1 and 2" fiberglass seam tapes, extruded channels on the outside, poly has none, lap joints, and some other very suspicious bonds used.

    Do you want end toggles or do you want the suitcase handles on the bow or stern? One manufacturer uses both and it really looks terrible to me, but you may find it quite nice.

    Sometimes you can find a used folding or sectional kayak for the price you are budgeting. The places you can drive or ferry to will limit your expedition boats actual range. (Yes, I know you can ship a boat over the ocean for your 3 month circumnavigation of the Solomon Islands, but it is kind of a pain in the ass to do so. Therefore, sectionals and folders are great for us “vacation kayakers” who like to do a 2 week trip every year and not spend days arranging the importation of a 18 foot kayak to say, the Ivory Coast. Not to mention the weeks you will be without your boat as it winds its way through the various stopovers in developing or developed nations.)

    If it were me, I’d go to a symposium and pray for lousy weather. Then you’d have a bunch of boats to try out in decent conditions and a whole lot of BS from the manufacturers to wade through. Bring a good notebook along, too.