Choosing a sea kayak


I haven’t been paddling in quite a few years and almost all of my experience has been with whitewater kayaking. I am now married and my wife and I are looking to buy a couple of sea kayaks that we can use on the Chesapeake Bay, the barrier islands, and along some quiet rivers and lakes nearby. We can’t seem to find a place nearby to rent some, so we are having difficulty in choosing our boats. We weigh about 145 lbs. and are 5’8" and 5’5" in height and would like some storage for occassional overnight trips. We do live near Appomatox Boating Company, but would like to base our decision on more than what one salesman says. Advice anyone?

Thank You

What is your wife’s background?
What is your wife’s paddling background?

Also, have you called dealers within reasonable distance and found out what lines they carry? It would help a lot if you could do that.

Wife’s background
She has paddled in canoes only. We do look at this as a long-term hobby, though.

Since we are near Appomatox, we can get pretty much any boat. They have the largest canoe and kayak warehouse in the country. We have looked at Wilderness Systems, Dagger, and Necky so far. We don’t have much for funds, so we are looking at the plastic boats and figuring on spending about $1000 or so per boat.

wide range
In that price range the compromises you’ll be making are between a kayak that looks like it has all the bells and whistles and ones that simply work. You could do all of the paddling you describe with Necky Manitous, once you put the term “sea kayak” on $1000 you get pushed up to $1300+ purchases for boats that are outside the budget but they have “bulkheads,hatches,skeg/rudder”.

Budget for gear and try low volume
Sea kayaking tends to be gear intensive. Be sure you budget for at least the essentials.

For paddling the Chesapeake and some camping, you will likely want a boat at least 16’ long.

At 145lbs you may be most comfortable in low volume boats. When kayak manufactueres say ‘medium’ or ‘average’ paddler as target for a boat, they often mean someone around 180lbs.

You might start with trying Necky Chatham 16s. You may even find last year’s model discounted.

Boat length
The salesman that we talked to seemed to think that we’d be happiest with short, low volume boats and he highly recommended the Necky Zoar Sport LV. It seemed very minimal to me for $1000. It’s hatches were not easy to get into, the seat was not that great, and the few reviews that I saw online said that it was slow and uncomfortable. However, the salesman really thought that a shorter boat would be more useful since we would also use it locally in lakes and rivers (of course we are hypothesizing because we don’t have the boats yet). I had thought something like the Dagger Halifax 15.5 might be much nicer as far as features and flexibility.

I would select boats that you like
and then look for used ones . The accessories will add $200-$400 for each boat, and getting a comfortable PFD and good paddles adds a lot to the paddling experience.

Sonoma 13
sure it’s pricey for what it is but if you found one on sale it would be a good choice,very efficient.

nice kayak
I used to have a Sonoma 13.5 and it was a fun little boat for day trips although you do have to do some outfitting to make it fit well (replace backband and add more thigh/hip paddling). I’m a big fan of the Chatham line as well due to the whitewater style outfitting and I definitely would recommend that the original poster checks it out.

Short or longer boat?
We are being steered towards longer boats by some and shorter boats by others. Any thoughts? Certainly I have noticed that the 16 foot range has all of the bells and whistles and the 14 foot range seems minimal. But which hull will work for us? This is a difficult purchase to make without the experience in the boats and in the surf.

About that advice…
I’d suggest you talk to other salespeople, also find a local paddling group and talk to the kayakers in that. My husband and I (wilsoj2 above) for our first kayaks went the shorter and lesser route, figuring that if the boats were adequate for our inland needs and would handle some big ocean bay stuff they’d be OK. We took those boats to Maine a few months after buying them and were ten days into our vacation when the weather threw us a surprise. By the time we finally were able to get off the island we’d had to do an emergency landing on, which was within sight of our cottage, get home and have a drink we had resolved that we needed at least three more feet of boat and true sea kayaks.

The point is - if you already know that you are going to spend some time in bigger water, buy the boat that’ll keep you safe in that and resolve to put up with hauling it around for creek crawls. We’ve paddled the St Mary’s River to its mouth into the Chesapeake Bay in October a few times, and have hit high winds and two foot whitecapping chop about every time.

The Zoar Sport is reputed to be a highly capable boat for what it is, and is likely big enough to hold emergency clothes etc. But I forget its size - I think it is in the transition range. IMHO you really want to move to a full sea kayak of at least 16 ft.

Also - for your wife look for something with a low rear deck. Re-entry for women is tougher because we are hauling our weight center over the boat and a low flat rear deck makes life MUCH easier.

Might I recommend that you take any pitch from a salesman with a grain (or bottle) of salt. There are some great salesmen out there especially in the smaller shops buttt… some do not always have YOUR best interest in mind especally if they try to push one particular boat on you… If you don’t like the boat on the sales floor, you most likely REALLY won’t like the boat in the years to come (or sooner) and will be out spending more money getting what you should have gotten in the first place. You may want to consider buying a boat as a long term “investment in satisfaction”. Paying a few 100 more to begin with will pay dividends in satisfaction in the long run.

Have you considered renting? It is a good way to

  1. Gain experience.
  2. Decide if you really want to get into paddling for the long term or if just a passing fancy.
  3. Decide on the type of boat you really want to use (sea/lake/river/touring/rec/camping/dayboat/etc.).
  4. Decide if you really want to invest in your own boat (renting could well be much cheaper if cost is your main issue… you can rent a LOT of boats for $1,000.00).

    Also may I suggest you first take a few lessons which will also give you the opportunity to gain experience and to try out equipment (note - some paddle shops require you to know self recovery techniques before they will rent you a boat)

    Just my $.02

More thoughts from the poster
Thank you all for all of this advice. I have tried to find knowledgeable sales staff, but the knowledge varies quite a bit.

Celia’s post was awesome! My wife and I have relatives in Vermont and have already talked about kayaking coastal Maine (which is the only place that I have gone sea kayaking–and loved). I think that some have encouraged us to get shorter boats so that we can also do rivers. Now that I think about this, I think that the most fun to be had is in the Chesapeake and barrier islands. This would only be fun if we aren’t fighting the wind and waves too much–longer boat. A longer boat would also allow us to paddle along lakes with more speed or less effort. As far as rivers are concerned, it would be nice to be able to do some easy whitewater, but then that necesitates us taking two vehicles, driving separately, and shuttling. If we get longer boats and do flatwater river sections, then maybe we would have the penetration and speed to paddle back to our put-in. Any thoughts?

Also, I have been thinking along the lines of neoprene skirts, not nylon–correct?

Does anyone know of a paddle club near Richmond/Charlottesville or the lower Chesapeake?

Don’t buy new.
There are lots of excellent used boats out there and in my judgment you get a lot more boat for your money buying used. This is especially true if you have budget restrictions. I would suspect you could get a decent fiberglass sea kayak in the 16 to 18 foot range for what you would pay for a lesser new plastic boat.

Demo Programs?

– Last Updated: Jun-03-05 11:18 AM EST –

Do any of the shops in your area have demo programs? For example, a shop in our area lets you demo boats for 90 days for $200.00. If you buy one of the boats that you demoed, the $200 goes towards the purchase. If you don't buy, the money is considered a rental fee.

In any event, I agree with all who've said that a longer boat will suit your stated needs.

Spray Skirts
Neoprene is always going to give you a drier ride than nylon in messy stuff because as you move your upper body around it will stretch with you rather than liff off the edge of the coaming and give water a bigger opportunity to enter. You can get them with everything from very tight rands like WW boaters use because of concerns about implosion to bungie cords that are just a slightly thicker version of those found of nylon skirts.

However… the tighter the rand, the more effort and practice required to get the thing off, the bigger of a risk you are taking should you discover that either of you has a severe problem with fears of entrapment. It is not at all uncommon, and misgauging the panic a new paddler will experience when they first go over has literally been fatal. While it is actually easier to fall out of the boat than stay in it, until you have experienced that yourself I suggest that you use a skirt that which is more prone to release than not.

The above advice to rent and take course is excellent. Ideally you should do that before you buy so you have gotten some sense of how the boat needs to fit you to do basic manuvers, as well as to experience flipping over to know what each of your reactions are. More often than not new kayakers buy boats that are actually too big in their fit, then find that they are stalled on their skills advancement unless they get a tighter fitting boat or pad the heck out of the cockpit.

We’ll be in Friendship ME on Muscongous Bay again this year the first 3 weeks in July. If that’s where you may already be some day during that time and want to meet somewhere on the water, give a holler before the July 4 weekend.

RE: Boat Length
I went through a similar dilemma when upgrading recently. I primarily paddle lakes and slow rivers but wanted to venture into the ocean more. Based on the feedback here, I went with the longer sea-worthy kayak. I bought a 17’ CD Storm, not a good boat for you, but I still paddle tidal rivers, estuaries and creeks. As long as there is a spot 18’ wide to turn around, I go. Great leaning, sweep stroke practice too. You will limit yourself more with a 14-15’ boat that with a boat over 16’.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I have a whole host of reasons to get longer boats. This was my instinct when I was shopping, and my wife’s as well. Low volume boats seem best as well, especially since we won’t often be taking long excursions, so we will frequently be boating without loading the boats much. I fear that stability can become an issue in larger boats that are unloaded.

I believe that I did find one rental/lesson dealer near Virginia beach…I will hunt for the dealer again.

I have only paddled poly boats. I know that fiberglass may need repairs. Can a rock punch threw it? Is is as safe? Is fiberglass really better? How? Speed?

Try To Rent, Borrow, Demo…
a poly Wilderness Systems Tempest 165. You’ll have to buy used if you want to keep your costs that low. I use mine on local lakes and at NC outer banks. The poly is tough and in your price range.

Glass Durability
Um - depends on the manucturer/ layup. Fiberglass boats generally have some amount of gel coat on them, which is a minor bit of maintenance thru the year if you get deep scratches that go thru to the glass/kevlar whatever underneath. But it’s 20 minutes elapsed time and a tube of patch that costs several bucks - not a big deal. After a lot of use you may want to install a keel strip, more work but again you get a lot of use back for that ivestment of time. If you hate scratches you will be buffing them out - or get a lighter color boat where they don’t show so much. If you put a ton of gel coat over a glass boat it’ll withstand a heck of a rock landing, but the more gel coat the heavier the weight.

There are many different glasss or alternative layups - everything from the bonded stuff like EddyLine’s carbonlight to Valley’s ProLite layup which uses dialene, kevlar, glass under a gel coat. There are at least as many opinions about which is best. I suggest that you hone in on a likely manufacturer and search the archives on their layups. Thre’s an opinion on everything out there.