Complete Noob here - seeking advice

Greetings! I’m new here, but entirely new to paddling. Have used canoes and kayaks for years, but never owned one.

I’m looking to get kayaks for my wife and me. Our goals are fitness, but also to enjoy river and lake paddling with some possible camping involved. However, MOST trips will be just day trips.

I’ve seen the long and narrow kayaks, the shorter/wider kayaks, and everything in between.

How do I know what kayak is best for us? Cockpit style (sit-in) or sit-on? Long vs short?

Most of our paddling with be with little current (hopefully) with the intent being casual paddling to enjoy nature, photography, and time together.

We are both the ‘captain’ type so separate boats is the way we want to go. Having owned sailboat, we know that we can’t both be captain or in charge of our boat unless we are the only one on them. :slight_smile:

If I look at used kayaks, are there particular things I should note when looking one over?

Like I said, a total noob here. I know I’ll get the ‘get brand X or model Y’ from some and that’s okay, but I’m really wanting to get a feel for what kind of design and features I should be looking for when getting a kayak.

Thank you all for any input. If there’s another thread for this, please let me know and I’ll go dig some more.


As you might expect, this is a hard question. Some first steps toward answers…

The kind of boat you want depends only entirely on what you want to do with it. Will you find yourself in wind or waves? Are you 100% sure you never will? Do you want to learn re-entry techniques for sit-ins or scrap all that and go SOT? Do you plan to paddle in the cold?

Try out as many boats as you can. This may be hard to do given geography. Still, it’s the cheapest/easiest way to find out what you like and what you don’t.

The more expensive boats are more expensive for a reason. They’re usually better. For this reason, you’ll get a much better boat for your money used. Craigslist, this board, etc.

With any boat purchase, try before buying. See if they will let you fill the cockpit with water and check for leaks in the hull, bulkheads (if present) and deck/skeg/rudder fittings. (I got burned once buying a nice used glass boat one time without testing.)

It’s a good time to buy used: many outfitters and schools are unloading this year’s class and rental boats.

More thoughts…
Many people’s first boats are rec boats: wide sit-ins with enormous cockpits. Very easy to get in and out of.

These are fine, and may be exactly what you want. They may be sluggish or not turn so elegantly, but at this stage of your paddling career you may not care or notice.

I may suggest you get into this the way I did. I felt like I wanted to learn to kayak, so I just bought something off craigslist that I thought looked nice, almost at random. It didn’t cost me much, it enabled me to get out and figure out what I wanted. As my skills progressed and I learned more I got a much better idea on what I truly needed/wanted. Over time, this refined even more.

I would never in a million years care to paddle my very first boat anymore. However, it got me out there to learn and I eventually sold it for what I paid for it, financing my next (and better) purchase. For these reasons, it may have been my smartest purchase ever.

Types of kayaks

– Last Updated: Sep-21-15 2:16 PM EST –

It isn't necessarily the length, though shorter boats are less likely than longer boats to have certain features. Overall longer and skinnier boats will be faster, though it isn't a pure science. I can name relatively slow long boats and surprisingly quick shorter ones.

The type of kayak goes to your usuage. The longer skinnier boats you are looking at likely have the following features:
Two sealed bulkheaded areas. Between that and dry bags you have a dry place for stowing gear. (like the sleeping bag for camping...) It also assures flotation and reduces the amount of water you have to get out of the boat should you capsize.

Fixed perimeter lines, NOT bungie cord, that you use to hang onto the boat while you sort yourself out to get back in from the water should you capsize. Makers of full touring boats, or sea kayaks, assume that you are going to be too far away from shore to swim the boat in if you go over. Frankly, with two people in properly equipped boats, on-water recovery in other than nasty conditions is easy. Just requires a little learning and practice.

Smaller cockpits, which assures better boat control in waves or wind than a huge one without any thigh braces or other such useful surfaces.

The smaller boats without any bulkheads are pretty much not possible to rescue on the water. Too much water and too little to hang onto. You really have to stay within swimming distance of shore if you want to be certain of recover.

This can be remedied with float bags, a bit, but if you also want to camp out of these it gets pretty challenging. I would suggest that you start out looking at boats in the 14 ft range because of the camping part, which should get you into fore and aft bulkheaded areas and perimeter line.

Yes, you could start out with less and try to figure out the camping later. But it would take very little camping to sell you on the advantages of what I describe above - why go thru two steps to boats when you can get there in one?

Thank you for

– Last Updated: Sep-21-15 6:00 PM EST –

A few questions
A few questions to give you better answers.

You mention rivers and lakes. How big are the lakes you might paddle?

Camping, well how much do you want to bring along? Might want a bigger kayak to hold more camping gear.

Then how big are you and the wife?

Plus what’s your budget?

Already mentioned is outfitters are now selling off some of there kayak rental fleet so a good deal might be available now. So if you near a kayak store check them out.

go narrower
Since you’ve both been sailors and you stated you want to paddle for fitness, I would say avoid rec style boats which are slow and stodgy to paddle. Stick with 14’ to 17’ touring sit inside kayaks which will give you the ability to maintain a comfortable and enjoyable pace . These can be had with careful attention to Craigslist offerings and researching models that come up for sale. I recently bought a nice used but well cared for Perception 14’ touring kayak with a decent fiberglass paddle and mid-range PFD included for $400. This is one of the times of year such deals can be found.

Comfort is the first thing that comes

– Last Updated: Sep-22-15 1:00 PM EST –

to mind. To discover what that means, you have to sit in and preferably paddle the boat.
You also need some decent secondary stability from your description .
I'm not selling boats, but look at WS boats.
Case in point: I have a 21 mile river trip coming up. I have a choice to make from boats I own.
Pungo 140: sit in,relatively fast, very stable, comfortable seat, room for stuff.
Tarpon 160: SOT ,All of the above but very easy to get on and off.Not as maneuverable as the Pungo.
Stellar surf ski: Fast, beautiful, fast, no way I would attempt to take a photo from it. Not good for hanging out. A little inattention and I'm swimming.Comfort does not come to mind.
Extreme examples but you get the point.

Take a class or rent
Find an outfitter or store that offers day classes or rentals and try out some boats. Since you are not sure what kind of boat you want this can weed out or help you make a more informed decision on what type of boat to purchase. Also don’t skimp on the pfd, paddle or extras that compliment the “right” boat. They can be as important as the boat itself.