Considering a Kayak

We’re thinking about getting a kayak, I’m hoping someone can point us in the right direction.

We have a canoe and have canoed a lot, mostly class I rivers and flat water. However on open mountain lakes and estuaries out here in California, when the winds pick up we sometimes find our high sided canoe a bit too sail like. Not long ago we rented a tandem recreational kayak under similar (windy mountain lake) conditions and it handled those conditions much better than the canoe. After getting blown around on a lake the other day I started to think maybe there’s a reason kayaks are so much more popular than canoes out here.

I’ll try to be as specific as possible about our criteria so I don’t end up just asking for a nonexistent boat that can do everything. I think this is what we’re looking for in a kayak:

Tandem, and able to deal with a heavier rider in back. (That would be me…) We aren’t very tall though, 5’7" and 5’1".

Recreational/touring – mostly flat water lakes and estuaries. We’re not likely to venture out into the ocean, the most challenging waves we encounter come from motor boats ignoring the local speed limit, or wind driven waves which are smaller but (in the canoe) actually more challenging since they’re accompanied by wind.

Related to that, tracking well and covering ground is more important than maneuverability. I want it to go in a straight line and get us to the other end of the lake no matter what the wind is doing. If we visit a river we’ll take the canoe.

Openings on the large side – we don’t have any real kayaking experience and are unlikely to use skirts, if the boat goes over I want to be dumped out, not stuck in the boat.

Stability – we’re comfortable with something with a little lower initial stability as long as the final stability is good. We don’t plan to stand up or fish in the boat. But something very difficult to actually tip would be good. I know that competes with speed, but as long as it’s faster than a canoe I’ll take final stability over speed.

Maximum length about 17’ because that’s all we have room for in the garage!

Probably plastic so it’s as durable as possible.

It doesn’t need to be a big cargo hauler, if we decide to paddle in to a camp site we’ll take the canoe.

For comparison our canoe is a Wenonah Spirit II (royalex), a 17’ long ~70lb general purpose canoe that can haul a lot of cargo (and gets blown around a lot when it isn’t hauling a lot of cargo).

On the far recreational kayak end of things I’ve thought about an Old Town Dirigo Tandem with a rudder, but it may be a little too open and in reviews I see folks say it’s slower than other recreational tandems. The Current Designs Double Vision Roto is another I’ve thought about, but I’ve been unable to find any reviews.


Take a look at the Current Designs
"Double Vision"

friends of ours have one and love it.

My wife and I tried it, and if I were in the market for a tandem, that is one that I probably would get.

Jack L

A Sit On Top might do you fine
There area LOT of decent tandem sit-on-tops to consider.

This one from Ocean Kayak (A good company) can be reconfigured to even allow one person (Seated in the middle)…

Some people will shun me for recommending this boat, but Pelican is making a comeback and actually making some decent boats now. I just picked up their Icon 120 and love it.

Read my comments on their comeback here:

Regardless, a sit-on-top might be just about perfect. You want a large cockpit, easy to get out of, it doesn’t get any bigger! They are not expensive. Most track decently (not as well as a canoe, but decently enough).

Reading over many of the older posts here and sites they linked to earlier today I was wondering if I should be considering SOTs, I hadn’t really been thinking about them. From what I’ve read I haven’t been able to determine how SOTs compare to canoes in terms of speed and tracking – if a wind comes up I want something that goes faster and tracks better than our canoe does. Some of the reviews I’ve read indicate SOTs get blown around in the wind about as much as canoes do.

Most plastic boats will get blown around
Plastic boats don’t have a lot of weight to them and they will blow around.

Sit-on-tops do tend to have more of a shaped hull (my Pelican Icon 120 even has a keel) and will track a little better. It hasn’t blown around much in the wind I’ve been in. mainly because it has a lower cross profile. Think how much of a Canoe sits up out of the water to catch the wind.

See how low this one rides (Pelican Apex 130 Tandem)

And, notice the shape of the hull

can tyou expand on this?
You said “Plastic boats don’t have a lot of weight to them and they will blow around.” I don’t understand what you are saying, as I always looked at plastic boats as the heaviest of the materials used to make boats.

some misconceptions

– Last Updated: Jul-08-13 12:07 AM EST –

You will not be "stuck" in a kayak with standard keyhole cockpits (these tend to be around 32"-34" long and 18"-19" wide), even wearing a touring style spray skirt. In fact, if and when you capsize, unless you deliberately brace your knees under the deck, gravity will cause you to fall out naturally. Touring skirts, unlike whitewater skirts, pop off easily.

Sit on top tandems are not particularly fast -- sit inside styles will tend to be lighter and sleeker. Since speed and low wind resistance are your stated preferences, I think you probably want to look a bit beyond recreational style boats, which are more for slow lily dipping. Sit on tops are always a wet ride too -- do you plan on paddling in cooler waters and in other than hot summer weather? With an SOT you would need to be prepared to wear a wet suit or drysuit in such conditions.

The general comment about plastic boats being light and being blown around by the wind just doesn't compute. Light, low profile sit inside touring and sea kayaks are usually fast to paddle and much more wind resistant than heavier canoes or rec style sit on tops. It is the hull design, not the weight, that gives them their performance. characteristics.

I think the CD Double Vision Roto does sound like a good match -- if it's a stretch for your budget (and since both of you are on the smaller side) the 14' 8" Necky Manitou II Tandem might be worth a look -- same width and about 12 lbs lighter, and 40% cheaper.

Light is a relative term in hydrodynamic

– Last Updated: Jul-08-13 9:58 AM EST –

I'm talking about in the physics of displacement. Kayaks are usually wider and flatter. This means they have a shallower draft than a canoe of equal weight. They still displace the same amount of water (A boat won't float unless the volume of water it displaces is equal or greater than it's mass.). But, the displacement occurs distributed across a greater surface area. Think of a board floating on the water. When it's flat, it floats because it distributes the weight across the surface to displace the water. But, turn it on it's narrow edge and it sinks because there is less water displaced compared to the weight.

When talking boats, Light verses Heavy is not always about the physical weight of the boat. You would never consider a huge, steel, cargo ship "Light." But, when she's running empty, they call her "Light in the water" as she's almost floating on top of the water than riding down in the water. This also means she can be blown off course by a steady wind easily.

Same physics apply. Most "Traditional" Canoes have a very sharp hull, down to a keel. This allows them to ride lower in the water, and track straighter. It also means they were faster. In the last few decades, we've seen canoes "Morph" into more of a kayak style hull where the center of the boat is flat and the boat has a much shallower draft. This allows them to be able to carry much more weight as it's distributed across a greater surface area.

Here's an illustration:

However, not to get into a full on physics lesson (Physics and Chemistry are my favorite topics!), the greater the surface area of a boat, the greater the friction between the hull and the water, the slower she goes and the more effort it takes to move her.

Hope I haven't totally confused ya!


Right about hull design

– Last Updated: Jul-08-13 10:16 AM EST –

See my post above about the term "Light" as it applies to how shallow or deep the boat drafts in the water.

Like you say, it's hull design. Touring SinK's have a more rounded hull and are usually more narrow/longer. This distributes the weight (And displacement of water) along the length of the boat, as well as letting her draft lower in the water. This means the hull creates more drag along it's length, making it harder to turn, thus harder for wind to blow off course (Why many touring kayaks need rudders to help turn).

Sit-On-Tops are usually flatter on the bottom, and wider. The means they draft more shallow in the water. Most of their resistance is in the middle, where it's flatter. This means they are easier to blow laterally (Sideways) across the surface of the water.

Weight wise, you can take a touring SinK and a Rec SoT of the same physical weight and put them in the water empty. The SoT, because of it's hull design and how it displaces water is going to be "Ligher" in the water. It's a nautical term referring to how high a boat sits in the water (it's draft), and less about the physical weight of the boat.

On what planet are kayaks wider than canoes?

I own and paddle both canoes and a variety of touring and whitewater kayaks so I have a pretty good familiarity with both craft. The majority of the former are always far wider than the majority of the latter. And longer kayaks do NOT “require a rudder” to turn – the rudder is to improve straight tracking in wind or in following seas. Rudders are not intended to be used as a tiller. Kayaks are turned by a combination of paddling and leaning to change the waterline.

The hull profiles of most of my kayaks are a modified vee or a multifaceted hard chine, not “flat” or “rounded”. That’s true of most touring and sea kayaks.

I’m sorry, but with all due respect for your love of physics, you are off base in your comments on kayak design and performance characteristics. SINKS shed wind better than a canoe both due to riding lower and due to the laminar flow over the curved solid deck.

Lots of useful details and suggestions here. I think I’ve found a local dealer where we could try a Double Vision.

For comparison our Spirit II is 17’ long and almost 36" wide. With only us in it, it will float in only a few inches of water (leaving the majority of canoe to blow around in the wind). That’s nice on shallow rocky rivers, but on a lake it really wants an extra few hundred pounds in it. Short of some of the largest tandem sea kayaks I’ve seen, nearly every kayak I’ve looked at (SINK or SOT) has a smaller footprint in the water and is going to ride lower. The SOTs look like they’ll have a higher profile above the water though, and put the people higher. The tandem we rented a while back was a pretty basic open top, like a Perception Prodigy tandem or something similar, but we flew past the canoes that were out on the lake thanks to the low profile.

I’ve thought about the Necky Manitou II before, but the Old Town Dirigo seems like a slightly roomier version of the same thing with some slightly nicer options. The front cockpit on the Necky looks pretty small. Old Town, Necky, and Ocean Kayak are all owned by the same company, I was under the impression that the Old Town and Necky kayaks are made at the same place but I could be wrong.

Also, I think you two are agreeing more than you realize in general, you’re just getting tripped up on some design details – there’s alot of variety in canoe and kayak design. Enough to confuse me, that’s why I’m here! But I’m learning. (Also, I’m a physicist, although fluid dynamics are not my strong point. In grad school they kept the naval engineers in the basement, I didn’t go down there very often.)

Not all boats are the same

– Last Updated: Jul-09-13 8:45 AM EST –

I'm basing my statements on my experience and traditional design.

These are traditional Kayaks:

Notice the bottom is smooth, no "point" (keel) and almost flat.

This one has a bit of taper/keeling at the tips of the bow/stern. But, as you can see, the main part of the hull is a smooth, curve (Almost flat):

Again, these are TRADITIONAL, not modern designs.

As for being Wider than canoes. Most of the Sit-On-Top kayaks (what I specified and NOT comparing them to Touring kayaks that I specified were MUCH narrower) I've shopped around for have been anywhere from 30 to 36" wide at the widest point. This puts them equal to or greater in width than most single person canoes. Even the larger Old Town canoes I paddled years ago (in scouts) were were only 29-32" wide at their widest. Now, you'll also notice that I mentioned that Canoe shapes have been evolving the last few years (20 years or so) to flatten and widen out in the center (I've seen as much as 40+" at the center on newer canoes). This is NOT TRADITIONAL design and what I've been talking about is TRADITIONAL.

For example, these Tandum kayaks are very wide when compared to a touring SinK (As Wide, if not wider than a canoe):

not a fan of the Dirigo
I’m not a huge fan of the Dirigo tandem. Nothing wrong with the boat per se, but after leading dozens of tours with various tandems, I’ve found that whenever there was a pair of people who consistently couldn’t keep their boat going in a straight line, they were always in a Dirigo. That said, if you can try one, and can paddle it well, and it’s comfortable, they have held up well in rental fleets (can’t say that about some other boats).

Necky Manitou II is a great boat - handles nicely even as a single. Tracks well, isn’t a total barge but plenty stable for anyone. I’ve had them out in reasonably choppy water in a group tour setting with no problems.

CD Double Vision is the most “sporty” of the group and will be the fastest and best tracking. It does have a smaller cockpit opening but as others have mentioned you definitely won’t get stuck in the boat if you go over - BUT, if it makes you uncomfortable, then you won’t use the boat and it’s consequently the wrong boat!

SOT tandems are great for families and kids - I doubt you’d be happy with one given that you have some on water experience and already know that you want to be able to get somewhere in some wind and waves.

Really recommend at least sitting in and if possible actually paddling all possibilities.