Demo by sitting???

“Demo,demo, demo” is a statement much used on these boards. It is much simpler to do that in a warm weather climate than in the frozen tundras of the north.

The Mrs. and I went to a dealer in Indiana (Fluid Fun) yesterday because they had some models that are not inventoried at our local dealer. We are both looking for solos to supplement our tandem. We sat in approximately 15 yaks on a combined basis. It became fairly clear which ones we were most comfortable with for our sizes and builds. I was able to eliminate a few models which were near the top of my list.

This dealer was located on the St. Joseph’s River which was frozen.

We want to have new kayaks at the start of the season and may not be able to demo them on the water. We are looking for day touring type models. We plan on looking at additional kayaks at Canoecopia.

The question is:

How wrong can we go by selecting a kayak by comfort and fit, type of material, weight, length, beam, depth, etc. and supplemented by reviews on this site and paddling publications, without having been on the water with the selected yak.

By the way, Fluid Fun is in Bristol, Indiana and 101 miles from the Illinois state line. They have a great selection of Eddyline, Perception, Wilderness Systems, Current Design, Necky, Hurricane Aquasports, and some others. They are very helpful. The owner (I think), Matt, was on the 1980 Olympic Team and he showed me one of his 12 lb. racing kayaks. Thanks also to Mandy, if you read the posts on this site, who was very patient with us.

How much are you going to spend?
It sounds like you might have already decided what you want to buy. If you are buying used boats that can be resold easily then I would not worry too much. Sitting on a boat on dry land and paddling it in waves and wind can be a really different thing. My favorite boat I bought for touring I never would have considered, except I took a class where we could demo about 12 boats, and I discovered that it was a great boat for me. Our class was almost called off because of winds and high swell, the boat I bought was the best for going fast in both calm waters in the harbor and out in the waves. I’ve also rented boats that were absolute dogs to paddle and they looked fine from specs and just sitting in the boat. Reviews are useful but you need to be careful, most reviewers love the boats they have just bought. If you are going to spend a lot of money for two boats I’d wait until you can try them out on the water.

Six out of seven…
of my boats I bought with only a “sit-in” trial, and I’ve been very satisified with all of them. However, before I sat in them, I had done research on this board, gotten recomendations, read about them on the manufacture’s website, etc.

The only mistake I made was in buying a rec boat (for my first boat)and then an "intermediate"boat.

(second boat). I should have “gone for the gold” and bought my better boats at the beginning. But those first two boats are great loaners and a lot of my nonkayaking friends will go out on the lake with me, using my Swifty. And both boats helped me develop the confidence to move on, so maybe they weren’t mistakes, after all.

A few years back I demo’d and bought

– Last Updated: Feb-20-05 1:10 PM EST –

a yak by just sitting in it. Fit great, looked great, well known local guy made it, I bought it and it tracked like crap. I had a miserable rest of the season and was totally ashamed at my lack of patience. I still suffer from psychological issues on that one. ;)

Another one I demo'd at a symposium in WA and rented it all the next day. Great boat! Then was 2800 dollars, damn right I was going to test it out. :)

My last one I bought without testing it, which was a real gamble, but it's not like one has a bunch of choices in AK. I did however, test its two predecessors and liked them, so I took my chances. Paid off and I like the boat, but again, had I had more choices I would have tried them out.

Would I do it again? No. Cuz sometime or another my luck will run out and for me it's an expensive mistake. Anyway, just my podunk 1.5 cents.

Behavior in Waves/ Wind
It sounds like you are doing research that would get you a long way towards a good first try - but you could still miss the mark. If you are looking at composite new boats, that could be an expensive miss because you’d lose some value on resale.

Below are a few questions that I would suggest you think about before deciding whether you can do this without taking boats onto the water… based on preferences I only realized I had after time on the water.

Do either of you have a preference for a boat that responds more like a soft chined boat or an aggressive hard chined one? With the first you get some leverage and ability to turn before you hit the point of being fully heeled over, in the latter you pretty much have to be on the chine before the boat is going to respond. At the end of a long paddle you could find the latter behavior more annoying than it’s worth, and it requires greater comfort with being on edge.

Are you able to assess for sure that you will hit the desired waterline in the boat without taking it on the water? This may be a lot more of a problem for your wife than you, if you come in at or above 180 pounds and she doesn’t.

When the skegged Elaho first came out, I figured we’d be a match because it was hyped as being for the “small to medium” paddler. It took all of 15 minutes to find out that, unless I threw in at least 40 pounds of weight somewhere, I was going to be spending a heck of a lot of effort turning it because I was above the waterline and had to take it way over to hit the first chine. Not that I couldn’t, but I didn’t want to spend all day doing that. Several weeks later the reviews came out and indeed the stability curves indicated that it hit the desired stabilities at about 180 pounds of paddler.

Finally, are you pretty sure about the balance between tracking, speed and playfulness that you will want to be living with? Coming from a tandem you are likely accustomed to very high levels of tracking and speed, with playfulness being way down there somewhere. There is a such a range of balances available once you get into single boats though - and if you and she plan to paddle distances together you need to think about getting what each of you wants as well as matching overall traveling efficiency so one doesn’t have to constantly go faster or slower to match the other.

In sum - with the right research you have a good chance of hitting it. But this is a such a big change that you may want to either wait or go used for the first boats, to be more certain.


Wow Celia, Sea Dart, Pat and Paddle_
Pirate. Thanks for taking the time to write such in-depth responses. In answer to some of the questions above:

We will definitely buy new.

The kayaks we are looking at range anywhere from $800-$2000 each. Some are polyethylene, some are in materials such as Carbonlite, Trylon or Airlite.

The most important factors for us are stability, tracking, comfort; and we both like to go fast for two older geezers.

Since we are intermediate novices with decent strokes, my wife is looking for a day touring yak a step above a rec yak and I am looking for a day touring yak that can serve as an entry level sea yak. Considering these parameters, would a demo be less important to us than to someone who does long open water crossings and would be very particular about the hull shape, degree of rocker, chine details, storage, etc.?

Wilderness Systems and Necky are all good companies. Is boat weight a consideration? I traded in my Necky Elaho simply because I couldn’t cope with the 60+ pounds.(I should have bought it in glass!) I have an Eddyline Nighthawk that I love. Impex boats are great. If your wife is on the short side, I’ll bet she would like a Montauk or Mystic - I have both and I can’t say enough good things about them.There are so many good boats - if you go with a good company and do your research beforehand, you’ll be happy with your decision!

It’s worth the wait…
… to demo the boats. Last year, I made a list of 8 boats that had the “right specs” but I decided to wait and demo them to be sure. It’s a good thing I did not because none of those boats felt “right” I ended up with a boat that wasn’t on my list but I love it. I tried 13 different models before I found it! It’s worth the wait to get the right feel from your boat. Remember the kayaker’s saying: You don’t sit in a good kayak; you wear it!

After years of paddling and teaching I can usually imagine how a boat will handle by its specs and the lines. For me 50% is comfort and 50% is how applicable the handling will be to the environment I plan to paddle in. If you are not comfortable in the boat it matters little how it handles and visa versa. Be realistic about the conditions you will paddle in as opposed to the conditions you would like to paddle in. I see alot of people with boats designed for serious expeditions that they only use day paddling for example. I go on several two week trips a year and for those trips I paddle an 18’ boat with alot of capacity. The rest of the year I paddle a 17’ boat that I can carry what I need for a day or two, but it is more responsive to wind, surf etc which is where is where I mostly play.

Another 2 cents

Because I am quite large, with big feet
and wide-set hipbones, I often cannot even sit in, much less demo, boats before buying. And, as readers are aware, the selection of really good boats, especially whitewater boats, for large people has often been severely limited.

In spite of this, by doing as much preliminary research as possible, and even in pre-internet days, I have been able to select over a dozen boats for flatwater and whitewater which turned out quite well for me.

Perhaps I would have made more bad decisions if there had been more decisions to make. But who would have thought that a Necky Looksha Sport I picked up at an Olympic benefit auction for $550 would turn out to be such a good boat for me? Or that an impulse buy of a used MR Guide for $400 would turn out to be a fortunate decision? Or that a Noah kayak demo I bought in '82 for $100 would turn out ( after I glassed in a large keyhole cockpit) to be an outstanding easy river cruiser and upstream attainment boat? That I could buy a slightly used slalom c-1 from one of our Olympic paddlers, and having re-outfitted it, find it excellent for me and have it praised by others who tried it? That the tandem canoes we bought in '73 and '93 would turn out as well as we anticipated?

I have absorbed enough information on touring kayaks from this board and a few other sources that I could go out and select boats without trying them in advance, and be reasonably confident of success. I can’t say whether most others could do this. I have HAD to do it, because in selecting canoes and kayaks for flatwater and whitewater, I have usually had no choice.

If I’m interpreting your comments correctly, you may be supporting that demo by sitting is OK. If comfort is 50%, one can seemingly know if he/she is comfortable by sitting in a stationary yak. If applicabilty to the conditions you will be paddling in is the remaining 50%, that information can be gathered easily from research. If we will focus primarily on day touring in the coming year, there are a plethora of boats well-suited to rivers and lakes and a bit of inquiry and research will provide information on the key models to focus upon. If a boat is unstable or does not track straight it would surely be noted in more than one of the reviews on this site and in publications.

There are reviews and then…

There are REVIEWS…

You will see some written after a quick demo and many written the first day of ownership. These usually reflect exuberance “What a great choice I made, the boat is great, I’m so smart.”

Rarely will you see “ The boat tracks sh*tty, it’s really slow, I screwed up big time”

Put more faith in reviews written after six months to years of ownership. I’ve seen a review written, by a beginner, after a demo in a whitewater boat and knocking it for not going straight when the reviewer never realized it was a whitewater boat… $.02… GH

Yea, You Can Do It Since…
Fit is half the battle. As you sit in the boat, think of what you will be doing, eg, paddling, turing around to get something, etc, to examine if everything is okay or if something gets in the way and would be problematic.

With experience on the water with different boats, you can have a sense of hull design and pretty much figure out the handling characteristics somewhat by looking at the boat.

However, as someone brand new, you need to rely on reviews of others, hopefully with more experience than with one boat. Look for someone who is approximate to your weight (similar trim on the boat) and the conditions they paddle in. Anyboat will perform pretty well in flat water and no wind conditions. It’s when the wind picks up to 10,20, 30 knots that the characteristics (or some would consider flaws) of the hull design will come up.


Weight & Reviews
As Sing said, look for matching weight in reviews. That’ll get you to the waterline issue - but maybe not your wife. You haven’t mentioned her weight, and you will find that Sea Kayaker has done a virtually nonexistent job of making sure they got a review from a woman in the last year plus. Honestly - if she is around 150 pounds or less, or under 5’6" your best source will probably be this board. You will be able to find paddlers of similar size, and suggestions for smaller companies that design boats around a full range of weight and height.

If it’s not a bother, could you flesh out what you mean in terms of each of your goals? It may help get some advice from more experienced people on this board. You said your wife is looking for a day boat that will be reasonably fast - I would guess that means she is not going to press hard for advanced skills like surfing or rolling with this boat. Just wants to cover some distance without killing herself. Things like secondary stability, windage and a low aft deck would be less important there, assuming you avoided getting caught out in messy stuff.

But you would like something that would be an entry-level sea kayak… it sounds like you may be interested in surfing, maybe some rolling if you can pull it off? A boat designed to make your life easier in developing those skills will tend to have sacrificed primary stability, which you are probably used to a lot of from the tandem, for stronger secondary stability. So it’ll wiggle around a lot more until you get it into waves, at which point you’ll literally feel the secondary stability locking down. You may also be looking for a boat with less windage and a fairly low rear deck. I am 53, and even being quite fit it is a heck of a lot easier to do a paddle float re-entry in my very low Explorer LV than it is in my much taller CD Squall.

If you want to surf, you will want a boat with more manuverability which may sacrifice speed… but if are a slightly stronger paddler than your wife that should work out fine. There is a decent assortment of 16 foot boats out there for an average size guy that’ll handle some surfing and still track satisfactorily for a day paddle.

By the way - you indicated you were old geezers. Not sure how old since I didn’t check the profile, but when you are talking sea kayaking or canoeing it seems this board can be a lonely place for anyone under 50.



What I am saying is that if you understand what design features facilitate what handling characteristics, then you can make some assumptions by reading the specs and seeing the lines. When you say research do you mean reading reviews or finding out what the specs mean? My experience is that reviews are very subjective and as a whole should be taken lightly. An experienced paddler can tell what specs result in what handling features. My advice is to ask questions about specs rather than brands or models. Good luck

To answer some of your questions, my wife is 5’3" and under 150 lbs. (or should be when she’s at her best fighting weight). She has no desire (yet) to surf or try whitewater. She loves a fast aerobic workout on flat water; it seems we start racing in the tandem the minute we leave the launch area. Maneuverability is an issue with both of us.

I am not looking to surf or try whitewater yet; but possibly one day. In addition to flat water, I would like to paddle on Lake Michigan (probably close to shore until my skills improve) and handle waves of no more that a few feet. My wife is intimidated by Lake Michigan because she is not as strong a swimmer as me. In the tandem, even paddling solo, I had little trouble paddling in strong Chicago-area winds.

Thanks again for your comments. They are very insightful and helpful.

P.S. I’m one year older than you.

Thanks for the advice
Falcon. I now understand your meaning.

Thanks Sing
We’ll be on flat water most of the time but I will venture out into the deep from time to time.

It was interesting this weekend that boats that received outstanding reviews on this site just did not feel right for me with regard to fit.

Knowing that comfort is half the battle, I may be 50% correct already without putting the boat in the water.

I am smart enough to realize that a demo is by far the best way to go; however longer lead times for certain models (or colors) may preclude us from having boats at the start of he season.

Boats for both
You have some flexibility with your wife if whe is not going to push the envelope - at nearly my size there are a number of small size cockpit boats that can be fitted out tightly enough that she can handle two foot waves in moderate to low winds comfortably.

You should check other threads - there is one from not long ago looking for a boat from a small paddler that includes messages from women your wife’s size. I have tried out a few boats in the Eddyline, Necky and CD line.

Eddyline Nighthawk (I forget in which length - the 16’?) was an almost-fit and as I recall is moderately fast. It tracks very well, has a V hull so the primary takes some getting used to but at her size it should be kind. Comes in some lighter weight layups. I suspect the Merlin LT won’t feel comfortable - it was very awkward for me. Nighthawk is a a nice, solid boat in the water.

Depending on her comfort level, the skinnier Falcon (I think it was the 18’ but check me) will give her plenty of speed, as will the Tahsis - but beither of these boats are particularly about turning. They may be a little too straight tracking for your needs.

CD Squall is a heavy older plastic boat, full expedition, though I hear they are redoing the mold and it may be coming in a little lighter now. You may always have two people around to handle it. I got to where I could myself, but not everyone wants to bother. It is fast for a plastic boat - not a play boat but it’ll turn when you want it to, and I can attest to its being a very forgiving boat that’ll handle the worst surprises out there and still do its darndest to get you home safe. The CD Slipstream is about a 16 footer, tracks very well but will still manuver nicely. It is twitchier on primary stability than many, but you can get used to that. Some like the Caribou, as did I until I found that the cockpit and I just weren’t a match. Worth a look though - it is fairly fast.

Necky’s closest current boat for her would likely be a padded out Chatham 16 (the early year(s) had oversized cockpits) though last I knew these weren’t fast boats. Take a look at relocating the skeg control further back or going to a rope skeg - the mounting for the slider skeg is right against your leg in the default position.

On Necky - you may want to ask about a used rudder Elaho. I am not a big fan of rudders these days, but it doesn’t get in your way once paddling and when I tried one of these a couple of summers ago I found it to be one of the tighter cockpits with some very nice speed and handling.

BTW - the Chatham 18 may be interesting for you and has some great quality to it - but check the fit and definately get the skeg control moved or replaced with rope. We have a friend who has one and that is one of her very few consistent complaints.

As to other manufacturers - not to knock these others but can you get to anyone handling Impex? Their quality is great, and their newest boat called the Outer Island looks to be a boat that’ll take a paddler wherever they want to go. It was reviewed in Sea Kayaker I think.


Sitting is just the start
I live in a cold climate that also is sea kayak-deficient. Demoing may be tough in most of the US, if you think about it.

When you noted that you eliminated some previous top-list models due to poor fit, you hit the nail on the head. You have to start somewhere, and if that somewhere is narrowing the list to only boats that fit you, you’ve accomplished something.

If you are new to the sport, I still think it’s best to wait and rent or demo on the water. At this point, you don’t know what you like. Your perceptions may be skewed by lack of paddling skill (I’ve heard more than a few complaints about “this boat doesn’t go straight” when it was due more to uneven paddling technique than anything else). Or you might think you only want to dink around on tiny ponds but discover a little later that you want to do other types of paddling.

Sounds as though you like the shop you went to. If they let customers demo on the water, I’d go back in spring. They deal in enough makes and models that you should be able to try a wide assortment of kayaks for both you and your wife.

And don’t forget about paddles! It’s almost an afterthought, but IMO the paddle makes as much difference as the boat. In fact, of all the times I’ve rented, only ONE shop had a paddle that fit me well. I preferred paddling with that cheapo plastic paddle that fit me, over the lightweight, pretty, expensive graphite paddle I rented the day before.