Explain cockpit size vs. paddler size

I’m a big fella…5’11" 235-ish lbs…

Why would one boat that has nearly the same cockpit dimensions as another be considered too small for me and the other would be a good fit?

How do you decide what would fit and what would

not? Not all manufactures give depth so how can you decide?

It’s Not The Cockpit (Coaming) Size
but the volume of the boat that’s of concerned. You can have a small ocean cockpit on a large volume boat but the boat won’t work for a small paddler. Conversely, you can put a big keyhole cockpit on a small boat and the boat won’t “fit” a large paddler.

That is to say the “fit” is about the handling characteristic of the boat to the paddler. Most folks can fit in different size cockpits, except in the extreme ends of size. Preference and flexibility, however, will dicatate the coaming size that a paddler wants.


Please bear with me…
How do you compare boats and determine the volume? Say I’m comparing a WS Tempest 170 with a CD Storm or a Perception Eclipse (3 - 17’ x 22" or so boats that I hope to demo this weekend) and determine the volume? Throw in a Carolina 16’ and how is it larger or smaller overall? I’m sorry if I’m being dense but I can’t see it. Perhaps I’ll understand more after the demo.


you will
You will understand more after the demo.

Volume is related to more than length and width – deck height, for example. Think of the boat as a vessel you fill with water (been known to happen). The boat that has the most water in it has the highest volume. Sometimes manufacturers give this statistic.

I’m 6-4, 200 lbs. I find that as a tall guy, more of my mass is further from the bottom of the hull, and boats initially seem a little “tippier” to me than they seem to to others. You may be a bit top-heavy, and you may have a similar experience.

Don’t forget to consider your intended uses for the boat – daypaddles and short trips or heavily loaded. You might even want to demo the boats with some weight in the hatches if that’s your ultimate plan. It’s incredible what a difference a load makes.

What He Said.

I make pax look like a super-model
and I tried a bunch of boats ‘on’ and paddled them until I found one that fit and felt correct. This is why a good paddle shop is important and not a sporting goods store that has a non-paddling staff. Go luck and have fun with the process.


You have to try 'em!
A while back, I tried two different boats - a KajakSport Artistic Millenium and a CD Caribou. Nominally, the Caribou is a low volume boat, while the Millenium isn’t. However, the Millenium had a narrow seat (it literally pinched me), even though the boat width was the same or wider. The Millenium had a higher deck (and more foot room). So, being a short broad broad, the Caribou was a better fit for me, even though on paper, the Millenium might have looked better to me (I could have replaced the seat, but felt like I was reaching for the thigh braces.

So, you need to sit in the boat to see how it feels to you. Seats can be swapped out, thigh braces built up, but you can’t add height for your feet, length to the cockpit (well, not easily), width to the boat if the coaming is too narrow. It depends on how much customization you want to do how much fit error you are willing to take (and what you plan to do with the boat as to how snug a fit you want).

Cockpit is not a coaming
Sing got it right. The coaming is the cockpit opening, not so important in size. The paddler can adjust as long as they can get in at all. The three dimensional space within, waiting to be filled by a paddler is the cockpit. If can be padded to fit but enlarging it is rarely practical.

Sing “Ohhhhhh, what a feeling!”

– Last Updated: May-20-04 7:07 PM EST –

Go with whatever boat feels best. Don't be prejudiced beforehand by factors such as "hard chine vs. soft chine?" or "ocean cockpit or keyhole cockpit?"

I have paddled a beautifully-made composite boat with a cockpit just right for me...but the boat felt like a barge. I have also paddled a rotomold boat whose cockpit was too big for me (and the boat itself was too wide for me), yet this boat handled wonderfully in high wind AND calm conditions (I paddled it twice). I have also paddled two boats that were both too long for me (19'); the wider of the two felt unpredictable and twitchy and the narrower and lower of the two felt very responsive yet not tippy. You can't go by just specs alone, though they can give you a range of acceptable possibilities to narrow down the field.

That's why demos are important.

Also, some people like to jam themselves into the smallest cockpit and boat they can handle, while others like to have more room to spare. At 5'2" and 110 lbs, I can fit into any cockpit out there, but I'd only buy a boat whose cockpit I can get into butt first.

Problem with big cockpit…
…is you can’t demo it very well if you’re small. Well, not unless you know the shop owner!

Many shops allow people to test paddle any boats in their fleet. But rarely will they pad out the huge cockpit for the little guys like me. So the boat maybe “low volume” (e.g. Eddyline Nighthawk 16), but if the cockpit is huge, I don’t have a good support to lean or roll it. The boat still feels kind of “big and vague”… Until I got a chance to test one of my friend’s (who’s also small) boat, did I found out the boat’s not that big, it’s just the cockpit being too big FOR ME.

I also have very good impression of several British boats. But that might be partly because the owner of the shop that carry those boats is also a small guy. So he padded out some of his boats with lots of foam. When I test them, they all felt very responsive. The first time I took the Avocet out, I rolled up on one try! Why? Because of all the boats I tried, that’s the first one that offered good thigh support. A result of padded out cockpit that FITS.

I can see why having a relatively large cockpit makes it possible to sell low volume boats to bigger guys who like tippy (ok, responsive!) boats. But unless the shops pad them out for small people during a test paddle, they’re missing out on sales to the REAL target of those boats: the low volume PEOPLE!

Its not the Cockpit it’s the…
Sounds like cockpit envy. But Im Irish so I understand you know the curse…maybe that explains my 17’4 boat hummmm?

I’ve never demoed a boat before buying
and in most cases I had no choice about the matter. Those of us who are truly large (6’ 5", 215#, 14+ feet, wide hip sockets) often cannot find boats we can get into without making extensive modifications.

And as for judging boats by feel, some of my boats felt truly weird or frightening when I first tried them (after spending at least a week outfitting). But nearly all (except my mediocre Perception Dancer XT) worked according to their reputations, once I got used to them. I know of a lot of boats which feel pretty good to anyone hopping in for a short paddle, but which are disappointing in the long run.

I think experienced sea kayakers can demo, where possible, and form solid impressions, but for those on their first or second kayak, I would read the reviews, get on the internet, and in the last analysis, buy on reputation.