fast plastic seaworthy kayak?

I recently posted a question about abuse-resistance of sea kayaks (fiberglass vs Kevlar vs plastic).

My partner and I went for a weekend paddle at Loon Lake, CA. She rented a Prijon Marlin, and I got a Kodiak; the boats came from CCK, Sac. We did not have any prior knowledge about these boats, just asked for long, narrow boats. We practiced rescue techniques and explored granite coves, islands, etc. and overall had a blast.

No matter how hard we tried, the boats inevitably got bumped into rocks and scratched here and there. Being plastic, they felt bomb-proof. We don’t have a GPS, so could not tell how fast we were going. Did not need a rudder. Turning was easy if we leaned on one side. The foot pegs were wide and comfortable. So we are now thinking that we could save ourselves $1,500 each and just go with the plastic. Later, if we get excited about racing, and when we are better paddlers, we could look into composite boats.

Just how fast and seaworthy are the kodiak and the Marlin relatively to others? The specs say the Kodiak is 24 inches wide - does not strike me as a narrow boat. The Barracuda is 22 inches wide (?) and is praised for its speed, but apparently is hard to turn and unstable. Not having much experience with kayaks, I don’t know how to interpret “unstable”. The Kodiak felt “just right” for my 15 hr paddling experience :slight_smile:

The reviews at are a bit hard to interpret since 90% of people give their boats 9-10 out of 10. Which I guess means that most people are happy with the boats they have. Thus, the width and the length of boats are the only numbers I can play with. Could not find many narrow, streamlined plastic boats - most graceful-looking boats seem to be composite.

What about the waterline length - is that a parameter anyhow related to speed? QCC claims the longer the waterline the faster? Then what about greenland-style plastic hulls - are they completely worthless for speed?

the Kodiak and the barracuda…
…have different hull shapes as well. by unstable, the barracuda has zero primary stability. By that I mean if you are sitting still in it, you’re in danger of tipping. It’s very stable at speed. The faster you go the more stable it is, and it can fly. it’s built as a flatwater racing type of boat, so turning it is a lot harder than other boats: it’s built to go very fast in a straight line.

BUT…I had it out on Lake Erie a couple of years ago and it was giving me all I could handle. I was exhausted by the end of the day, I spent some very anxious time constantly on the verge of flipping. I actually bought another boat and I keep the Barracuda for more predictable water.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that boat and I will NEVER get rid of it. It loves to run so much that I named it Winnaf after my sister’s Arabian horse.

The Kodak’s hull shape would be much more forgiving for “true” ocean paddling.

Patience Grasshopper
Lots of factors to consider and understand.

Stability is very much a subjective thing and depends heavily on your own sense of balance. Guys that run surf skis might call a 20" wide boat “Rock Solid”, while a rec boater would likely find the same exact boat quite tippy.

A big heavy guy on a 12 foot kayak might find it slow and feel like he’s plowing water, while a 120 lb female might find the same boat fast and efficient. The big guy might upgrade to a big sea kayak that fits him well and he finds that a 17 footer is great for him. The 120 lb female find the same boat too big and unwieldy.

Yes, generally, longer is faster, but there is a limit for each paddler where a longer boat just adds more wetted surface and therefore more resistance. The racing kayaks are in the 20 foot range and if they could go faster in a 30 footer, they’d be building them. They just don’t have the power to make it worth moving to longer boats.

The long narrow sea kayaks generally max out in the 17 to 18 foot range because most folks can’t gain anything from getting a longer boat than that. For many, a 16 or 15 footer would be even better at cruising speeds in the 3 to 5 mph range.

The length and width are mere starting points. The hull design is a factor, as is the waterline length & width, and the wetted surface area. Two boats that look almost identical on paper can behave very differently. One may be better on flat water and the other may do better in the wind and waves.

Materials matter as well. A stiff composite boat is great for some conditions, but they aren’t great for continuous rock bashing and that’s why virtually all WW boats are plastic these days. Fiberglass is always repairable, but may need repairs more often. Plastic is durable, but some damage may not be fully repairable.


Many, many choices

– Last Updated: Aug-10-09 4:27 PM EST –

There are many sea worthy plastic sea kayaks. You've demoed two of them.

In general, worthwhile sea kayaks are 20-24" wide and 15.5-18' long. However, length and width overall convey very little of a particular sea kayak's performance personality.

Regarding speed: The usual given average speed a paddler moves a sea kayak is 3 knots. A brisk cruising speed for most folks in a sea kayak is 4.5 knots. Up to 4.5 knots wetted surface trumps waterline for speed (less hull in the water creates less drag). In sea kayaks only at or above 4.5 knots does a longer hull create less drag than a shorter one.

Most drag calculations for sea kayaks are generated assuming flat water and no wind. Once lumpy seas, and/or wind come into play, the given drag figures can be pretty meaningless. There are many tings to do in a sea kayak besides paddle fast on flat seas.

Demo as many decent sea kayaks as you can in the array of conditions in which you envision paddling before you buy boats.

look at plastic Aquanaut LV or Tempest
The Valley Aquanaut LV or Wilderness Systems Tempest are both high-quality, relatively “long and narrow” hull shapes available in plastic. They are both boats you can bang around rocks in but still do all the skill development you could in the best composite boats. And as long as you are doing your kayaking with a partner and can load and unload together, the extra weight relative to a composite boat doesn’t mean much.


– Last Updated: Aug-10-09 6:45 PM EST –

a number of plastic seakayaks will be "fast" - much of that depends on how good a paddler you are, your technique, your balance. Choice of paddle can be a factor, too.

there are so many design factors that go into making a boat design - waterline and width are just two of them of them, and mean little in isolation.

Racing craft (incl kayaks) are built light and stiff for a reason. Rotomoulded seakayaks became popular for lower price points and durability.If racers thought rotomould kayaks could give them an edge rest assured there would be many plastic boats on the water and fatter wallets for the sponsors.

Does this mean anything to us amateurs for a pleasing and efficient paddle at the bracing speeds of 3-5 mph, a typical range for touring? Not much.

There are different types of plastic. Prijon has its own blowmoulded plastic - a different breed of cat than rotomoulded. Prijon boats are legendarily bomber tough but also very heavy. P&H and Valley have come out w. their versions of foam cored plastic that is touted as lighter and stiffer. Does this mean they are faster? Hard to say, too many other factors. Are they as durable as Prijons... hard to say, Prijons have been the boat of choice for expeditions for a decade or more. When Valleys and P&H boats are chosen, it is the composite version.

and then there is thermoformed ABS or ABA plastic, sold under a variety of names, which is stiffer and lighter than roto or blow molded.

Matt Broze, in a letter in the June 2009 edition of SeaKayaker, lays out a number of reasons he feels that "rotomoulded kayaks have a more dead feel to them than the more rigid plastic, wood and composite kayaks". He is not a roto basher, nor am I. I am quoting him, so plastic boat owners pls. do not hurl your plastic tipped spears from behind the monitor.

Mr. Broze is a legendary designer and boat builder. As far as what I've read lately, he is not actively producing boats for sale. He has no dogs in the fight, nor does he inhale and regurgitate marketing hype as some current industry people do.

He gives a number of thoughtful reasons for his opening statement, including greater flex, residual resistance, effects of extra friction due to scratches and shape deformities (all his terms) as well as "the often greater weight of rotomoulded kayaks that must be accelerated with each stroke." The bottom line is he sees reason to believe that rotomoulded plastic does contribute to a slower hull, but also acknowledges that tank tests can only go so far, and that there is no "electronic paddle that could measure the force applied to it."

The letter cannot be linked, and I am not doing justice to its contents. I know far better than to place my own limited knowledge on par w. the boat designers on the board (meaning I respect their knowledge) so do buy that issue if you haven't already...and start your own education... meant in a positive way.

could you give an example of what you mean by "Greenland style plastic boat"? Greenland style boats can be fast (see NDK Greenlander Pro, or the CD Caribou, for example) but there are no plastic versions of them {edit, meant no plastic version of those models. the Baffin by Boreal Design mentioned by textured_water cited below IS an example}... I would be very loathe to call a good Greenland design "worthless" in the matter of speed and efficiency. The various peoples of the high Arctic paddled long multinight distances to hunt. They were famously strong paddlers of unbelievable endurance, in arguably the coldest, roughest water plied regularly by humans. That would speak to seaworthiness.

As to speed, obviously it was vital to get back ASAP w. the prey animal. Villages survived or perished w. the success of each hunt. I doubt a sluggish boat design would have been replicated over the generations. Real hunger drives real design.

in the meantime, since you'd like a list, here are some to start with that are seaworthy and plastic.

Not by any stretch an exhaustive list. Given your predilection for new only current production models are listed.

Compare them to the Prijons you experienced. You can decide if they feel good and are fast enough '-)

P&H Capella series
P&H Scorpio - regular and LV version
P&H/Venture Easky series
Valley Nordkapp in RM
Valley Aquanaut in RM
Valley Avocet in RM
WS Tempest series
CD Sirocco
CD Squamish
CD Squall
Necky Chatham series
Necky Eliza RM
Necky Looksha series.

From the ABS herd:

Hurricane Aquasports Tracer
Eddyline Falcon, Nighthawk series, Fathom series.
Seaward kayaks - several
Delta kayaks - ditto

There is no simple answer, but the fun part is in discovering your own.

You will just have to try them out for yourselves. What your partner likes and what appeals to you will in all likelihood be very different yet very right for each of you.

More suggestions, I'm sure, are already up on the board in the time I took to write and revise this.

plastic “greenland” style boat
Baffin by boreal design

yes. Friendlyfire made an…
…observation I meant to make and forgot. Weight. I have 4 Prijon boats:two WW and two sea kayaks (Barracuda and Touryak). The extra weight doesn’t bother me, but I’m tall enough to wrestle them down from the car’s roof. However, their weight is not inconsequential: 68 pounds for my Barracuda and mid 50’s for my Touryak.

And as many of us pointed out, shape has a lot to do with how the boat reacts. But, if you read the specs on the Kodiak and the Barracuda, they sound remarkably similar. Put the two boats next to each other upside down and the hulls’ differences are readily apparent.

Even the manufacturer’s hull specs on my Barracuda and Touryak are almost identical, yet visually they are very, very different beasts.

In WW we have a saying, “Demo, demo, demo.”

This is where paddling clubs are handy. Many of us have more than one boat and will let you borrow one for outings.


– Last Updated: Aug-10-09 5:36 PM EST –

a good example, thanks, that is another to put on the OP's demo list.

Before I revised my post above I had written that plastic versions in Greenland design were rare - should've left it that way.

Good catch.

great list, tupperware
What a great list. I just started going through it.

Many of them have tupperware-style hatches which I have doubts about. I’ve had a fun experience with my first SOT sea kayak rental: the kayak outfitter whose name I will leave out did not explain how to close tupperware-style hatches. This resulted in the kayak filling up with water, me flipping, and spending 30 min in 50F water with no wet suit 1 mile from dry land. Thanks to coast guard (SF bay) and a nice lady who spotted me. So, I would prefer hatches with straps.

shape: rocker
yeah, speaking of shape - what about rocker? Wouldn’t rocker affect how fast and straight a boat would go? All racing sea kayaks I’ve looked at seem to have no rocker at all.

Tupperware hatches=Bad?
"the kayak outfitter whose name I will leave out did not explain how to close tupperware-style hatches. "…

Uh, it’s a lot like “Tupperware”… I wouldn’t limit your boat choice based on your experience with someone not showing you how to snap on a piece of rubber…

but- realistically - wouldn’t you expect a strapped hatch to stay closed longer in rough water than just a rubber lid?

Depends on the strap system… I have seen strapped hatches on a CD Caribou come undone in surf several times… (they now have a snap-strap that fixes that…) It was a bad design.

I’ve also seen KayakSport and similar rubber hatches stay tight under NASTY conditions… (Good design)

So, it depends on the implementation, not just the type of hatch.

Wilderness Systems for example uses rubber hatches on a lot of their boats, and they frequently pop off, and if they don’t, they leak enough that you still get a hatch full of water. I think they solved that for a few years by using KajakSport hatches, but I don’t think that’s the case any longer.

With the rightfully increasing popularity of Greenland skin boats–and hard shell boats based on them–it seems that just about every manufacturer wants to claim a “Greenland” heritage for some of their designs. However, I feel that some of these manufacturers are stretching this definition a bit too far. Aside from a hint of a single hard chine, and a couple of pointy ends (both of which can be found on decidedly non-Greenland style boats as well), just what is it about this boat that is so “Greenland” in nature?

Even taking into account that the traditional Greenlanders have their own varying designs (especially the differences seen between their eastern and western boats), I still see very little “Greenland” in this Boreal Baffin. Its “amalgam of soft lines and hard chines” (Boreal’s quote), its depth and beam (both greater than one might expect for a “Greenland” boat of the same LOA), its huge cockpit, and even the shape of its stern suggest to me something other than traditional Greenland lines.

It may well be a fine boat, but if I drive a car with pointy ends, can I call it a “Greenland” car? :slight_smile:


hatch full of water.
>get a hatch full of water

Hmmmm… does not sound good at all.

the Barracuda…
…has no rocker I’ve been able to discern!

Renata Chlumska & Jon Turk
have both used the Kodiak to log thousands of miles: from Russia to the US; down the West Coast, across the Gulf of Mexico, up the East Coast. I’d say it’s a seaworthy boat.

How big are each of you?
Height, weight. The faster boat will in general be the one where the volume is a good match to paddler size, so they can get the most out of their stroke. After that you get to the sweet spot on length and width.

That’ll probably put you in a different boat than your female partner.

I have one idea that fits a lot of women and can be a pretty fast hull compared to many of the plastics, the CD Squall, but if you want to add greenland stuff to the mix that boat is out.

The Prijon boats I’ve seen or paddled have very hardy plastic and tend to be on the fast side. They aren’t usually loaded with protective stability compared to something like the CD line, but it sounds like you guys are not going to need training wheels.

Other Considerations…
Fast and seaworthy being the only factors considered may be unwise…are you simply day paddling or will you be paddling multi-day touring trips?..

Consider volume of the boat as well in all these…The Kodiak is a large volume boat, capable of storing large amounts of gear…other boats may vary considerably in the volume…

Stability changes as the boats are loaded, some for the better, others for the worse…

Remember to consider other variables when you are picking a boat…Just my .02…