Good 'Yak for the Great Lakes?

What do folks think would be a good kayak for the great lakes?

I am fortunte enough to live in michigan, and have access to great rivers, creeks, ponds, lakes and our nice fresh water inland seas, but I have no idea what would be a good boat for the big lakes :slight_smile:

For those not familiar with the great lakes, they are large enough to have tides, salmon, to get totally lost on, to have tankers shipwreck, and the biggest one (superior) is larger than the czech republic.

The first thought would probably be a full sea kayak, but I’m not looking to cross them or anything, and the cost of a sea kayak would be prohibitive. Although, I do love to do some island hopping camping. Also, there is just something cool about being out on the lakes.

I was thinking maybe something like a pungo 140 with a full skirt and safty gear, but wanted to get other opinions.

Also, it doesnt really have to be a multiuse boat, as I have a small perception swifty 9.5 already with seems great for fishing, and small trips on the inland waters.

Thanks in advance

12-18 ft
dagger, perception, wilderness systems, prijon, ECT. :slight_smile:

It’s A “Sea” Dammit! LOL!
get a seakayak that will fit your size, skill level and budget. The Great Lakes are inland seas with conditions that will rival the ocean. Seakayaks are made to handle those conditions much better than shorter “rec” type boats. I always advocate buying used for the first boat (2nd, 3rd and 4th boat too!).

Skeg or rudder? Endless debate that I will leave to others. I go without skeg or rudder.


They are SEA
The Great Lakes are larger than many bodies of water which are called seas.

The safest kayaks for such scale water are SEA kayaks.

Get a SEA kayak
The big lakes…are no place for little beach toys like Sparky’s, Pungo’s etc. For these waters, unles just playing at the edge of the water on a CALM day, get a sea kayak. A used one if on a budget, but a real sea kayak for sure.

I’ve paddled Superior and it is one of my favorite places to paddle…anywheres! I’d not want to do it in a rec boat though.

Sorry to burst your bubble…take your time, try out lots of sea kayaks, go to demo days etc…the deals are out there, just be patient.


It is a sea dammit!!
Hey you can get a sea kayak. You can get a good used boat for right around 1000k. I think that’s not too expensive.

Now now now
I never said I was taking the swifty out there… I’m not that crazy.

Thanks for the input, anyone know of a nice sea kayak that goes for a reasonable amount used?

Mainly I want to do island hopping up on the north huron area and around drummond island


Go To And Outfitter
takes some lessons and try some boats. Will give you a much better baseline to work with when you go shopping. Even though you can find really good condition, used plastic sea kayaks, 16-18’, in the $750 - 1000 range, it can still be a costly mistake if the kayak turns out to be not fitted for you and your perferences.


Raises another question
What makes a sea kayak a sea kayak?

It seems the line get blurred in certain areas of boats. Does it have to have this wide of a hull?

Bulk heads? Certain length? What the manufacturer decides to classify it as?

Reasons I ask,’s buyers guide considers a Dagger Blackwater 11.5 a touring boat, but not the Pungo 140.

Is a Perception Carolina 13.5 a sea kayak? Perception considers it a Day Tourer, and I see no reason it would count as more capable of a boat than a Pungo 140.

Any good reads that would help sum this up for me?


In general kayaks around 15’ would

– Last Updated: Jan-30-06 5:26 PM EST –

be considered a sea kayak and it really must have sealed bulkheads (in commercial models). I own a Necky Looksha Sport @ 14.5' and I consider that the bottom line for length for a sea kayak. The length has less to do with handling sea condition and more to do with covering water. Kayaks under 15' are slower than needed to cross vast expanses (or whatever) of water without using vast expanses of energy.

Since you're talking Michigan you'll have some time to save up for a decent ride. You really need to take paddling on the big lakes seriously and get some books and maybe lessons, or better yet some experienced paddlers to help you get started safely.

Where are you located?

If you want a kayak that will paddle bigger rivers and Lake Michigan I'd look into one that is around 16' long, and for lower costs I'd get a plastic model (P&H Capella is perfect). Get a little educated on what you want and need before you go down to the kayak shop. There's great info here.


Booyah- I paddled the Illinois

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side of Lake Michigan this past year with a Prijon Calabria which is 14 1/2'. I took it out in relatively mild conditions and there were days that I looked at the lake, packed up the boat, and left. I've seen conditions change very quickly and would not recommend a Pungo 140 unless you are going to be very near the shore on very calm days.

I'm looking at longer, narrower yaks for the Great Lakes. Although the Pungo 140 may be extremely stable in flat water, Lake Michigan is a different story and you should consult with a reliable dealer or paddling club.

What makes a sea kayak
is a hull design intended to stay upright in water that is going up and down (waves) and the things that tend to go with that - higher winds which are moving across longer distances without being interrupted, and currents around river openings, islands etc. That all adds up to a boat with stronger secondary stability than a rec boat. (Same as degrees of heel in a sailboat.) They tend to be skinnier and longer than rec boats when you are talking boats amenable to taking you camping. They also tend to have more sealed bulkheads, and smaller cockpits to reduce water dumping in on you.

The boat also need to fit you correctly so that when you ask it to lean or manuver, it responds fairly quickly rather than waiting a while for your hip or thighs to arrive and find the control points as in the looser fit common in rec boats.

As recommended above, you should first try out boats, take lessons, explore how the skinnier longer jobs feel and fit you in a more in-depth way than you probably have so far. There are many boats out there, and very likely one that you can get used and will do you quite well. But you should take the time to get a better feel for yourself of what everyone is talking about before plunking down money.

I paddle the west side
of Lake Michigan pretty much weekly, all year around.

There are plenty of sea kayaks out there selling used for a fair price. A sea kayak is generally 16 feet or longer and must have front and rear bulkheads. Plastic or composite really makes little difference, as the shape of the hull is what makes a kayak handle the way it does. The options vary greatly, but most importantly you need to determine what boats will fit your weight and build correctly. Then you can narrow down the list based on handling characteristics.

I spent a few days on Superior last May.
You can call it a lake, but it really is a fresh water sea. Even in May, that water was cold… colder than Tahoe in the winter. I had a great day riding steep 4 ft waves… some breaking. A sea kayak is generally 16-19ft long and 20-25" wide. Most sea kayaks have bulkheads, others do not and float bags and seasocks are used to provide buoyancy in case of capsize. If you do choose to go out there in a Pamlico ( or any boat) make sure you can rescue yourself in rough conditions and are dressed for immersion.

On buying used
Lots of them out there. Check the classifieds here, ebay and local club newsletters. As an example, I purchased a used fiberglass Nordkapp for $600 that was advertised on this site. I drove to Seattle to get it but it is my favorite kayak.

Great Lakes?
Never heard of them! Where are they!

Buy a used, long (at least 16 ft) Sink.


respect the lakes
Did you grow up in Michigan? If not then perhaps you were not brought up to respect the lake (lakes) in terms of personal safety? They are fresh water seas and some folks consider them more dangerous due to the cold and the lack of salt creating more bouyancy.

I know from living in Harrisville on Lake Huron that fog can come up suddenly along the shore and decrease unlimited visibility to zero in a manner of minutes.

Listen to the folks out here, they know what they are talking about, and if you do venture out Island Hopping (which I’d like to do at Wilderness State Park someday) it might be wise to own a GPS device or at least take a compass.

Put your cell phone in a waterproof container, it may roam off a distant tower perhaps even in Wisconsin but if you get lost out there due to fog or currents you can call for help.

them’s fighten words
by the way I’m having difficulty finding NJ on the map, I did find a grease smear next to manhattan is that it?


A Critter is all you need

Many dealers have demo days in the spring – both the big chains (REI, EMS) and the independent ones like Lee’s in Kalmazoo. The WMCKA spring symposium and the GLSKS are also great opportunities to try a lot of boats.

Part of the fun of the Great Lakes is that you can get serious waves, unlike anything you could hope for on most inland lakes. It’s nice to have equipment that will let you enjoy them.

I took a sea kayaking class on Lake Michigan for which one person showed up with an OT Loon(like a Pungo) He got awfully tired of emptying it…

Winter pool classes are a lot of fun.