How do I pick my first kayak?

Have only been kayaking once but am hooked! I’m 5’6" female at 120 lbs. Very much a beginner. Will be on the Atlantic ocean with serious tides. What type of kayak should I be looking for?

Many issues
Dealing with tides is in many respects like dealing with current in rivers. Learning WW techniques like ferrying will carry over to dealing with tide races. Certainly taking a river running class would be very useful. You also need to have a reliable roll. All of this points to taking instruction. This is much more important than selecting a boat.

I’m guessing a sea kayak
or a surf kayak depending on what sounds like more fun to you. But, safety first, or go out with groups in reasonable conditions. Self rescue is critical out in rough conditions and once youu get away from shore, you just never know when nature will surprise you.

So, surfing or touring?


What is your price range ?

– Last Updated: Jun-04-09 5:48 AM EST –

and your best bet for starters is to go to a outfitters near the beaches that rent them and try various ones to get an idea.
If you post your general vicinity, someone will point you to a outfitter that you can check out


Instruction first
Then boat. Just going out on the ocean without knowing the basics that have been mentioned above, including how to paddle in wind, self-rescue and some navigation/seamanship is an invite to a problem.

And the boat you need will be more than the Dick’s $400 specials anyway, so you might as well get some instruction so that you know more about how to pick one from paddling them.

Another option
is to buy a cheap rec. boat from Dick’s or Craigslist and paddle flat water i.e. lakes, until you are really certain you want to invest the money and the time into the sport. In the meantime take instruction, go to festivals and demo days. Paddle as many kayaks as you can.

Most if the kayak makers…
have links on their site to help you choose. You answer a few questions about your vision for using your kayak and they supply recommended models for your needs.

The more advanced sea kayaks require some basic safety and skills training. This can be a half day class that gets you out water for a wet exit, how to get in the boat, self rescue, swim to shore, assisted rescue, proper gear, paddle, how to control the kayak, and the basic strokes.

The most common mistake for a beginner would be to put on a spray skirt then capsize. It is very sudden and you may not catch a breath of air. Then you are upside down. Your first reaction is to lift your head up for air, but it will be just beneath the water. All you need to do is pull the cord for the spray skirt and out you go. But if you haven’t done it, it is quite natural to panic.

It is a very simple process to do a wet exit, but you can realize how potentially dangerous it could be to a beginner who is struggling with all the other aspects of a brand new sport.

The Intro to Kayak lesson is very reasonable. Our county park offers it for $35 with ACA instructors. You should enjoy yourself and enjoy the people you are with.

After that you will have the skills and knowledge to practice in safe areas as you progress, and go out in tidal areas with groups. You might find other kayakers who talk shop, and if someone says a certain area can get nasty, that is good info. beacause you can figure out when and where to go. There are classes for that as well, but you get the idea.

What to look for in a boat?
Lots of good advice here so far, especially the tips on taking an intro class.

As to your original question - what to sort of boat to look for with ocean paddling in mind - at minimum, you want a boat with perimeter deck lines, a small cockpit (probably no bigger than 30" long for your size), and watertight compartments in the bow and stern.

Those are probably the minimum safety requirements for the kayak itself. You’ll need a few more pieces of equipment, and some basic training on how to use them safely. An intro sea kayaking class will teach you about that, as well as teach you about what to look for in a boat.

The thing with the rec boats…

– Last Updated: Jun-04-09 1:00 PM EST –

It is correct that these little guys will get someone on the water, and for the first few seasons of our using borrowed Swifties where we vacation we are grateful.

But to the OPer, be aware that you will not get skills in these boats that are very transferable to a sea kayak. They are just too wide and too big a cockpit to be useful that way. So - the question is do you want to put your money in a boat that'll float or a process that'll get you onto salt water?

Moondog tell us more!
The Atlantic ocean is a big place. You post is something like this," I want a car to drive in Texas. I’m 5’2". What kind of car is best"

So tell us where you want to paddle. How cold will the water and air be? Do you want to surf? Run Inlets? Launch from the beach? Really paddling in the ocean or more in sounds and bays?

For ocean paddling you need a lot of stuff in addition to a boat.

How do I pick my first kayak?
Wow - thanks everybody for all the good advice/suggestions - amazing.

Good point on more information.

I’ll be on Passamaquoddy Bay on the Bay of Fundy just outside of St. Andrews New Brunswick (very close to Calais, Maine). Tides are about 20-25’ in that area.

Am absolutely going to take a beginner paddling course - probably from Seascape Kayak Tours on Deer Island.

Will start with exploring coves in my area and hope to venture out to crossing over to some small islands nearby.

I just wasn’t sure what length and type of kayak to look for - my budget is a maximum of $1000 which limits me to used kayaks for sure. I see all these ads for 17’ kayaks and don’t know if they would be crazy or should I stay with something shorter. The one I tried was only 14’ I think.

However, someone made a great point - get out and learn and try some out before investing any money.

I’ll be down east for all of July and would really like to spend a lot of time on the water - which apparently is never warmer than 62F.

Real sea kayak

– Last Updated: Jun-05-09 8:00 PM EST –

Bay of Fundy? Would advise more than a beginner course before you go into that, and allocate bucks for a drysuit right off the rip. The water is in the high 50's in early September around Bar Harbor, further downeast I suspect the only temps over 60 you'll see are in shallow water near shore.

Lots of skills you'll need, and you'll want a true sea kayak to make your life easier. Probably the shortest you'll find that'll do the job is the larger Dagger Alchemy, but it is a playboat and may not have the speed you want.

But you'll end up having problems with fog early and often there - like pea soup can't find your way home and forget outrunning it. You can't. So I'd suggest that you don't venture offshore until you have a compass and charts and know how to use them.

how will you transport
my experience is if its too hard to get it into the water it wont happen very often.

North Atlantic Coast
Is serious and beautiful water. Find a good outfitter and take lessons.

Don’t buy until you’ve had some time in boats.

Recently we pulled our 6 sea kayaks for a couple to try who had never been in sea kayaks (only rec boats). I fully expected both of them to feel most at home and at ease in the Romany. As it turned out, the female liked Celia’s Explorer LV best and the male really liked my Nordkapp LV best! So there is no knowing without getting into boats.

longer is better
14 footers just are too damn slow

one that comes with an instructor
if you’re a beginner the type of kayak is pretty much irrelevant. I mean you could spend $1500-$3500 speculating on what would fit your needs along with the input from sales staff but I’d suggest starting with focusing on finding a series of lessons over the summer and only buying a paddle and pfd. In doing so you spend money on essentials that will educate you so that you really won’t have to ask anyone, you’ll know because it’s based on your experience.

Speaking from someone who has over 20yrs bought a dozen kayaks and made a few more, worked in kayak stores and taught sea kayaking.

You may think renting is a waste of time but there’s some fundamental skills you HAVE TO learn to be safe. Spending over a couple thousand on a new boat and equipment THEN developing the skills can work, many people do it, I did, but many people also turn over their first boat after discovering it doesn’t meet their needs.

The reason for getting just a paddle and pfd is that they’re always with you, it’s a smaller chunk of money and you’ll be buying a spare paddle anyway when you get a boat. The other reason is that the pfd is supposed to work when you’re in the water and there’s no reason to deal with the variability of different pfds in rental/instruction fleets. There’s worthwhile stuff to carry on your person and it’s nice to know it’s always there and secure in a pfd pocket that works.

If you’re not near a place that does instruction and you’re thinking of this purchase like any other commodity get the one you can afford and looks nice. Red tends to fade to pink, yellow is common, white plastic can look real dirty after awhile.

what Celia said
I’m surprised the water gets that warm, when I was in Maine it wasn’t much above 52 in Sept.

Regarding boat length, that’s kind of irrelevant along with other linear numbers. Think of pfd sizes, XS,S,M,L,XL. I know, I know everyone provides length width numbers but it really doesn’t tell you anything about the boat and whether it meets your needs. But manufacturers don’t size kayaks like pfds so sizing will be a consequence of trying things out and asking opinions like you’re doing.

You could be paddling a 12’-18’ kayak and it could be what you want.

As a beginner there’s a dividing line that most folks straddle, whether to get a boat that’s so stable the likelyhood of capsizing is near zero for the conditions they’re in or getting a tippier kayak that meets the compromises of speed/efficiency and requires MINIMAL bracing skills to prevent a capsize and learning to roll is a necessary skill to paddle in waves or cold water.

You can get a kayak that’s in between as well, stable enough that you don’t need to know how to roll right off for average conditions but narrow enough that you can learn in it.

That’s the whole reason for getting lessons/instruction. You will find out real quick what is important and it’s not “a 17’ kayak with a skeg”.

Being a woman and that light you’re inherently stable in most boats but most boats for your height are often designed for 175lb 5’9"+ sized paddler with room for another 75lbs of gear. Which is too big and heavy for you for day paddling. Unfortunatley that’s the most common sized used plastic boat you’ll find for under $1000, a 16-17’ 65lb plastic kayak with rudder. Personally I think getting a kayak that weighs over half your weight is just not worth it.

There’s nothing wrong with a 13’-14’ kayak. I doubt you’ll be racing or paddling faster than 3mph and there’s absolutely no benefit to a long kayak if it’s heavy plastic and suited to accomodate a 200lb paddlers. A 13-15’ plastic kayak could work just as well.

You’re far enough on the light weight end of the scale and low cost end of the scale that it’ll take some hunting to find a kayak for $1000,as well as another $200-$1500 for paddle, skirt, pump, pfd, immersion clothing.

You might find a used Current Designs Squamish for that price. Necky Looksha 14 might be on sale but I have no idea what it’s like paddling.

The Necky Eliza is a very good “sea kayak” for your size but it might take some hunting to find it used. It would be stable enough for you to go paddling without needing to know how to roll for most easy conditions but would not limit you for anykind of paddling you chose to do except whitewater. It’s about as light as you’ll find for a used plastic sea kayak.

not if it’s plastic
a 16’-17’ 65lb plastic kayak will feel real slow to a 120lb person. Unless you’re going over 3.5mph a long kayak is like wings on a car, it’s for looks unless it’s a VERY narrow kayak for a 120lb paddler which doesn’t exist in plastic and won’t be found in fiberglass for under $1000. A 120lb person thinking of a fast kayak is either looking at a very expensive and light kayak or making a skin boat.

Kayaking that far downeast is serious. We’ve got really excellent scenery and so much coastline to explore, but much of it is very remote, has very little traffic, is subject to fog, and is cold.

All the tips here are good, but I’d add that one of your most important needs is paddling buddies. As a beginner, you should not be paddling in that area without partners.

Take a few lessons ( in Bar Harbor is a great resource for coaching and extended trips). Practice your rescues. Learn about the tides, weather, and navigation. Get immersion gear and safety gear (your instructors will help you decide what’s appropriate for you). For the remote area you’re paddling, I’d definitely include a waterproof VHF on your person. You can get one at Hamilton Marine for $70 now.

Good luck, and Have fun!