I have 20 minutes to demo a kayak.....

I’ve told the people at the store what my experience is(one 5 hr lesson on windy Lake Mead in an Eddyline Merlin XT and a Nighthawk) explained what I want the kayak for(lakes, exercise and a chance to develop as a paddler)and they have said…try these.

I get in the boat. I note the fit. What should I do second? Then third?

At the end of the day, I have a list of results for several boats. Now I have to rank the boats according to how I perceived that they performed. Which tests should I pay more attention to? less attention? How should I narrow the list to let’s say two that I will have time to rent for a couple of hours each?

This is probably the extent of the testing that I will be able to do. I have nearly 500 miles to drive to demo the boats and my wife will probably only give me a couple of days to do it. So hopefully at the conclusion I’ll have a decent idea of a boat to bring home with me that will serve me well for at least a while.


How about just picking the one you like the best? Try paddling each of them in a straight line – with, against, and across the wind. Try turning the boat with sweep strokes. Try turning by leaning the boat. Put on some noseplugs or a diving mask and try some high bracing. Try an Eskimo rescue and a wet exit.

I’ll try again
I guess that if I were more experienced maybe I could ask better questions. I am not certain how to properly weigh the factors that go into evaluating a boat. I am concerned that I might “like” a boat for reasons that are not really important. Perhaps I make the decision to buy a boat because it turns well, but I really should have considered as more important its secondary stability. Maybe I like the speed of a particular boat, but it doesn’t turn as well as another. My confusion is in how to prioritize what’s most important and what is less so.



– Last Updated: Jul-02-07 7:47 PM EST –

seat is the least important (or the back band) both can be replaced on any boat...the most important is how the hull handles for you, as compared to how you wish a hull to handle. no one can evaluate that for you anymore that you can for them.

some people don't like primary stability, some don't like secondary stability. Some prefer THEIR boat to track like a train, some want them to spin on a dime....you get to decide what you like.....and this may change after awhile.....

Buy what you like the most, just ignore the seat as much as possiable :) replace it if it's not to your liking...

Best Wishes

Remember.....it's called "first" boat, not "Last" boat...or it could be called "one" of many boats.

hard to go wrong on a first boat. (oh and color doesn't really matter either.)

Most common…
The most common “error” some people make is to buy the most stable boat – which they quickly get bored with. However you seem to be aware of that issue.

Definitely don’t worry about the seat.
You can fix that.

As far as performance goes, it’s a bit harder. I can tell you that the boat I liked the best at my first demo day when I was a newbie is not a boat I would have been happy with by the sixth time I paddled. Your skills will develop. If you take classes, they’ll develop quickly. You will get used to the initial tippiness and start to crave performance. A really stable boat will feel comfortable the first time and like a bathtub the sixth. So I would say go with a boat that feels a bit too tippy and a bit too tight. Don’t go overboard and scare yourself. But give yourself room to grow. And remember the shop you buy from will get two sales if they sell you a first boat that you will outgrow.

I’m don’t know what you’re looking at but I would start with something about 22-23" wide and 14’-16’ long. That will give you lots of options and most beginner to intermediate seakayaks are in that range. That will give you something you’ll be able to get comfortable with quickly and still have room for your skills to grow.

That said, just understand this is your first boat. It is not likely to be your last.

Pick a Windy Day
Try to demo boats on a windy day. How a boat behaves in the wind and waves is very important. As was stated above, paddle at various angles to the wind and see how it handles.

If you want to eventually roll the boat you want a snug fit.

If you’re uing it for touring, test padle it under a typical load.

Realistically, there may not be a defined A, B, C, … list of steps that leaves you with clear score for the best boat. I know that’s not the answer you’re looking for. A year from now, the real pro’s and con’s will be much more evident as you and your boat become one. Your tastes may change, your skills certainly will, and your basket of paddling experiences will grow. Visit here often, enjoy the exchange, and make room at your place for the next one. It’s like opening a bag of chips.

My try
Priorities that have worked for me -

Do you like how it feels? That is, does it ring your bell in some way or just sit there seeming uninteresting or downright dangerous and unreliable? This is purely a feely thing, but it often works. And it is quite separate from the issue of initial stability - a boat can feel real interesting and fun even if it is wobbling all over the place.

Try turning it and edging it - see if you have to work hard to get it over or it seems to lay over without your having to work for it. At the end of a long paddle you want to get home without having to kill yourself. Get it out in wind and do the same.

Confirm that the cockpit and seat fit seem to have things lined up about where your legs want to lie, or is way off. I don’t like it when my legs have to splay way out to the side, for example. Height issues like depth of cockpit or closeness of thigh braces can be addressed with minicell foam as long as the braces line up vertically above the best working part of your thigh.

my own experience
I would stay in the 22-24 inch range if you appreciate some speed. Initial stability would be okay for beginners. Most narrower kayaks feel wiggly until you paddle. Your waist and hips soon adapt (hopefully) and get the balance down in minutes or a few hours. Do not get the most stable or widest round hull if you want to go faster sooner or you will be disatisfied. Eddyline is very good for initial investment kayaks. Pay much more without knowing what you are capable of or how you like to paddle is a risk for the first kayak. I haven’t kayaked in years and decided on a Point 65N XP. I already know it will feel tippy at first but my abilities and learning curve allows it… but that is ME maybe you too or not. Good luck

Start by saying where you are.

There is A CHANCE that some paddlers reside closer than 500 miles, they typically allow others to try their kayaks.

some tips
Paddle where and in conditions you plan on using the boat in.

Look at build quality and if buying new, research customer support.

Get something with a bit of a learning curve, you’ll be glad you did.

Determine how well it tracks or turns without use of a rudder.

In the meantime, check the classifieds here and elsewhere for used boats in your area.

Ask for input on the fleet that makes your final cut.

Read reviews here - they’re overly optimistic but within that you might find some meaningful info.

I’m not going to tell you comfort isn’t important or to prioritize your wishes, only you can do that (and the seat is only part of the equation).

Thanks for responses!!
Thanks to all who have replied! All responses seem to have been very thoughtful. We are in Tucson, AZ. There are no rentals here. There is supposed to be a kayak club, Southern Arizona Paddlers, but my emails to them come back as undeliverable. Their website was last updated for their May meeting. So ???

As far as I can tell, the only rentals in Phoenix are SOT’s,and the instructor recommended to us by REI was very expensive($150 per person for 4 hours) and was going to conduct the introductory class in a pool. We ended up going to Lake Mead outside Las Vegas and had a great time. It looks like the closest spot after that which has a variety of boats to rent is in San Diego, hence the 500 mile distance.

The instructor we had up in Las Vegas says that he will sell us the boats that we used in our lesson. The Eddyline Merlin XT for $1600 and the Eddyline Nighthawk for $1700. How does that sound?

not bad

buy a boat
paddle it. sell it. get a new boat.

after you have been through a few boats, you will know what you like in a boat.

in my experience (2 years and six boats later), knowing only comes with doing.

(I miss my old Merlin XT!)