Kayak for a fat woman in Puget Sound

Hi! I decided over the winter that 2020 would be the summer I got a kayak. I was hoping to take classes and explore options and all that… and then there was covid. I’ll give background, and then ask questions.

I’ve rented kayaks occasionally for decades, mostly for poking around Moss Landing when I lived in CA and the San Juans in WA. I have always enjoyed it. I was in a car accident almost three years ago that left me with strength issues in my upper body. My doctor and I think paddling could be an excellent way for me to regain strength and endurance in my shoulders & upper back.

I would eventually like to do some open water paddling, but I think that’s probably a second boat. Right now, I live five minutes from a launch point into Lake Washington, so would most likely be paddling near shore in relatively flat, very cold water. I grew up sailing, so I have a deep respect for how dangerous water and weather can be, particularly cold water.

I am 51 years old, fat, and most of my weight is in my butt and thighs. 280ish, and 5’7". I’m a size 26 on the bottom, and an 18 on the top. At least the ballast will be low in the water. :stuck_out_tongue:


  1. Should I put this off entirely until covid is better controlled and I can take classes? I haven’t learned to roll a boat. I can read and I have some friends who paddle, but they’re all pretty much novices. I wouldn’t want to take a sailboat out with the level of knowledge I have now, so I’m hesitant about going out in a kayak. I know how to right a capsized Sunfish and get myself back in it, but haven’t tried to actually perform that action in 30 years.

  2. Do I need a wetsuit or drysuit to be safe on the water? Lake Washington is damned cold. I’m a good swimmer, but I know that doesn’t really matter unless I can get out of the water fast.

  3. Kayak options. I know I like kayaks better than canoes. The kayaks I’ve used in the past have all been enclosed with skirts, but I have many friends who like sit-on-top kayaks. My instinct is that sitting lower and being more enclosed will feel better to me, but I also have to find one I can get my butt into.

  4. What things am I not thinking about that I should be asking?

Thanks for any help!!!

I would suggest, for now, finding a way to use an ergometer rowing machine (I like the Concept models) for building your upper body strength and endurance. It’s often not difficult to find people giving them away or selling cheap when they clean out their basements and garages, which a lot of folks are doing now. I twice was able to recover strength and mobility from serious arm injuries (one requiring surgery and two months of casts) by using one – I would try to row 2500 meters at least 3 times a week, alternating slow and steady 5 minute pace and cool down periods with 60 seconds of all-out sprints as fast and hard as I could go.

Your lower dimensions are going to limit your boat choices and you are going to have to try kayaks on in shops or at marinas (actually, that is something any buyer should do – we all have distinct body dimensions and quirks that can really affect fit.)

Paddling in those cold waters without proper temperature protective gear is a complete no-no. Though with your body mass you will have a longer tolerance for potential hypothermia from immersion (the way long distance swimmers do), the bigger issue is being incapacitated by cold shock and with your upper body weak, you would be in real trouble in a capsize. You would have to have a dry suit custom made unless you were lucky enough to find a used one in your size. If you got a sit on top, a drysuit or at least a 4 to 5 mm wet suit would be mandatory for safety. That would also need to be custom due to your distinctive body metrics, though you might be able to achieve that with two piece neoprene.

A woman’s size 26 is a 55" to 60" hip circumference so you would not only need an HV (high volume) boat, it would probably need to be a fairly deep and oversized cockpit. A lot of this depends on where you carry the weight since with a sit-inside you need to be able to comfortably fit your thighs under the foredeck. A longer and/or wider boat will provide the volume to achieve safe water displacement for stability.

I’d start by seeing how you fit in a Wildersness Systems Pungo 140 which has a very large cockpit, though it is still only 22" wide (by 57" long). If you carry your lower body weight mostly front to back rather than on the hip sides, it might fit. Capacity on that longer Pungo is 325 pounds – this includes you, your gear and anything you would carry with you, so you are near the top of the range and would have to be conscious how that affects stability, but at 28" beam the Pungo is pretty stable in flat water. The Current Designs Solara 135 RM with a 20" by 45" cockpit and 400 pound rating might also be an option for you if you can find one to try out.

YOu could also consider having a skin on frame kayak custom made for you. Since you are in the PNW there are folks out there that know how to build them exactly to the paddler’s body metrics. I have that was made in Oregon.

Another option is pack canoes, which are solo canoes in which you sit low, near the floor and paddle with a kayak paddle. I recently added a 13’ solo canoe to my kayak fleet because I like the flexibility of sitting position and the ability to stretch my legs more when I sometimes have trouble with cramping. There are also hybrids often called the Rob Roy which have the space and capacity of a canoe while offering the enclosure and lower center of gravity sitting position of a kayak. Northstar makes a super light version. Not cheap but could be an ideal boat for your purposes:

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Just noticed somebody is selling a couple of Old Town Loon 138’s in the Seattle Craigslist, somewhat east of the city. Kind of heavy but they are durable and roomy. At 400 lb rating you would have plenty of capacity for stability. Only have a rear bulkhead so this model needs an inflatable front flotation bag for safety. And should also have deck lines added for self rescue safety. At $500 not bad if in good shape. Might be worth a look.

Thanks so much for the detailed response!

I’ve been watching for a decent used rowing machine and they don’t go cheap around here. I could easily get a used kayak for less. I’ll look harder. It does seem like that’s the safest option right now for many reasons, I just want to be on the water. :slight_smile:

If you’re considering an erg (rowing machine), I would suggest you buy a Concept2 D. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s the best machine on the market and should you decide you hate rowing (30-45 minutes of steady state rowing can be very boring), you will be able to easily sell it for near what you paid for it. Especially important if you’ve never tried an indoor rower.

I have a Concept2 D and while it is a great full body workout when used with the correct technique, for developing upper body strength you’ll get better results strength training with hand weights. For me, the rower is invaluable in developing cardio and endurance.

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 and high demand, there’s a wait list at Concept2 and Amazon. Here’s a link providing helpful information for people just getting into rowing: https://www.c2forum.com/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=185257

You don’t need to join the Concept2 forum to poke around the topics.

While your thinking about things and gathering information, you can start working on upper body strength today. There’s loads of good information online.

Best wishes on your new journey!


InI would consider a high quality inflatable kayak. They’re lighter and pretty easy to get back aboard after a capsize. I live in Alaska but took 1 done to Seattle a couple years ago.

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If you could snag one of those Old Town Loons I linked to for around $400 it would be one way to get out to float around for now (a roll of $20 bills can be quite persuasive, I have found, when buying used boats). $500 would be high for my market – I have bought similar boats including a decent paddle AND a PFD, for $400 several times. Loons are kind of klutzy due to width and weight but they are indestructible and the spacious cockpit makes them comfortable for more zaftig paddlers. You would get a workout in one, for sure, but would not be going terribly fast. But best to get some instruction before venturing out – you can hurt yourself (and waste a lot of energy) with poor paddling form. Kind of a problem in the current public health crisis, I know. But if you just wanted to be able to “lily dip” along shore you could do that in a Loon.

And, as Rookie pointed out, resale is always something to consider. I have bought more used kayaks than I can remember in the last 18 years and always was able to sell them after using them for a while for the same or MORE than I paid for them. So I look at most kayak ownership more as a “rental” arrangement than long term commitment. I do have a couple of boats I would never part with but many others have passed through my life and enabled my investing in others.

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I have done enough weight training to be able to lift reasonable amounts of weight, but I have low endurance compared to pre-accident. I’m seeing a physiatrist tomorrow to work on a detailed plan, actually, because the exercises I had after I completed PT aren’t really moving the needle. I grew up on a farm, and am accustomed to being able to dig in my garden all day. I need some form of sustained effort to regain endurance.

I got laid off at the beginning of covid, so $900 plus shipping and taxes is out of my price range right now. :-/

I <3 craigslist. :slight_smile: I buy, restore, and resell fiber arts tools from antique sewing machines to spinning wheels to looms. Very much accustomed to buying with the goal of resale. :slight_smile:

I can probably afford either a kayak or a rowing machine, but not both. It seems like being patient til I can try out a variety of kayaks and get lessons is the wiser course of action, even if paddling around in Lake Washington sounds like a lot more fun. I’m thinking get a used rowing machine, build endurance for a while, and plan 2021 as the summer I take classes and kit myself out for paddling.

I used to live just off Alki, so I know that view well!! Cute dog, too. :slight_smile:

Concept 2 has a ton of training programs, you can even train with other people virtually. It doesn’t matter if you buy used. Check out their website.

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I hear you about the price. I ordered mine from Amazon under a special deal where I had a year to pay for it, with no interest. Before that, I walked fast on mixed terrain to keep my heart rate up, for at least 30 minutes a day. Winter is why I got the erg. Still walk because it’s weight bearing.

Hope you can find a good deal on a used rower (and a kayak). Once you do, give Dark Horse Rowing videos a look so you can learn about technique and avoid injuring yourself.

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It appears that you will be undergoing some changes as you get more fit, and as willowleaf mentions you are going to have some challenges for a sit inside. I suggest that you not worry about rolling or a boat that would support learning that well now. Grab something used that will get you onto that lake near shore and just get moving.

Lessons, when you can get them, would be the better approach for any bigger water skills. And learning about the boats intended for that.

I am a big fan of Loons and Pungos for just getting on the water on ponds and quiet lakes because they are proven performers and tend to be available used. You aren’t going to roll them ir do deep edging or usually reenter them from being on the water. But you can start paddling.

The advice from Chuck is also excellent, if the money is there for you right now. I don’t know those prices.

I am unlikely to get significantly thinner. I’m Zen with being a fattie; it hasn’t slowed me down. It sucks in this fat shaming culture, though.

I mean less proportions and more strength and recovery from up your injury. and unless l am missing something you can’t say with certainty exactly how that is going to go. Or how aggressive you want to get w kayaking bigger water.

You may ultimately find that you want to go with something other than a hard shell SINK for ex. Other options, like inflatables or folders that are easier to move around and store could turn out to be a good fit.

Right now you just need to start moving.

I’m reminded of another boat you might want to take a look at: Sea Eagle’s 393 Razorlite inflatable. Capacity is 500 pounds – impressive for an inflatable and due to the rigidity of their drop stitch floor. It’s a sit on top, but reports to date have been that it has impressive performance for an inflatable. Won’t have to invest in a car roof rack, either.


Most of what you need to know about kayaking can be learned by watching videos and through trial and error. That’s how I learned. My Dad taught me navigation, but I taught myself everything else. There’s plenty you can do to prepare before you even have a kayak. Start small and gradually build things up. Find a friend with a powerboat who can teach you the local waterway where you want to launch (wind, tides, and dangerous areas) as well as how to navigate on the water. You said you had friends with kayaks, ask them to let you try out their boats, preferably on land or in shallow calm water. You don’t need to be on the water to figure out how a certain style of kayak will work for you as far as general comfort. Do research on every boat you are considering. Many of them have weight limits. Many boats will perform quite differently with a heavier paddler. I have a Perception Swifty 3.1 - it’s an old 9.5 ft kayak with a wide cockpit and it’s very stable for me. I’ve never capsized in it. My Dad, who was probably at least a 100 pounds heavier than me at the time, tried it and capsized in it. It was partially due to his inexperience and partly due to him being close to the boat’s weight limit. His weight put the edge of the cockpit much closer to the water than it did with me, changing the kayak’s stability.

To answer your questions,

  1. It would be safer to wait, but I’ve found that putting things off makes it more likely that you’ll never do them. Rolling a kayak is not necessary unless you plan on traveling in extremely rough water. I can’t roll a kayak and I’ve been kayaking for 20 years with no issues. Righting a kayak is easier than a sailboat because you don’t have to deal with a mast and sail and they are easier to flip back over. Ideally, you would stay within swimming distance (50 ft or less) of a beach or dock, climb out, dry yourself, refocus, and relaunch.

  2. This depends entirely on your area where you would paddle. I’m on the middle of the east coast and water temps are 60 F and better from Spring to Fall. So, I don’t own a wetsuit. However, you should always “dress for immersion”. Even though it’s highly unlikely that you’d enter the water, you need to be prepared. If the water there is really that cold, you need to be ready for it. If you’re launching from a beach, you’ll need to keep your feet and legs warm at least.

  3. I’ve never used a kayak with a skirt… if you are on flat water, you probably won’t need it. Your best bet would be either a sit in kayak with a wide open cockpit like some that were mentioned, or a sit on top. My Mom has a sit on top, an Ocean Kayak Frenzy. The Frenzy has a large keel, making it slower, but very stable (you can stand on it and jump off if you’re young/crazy enough). It’s not as fast or easy to paddle as my kayak, but is incredibly stable and easy for my mother to get in and out of. You should borrow a friend’s kayak or rent to decide what style you want to buy. Also, be thinking about how well you can handle the kayak out of water. That Frenzy is great in the water, but out of the water, it is awkward and heavy.

  4. What are you not thinking about?

  • Transporting the kayak to the put in. Loading/unloading a kayak from a vehicle roof can test your strength. Even if you are just walking to it, you need a plan. Wheels for the kayak would be a good idea if you can afford them or build a set. A friend would be best. Two people can carry a kayak no problem. One person who is weaker might have to stop to rest several times.
  • Communications - Can your cell phone call from everywhere you plan to paddle or do you need a radio? Do you have a waterproof case/lanyard for the phone? Visual and audible signal devices are good to have as well.
  • Gear - at the very least, you need to have water plus a phone. Food, spare clothing, towels, a spare paddle, and first aid are good to have too. A lifejacket is super important. The right one will float you, but be light enough that it doesn’t impede paddling too much. I never leave shore without mine, even though I’m quite a swimmer. If you don’t get a sit-on-top, a bailing bucket (cut off milk jug) or water pump would be good to have.
  • Lines -(ropes for you landlubbers) having a decent line on your kayak can help control it during launching and exiting the water. It can also come in handy if you need to tow or receive a tow.
  • Paddle with friends or have a float plan. Even a friend who doesn’t paddle can be a big help to handle the kayak out of the water. I paddle solo a lot, but I always tell my family where I’m going and I call them once I’m out of the water.

I hope my ramblings have helped a bit. Good luck in your paddling adventures.

agree with @Dur83 on the wheels,
If the 5 minutes from Lake Washington is fairly level ground, I would suggest investing in a kayak cart (haven’t bought one in a long while, I think they’re in the $50 area, maybe you could find one on craigslist). (make sure it is one that breaks down to fit in the kayak with you while you paddle).
The erg suggestion is good, but since you live in an area that has comfortable winters, you can paddle year round (save getting an erg for when you have to relocate to an area where the water freezes in the winter).

I didn’t have time to read all of the detailed responses but want to add that it would be a good idea to search locally for kayak pool sessions. It may be tougher during Covid, but they are a great way to look at and possibly try different boats, as well as experience some basics in warmer water and a more controlled environment.