I am looking for advice on the length of my first kayak. I have rented several of varying lengths for lakes and slow moving rivers and found I like a boat that is swift and tracks well. I don’t weigh much and have a lot of upper body strength for my size so I am comfortable pushing a longer boat around to turn. I am considering the WS Tsunami, Tempest, or Focus and I think I want a boat that is at least 14 feet in length for the speed and tracking, but I’m torn between a 14-14.5 foot model or 16-16.5 foot model. I’ll be mostly day tripping at this point. Thoughts from experienced touring kayakers would be appreciated.
Which size fits better in the garage?
All other things considered…
Came home with my precious new (longer) yak last year and nearly fainted when I saw how close I came the first time to smacking the garage door with it on the approach when I tried backing down the driveway… at least I missed the gate post near the road…barely… driveway now festooned with reflective guideposts…we got it inside, eventually, with its older sister and brother yak, but aye yee- yee- yee.
For your interests;
Get the longer boat.
Even a 17 or 18 footer
On the water, longer is better. More speed. Harder to turn, but really how often do you turn? Off the water, shorter is easier to handle. Which is more important in your case?
(edit - correcting after TsunamiChuck's post - I should have said "longer waterline is generally better". he is quite right that there are many factors that impact speed and tracking, with waterline being a big one but not only one)
The 3 boats you are looking at all feel quite a bit different from each other. get in and demo each, and I think it will become obvious which is best for you based on how they feel to you.
Buy a used kayak first
Some of 13.5-14 footers do real well. Longer generally means faster but there are lots of variables to account for. Depending on where you are, you can find older fiberglass kayaks in good shape for less money than the plastic Wilderness lineup.
Why not start with this?
You say you want a fast boat that tracks well. So why not go with something like what NC Kayaks is selling right now at a $1000 discount. Take a look at nckayaks.com. Can you believe a 17’-2" beautiful new fiberglass sea kayak for $1599? And they are American made–believe it.
14’ is fine
My philosophy is to get the shortest kayak that will do the job safely, efficiently, and comfortably. If you want to go longer you should have a good reason, because length over 14’ comes with drawbacks (weight, maneuverability, storage space). For slow rivers and lakes 12 to 14 feet will work, but if 12’ it will need to have a well designed hull and two bulkheads. (Example: Delta 12.5)
You will get recommendations here for everything from 12 to 18 feet. How to decide?
–What you will most often use the kayak for. Camping vs day trips,
–Usual water conditions
–Worst water conditions you might encounter
–Efficiency: You might be strong enough to push a heavy kayak, but do you really want to do it all day? Why would you do that, if a shorter, lighter kayak could meet all of your needs?
–Vehicle (how high you have to lift the kayak’s weight
nothing beats trying them
Some glass 15-16 footers will weigh less than a 14 plastic. Generally glass is faster than plastic although only a bit. I never paddled a 16 that didn’t feel noticeably faster than any 14. We’re not talking about racing speed but the nice easy glide that a faster hull has over a shorter boat. A shorter boat has to go wider to carry the same load as a longer narrow boat which is the built-in governing factor. You have to try some to see how these differences feel to you to make good judgments. Also never negate your comfort in them. If a 14 just feels like more fun to you over a 16, then do that.
say I am experienced, but I made a observation over the last couple days that I spent in my packed for 4 day kayak.
My bud has a OT castine 13’ or 13.5’, the son is in a older perception carolina, I am in a vintage aquaterra sea lion 16.7. I wanted a used poly kayak for multi day river tripping, that would take me and gear and not be maxed out with weight.
On the flat smooth stuff, I could out run them with equal strokes but it wasnt like I could fly by. I did have to run ahead to catch some guys and with good steady paddling I ran them down. The rudder made tracking a lot nicer in current. Without the rudder down the sea lion wanted to slide to the side, so did the old town, the carolina seemed to hang a little better in the creek. Might have been weight dist because on day 2 in the river the castine and sea lion seemed to track better.
In rapids, the shorter boats turn better, I got to try a wet exit where as my son who is as new as me made it and buddy just took water on. If you can hold the line in the bigger boat, it knifes the rough stuff a bit better. On a second set of rapids I took the hard line to redeem myself and the castine followed, he took on more water (skirtless) than he did in the “harder” rapids.
I did try a little wake surfing and the longer boat was better with that.
If your rivers and creeks are at all rocky like ours, go poly.
If you are a newbie and can put what you need in a 14, I would go with that. I will either learn to turn this beast under pressure or go a bit shorter.
What Jackl said.
That I once owned was a great, do- everything boat. Had no trouble cruising with a group but if I stopped for a couple of minutes to, say, glass some shore birds it was hard work catching up with the others.
depends on speed
Some shorter boats are more efficient at slower to moderate speed having less wetted surface area. They are easier to paddle up to a certain speed and then hit a wall. If you have the power to push a longer boat it will be much faster at the higher speeds.
Look for the narrowest lightest boat that you can handle and fits your needs.
About the strength thing
Paddling a kayak is not about strength the way we usually think of it, and if you paddle that way you will be both slower and end up with more joint damage than one of the best paddlers locally. She is 5'3" and weighs maybe 120 pounds wringing wet.
You should get some help with your strokes so that you start out relying on torso rotation more than arm strength, right off the top before you go out and hurt yourself. And learn to edge for turning - turning a boat by a sequence of turning strokes without putting it on edge is the hard way to get it around. On a good edge you are talking at worst a couple of relatively easy strokes.
I am not the only 5'3" 130 pound 60 or so yr old who has regularly paddled a 17 plus foot sea kayak. In head winds and thru breaking crap. It is about knowing how to paddle as much or more than physical strength (though good torso rotation will strengthen your core and take up to a couple of inches of winter flab off your waist).
To get a fix on length, you should be looking at whether you want two bulkheaded compartments, whether the boat will be in more open water as well as skinny little creeks etc. Don't get fixated on relatively trivial differences like a couple of feet of length alone.