Kayaking the Great Lakes

Looking to buy a kayak in MI. Trying to decide on a 120 vs 140 Wilderness Pungo. I have tried out the 120 but seeing as I would like to use on Lake MI, Huron and Superior as well as the rivers and smaller lakes, deciding if the 140 would be a smarter purchase. Wondering if anyone has a suggestion or has used both to give a comparison. If I go with the 120 I figure I could just rent when on the Great Lakes…suggestions?

Inland sea
The Great Lakes are like an inland sea. I really don’t like Pungos. I don’t think it has a front bulkhead although not sure on that. I would think a better choice might be a Tsunami 145 as it has two sealed hatches for flotation in case of a tip over plus it excepts a skirt were the Pungo really doesn’t take a skirt. Weather and waves can change very fast on the Great Lakes.

I was trying to teach a guy with a Pungo to do a paddle float rescue and because of the cockpit being SO LARGE it was very difficult. Unless the Tsunami 145 is to small then I would pick that over a Pungo. Get at least a 14 footer for the Great Lakes.

you may need more than one boat
if you want to do all that. A pungo might suffice for slow rivers and small lakes.

Not Pungos for Great Lakes
Any of them. A 14 foot Pungo is still a rec boat - two feet over the 12 does not change the nature of the boat. People really need to pay better attention to what the manufacturers say about their boats…

not sure they can
One of the problems with the industry marketing is they word it in such a way that people won’t understand the limitations of kayaks like rec boats.

come on
This is a newbie asking for advice. No need to bark.

What you recommend is fine, but store salespeople often bend or change the description.

not sure where you are
Great lakes kayaking is very different from inland lake kayaking. If you’re more interested in the great lakes than inland lakes or slow rivers, can wait and can travel , consider taking a trip to the West Michigan Coastal Kayakers’ Association:


Or the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Symposium in the U.P. in July:


Vendors will be there with boats to demo, you can take or merely watch instruction. It would give you exposure to paddling the great lakes.

Otherwise I’d consider taking a tour on a guided beginning trip on the great lakes.

If you buy a Pungo, you’d…
have to rent for paddling the Great Lakes except for very few exceptional days. That said, even with the right boat without the right skills the Great Lakes can really bite you.

Just ran WS’s Kayak Selector
I looked back at the descriptions, and if all you are reading is the diff between the Pungo 140 and the 120 it could be confounding to a newbie who also does not understand the limitations of a rec boat. The 140 does have two bulkheads, though little else in the way of big water features.

But - I also just ran their Kayak Selector routine. I put in Touring, Oceans/Open Lakes, Medium Paddler and Day Use. I don’t think there is much argument that any of the Great Lakes qualify as Open Lakes…

I got back 18 results, with the least featured being the Tsunamis. No boats out of WS’s recreational group came up.

To the OPer - I suggest you try the Selector on WS’s site and see what comes up. Even if WS can be a accused of being thin of text explanation by some, their selector seems to be pointing to the right boats for your stated use.

Kayaking the Great Lakes
Thanks everyone for your advice and no worries, I can handle a bark! Picking the wrong kayak and spending money on something that doesn’t work…I can’t handle!!! A year + in researching (like I do with most gear before purchasing) I have looked at the mfg websites and their references to kayak buying. I have also asked sales people (one today at REI who suggested I ask out here)and current kayak owners. I have been renting for the past few years, usually 10 or 12 on slow moving rivers. So I am looking to venture to the Great Lakes, as living in MI, I visit them often.

I actually looked into the GLSK Symposium yesterday online and was wondering if it was worth it before I decided. I will now definitely consider it. Thanks for the info on the West Symposium, will look into that one also.

I can wait and I can travel, so I will take your suggestions into consideration. I will look into possibly taking a guided tour also. I am hoping by next year I will be skilled in open water enough to kayak/camp around Grand Island in Lake Superior.

Much appreciation to everyone.

I strongly also suggest…
…hitting the GLSKS, even if you only go for one day, you’ll learn bunches and you will end up in a better place for making choices.

I’m going back for my third GLSKS as it’s a great place to get in practice with some of the best. If you do decide to go, and depending on your size, you can take a spin in my RockPool.

Oh, and if you do go, look into a wet suit because that water will likely be colder than usual this year.


Yes, and thanks

– Last Updated: May-15-14 8:07 PM EST –

Slush was right - I was a bit curt. But the Great Lakes are about both skills and the boat. The problem with the rec boats like the Pungos is they are not physically designed to even allow you to perform big water skills. You could take a shiny new Pungo to a session like the Symposium and regret your purchase long before lunch, when you realized that it was no way the boat was going to do what you needed.

From what you just said, you probably should figure on something closer to a proper sea kayak. Narrower, smaller cockpit, two or three (with day hatch) bulkheaded areas and perimeter lines to help get back in if you take an unplanned swim. Unlike smaller creeks and rivers, you can easily be somewhere that you have to re-enter from deep water. Swimming you and the boat to the shore a half mile or a mile away is not going to work.

It will feel tippy, unstable, whatever you want to call it, at first. But it will be a hell of a lot more secure in waves once you figure out how to work with it than any rec boat.

Beware of people in stores trying to sell you a boat rather than a good idea...

some articles
I wrote some articles for California Kayaker Magazine that may be of interest. All can be read for free online from http://www.calkayakermag.com/magazine.html

Issue 10 - an article on different types of kayaks - answers the questions of why some are short versus long, sit inside vs sit on, etc.

Issue 8 - Getting Butt Time - talks about benefits of demoing, and some ways to go about this. The Symposium would be a great way to do this.

Issue 6 (not written by me) - article on how to select a recreational boat, and it also talks a bit about their limitations.

It’s a known fact that
every kayak in the catalog tracks straight as an arrow, turns on a dime, and has excellent primary AND secondary stability. Plus they’re all LIGHT WEIGHT and can handle any kind of water.

That is not what WS says

– Last Updated: May-16-14 8:25 AM EST –

I just rechecked. The confusion for someone new is that they have to read the page where they talk about each category of kayak, it isn't repeated under the individual models.

But the following link gets you to a page where WS defines the kind of water in which each type of boat (Recreational, Touring etc) should be used. And they are quite clear, for example, that Recreational boats don't belong on ocean bays and big open lakes.


I have looked at a number of manufacturers sites here and there, and honestly most of them try to separate the categories. But they don't always do it the same way. So someone just knocking around might not realize what they are reading.

You might want to expand
Nothing wrong with Wilderness Systems, but there are a lot of other brands that you really should take a look at. The simplest thing to do is have a look around the Internet. My list goes something like this: NC Kayaks, Valley, P&H, Eddyline, Maelstrom, Current Designs, Necky, Tiderace and Pygmy if you want to build your own. I’m sure I left out a few (some on purpose), but somewhere in that list there is the perfect boat for you.