Looking to buy my first kayaks for the family

Hello!! We are new to the community as well as kayaking in general. My family of 4 would like to buy our first 2 kayaks with potentially adding more later on. My wife and I are in our 40s with 2 boys who are 17 and 12. We live in the gorgeous upper peninsula of Michigan and would possibly be using the kayaks on rivers (no rapids), lakes and possibly Lake Superior (very calm days only) along the coast of in bays. These would be mostly day trips with the potentional for a rare overnight. We are looking at sit in only. I am bit on the heavier side in weight, currently 250 but hoping to shed some of that off. The rest of my family are average size.

I have been researching and the amount of information is simply overwhelming. We don’t have much available locally other than a Gander Outdoors, so my selection is limited but I had been looking at the Preception Carolina or Expression (12-14 feet) line of kayaks (light touring). I would certainly welcome other suggestions on brand, length, etc. Thank you so much in advance.


Get four Current Designs Siroccos. For the money, you won’t find better boats and you’ll all be equal when it comes to paddling together. None of you will outgrow the boat in size, or skills. And you won’t have to limit yourself to the big lake on calm days.

Both of the Perceptions look quite acceptable for your use cases. Depending on where you are there is Downwind Sports in Marquette & Houghton.Be sure to budget for a good life vest (PFD) and a decent paddle.

Hopefully, you already know the you need thermal protection (wet suit or hydroskin at least) when on the Big Lake. Remember that conditions can change quickly and just around a corner.

12’ kayaks are too small for the Great Lakes. Superior is serious water, with a potential for strong waves and currents, sudden storms and always water that is too cold for safe prolonged immersion – though warming trends have caused record surface temps this year, 70 is not that warm and the deeper water off shore is still bitterly cold. Today the lake was 46 degrees. Hydroskins or even a 4 mm wetsuit, will not protect you from that temperature . The longer kayaks will NOT hamper you on rivers and inland lakes and would give you the wider option of usage.

If you honestly intend to do coastal paddling eventually (and you should not attempt that until you have some instruction and have practiced getting back into the boats in deep water if capsized) you should be looking at 14’ minimum for the wife and kids and 15’ minimum for you. The Expression 15 is the only one in the Perception line that I would suggest for you. The largest Carolina is rated at 300 lbs and you are too close to that (plus gear) which can make the boat unstable. The Carolina 14 is also narrower by almost 3" which could be a too snug fit. You need the width extra 25 pounds of capacity of the 15’ boat. Honestly, for coastal use, at 16’ or 17’ would be more appropriate for your weight.

We usually recommend on here that used kayaks are the better way to get started and they are fairly common in the UP. Listed below are some I spotted in the “Yooper” section on Craigslist now.

Depending on the size of the 12 year old, this Tsunami SP (for up to 120 pounds) is a good buy and very sea worthy, though he might outgrow it quickly:


Another boat scaled for the 12 year old (unless he is big for his age), for only $250:


This Current Designs Willow would be good for the wife or teen:


Here’s a Carolina 14 for $450:


Another good one for you, a Prijon Kodiak, or the older boy if he takes to paddling on the big lake:


Another smaller Prijon in Ishpeming for $500, comes with a paddle:


I know some people prefer to just drive to a store and load up, but if you have the patience for buying used you can save a LOT of money and get a better bang for your buck. Also, when and if you want to change models and upgrade or just don’t want to paddle anymore (though that is hard for me to imagine!) you can get a higher proportion of your investment back by buying used. And often sellers will through in a decent paddle and even a PFD, which can save another couple of hundred at least.

Good suggestions above. I’ll go a different direction and suggest buying a kayak trailer. Keep your eye out for a used one, or convert a boat or utility trailer. Ad some storage for all of your gear. It provides a place for everything to be and makes going much, much easier. With 4 boats a trailer is worth a great deal. Someday I’ll get off my butt and make a Youtube video of mine.

Gander Mt. is in Marquette. So are a couple of top instructors when it comes time for lessons: http://www.seakayakspecialists.com/aboutus.html

Downwind Sports also sells used gear.

I think based on comments, we will stick to rivers and lakes. I’m thinking about looking for a used Prodigy 12 for recreational use to start with. Will check out downwind sports as well.

I truly appreciate everyone’s very helpful and eye opening comments and suggestions.

The issue with the 12 footers is as willowleaf and l think others have said, you will find it gets out grown not long after you got it. If it was just one boat no big deal, but you are talking the price times four. And hopefully not the bucks for new ones, in 6 weeks the rental outfits will be selling not dissimilar boats.

Seriously, given the range of possible paddling interests and especially with your boys being older, spend your first bucks on beginner lessons at Gander. Then see where you need to go. I very much doubt your boys will come out of it wanting a slow, very limited boat. Find that out before you expend on boats.

For you specifically (at 250 lbs), you likely will want a boat which is rated as holding at least 100 pounds over your weight. Though the boat would float if you were close to (or exceed) the load rating, when you get to the extremes (either high or low), the boat often will start handling differently than one would expect. Maneuverability, stability, speed, etc. all could get impacted. And this is advice for day trips - a boat with even more capacity would be suggested for if you are carrying extra gear, such as if you are camping.

Having someone, if not the whole family, take an intro to sea kayaking class before buying could be money well worth it. Along with learning the basics of kayaking, paddling, rescues, etc., you will also learn a lot about what to look for in a boat during that class.

We had hoped to go to the Great Lakes Sea Kayak program in Grand Marias this upcoming weekend, even tho we did buy rec boats recently. GM is a great little community, with a picturesque harbor. Pretty close to Marquette.

Got visitors arriving from Columbus Oh, so don’t think they will be interested in a long drive after nearly 550 miles to get here.