Need advise on buying a kayak

My husband has wanted a kayak for years but we just never managed to get one. Now with Father’s Day coming up, I’d like to surprise him. But I have NO idea what to get, how much to spend or what else I need. He talked about wanting a tandem kayak so he could go out with one of our sons (5&8 yrs) and have some father son time. So I guess I’m looking for a tandem kayak that’s easy to use, won’t break the bank and is good for beginner/intermediate users. My husband has kayaked before and is very physically fit (6"/200 lbs) so I think he can handle something a little more sporty versus utilitarian. But I’m open to all. He’d be kayaking mostly on flat water lakes and rivers. Any advise would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

great gift from loving wife!
There are many fine boats that he would get much use from. However unless you know what type, size, fit, features, color, etc. that suit him it would be best for hubby to test drive some. In meantime, perhaps a gift of lessons, DVD, PFD or some universal gear item?

Totally understand that but it probably won’t get used more than 5-6 times a year. Here in PA its pretty chilly except June-Sept. Not to disparage him, but this will be like a kid getting a pony. He’ll love it at first but likely it will get used less and less until it sits in the garage. He’ll also only use it only in near perfect weather conditions. He’s not going to use it in poor conditions or in the cold. With two young boys active in sports sadly, he just doesn’t have the time. I’m sure he’d take a class and enjoy it too. He’s not a poser; he’ll use it and love it, but it just won’t be all that much, nor at a serious level. I also am considering just a single too.

With the above, should I just get him something pretty cheap from Dick’s or something like that? There are a few being sold on Craigslist but again, I’m not sure what I’m looking for. I know he’s not going to be going on the ocean. It will be slow areas of the Susquehanna or some of the area lakes. Color is not a factor. He won’t care. Is there a length that’s better for stability? He’s a 6" 200# weight lifter with a big frame. He used to do long distance cycling in his younger (pre-children) days. This will be purely recreational, fun and not particularly for exercise.

Looking at your replies…
You don’t understand why, but you are really asking an impossible question. Trying to get a kayak that someone else will like, without having them spend some time sitting in the things, is a recipe for disaster. At the least, it is likely to keep him out of the boat more than in it because the match to his needs and size will be at best poor. That makes for uncomfortable paddling.

If you don’t want to buy him demo time or some time with a coach to better sort out what he would like, then make it a gift certificate to a local outfitter. He can then figure out how to use it.

As to the warm weather only paddling part, it is a reach to count on that as well. They do make clothing to handle colder weather and you may find that he loves being out on the water enough to spring for it.

The gift certificate idea also allows him to make the best choice on handling paddling with your sons. Many people have found that getting kids used boats is the best way to paddle together, because it is inexpensive and it allows everyone to paddle at their own level.

Thanks I realize my question was super broad. I’ve looked into a few kayak excursions here in the Harrisburg area and it seems like that is probably a better way to go.

Can you answer one question though? What’s the difference (other than the obvious one) between sit on top kayaks versus sit in kayaks? Is it just ease of use? stability? cost? preference? It seems like the sit on top would be more recreational and easy? Most of the Kayak excursion sites I’m seeing have single person kayaks as sit ins and tandem as sit on top…

Just curious. There may not be a simple answer to that either. Thanks for all your help.

Some people have difficulty entering and exiting a sit in kayak (SINK) due to joint issues or limited mobility. For these folks, a sit on top (SOT) kayak offers advantages. Some ocean paddlers prefer SOT kayaks because reentry is much easier. You just clamber back on and there is no water to empty. Some people, even experienced swimmers, get a bit crazy when they capsize enclosed in a SINK wearing a spray skirt, so for them a SOT is an obvious choice.

But you will get wetter on a SOT kayak and that could mean you will get colder, although this can be addressed by wearing proper insulating clothing. SOT kayaks are typically wider and harder to roll. SOT kayaks often have fewer options for gear storage for tripping and are not uncommonly heavier.

perhaps a canoe?
As an alternate suggestion, have you considered a canoe? I’m familiar with the waters in your area (live in western PA but often paddle in the central and north central regions.) For taking out active young children, a canoe might be a much better option. We have both fairly high end kayaks and basic canoes, but for fair weather paddling on the Susquehanna and local lakes, we tend to use the canoe more often. You also don’t have to worry as much about personal fit with a canoe. A solo or pack canoe can be paddled with a double-ended kayak paddle.

One possible inexpensive option would be the Mad River Adventure plastic canoe. We have the 16’ version but the 14’ might be easier for one adult and a kid or two, even for two adults. With some ballast weight in the bow he could also paddle it solo. The 16’ would fit both adults and both kids but be tougher to paddle solo. Because the boat is relatively narrow, we paddle ours using double ended kayak paddles, 240 cm in the stern and 230 cm in the bow. They are a little heavy (but so are tandem kayaks) but we use a small two wheeled boat cart to carry the canoe to the river that comes apart to stow on board. Until the kids are big enough to help dad carry, this would simplify transport.

You can buy one of these canoes new from the ubiquitous Dick’s, Gander Mountain or REI for around $700 to $800 (remember that you get 10% credit back from REI on annual purchases). We found ours used for $400. The boat also has a squared stern to which you can attach a small electric trolling motor, which might prove useful in getting a tired dad and kids back upriver on long days.

Another suggestion (but higher cost) would be the Pakboat folding kayak. Their Puffin Saranac can be converted from a single to a double or used without the removeable deck more like a canoe, which could accommodate both kids with dad. These boats are easy to assemble and very light (under 30 lbs, less than half the weight of a plastic tandem) and can be used open like a sit on top or have the deck put on for use in rougher water or colder weather. Since you probably would not need the deck this would run you around $1100 to buy one. I have the smaller version of this kayak and have been very pleased with it.

The company is in New Hampshire – since the boats pack down into a duffel bag they can be ordered through the mail.

More on boats
Sit insides kayaks do not have a cockpit in which the paddler enters and puts their butt and legs under the top of the boat. Sit on top kayaks involve no such fit.

Obviously fit like leg length, and paddler flexibility, is going to matter more for sit inside boat than hang around on top of it. But frankly, there is a reason that you see more sit on tops in places like Florida than in the northeast (where you are). Because the paddler’s lower body is fully exposed to the air, a chilly day is wetter and colder in a sit on top than in a sit inside. And it often takes more in the way of waterproof clothing to stay comfortable on an early fall day than in a sit inside.

The kind of day which is ideal for a really pretty paddle by the way, when the colored leaves are reflecting on the water…

You should not be thinking about tandem versus single in a vacuum. You have no way of knowing what your family’s preference is going to be - there is a reason that the nickname for tandems is divorce boats. You can’t assume that people who get along on land, even very well, are going to do as well stuck in the same boat.

You also seem to be looking a really bottom line boats out of big box stores, rather than a proper paddling shop. A good used boat is a significantly better idea than a new crappy one, they cost about the same but one is a more pleasant paddling experience.

Again - go with a gift certificate and get advice here about an outfitter within reach.

article on SOT vs SINK

– Last Updated: May-15-14 3:05 PM EST –

California Kayaker Magazine had an article on the different types of kayaks in Issue #10/Spring 2013. It can be read online for free at

You may also want to read issue #8 and the Getting Butt time article, and issue #7 and the Classes vs School of Hard Knocks article.

I agree with the others a gift certificate from a place that can give him good guidance (a specialty kayak shop, not a big box) would be better than a boat. And renting/taking classes also may be better than buying right now.

or maybe a paddleboard

Perception Tribe 13.5
You could consider something like the Perception Tribe 13.5 ($650) or Perception Sport Rambler 13.5 ($500). They are mostly the same kayak but the Perception Sport version is what you will find at big box sporting stores and probably is a bit cheaper made (plastic might be thinner and the outfitting a bit cheaper).

You can just about get an adult and two kids or move the seat to the center to go solo. You should be able to find them at a EMS or Dicks. Try sitting in one with both your sons and you can get a feel how it would fit your husband and kids. You might have to buy an extra seat for three.

You also need paddles and PFDs as well. The big box stores has horrible choices and going cheap on a paddle is a mistake. For the kids maybe $100-$130 for two paddles and add another $100-$130 for PFDs. For your husband another $100-$130 for a paddle and $80-$100 for a PFD. You have another $400, at least, on top of the kayak price.

Just don’t consider this to be anything sporty. This is a kayak just to float with the family on a mellow pond for a few hours. It will be extremely stable but also slow. If that is all you want and want something new it might be a good choice just keep it on mellow ponds. Something sporty is going to be closer to $1,000 and really would require your husbands involvement as well has having some concept what type of kayaking he wants to do.

A canoe really might be a better choice for family paddles so don’t discount them.