newbie- buying a greenland style kayak

I’m pretty new to kayaking but really want to go all in on it as a sport. I like the idea of getting something of high quality and used, rather than lesser quality new&shiny. I see some pretty fun looking boats on craigslist and in other places of the greenland variety, that look like great deals. But in descriptions of these boats you often see them referred to as ‘great boats for experienced paddlers’ and I don’t know that I quite fit that description yet, although that’s totally where I’d like to get with whatever boat I buy. What kind of trouble would I be getting myself into with one of these boats? Is it just a matter of a steeper initial learning curve?

possible outcomes

– Last Updated: Oct-06-15 6:29 AM EST –

As with any type or style of watercraft, drowning is worst type of trouble. I would encourage taking some classes and/or attending a Greenland event for the benefit of first hand exposure to both kayaks and skills. This will greatly increase your vocabulary and exposure to what defines your understanding of "Greenland". And to test fit you to appropriate sized boat(s). Having an idea of what you would like to accomplish with boat will help too. Exclusively rolling? Other traditional skills? Build your own? To purchase a fine looking craft that you can paddle with confidence and pride anywhere in any conditions?

Kayaking is great fun and gets you outdoors and active. As with entry into any new hobby, you can burn up too much free time and cash making impulse decisions. Regardless of "style" you need a place to store all this gear, haul all the stuff and time and place to use it.

Have fun and be safe!

…only been kayaking for three years I’m barely an intermediate paddler, but I would offer this advice:

  1. Find a boat that fits your size and weight

  2. Never paddle in conditions that you haven’t practiced rescues in

  3. ALWAYS wear your PFD

    Apart from that, as long as you have a place to store and a method to transport a long boat, the Greenland style is compatible with the places you paddle (it’s obviously not a great choice for fishing in small rivers), and you don’t mind getting wet then I’m sure you’ll be fine.

my $0.02
My opinion is that if you’re at all athletically inclined, can swim and are comfortable in water, and are willing to take classes, you can start in a sea kayak. The learning curve will be steeper and longer but that might be a good thing. And you won’t waste money on boats that are an interim solution to where you want to be.

You should describe your concept of what a Greenland kayak is. Some folks might think a skin on frame is what qualifies; others might allow boats such as the CD Caribou and then there is the low volume slim black boats like Tahe offers.

Some info on Greenland boats

– Last Updated: Oct-06-15 10:45 AM EST –

As the owner of 12 kayaks, 4 of which have been Greenland style, I think I can offer some insights that may help clarify how they differ from other kayaks. Mainly they tend to be longer (16' to 18') and narrower (under 23") and have much flatter stern decks (to enable easier rolling and to shed wind.... and to carry dead seals).

They also tend to have a shorter waterline than their actual length due to having the bow and and sometimes the stern extended at a high angle above the water. Most often they are hard-chined, meaning if you look at a cross section of the hull it is made up of sharp angles rather than being a smooth curve. This is because traditional Inuit boats are made of wood and bone frames with sealskin stretched over them. Also, the hard chines give them good secondary stability, meaning that if you lean one over, it comes to rest on the next flat surface rather than continuing over into a capsize.

But many models tend to have a rather deep vee hull and wobbly primary stability, meaning they will feel twitchy to a beginner, giving you a sense that the boat is unstable. This can lead to panicky overcompensation that can be not only tiring but can cause capsizing. I have an 18' Greenland skin on frame boat that is a replica of an Inuit hunting kayak and when I first got it I felt very uneasy in the boat and had a hard time relaxing. Now that I am accustomed to it, it feels very stable to me and is one of my favorite kayaks due to its lightness, speed, ease of paddling and comfort.

Another reason sellers will specify that a boat is for an experienced paddler is that some Greenland kayaks have a smaller cockpit than the standard roughly 34" x 19" keyhole in most plastic and composite boats. This is not always true -- mine has a standard keyhole. Some also have limited space for your feet, so if you wear larger than a men's size 9, you would probably want to be sure you fit comfortably in any boat (but you should always sit in ANY kayak before buying it.) Greenland boats also do not have a high seatback, just a slender backband that fits against your lumbar area and usually no seat at all. I sit on an ensolite pad folded in half and have a Snapdragon backband -- I can paddle all day in it with actually more comfort than in my more conventional kayaks with fancy molded adjustable seats.

Greenland kayaks are also more apt to be paddled with a Greenland paddle, which also takes some getting used to, though most of us who try them end up converts. I use Greenland paddles with all my kayaks now.

I have put many beginners in my Greenland type boats and most have had no trouble with them. In fact, several friends and family members have gone on to buy that style kayak themselves. The difference between a Greenland kayak and the standard wide short recreational style kayak is like the difference between a sports car and a golf cart.

There are many popular rotomold kayaks on the used market that tend towards the Greenland model. The Venture Easky 15 is one and some of the models of the Necky Looksha. I recently picked up a vintage Perception Monterey that, though shorter than most at 14.5', has the low stern deck and hard chines of a Greenland boat. There are even folding kayaks like the Feathercraft Khatsalano and Wisper that are Greenland style. And of course there are models like the Tahe Greenland that wholly represent that design.

If you do look at used boats it's always best to try to arrange an on-the-water test paddle. Don't be surprised if a Greenland feels "twitchy" and not as placid and solid in the water as the more conventional boats you may be used to. But in rough water the Greenland excels and will take on waves from the bow or even broadside without throwing you off balance or over. And, with experience, the sense of "loosey goosey" goes away.

You may find you really like Greenland boats if you are relatively fit and have good balance (being a surfer and/or bicyclist gives you the body sense that translates well to this kind of kayaking.) And they are definitely a great boat for learning to roll.

Be aware that most homebuilt Greenland skin-on-frame boats are custom sized to their users so make sure you are within reasonable range of the original owner in proportions. Some weight differentials can be adjusted with ballast in the kayak (like adding bags or jugs of water) but if you are too heavy for the boat it can't really be compensated for.

There is a forum and website for Greenland afficiados:

And builder Brian Schulz has some great info on them in his old blog at

(click on the button that says "check out the old site")


– Last Updated: Oct-06-15 11:27 AM EST –

That's mostly a judgement issue such as paddling in conditions beyond your skill set or not being aware of changes in weather.

You won't get in trouble buying on ignorance, it can be a learning experience. Don't focus on terms and categories that are primarily used for marketing.

"I like the idea of getting something of high quality and used, rather than lesser quality new&shiny. "

I get the impression you're speaking of composite boats. Something could be high quality but not appropriate, it could be high quality once but needs work now. Get something that meets your anticipated use.

another caveat
Skin on frame kayaks require flotation bags to fill out the hull and, optionally for sea and cold water use, a sea sock for safety against swamping (since they don’t have bulkheads). If you are looking to buy one, find out if the bags are included in the sale. If not, budget $50 to $100 to equip the boat properly.

Some manufacturers…
Will designate any boat with hard chines as “Greenland Style” as the Pygmy’s Arctic Terns which are cruisers and much larger volume than rolling boats.

Oh that’s Puget Sound style!

You could enjoy building one…
Willowleaf, above, gives excellent experienced advice. If you’re interested in building a lightweight West Greenland style kayak you might like to spend some winter evenings building one of these:


Suggest some time in a boat first

– Last Updated: Oct-06-15 1:13 PM EST –

As below by Willowleaf, true Greenland boats can be a very specialized thing. They are also rarely what a new paddler really wants. Greenland style boats are another matter, that usually just refers to boats with lower decks and at times smaller cockpits. But a true Greenland boat can easily be something that a new paddler will find too limiting.

A boat indicated not to be for beginners usually has one or both of these characteristics. It will capsize more enthusiastically than one tuned for true beginners, and it may require more aggressive paddling to make it turn or otherwise go where you want it to.

Obviously if you decide to get a boat that capsizes very easily you need to know how to exit the boat and get back in, or ultimately learn a roll. For boats that require a deeper edge to turn, you need to be comfortable going to a point that for most new paddlers will feel like capsize is imminent. And have some good paddle skills.

There is a parallel from another sport that works for paddling. One of the common mistakes well-meaning but clueless parents make when their daughter wants a horse is to go out and get a great deal on a young, relatively untrained horse figuring that the kid and the horse will learn together. They end up with an anxious scared rider and an equally nervous horse, neither of which know what they are supposed to be doing.

Don't worry about getting something for the challenge to start out. Look for a used general purpose sea kayak that will get you on the water and give you a solid base for learning. Depending on your size, I am talking something like an NDK Romany (old enough that glass boats come up cheap), or a Wilderness Systems Tempest (165 best if it works for your fit), or P&H Scorpio or any of a bunch others I have forgotten. Middle of the road do-it-all sea kayaks that you can get in plastic. You can get something that takes more from the paddler after you have the basics down.

another good discussion
There was a discussion about these a few years back on the Wooden Boat forum that might add some insights:

You can also get copies of the excellent book “building the Greenland Kayak” on Ebay for about $10. The book offers history and paddling information as well as directions for building your own boat, paddles and accessories (like flotation bags.)

learning curve
There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a bit of challenge, but too much of a challenge will just be frustrating.

It’s hard to make recommendations – variables include your sense of balance and general atheletic ability, comfort in and on the water, previous boating experience, size and weight, etc. Boats that one person thinks are frighteningly unstable might be “playful’ to someone else.

I took a couple of classes in sea kayaks and rented and demoed before buying. My first kayak was a 16’ x 22” sea kayak. I never had a “beginner boat” and never felt that I needed one. The skills I learned before buying made a huge difference.

That said, there were some boats I demoed that felt out of my league. I’m sure I could have learned to paddle them, but it would have been more work than fun at first, and I had plenty of room to gain skill and experience in the boat I had.

I’d agree that a used sea kayak that fits you well would be a good way to start. It’ll give you a good platform to build the skills you’ll need to comfortably paddle a true greenland-style kayak, and a used boat won’t lose much resale value.

One further comment
A lot of paddlers feel a true sea kayak is anything but a beginner boat. Even the most user-friendly of them is a lot more active in the water than a 26 to 28 inch wide transition boat. The wider, shorter boats that frankly also do not support learning some skills are usually thought of as being “beginner boats”.

It is a somewhat silly idea. It is the people that are beginners, not the boats, and the paddler has to choose something that will literally take them where they want to go. Big water, ocean, quiet ponds, moving rivers etc. Each of these environments is best served by a different boat.

Lots of good information.
I started out in a sea kayak based on figuring I wanted to paddle ocean, ponds, lakes, rivers, all of it, after talking to the folks in the shop I went to. The idea of rolling my kayak sounded like one of the greatest ideas I’d ever heard pertaining to a boat on water. Turns out, that was right on target.

I think it’s less about the environment, and more about what kind of craft you want to be in within that environment. What really turns you on about the experience? A single Greenland kayak can easily be the same paddler’s first choice in the ocean, rough water, smooth swells, ponds, lakes, rivers, streams, whatever puts you afloat within the boat’s designed intentions. I personally have no desire to paddle a short recreational labeled or transitional labeled kayak in a pond when I can paddle a favorite sea kayak.

If you feel yourself drawn to the romance of Greenland style kayaks, paddles, and skills, by all reasonable means, go for it. Immerse yourself in it. Heck, change your life with it. You get back what you put in. If everything else in your life has worked out as planned, maybe you’ve played it too safely. If Greenland kayaking doesn’t work out, at least you got to experience what it’s all about. If it does work out, it will likely stand as a great decision.

Know yourself. Most of the skills that everyone is drawn to don’t come all that easily. It isn’t natural to people. It’s deliberate practice, and a lot of regular deliberate practice to get good at it. Where do you fall in terms of athletic deliberate practice? An honest answer to that will go a long way towards steering you in the right direction.

What is your intended usage?
We all kind of missed the boat on asking about your intended usage so far. Since you don’t have a profile on here (yet) we don’t know your location which might have given some hints. Greenland boats are for bigger waters, best for big windy lakes, fast and efficient travel on wide deep rivers and for coastal use. They are not real great for fishing, shallow winding streams, photography, lily-dipping or leisurely floats. They are made to move. And, being low volume in general, not the best for hauling cargo.

So most people that I know that have a classic Greenland kayak also have something more amenable for those other waters and activities. I use my shorter, wider and more conventional plastic kayaks for those sorts of outings (an Easky 15LV and a Perception Monterey).

If I may
I’ll try to simplify it for you. If you want a really good Greenland style boat that will do it all, is very fast and generally a great kayak–look at the Current Designs Caribou–especially the newer revised ones.


weight is important
The CD caribou is listed as 52 pounds:

The size, strength and previous injuries of the OP, as well as any intention to solo maneuver the kayak on land will determine whether or not that weight is acceptable.

My Greenland style stitch-and-glue kayaks weigh between 23 and 32 pounds, dependant on length. Seeing one of my granddaughters carrying her self-built kayak up the beach with one hand and her paddle in the other made me smile. Photo here on May 2nd: