Newbie female/used kayaks--advice?

I know there are a lot of newbie posts and thank you all for considering yet another one. Thanks in advance for your advice and opinions.

I’m female, 5ft 7in, 135 lbs., a beginner shopping the used market. Hoping to stay under $1000.

I have some boats to consider following up on–some from private sellers, some from dealers. Will first be paddling upstate new york rivers including the Hudson and its creeks. Eventually also protected coastline in Cape Cod, so, no surfing or whitewater in my immediate future.

Current options (all plastic) include CD Squall 16, 5+ years old and 2 yrs old; Necky Manitou 1 year old; WS Tempest (1 @ 1 year old, other unknown age). Also considering discounted, blemished Necky Eliza, Valley Avocet.

I’d appreciate feedback regarding prices I should expect to pay, and experience with these boats from similar sized paddlers, and thoughts about value, flexiblity going forward.


I’m you weight

– Last Updated: Apr-23-09 9:39 AM EST –

tho' 3 inches shorter (sigh)

You are looking at the right level of boat - for the Hudson and even the protected waters of Cape Cod you need something with full sea kayak capabilities. You will be hauling extra boat around the creeks is all. The Hudson even just south of Albany can pile up some surprisingly decent rollers when the wind and tide oppose - there is a 4 ft tide right to the Troy dam.

My first sea kayak was a Squall. This is a great boat to get someone on the water and get 'em home safe again even if you hit some conditions. It is not a boat for greenland skills and lacks a day hatch. Neither of these are issues for a boat to get you introduced to bigger water. They do have a foam bulkhead that needs to have something Lexel added in each season, because as the boat gets used and flex you'll get some leaks.

WS Tempest - are we talking the 165? The 170 would be hauling a tank for you. Similar to the Squall in its era for being a great all-around boat for big water, but the Squall is older and the Tempest is current. The Tempest advantages are day hatch, lower deck so apt for greenland work and a skeg so that you aren't worrying about sharp metal points when you practice self-rescues. Between the two, if it's a 165 I'd take the Tempest.

Manitou would work, but with these other boats on your list you would be better off long term going to one of these.

Necky Eliza - haven't tried it but it is supposed to have all the advantages of something like the Tempest 165 but be better tuned for women. Comments from others on that?

Valley Avocet is a decent boat but I'd look at the Tempest and the Eliza over this one. It gets varying responses, and these WS boats tend to have a more consistent response for long term ownership.

Necky Manitou

I’ve been paddling a 12’ Necky Manitou (my first and only boat) for a few years now, and I’m roughly the same size/weight as you are.

So here’s my thoughts: Good for non-WW rivers and sheltered coastal waters, 2 or 3 day trips. With careful packing, you could go five days. I find the outfitting functional and adeqaute and haven’t minded not having a rudder or skeg. Not big enough for real ocean travel, I think, but I’ll defer to more knowledgeable paddlers in your area on this question.

But on the other hand, you may appreciate a shorter lighter boat when transporting it to/from your paddling site and when storing it, especially if you have no real interest for heading onto bigger waters.

If it’s a year old and gently used, I’d offer $100 or $200 below the current retail price. Don’t forget you’ll want to pick up a good PFD, paddle, spray skirt and a dry bag or two. I found that I can squeeze a couple of 10 l bags behind the seat back.

Happy paddling!

boats for small

– Last Updated: Apr-23-09 11:33 AM EST –

I'd agree that the Squall feels very seaworthy and secure. What I don't like about it is the height of the foredeck -- it feels like I've got a barrel in my lap.

I own an older Avocet RM and like it a lot. Tracking is looser than most sea kayaks, but that makes it very maneuverable. It's a happy boat in waves. Our personalities match. It's probably not the best choice for cranking off miles.

The Tempest 165 is better than the Avocet in a straight line and responds nicely to an edge.

I've briefly demoed the Eliza. Seemed nice enough -- didn't excite me, but I remember thinking "that'd be a great boat for a lot of folks".

Tsunami 135 might be worth adding to your list.

While you're looking for a boat, also be looking for a comfortable PFD and a paddle that fits. You'll probably find paddling easier with smaller blades, and for the boats you're looking at you'll want a fairly short shaft.

Cockpit fit can often be improved with custom outfitting.

And there's always the do-it-yourself option...

Tsunami 135
Thanks very much for your thoughts. Can you tell me more about the Tsunami with regards to why that might be a good one to check out?

Right now I’m a bit confused about the boat size to go for–I like poking around in smaller creeks off the Hudson but don’t want to be limited to that. BTW the current Manitou option is a 14.

length …

– Last Updated: Apr-23-09 1:44 PM EST –

hi a nutshell .....shorter boats can be easier to maneuver in creeks and small narrow streams ....the longer a boat , the faster( generally) but harder to turn. I would vote something in the 12-14 ' range would be good for now, with a nod to the 14'size. also i favor a rudder over a skeg to help with manuverability. If you decide to stick with kayaking ..i can almost guarantee you'll end up with more than one boat, since no 1 boat can do-it-all.( i have 3 now !!!) i haven't paddled that many boats to offer advice on 1 model over another, so, if at all possible , test paddle a boat b4 buying. I have a 17' sea kayak for open water and a 12' rec boat for the creeks, back bays, narrow streams. check your local Craigslist web site for boats and well as this web site ads. good luck
PS: theres a on water boat paddlefest in old forge, ny put on by MountainMan test paddle all the boats you want for a $15. May 15 thru 17th. excellent op to try out boats. should be plenty of hotel rms available if you want to make a w/e of it.


– Last Updated: Apr-23-09 2:33 PM EST –

Possibly a good cockpit fit, a boat for your desired type water, and size, I would check with Rich at Adirondack Paddle n Pole in Colonie/Albany for this boat:


It's a scaled down boat based off of the Dagger Meridian, a discontinued but highly praised and liked sea kayak. Maneuverable but having true sea kayak features for your safety when on waters larger than creeks, like sheltered Cape waters. The plastic version keeps the price down.


– Last Updated: Apr-23-09 3:02 PM EST –

The Tsunami line has all the safety features of sea kayaks(dual bulkheads, decklines, etc), and the 135 would be the model best suited to your size. The only thing you'd lose with the shorter length would be a bit of top-end speed -- it's perfectly capable of handling rough conditions.

I'm not saying it's better than any of the other boats on your list -- just might be worth a look if one pops up.

What boats have you paddled that you liked?

As for maneuverability on smaller streams: Longer boats can turn surprisingly well once you get comfortable with aggressive edging and leaning. That's one reason why you don't want a boat that's too big -- you should be able to put it on edge when you want to. I can outturn many shorter rec boats in the Avocet.

of all the boats you have mentioned, as as evinced by the numerous posts above, the Tempest is your best all round choice in my opinion. it is a full blown sea kayak that you can paddle for years without needing to upgrade based on the boat length or capabilities. I went from an Old Town Rush directly to a Tempest 170 and I still paddle a tempest along with other boats and it is my favorite all round boat.

skills that you develop will allow you to twist and turn just fine in a tempest. I definitely recommend the 165 for your size.

Please let us know what you decided! It is always great to see someone getting more enthusiastic with the sport!


of all the boats you have mentioned, as as evinced by the numerous posts above, the Tempest is your best all round choice in my opinion. it is a full blown sea kayak that you can paddle for years without needing to upgrade based on the boat length or capabilities. I went from an Old Town Rush directly to a Tempest 170 and I still paddle a tempest along with other boats and it is my favorite all round boat.

skills that you develop will allow you to twist and turn just fine in a tempest. I definitely recommend the 165 for your size.

Please let us know what you decided! It is always great to see someone getting more enthusiastic with the sport!


Another vote for Tempest 165
My first sea kayak was a Squall; later I bought the Tempest.

I wish I’d started in the Tempest. I hated the tall front deck of the Squall. Even with thickly-padded extra foam on the thigh braces, I felt too low in that boat. In retrospect, it was also not an easy boat to learn/practice paddle-float rescues with, either–because the rear deck is also high. Doable, yes, but more difficult than the other boats I’ve tried it with.

The Tempest is simply more fun to maneuver, something that will become even more appealing as you continue to learn.

Either one is forgiving enough for a motivated beginner to work with. Try to demo each, because they feel quite different from each other, especially if there’s some wind.

thanks again, everyone, for your comments and suggestions. I hope to be demo’ing these boats within the next couple of weeks.

BTW I’ll be putting it atop our Honda Element w/ Yakima rack–don’t have any kayak specific carrier yet tho. would welcome comments from anyone with that setup.

Do try the Avocet…
Indeed a happy boat at your size. You get Valley quality and the best hatch system of any poly boat.

Test Paddle Advice…two web links

I won’t go into any detailed advice about which boat, paddle, or equipment would be best for you, but I can give some advice on how to go about making your choice. Specifically, the test paddle. The test paddle is one of the most important steps in choosing the boat that’s right for you.

I get a lot of questions from people looking to buy their first canoe or kayak, so I put together a web page to help them. The URL is:

The information is pretty basic, but important. One of the links on that web page is for a PDF document titled “Helping Your Advisor”. It’s about 5 pages long. The last two pages talk about doing your test paddles with a plan, so that you can make fair and accurate comparisons of several different boats. There is even a handy little table to help you record your impressions of each boat. It makes a lot of sense and just might make your quest for your first boat that much more successful.

You can find the “Helping Your Advisor” document at:

Listen with an open mind, consider all the advice carefully, then make your own choice; and above all, have fun!

My two cents
Although I do not have personal experience with the exact boats mentioned above, I have experience with the Wilderness Systems and Valley brands. My wife and I had Wilderness Systems Tsunamis as our first boats, and while great first boats, the plastic and construction certainly left a lot to be desired. I think ours were 2005 year, and the plastic was extremely soft, and if left in the sun (i.e. kayaking in FL) you could push the plastic in with your hand. Also, on my wife’s boat, the hatches leaked water like crazy, in particuluar the back hatch. I do not think the hatch rim was molded correctly, so water would always leak in. On my boat, one of the foam bulkheads leaked. Both these boats were purchased new. There have been numerous complaints with wilderness systems and their leaky hatches in the past, supposedly they have fixed this problem with their new boats.

We now own a Valley Aquanaut LV RM and a P&H Capella 160 RM, and I can honestly say the quality is night and day different. Plastic is stiff, with bulkheads and hatch covers that do not leak. The Valley hatch covers are truly great.

That said, you will need to see which boat you feel most comfortably in. For Valley’s build quality and construction, I would certainly recommend the Avocet. Despite some comments above, I do not think I have ever heard a paddler who disliked the boat. Perhaps it may not fit someone, but my general impression was that it was a fantastic boat.

Agree about the quality
Valley hatches/covers tend to be very robust, and there are many things about the Avocet I like including a very spiffy feeling in a roll.

What I find at my size, and from the weights I am a little broader of beam that the OPer, is that this boat puts me into a pretty froggy-legged position to get to those thigh braces that lacks longer term comfort. I liked what they did with the Avocet LV there - the braces ride right over my thighs in a relatively resting position.

Only the OPer can tell, by sitting in one. Agree she should give the boat a try.

froggy legs

– Last Updated: Apr-24-09 12:13 PM EST –

No argument -- I thought the stock arrangement was uncomfortable and put in different thigh braces. But mine is an old single-layer boat, and I haven't paddled one of the current models with the new thighbrace setup.

Unfortunately …
you’re not going to learn a lot from test paddles, because of your lack of experience. Everyone goes through this. As you develop more skills you will find other boats that may be more suited to your paddling interests. That’s OK. Buying a used or a demo boat to start out is a great idea.

What you will find from a single test paddle is whether a boat is a comfortable fit or not. Dealers can help you with sizing and choosing a boat that fits you, but if buying used from an individual you’re really on your own (although I wouldn’t sell you a boat that was way too big or small for you). So, here’s another basic buying guide:

Now, a couple of comments:

I have paddled the Tsunami 135 in a pool and was quite impressed with its handling. It rolls very well. The Tsunami 140 is quite large, even for me at 175lbs.

I own an Avocet RM. It’s a great boat all around, but especially for playing in rougher conditions. It turns very well, but the sacrifice is some speed and tracking ability. As Celia mentioned fit and comfort could be important consideration. The Avocet RM is significantly tighter fitting than the regular Avocet in composite.

The Necky Manitou 14 is a very nice, capable boat. It seems to be a little more hard tracking, making it somewhat difficult to turn, even on edge. You might find that the 16’ Avocet handles tight turns in small creeks better.

The Tempest 165 is a great all around boat. It has a nice balance of tracking, turning ability and speed. Very comfortable seating (highly adjustable). I’ve paddled this boat several times and think it would be a very good choice for your intended paddling.

I’ve also briefly paddled the Zephyr 155. It’s a very nice boat most similar to the Avocet in handling, but I think the Avocet would probably fit you better.

One other thing, all of these boats will feel tippy to you when you test paddle. Don’t worry about it. You’ll get over that feeling with a few hours seat time in the boat.



a post so good
sometimes you have to say it twice

Tsunami 135’s

– Last Updated: Apr-24-09 1:13 PM EST –

Were designed for women or growing boys. ;)