Newbie help please

greetings! I’m a newbie looking for help purchasing my first kayak. Would love to hear your suggestions for inexpensive “starter” kayaks for easy paddling on lakes and slow rivers. thanks!

what’s good for one …
may be entirely wrong for you. i’d start with a budget in mind and then test paddle as many boats as you can of those on your list.

all boats are not created equal with regard to fit and this is a very important factor. after you’ve paddled many boats, YOUR choice will become obvious to you.

I don’t believe in “starter” boats
I do agree with liv2padl’s comments; try as many boats as you can, considering the types of water you wish to paddle on, and the right boat for you will find you. Remember though, that as you gain a bit of paddling experience, your dreams of paddling into different conditions may well expand, and your inspiration to learn certain paddling techniques may be hampered by a “starter boat” that doesn’t respond well to more “advanced” and subtle techniques.

I’ll try to explain in more detail why I’m not comfortable with the idea of “starter” or “beginner’s” boats for adults with already fully developed bodies…

First, just by calling a boat such a thing implies that one can already imagine something else more capable of taking them where they really want to go; both in terms of the types of waters/conditions one might want to deal with and with regards to developing the necessary (and fun!) skills for more “advanced” paddling.

If you know, without a doubt, that you’ll never want to paddle on any waters, or in any conditions that might require a more “seaworthy” boat and the skills to handle such a boat in these more lively conditions, there are many models of “recrational kayak” that could be just perfect for you. In such a case, these would not have to be considered “beginner’s boats” at all; just the “right” boat for the circumstances.

On the other hand, I see too many people recommending such boats as “beginner’s boats” to people whose dreams of paddling are already reaching well beyond the seaworthy capabilities of such boats.

One thing I don’t ever want to do is to limit someone’s abilty to reach for their dreams by putting them in a boat that will never be able to take them very far along the way. All that can result from such advice would be (1) the need to purchase another boat in the very near future (2) frustration and/or the loss of inspiration, or (3) trying to push a boat beyond its intended limits, and perhaps tempting an unhappy fate as a result.

Even if you really do want to stick to protected waters on only calm days, you may still find yourself wanting to develop some fun and useful skills; like rolling and other self and/or assisted rescues, more subtle boat and paddle control, etc. If this might be - or might become - the case for you, boats that may be considered “starter” boats will most likely limit your options, and stifle your inspiration.

When I was considering my first boat acquisition, I wanted a boat that could handle everything from calm, protected waters to more lively coastal and open water conditions. I wanted a boat that I could “grow into” as my dreams of paddling and my skills developed. Such a boat can also be the very source of inspiration when it comes to developing skills and seeking out interesting waters. A so-called “starter” boat, on the other hand, will have its limits, beyond which its paddler, no matter how inspired, will be able to take it.

I can understand a novice paddler’s wish to ask for specific boat advice, but here’s something many novices don’t ask about as often; simply because they haven’t experienced it yet…

For a healthy, relatively well coordinated adult novice, it doesn’t take very long to get used to the stability of most kayaks; even those considered to have much less initial stability than some others. If you’re an enthusiastic novice, and can spend some hours on the water trying various boats, your skills will begin to develop as well. During this time, you’ll also want to test paddle boats in conditions other than just flat, calm waters. It is only then that you can begin to fairly evaluate how you feel about this or that boat, and how well they fit not only your body, but also your dreams of paddling. A bit of patience can go a long way in helping you choose a first boat that you’ll be happy with for a long time to come.

I’ve been paddling for eight years now, and even though my fleet is growing, I still love paddling my very first boat (a CD Caribou), purchased after paddling for only three months. I was fortunate then, because for those three months, I paddled seven days a week, for several hours each day, with many different boat models available for me to try. If you can only get out on the water to paddle different boats for a few hours on occasional weekends here and there, it may take you a lot longer than it took me to feel as comfortable with your first choice.

And so, even in choosing your first boat, I would recommend that you follow your dreams instead of following some artificial idea of a “starter” boat that you’ll be frustrated with after just a week or two.

Finally, if you want to get started as inexpensively as possible, don’t get stuck on the idea of purchasing a brand new shiny boat. You can get a lot more boat for your money by finding a good used boat.

Welcome to the wonderful world of paddling! :slight_smile:


excelent post, I agree totally

Best Wishes


Echo …
I echo Melissa’s and “liv”'s excellent sentiments. From my experience watching, paddling, and helping to instruct a lot of newbies this season I will add the following.

I often paddle with a large group (club). If you intend to paddle with others you will need a boat of similar capabilities. If you group is mostly sea/touring kayaks you will have a hard time keeping up with them in a recreational boat. If however, you paddle by yourselves or only with others who are in recreational boats then this type of boat will be perfect. Our group is a mix. As a result we split into two groups nearly every week. The fast (or halfast) group (usually touring/sea kayaks) and the lily dippers with a mix of boats and who are required to stay together at the speed of the slowest paddler.


Take an intro course before you buy a
boat. That’s what I did, although I didn’t have time and money to buy the boat until about 6 years after I took the two hour intro course.

My first kayak, btw, is not considered to be anything NEAR a beginner’s boat,

and I have never regretted buying it. There’s always something else to learn, that’s part of the fun.

I like Melissa

– Last Updated: Oct-31-05 9:30 PM EST –

She belts out some really good posts, but I'm going to have to disagree a little here. If you want to be a respectable kayaker (at least around here), you will need LOTS of boats...the more the merrier. So, even though you may only use it for a year or two before upgrading, you should look at a RECREATIONAL KAYAK. You can get a good polyethelene rec. boat for $500-$1000 (Current Designs, Perception, Wilderness Systems). A rec. boat will get you on the water (lakes, slow rivers) for very little money. You can always keep it to use for fishing or to lend to others (they are very stable).

If you find you've fallen in love with kayaking, then you can get out the credit card and drop $4000 for a very good sea kayak and paddle.

Try a kayak before you buy (if possible), and used is always cheaper

I like you too, krousmon, but…
…we’ll have to agree to disagree; especially with regards to the ultimate costs of obtaining a good boat.

You wrote:

“If you find you’ve fallen in love with kayaking, then you can get out the credit card and drop $4000 for a very good sea kayak and paddle.”

First, I should probably mention that I absolutely fell in love with kayaking during my very first hour in a kayak, which happened to also be a “rec boat” (a plastic Necky Looksha Sport). It didnt’ take me no steenkin’ one or two years to figure out that I was hopelessly addicted! :slight_smile:

But then, my fascination with the Looksha Sport lasted about three days, then I was on to paddling a glass Looksha IV. My fascination with that boat lasted about two weeks, then I was on to paddling any other boat I could get my hands on (including several different “British Heavies”, the entire sea kayak lines from Current Designs, Mariner, Seaward, Dagger, Wilderness Systems, etc.). By the end of my first three months of paddling, I decided that I couldn’t live without the Caribou, so that became my first boat purchase. Now, about the cost of acquiring good boats and gear…

Sure, we can spend several thousands of dollars on shiny new boats and gear, but as I’ve gained more experience over the years, I’m happy to say that my taste in boat and paddle acquisition has also moved me in the direction of spending less and less! My next “dream boat” will cost me about $200 in materials (a SW Greenland style SOF that I’ll build myself). And now that I prefer wooden Greenland Paddles, I can carve my own from nice 2x4s that might cost me as much as $25! My first few GPs were purchased used (commercially produced wooden paddles), and I got two full length paddles, a storm paddle, and a norsaq for about $300 total. :slight_smile:

Some ways to save money on boats and gear:

  1. Become good friends with someone who owns a kayak shop, then get yours through them at wholesale prices (as I did with my Caribou). By the way, I was perfectly willing to pay full price, but my friend insisted on giving me the wholesale deal. :slight_smile:

  2. Build your own wood/glass boats from plans and/or kits (as I did with my Arctic Hawk).

  3. As mentioned above, build a SOF for $200 or less (as I intend to do very soon).

  4. Buy used boats and paddles (as I may also do if I see anything I can’t resist; like a nice used surf or WW boat). I’ve seen so many nice composite (including wood/glass) sea kayaks being sold for the same price (or less!) than a brand new plastic rec boat ($1000 or less). Sometimes, it’s a bit sad to see people selling such nice boats for so little (especially the ones they built themsleves), but if they’re willing to let them go for those prices, the buyer certainly gets a great deal!

    If someone doesn’t have the space, tools, time, or inclination to build their own boats and paddles, buying used equipment can really save a great deal of money.


If by “starter” boat, you mean a …
little nine foot recreation kayak, then the Old Town Otter or the Perception Swifty are as good as any.

If you are talking a step or two up, then the above posts are worth adhearing to.



Well I may have a QCC
kevlar yak but I still love my little plastic Dagger Blackwater 10.5 rec yak! It’ll come in handy during winter when I slice along side of the bergs in the Detroit River! I don’t use my QCC much in winter to avoid the slicing and dicng it might take from those sharp bergs out there!It’s also great for gettig through nrrow twisty creeks! I agree that you need more than one type of yak-there are different pieces of water out there and you need to use the right yak for the type of water you’re paddling in…

"I like you too…BUT"
That’s a phrase I’ve been hearing from women all my life.

Anyhoo, I have to admit, there’s no better way to choose a boat than to paddle a few hundred (?)different models (not to mention entire manufacturer lines). You really had a great situation there (and took full advantage of it.) Most people will not have that option, so they will probably not start out in the “ultimate boat”.

Melissa, you always give good advice and pepper your posts with :slight_smile: faces.

I just can’t argue with that.

thank you krousmon
A recreational kayak is definitely what I am looking for – one or two steps up from an inflatable, folks! (gasp)

Now that you are all duly horrified…

I will never become a “respectable kayaker”, at least not as defined by this forum’s standards. I already have one full time, elitist, time consuming and expensive hobby (I’m an equestrian) I can’t have another.

I do appreciate everyone’s advice. If I ever decide to take kayaking as seriously as you folks do, I will most definitely “test drive” as many sizes, makes and shapes as possible to find the best fit before dropping a bundle. Just as I would with a new horse. :slight_smile:


Don’t sweat it
One of the advantages of buying a rec kayak as a starter is that generally they are easier to transport and store. Not only is your outlay for the kayak much lower, you don’t need to buy fancy racks/saddles (no, not THAT kind of saddle) for it.

One thing I would advise is to spend the money on float bags if the kayak does not have bulkheads fore and aft, which many rec kayaks do not.

I am one of those who started with a rec kayak and have no regrets about it. I had a lot of fun with it for a year and easily sold it when I wanted something longer, narrower, faster, etc. Which not everybody necessarily will want–you will find out for yourself.

It’s not like you would know what the “right” sea kayak is right away, anyway, so you might as well spend less money while you start figuring things out.

I started out
with a Perception Acadia 12.5 that cost me a little over $500. After 2 years I am looking into a touring kayak (either the Prijon kodiak or Eddyline Nighthawk 17.5) I still enjoy the Acadia and will not get rid of it. It’s always nice to have two in case someone else wants to paddle with you. Also, some of the places I paddle makes having a shorter kayak better to maneuver in tight spots.

I started
I started with a Perception America 13.5 after about 6 months of testing out a few. I still have it–it’s the only one I have–and I do not foresee needing a different one. It meets all my kayaking needs–the price was right, too.

I guess I knew what I wanted right away and I didn’t have to spend two years test paddling to decide. You have learn to be content with what you have—not everyone can afford a fleet of kayaks.

Great article
Its always good to have a new boater. Here is a good article that will help you pick your new boat.

Let me know what you think of the article and if it helps. If you need any help feel free to email me and I will do my best to anwser any questions you have.



who are you going to be paddling with?
Maybe one of them has a boat they will sell you as it might be time for them to upgrade. If not, at least talk to them about the different boats that they looked at and why they cose the ones they did. Then get what you can afford to get and start enjoying it. I still have my first kayak, a WS T-140. It seemed to be what I needed and wanted at the time and it still is. I will probably be adding a WS Tsunami 145 here pretty soon, but I will still keep my T-140. Reserach a little, talk to a few people, then get a boat. Do not delay the paddling experience too long by trying to nail the perfect boat. It does not exist. But you have to have one to paddle it.

Buy some books and a buyer’s guide. Ask informed questions rather than just a simple what’s best for me question.

RecYak Go for it.
The idea is to get out on the water and have fun.

I see lot’s of folks around here who have invested thousands of dollars in “serious seakayaks” and are afraid to do much with them, they would have been better off to buy a SOT and learn to paddle safely with it on the coast. Try out a rec boat and see where it takes you.

I Believe In Starters
When someone asks me about getting into road biking, I encourage them to buy an older, used bike. (Centurion for those who bike). If they fall in love with biking, they can resell the bike for nearly the same as they paid and get the latest and greatest if they like.

I think the same can happen with a kayak. Try lots of boats; look for a deal on a used one that you like.

Now… what you really wanted to hear… when I was brand spankin’ new to kayaking I demoed and demoed all the boats that were sold nearby. I liked the WS Cape Horn 15 the most. I think it’s a great starter boat. I was at the NC outer banks a year or so back and I saw a Cape Horn 15 on the beach at Shackleford Banks. I asked a kid standing next to it if it was his boat. He said no, that it belonged to NC State University. He and a group of students were on a kayak overnighter on the island and getting phys ed college credit. Cool! I felt honored that NC State chose the Cape Horn 15 as a good starter boat same as me.

No, I don’t paddle it any more. It was my starter boat and I have since graduated. The boat is a loaner that I keep for guests. It gets quite a bit of use.