Newbie kayaker. Recommend a purchase.

Hello all. I’m a newbie when it comes to paddling and I want to get into it a bit more. I’m in the market to buy a kayak and I’m really not sure what I should be looking.

I’m 6’2" and 240 lbs. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t be looking at anything shorter than 14 ft. I mostly plan to use it on lazy rivers and lakes, but I’d like to be able to take it on long day trips on Lake Michigan. I’ve noticed that the slender ones seem to be faster but probably tip over easier and aren’t fat-guy friendly. Any downsides to the wider/larger/heavier ones other than increased drag and resistance? I’m not looking to go fast and I welcome the workout, and I’m sure being comfortable is more important anyway, so I’m thinking the bigger the better?

Any model recommendations for me? I’ll probably be sticking to buying ‘used’ because I don’t want to spend $1500+. And I don’t mind waiting for a good CL deal to come around.

Lake Michigan is big water
Stay off it until you know what you are doing and can handle a capsize. It is big and it is cold.

There are some decent outfitters on Lake Michigan that could get you started right. For example, longer slender kayaks are generally about a lot more than going faster, they are tuned for bigger water than the shorter more rec type boats.

Where in Michigan are you roughly? It’d help people point you to an outfitter that could put you in boats to demo and provide useful guidance.

Lake MI
I hear you there. I don’t plan to be on Lake MI anytime soon, but I would like my kayak to be Lake MI capable for when I’m more experienced. My father lives along a small lake and I plan to spend alot of time there this summer. Although I do have some experience kayaking. I have kayaked the Pine River in Michigan (not much of a beginner river), and I have capsized without issues although it was in relatively shallow waters.

I’m near St. Joseph. I’d hate to waste the time of an outfitter being that I probably wouldn’t be purchasing from them. I simply cannot afford a new kayak.

Even though you won’t buy the boat from an outfitter, it would still good to get to know them. There is a bunch of other gear that you will need outside of a boat (paddle, PFD, etc.), and I suggest all people entering this sport take a day long basic kayaking class.

We big folks
need to look at seat size and cockpit size. I just went through this. You might want to look at the Perception Essence which is, IIRC, 17 feet long and the seat and cockpit opening are 19 inches across.

I ended up with a Prijon Kodiak. Many of the other sea kayaks I looked at were way to narrow for me to get into. Also look at the maximum load capacity. I found one kayak I liked but the load capacity was my body weight which meant no gear for camping etc.

Look up the specifications on all the models you are interested. It will usually tell you the cockpit size.

For reference I am 6’ tall and weigh 270lbs.

Craigslist near you
It’s a little bit of a drive (I used to live in Grand Rapids) but here’s a guy in Lansing selling two Ocean Kayak Tridents, either one of which would have enough capacity for you. He says they are nearly new and is selling them for about half price. He’s asking $400 for the 11’ and $600 for the 15’, which would be better for the Big Lake, especially if you added the optional rudder.

Perception Eclipse

Here’s one I found locally that I’ve been eye balling. It seems to be a good deal. The issue is that it’s an older model and I can’t find any specs on it.

Eclipse specs
Scroll down a bit and look to the right side

I am bigger as well and have an Essence
I can vouch that the Essence is great for tall guys. I have the 16.5 but Id have gotten the 17" if I did it again. I think that extra inch of deck height around the combing would have been a little more comfortable.

Having, said this, the leg room is cavernous in an Essence. I am only 5’ 11 and there is a TON of room forward of my feet.

Like everyone always says here. Do all you can to go try one out somewhere and sit in it, travel far even if you have to. You don’t want to make the mistake of thinking something will fit, and when you get it you are miserable.

Wilderness Systems Pungo
Thanks JBD!

Here’s another one I’m looking at. It’s 3 ft shorter and wider. Probably a bit more managable for a beginner like myself and more comfortable for a big guy.

Thoughts on these two models?

Not a Pungo

– Last Updated: Jun-12-12 6:33 AM EST –

You say that you want your boat to be capable of Lake Michigan. Pungo is not, the manufacturer clearly says so if you understand the terminology and this Craig's list ad, to their credit, reflects that. It says "A fun recreational kayak". Recreational kayak as a term means intended only to be used on calm, flat smaller water bodies. No waves, no high winds, can swim to shore if needed because you probably will not be able to right the thing and er-enter on the water.

The Pungo will also not provide a useful platform to learn skills for bigger water. Too big a cockpit, holds too much water to manage for a lot of those skills. These are great boats for their purpose and I recommended them to a couple I know who will never be interested in learning bigger water skills and are happy to puddle around smaller ponds forever. Your usage does not match that description.

Get to an outfitter or similar for a day of basics to understand what you want. You can waste money on a used boat as well as a new one, and as said above there is other stuff you'll need anyway. Plus outfitters often have used or demo bots coming thru - not everything they sell is new.

You are up to your elbows in decent resources out there - here are options for clubs or similar resources that set up instruction, may have used boats that you can look at as sell as knowledgeable members and should be able to point you at decent outfitters. Club out of St Joseph MI, offers classes. Calendar is on line. West Michigan Coastal Kayaker's Association, they have an event coming up this weekend that you should probably consider Chicago Longer drive but solid skills bunch (ignore the top photo details, but otherwise this has some decent stuff)

welcome SuedePflow.

I am certainly no kayaking guru but from what I do know now, I would strongly agree with Celia regarding the Pungo. Its really not what you are looking for given your plans for kayaking. The Pungo would work great on my local lake which is really small but one I would not use on any of the great lakes other than in the most protected of areas.

Thanks for the post
It is fair to say that I really don’t know what I want at this point. I will make a point to stop by an outfitter sometime soon before I make a purchase.

What are the drawbacks of using a recreational kayak on a large body of water?

pipe dreams?
I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a bit overzealous in thinking that I’m going to be on large lakes (like the great lakes) enough to sway my purshase. I’d be willing to bet that 80% of my usage will be on smaller lakes and rivers. I’m just affraid that I may not like a 17-ft touring kayak for the smaller stuff. But I honestly don’t know that to be true.

The only kayaking experience I have is in a recreational kayak. Although it was too short for me, it did have a comfortable cockpit and I was able to maneuver and manipulate the boat quite well. The things I know I don’t want are an uncomfortably small cockpit, a length/size/type that limits me to only large bodys of water, and something that capsizes easily.

most useful size
I’ve owned 8 kayaks to date ranging from 12’ up to 18’ and find the most versatile to be in the 14 to 15’ range. Of the 5 kayaks I have now, the one that I use for the widest range of conditions is a 15’ touring kayak, a Venture Easky 15 (being smaller than you I have the low volume version, which even my 5’ 9", 190 lb boyfriend finds comfortable, but for you the standard 15 would be a better choice.)

It has a comfortable cockpit – large enough that I can plunk my butt in first and then tuck my legs in afterwards, but still a reasonable size for a good sprayskirt protection – and good room under the deck for long legs and big feet. It tracks and glides like an arrow but handles waves and wind nicely – I have even taken it into some mild class II rapids on fast local streams. It performs really well in rough conditions, so much so that I actually seek out waves and boat wakes to play in them. I’ve had it out in big coastal waters and felt fully secure in it.

I have heard of people complaining that Easky models are “tippy” but that initial reaction fades quickly when you get used to them and realize the secondary stability of the hard chined hull is really good and you are NOT going to readily capsize. They are reasonably priced (around $1000) and very nicely outfitted and finished – made in Great Britain rather than China, actually. Also about 15% lighter than other rotomold boats of similar size.

The biggest problem is the shortage of dealers for the Ventures and thus the difficulty in test paddling them. I was lucky to have a local shop that stocked them.

You can end up dead

– Last Updated: Jun-12-12 10:38 AM EST –

Seriously. People do, on an unfortunately too frequent basis. As I said above, rec boats have huge cockpits that (a) make it near impossible to do a self-rescue once capsized and (b) make it very easy for enough water to come in from waves etc that the boat will get unstable enough to capsize. And recapsize. Skirts don't work to be protective against dumping waves, even just 2 foot stuff, when they have to be too big. They implode.

Even if the boat is kind enough to lay flat - without a bulkhead on each end that is not assured - and you could get the thing righted (scooping many gallons of water in the process) AND keep water from dumping back in long enough to climb back in - you'd have a second huge problem. No perimeter line to give your by now very tired hands some purchase in climbing in, no lines to help hold a paddle with a float on the end. And forget rolling it - again, too much water and too big a cockpit. You'd have no purchase.

There are performance aspects related to how well the boat can handle waves etc - which are a normal aspect of bigger water because of long wind fetches - but that's more info than you'll understand right now. Suffice to say there is a good reason that sea kayaks for water like Lake Michigan are skinnier and have small cockpits along with two bulkheads of air on each end.

I am sure you can find someone who says they have done a self-rescue in a Pungo, and people who has rolled them. There are people who love taking on big challenges and have the skill and training to pull it off. But that does not make it a good idea.

Learn or be limited in your paddling

– Last Updated: Jun-12-12 11:27 AM EST –

Those are really your only two choices. So you can spend some time learning how to handle capsizes, and a boat that may feel challenging at first, or you can reserve your paddling to places where you can always swim in and leave trips on Lake Michigan to big tour boats.

No one can make this choice for you. In our case, my husband and I chose to learn because we couldn't stand not being able to paddle out to the offshore islands in Maine any longer. But I know others who stay in Pungos, or Old Town Otters, near shore and are happy doing that.

Longer boats do not limit you to large bodies of water unless you are talking really twisty creeks. For those I'd skip being fancy and find a used, beat up cheap old WW boat, creeker maybe. You can pick these up for a couple of hundred bucks and abuse them to death.

To Celia
What are the drawbacks to taking a boat like the Pungo out on a lake like Lake Michigan? I’m just trying to understand why it isn’t recommended.

Also, when I said I would like to go out on Lake Michigan, I mostly meant cruising the shoreline. I don’t have any intentions of being several miles out in the open water anytime soon. I’m not sure if that makes any difference.

initial vs. secondary stability
Boats with a lot of initial stability, like wide rec kayaks, usually don’t have much secondary stability and are thus likely to capsize in rough water conditions. Add to that the fact that rec kayaks have wide cockpits so you can’t fit a sprayskirt, no floation, and are too wide to roll. So, if you’re out on the water in a rec kayak and the wind picks up and creates big waves, you are likely to capsize. And when you do, you are SOL because you can’t roll back up and you can’t self recover because your boat is full of water and has no floation. Best case is you swim back to shore towing your flooded boat, if you can. Worst case is your boat sinks to the bottom of the lake and you die of hypothermia in the cold water before you make it to shore. That’s why you don’t take rec kayaks on big water.

I suspect that you’d be fine staying close to shore, especially in bays and sheltered coves.

Why not just rent a boat for a little bit until you figure out what you really want.

On the otherhand, if you’re pretty sure that you’re mainly going to stick to easy water for the time being, just get that cheapo used rec kayak. Have fun. Learn skills. When you’re ready to tackle the Big Lake, take a class. Go out with a group. Just rent a kayak when you get the oppurtunity to go. When you find that you are doing a lot of no-kidding sea kayaking instead of just plunking around in the rec boat, THEN you can buy the sea kayak. AND you’ll have a pretty good idea of what you want in a sea kayak and maybe know some people who can point you to a good one.