I am an older newbie looking for some advice, whenever I go to any of the Kayak stores I can’t get a straight answer, I just want to know what length of Kayak would be best for me I have a large lake near me that can get up to a 3 ft swell and I would like to do some ocean touring as well. Whenever I ask about a 14 ft or a 17 ft all I can get is well either, is that true?


– Last Updated: Jan-10-14 7:33 PM EST –

I have a 14 foot and a 17 foot kayak, and both work fine for what you are mentioning. So not sure we can give you a straight answer either.

I would start by reading the article on page 6 of the Spring 2013 issue of California Kayaker Magazine that talks about different types of boats. Can be read online fort free at Presumably you are not talking about white water kayaks, so those can be written off. And in talking about 14 ft vs 17 foot, you likely are talking touring kayaks. But best to make sure you are headed the right direction from the start.

After you find the category of kayak you want, start spending time in kayaks. Take classes, rent kayaks, etc. Depending on where you are, you may have to wait for warmer weather. But it is hard for a kayak shop to tell you what is right for you unless you have enough experience to know some of what you like and don't like.

Oh, there is an article in the same magazine's Spring 2012 issue called Getting Butt Time that talks about why and how to get time in kayaks - might be worth a read also.

Yes it’s true
I also have a 14 and a 17.

Speaking very generically, the longer boat can be narrower and displace the same amount of water. The narrower the boat the easier it is to paddle fast or far. The tradeoff, a long narrow boat will not feel as stable initially as something just a couple inches wider. For going far offshore I take the 17, the 14 is easier to handle on creeks and in the marshes. A day trip in the Gulf along the shore I would take either one.

For big water you should be looking at kayaks with at least two bulkheads so you have a watertight compartment fore and aft of the cockpit. You also want a kayak with proper perimeter lines, not just bungee cords, which are used for kayak rescue.

Consider you storage space and your transportation method. That extra 3 ft makes a large difference.

What They Said

– Last Updated: Jan-11-14 7:47 AM EST –

Try before you buy. Bulkheads fore and aft.
My 16.5 foot boat is more tracky. The 14 foot boat is more turny. The more 'active' the water, the more I value the shorter, turnier boat.

Try to demo, rent, borrow boats on windy days. Checking out a boat in calm conditions doesn't tell you a lot.

edit: As a beginner I really valued tracking. With more experience; maneuverability.

You don’t say your height or other …
statistics, but in general if you are a shorter paddler, (like under 5’-4") get a 14 footer.

If you are 5’-7" or taller, get a 17 or 18 footer.

If you are in between you should try different ones out.

Note: I said “in general”

Your best bet is to always try before you buy

Jack L

As a self described “older newbie”, you might find the typical 22" wide touring kayak trippy. Especially if you are tall and heavier. You might want to start with something in the 24" wide range for a year and see how you feel. If you do not plan to go fast, go with the shorter range. No need for much over 14-16ft. If you want to go fast and cover long distances in a short time, look for 17-18 feet and narrow (19"-21") beam, but you would need to have decent technique to manage and be safe in such boats.

Speaking of safety, get something with a low and flat rear deck and a long enough cockpit to enter seat first, so self rescues are easier.

And lastly, get a nice, light and not too long paddle! Most big ticket stores will sell you a heavy and overly long paddle that you will be replacing too soon. Consider adjustable length such as Epic touring paddles with a smaller to medium sized blade (leave the big blades to the wannabe “tough men” folks and the few that actually need them).

Keep an open mind.
I would not limit my search to either a 14, or 17 foot boat. I have four boats and the one I paddle the most is 19’-2". To some extent, your size might dictate somewhat about the length and other dimensions of a proper boat for you. Since you mention a 17 footer, I assume that you aren’t too small. Next, it is very important that you are able to get in and out of the boat without a struggle and that there is room for your legs and feet. Then it really comes down to deciding how much you want to spend.

The quality of boat, its looks and what it is made of might become very important to you. If you are hard on your equipment, you might want to go with polyethylene, but if you take care of your stuff, you might want to consider composite, or thermal plastic.

In case you haven’t already visited some websites, I would recommend, eddyline kayaks, valley kayaks, tiderace kayaks and cdkayaks. There are many others, but this list will give you plenty to salivate over. One boat I would give very special attention to would be the eddyline Raven.

So many factors…
Your size, weight, strength, flexibility, goals and paddling conditions are all important.

You need the appropriate volume for your weight, including whatever gear you will normally carry. For a constant volume, a longer boat can have a narrower beam than a shorter boat.

A boat with too much volume will be harder to control in wind and waves.

A boat with a narrower beam is usually more efficient to paddle than a wider one, but is less stable.

A longer boat has a higher theoretical maximum hull speed – better for paddling hard/fast. But an 18’ boat isn’t going to be faster than a 15’ boat unless you have the engine to drive it.

If you’re going to be in wind and waves, you want a cockpit with a reasonably snug fit.

If possible, try to take a class that uses sea kayaks. it’ll get you some experience, and you’ll be far better prepared to make a choice.

For the conditions you describe, a used plastic sea kayak in the correct size for your weight would be a reasonable place to start. It takes a lot of butt-in-boat time to know what you want, so there’s no point in spending a lot at first.

That said, get a comfortable PFD and a decent paddle. A clunky paddle makes everything else miserable.

think of it this way…
Imagine you spent your entire life on a liquid diet until yesterday. Now you’re asking what restaurant you should eat at tonight. A bit of an exaggeration, but the point remains – it’s hard to provide advice on what sort of boat you should buy when you can’t articulate what it is you’re looking to do and what you most want out of a boat (paddling on a lake and in the ocean isn’t very specific).

I think the advice from other posters is mostly good. I tend to walk a middle line between trying and buying. Try enough to know that you really like kayaking so that whatever you buy doesn’t turn into an expensive garage decoration. But don’t worry too much about figuring out what niche of kayaking you might enjoy the most before buying something reasonably within your price range (used is always a good option). Your paddling tastes are likely to change anyways.

Length, by itself, isn’t a very useful measurement. I have a 16’ kayak that is more maneuverable than many shorter kayaks because of the hull shape. You could have a 14’ and 17’ kayaks that felt similar and two 17’ kayaks that felt very different.

When I started I knew that I wanted to paddle the Great Lakes, so I knew i wanted a sea kayak, and that’s what I got for my first boat. I did a lot of demos and some rentals and classes before buying, and got a boat I never outgrew.

I know that many people don’t want to wait, and just want to buy a boat and get going. If you want to paddle the ocean, and aren’t afraid of getting wet while learning, I’d look for a general-purpose used sea kayak in your weight range – something like a Tempest – and plan to take a couple of classes to get started correctly.

Be realistic about your planned use. Beginners often have dreams of week-long camping expeditions, but their reality is day paddles after work and on weekends. An expedition boat is not a good choice if it’ll be empty 99% of the time

Another take
There’s tons of really good advice in this thread. Let me add a slightly different take: just buy a decent boat and spend a season in it. Don’t worry about 14 vs. 17 ft yet. Just go out and have fun. You’ll quickly figure out what you like and what you don’t, and would make the same question much easier to answer next year.

The Alchemy (14) or Tempest (17) would be great options to start with.

Fred has a point in that you will probably wish to switch to a different boat once you learn what you like. The other posters gave some excellent information as well. If you have an outfitter who will let you sample boats, or you can rent several designs, I think you’ll eventually make a better choice on a first boat.

Length isn’t as important as finding a boat that fits your personal paddling preferences (alliteration rules). My first boat felt a bit tippy to me, but after a season or so, I found that I liked even narrower, more tippy, designs.

Good luck and definitely try some hulls, preferably in varied conditions, before making up your mind. You’ll probably be happier in the long run.


OP response?
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m always disappointed when the original poster on threads like this doesn’t come back in with a response to the considered comments of others.

I know I often learn things from these threads and appreciate the time spent by folks in what is usually a sincere effort to be helpful – THANKS!

Sound Advice
Thanks everyone for your advice I have gained a lot of knowledge and can now proceed as an informed consumer. Thanks again for taking the time to help me.

My thread and was making sure I got the best advice possible. soooo

Lots of good advice here

and not just limited to choosing a kayak…