Paddling sit-on-top versus sit inside

For a few years now I’ve owned a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 140 (sit inside). But recently I decided to try a Wilderness Systems Tarpon 140 (sit on top). Both kayaks have rudders.

This probably won’t surprise experienced kayakers on this forum, but I’m quickly finding the Tsunami provides a vastly superior paddling experience. It very well may be the extra height of a sit-on-top makes a big difference in how you paddle. It seems like I have to move my paddle much more when switching from one side to the other. I can’t seem to get in the same kind of rhythm that I’m used to in the Tsunami.

I’m curious what other paddlers think about this. Am I paddling incorrectly? Do I need a longer paddle for the sit-on-top? By the way, I’m 5’9", weigh 165 pounds, and have longish arms. I use a Wilderness Systems Pungo Kayak Paddle, which is adjustable. The last time I went out in the Tarpon, I extended the paddle to its maximum length (240 cm) and maybe that helped. Am I on the right track?

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Different types of boats (and hull designs) paddle differently. Yes, the wider beam of the SOT may require a longer paddle. But, the comfort/familiarity factor is a matter of seat time to learn the boat. After that, it’s different but not necessarily “better” or “worse”.

I paddle SINKs, SOTs, waveskis, WW boats and a pack canoe. These don’t paddle the same. This is fine as these crafts are intended for different functions and venues.



There are, really, too many variables to be make an overall statement. For all of them there are exceptions, but kayak manufacturers are moving more to fishing barges and away from boats meant for just the joy of paddling.

Sit ins tend to be more hydrodynamic. The shape lends itself to a better glide in paddling.

Sit ins, generally, have a lower center of gravity. That allows the paddler to feel the nuances of the boat’s performance a bit more.

The only SOT I have is a surfski and it is an exception to all I have said. That boat, a Fenn Mako 6. is very responsive to my input, and very responsive to when I get sloppy; it dumps me.


Cockpit boats tend to be better designed. They have faster hulls, you sit with a lower center of gravity. With a spray skirt they are much warmer and there is sun protection. They carry much more gear. No contest at all.

One important caution. Make sure the cockpit is large enough on a cockpit boat. Some large humans can barely get into some cockpit boats. If you capsize you need to easily slide out in a wet exit. If you are wedged in there you could be in big trouble.

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I have paddled a Tarpon for years. Compared to a SINK of comparable size they are generally slower. I use a 220 paddle in my narrow boat and about a 230 in the Tarpon but have wide shoulders and long arms.

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Be careful with long paddles. If you aren’t paddling in a body friendly manner you can do a job on your shoulders.
I started in a 12’ rec boat with a 240 and it was great. I traded up to a 17’ sea kayak and thought I had totalled my shoulders.
Then I got instruction on pain free paddling. And proper paddle length.


The usual construction of a sit on top recreational kayak requires that the body is entirely above the water surface resulting in a higher center of gravity. For boats of the same hull cross section, a higher center of gravity results in lower stability, both primary and secondary. For surfskis, the lower stability is mitigated by paddler skill and the bracing effect of the wing paddle. For recreational SOT,s the hull is widened to increase stability, at the cost of hydrodynamics, responsiveness, and paddle angle.

Totally out of my league here, but…

My only experience with a SOT was a 17’ Heritage sea kayak.

Me in a kayak

I’m not a total newbie in a kayak, but it is definitely not my strong suit. I was paddling with a friend on the West Passage of Narragansett Bay. We did a 14 mile trip in relatively calm conditions, which meant 1-2’ waves for the crossing and 2-3’ waves down at Beavertail. For a sea kayaker not a big deal, but kind of scared the sh*t out of me. I managed fine - the boat seemed efficient and not particularly tippy. I did feel a little more comfortable that if I dumped, my buddy would be able to get me back in that boat easier than if I was in a SINK. Fortunately, we didn’t have to test that theory. :wink:


There are vintage Heritage fiberglass SOTs, with hull designs and performance similar to the wider SINKs. I have been tempted on more than several occaisons to pick one up. But, I didn’t because frankly my Scupper Pro suits me well for kayak fishing/camping trips I do out in the Boston Harbor Islands. I have carried enough gear AND water to be out on the Islands for upto 5 days (could even go more). What is a significant difference for me with the Scupper Pro from the Heritage is the open tankwell area in the back. I perfer this to the Heritage’s “traditional” enclosed bulkhead for my intended usage. My fishgear/multiple rods in the tankwell are readily accessible. Smaller caught fish (flounder, sea bass) can be dumped in the tank well as well. If you catch a keeper stripe bass, or big blue, well you gonna have to use a stringer.

According to my fishfinder/GPS, I usually paddle my Scupper Pro at 3-3.5 MPH. This is the typical speed of most tour kayak paddlers. Of course, in a full out sprint, my Scupper Pro will hit the “wall” before a longer/sleeker SINK. But, most of us are not out there paddling at maximum speed constantly unless one is a paddling athlete/competitor.


To OP, I think the paddle you are using is way too long, and that it takes time to get adjusted to a new craft or even, to a new paddle. Don’t be mislead by String, he is 6 foot 5! I am 6 foot 3 and used a 217cm paddle with a Cobra Navigator for years, it only felt slightly too short.

Recently I upgraded to a Strealth fisha 555 and a point 65n 220-230 paddle, but felt 230 was too long, and have it set it set at 227, which seems about right, but I am still getting used to both boat and paddle. I am about 12 trips in and things are starting to gel, Craft feels much better than it did the first few rides ( actually the stealth felt great from the start, but it is feeling even better now, lol).

Having said all that, maybe sit insides really are the bee’s knee’s, I would’nt actually know because I have never paddled one.

Thanks for the comments. I’ll still play around with the Tarpon, maybe try a different paddle. As NikolaDog says, it takes time to get used to a new craft. But I suspect the Tsunami will always be my kayak of choice. In my mind, I’ve already sort of relegated the Tarpon as the “guest” kayak, for when my grown kids come to visit.

All that said, those are two very different boats designed for different purposes. One is a tank and the other a sedan. The tank requires more horsepower to even get close to what the sedan can do.
Changing the paddle doesn’t change the motor.

The tank being the sit-on-top? :slight_smile:

I’ve never actually used a sit-on-top. I learned before I bought a kayak that sit-ins are easier to paddle faster, and I have aspirations of some overnight kayak trips, so I started with a touring sit-in. My only regret is that it’s not the smallest, lightest kayak on the planet :slight_smile: and it’s the same length as my car, but if the put-in isn’t crazy distance from the parking, the boat is perfect. A folder or modular kayak may be in my future as my secondary boat, though… (is this how the slippery slope starts? I just need one more kayak…)

Yes, the Tarpon is the tank. And just one more is a given.

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All I ever need is just one more than I have!


Nice comparison sing.

When I was 19 yrs old, I could carry a bag of cement on each shoulder. At 55 yrs old, the plastic 175 Tsunami was only 10 lbs more than the 145 Tsunami. Now it feels like 3 bags of cement, rather than being a few pounds more than one bag of cement. Seems like the older you get, the stonger you should be, and the more you should be able to lift. Seems like that, anyway. I hear there are 110 lbs sit-on-top kayaks. Jimminie Cricket! That’s what my wife weighed when I carried her over the threshold, and I only weighed 155 lbs.

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I had that boat for a short time. My back couldn’t handle my legs stuck in the grooves.
Sing, you are right at least in my case. I enjoy short paddling trips as long as they meet my time criteria. I want my paddling to last at least as long as the driving.