Rookie Advice on Kayak selection

I’ve been kayaking 2 or 3 times, only on sit-on-top kayaks. I’ve been wanting to buy my own because I loved it so much I’d like to go much more often.

The more I look, it seems sit-on-top kayaks aren’t as popular for people who are kayaking more regularly. Additionally, I live in WA state (Seattle area). It doesn’t get frigid cold her, but winter would not necessarily be ‘water sports’ season, but it seems the sit-inside kayaks are more usable in colder weather, so this is a bonus.

I like the idea of touring around the lakes, maybe even light ocean kayaking, something like day trips. So based on that info, it seems my best option is sit-inside kayaks of the ‘light touring’ or ‘transitional’ styles.

I haven’t actually sat in any to ‘feel them out’, and if I want to wait around for rental places to open to check more out, I’d have to wait a few months and even then it may be hit and miss to find the specific kayaks I’m interested in.

All that said…I’m thinking about 14’ or 15’ light touring type kayak.

Does my reasoning sound logical? Am I on the right track? Any major things I’m not thinking of?

Right now, I’m kind of looking at:

Perception Expression 14.5

Perception Expression 15

Elie Straight 140 XE

Any experience with any of these kayaks? Any other good ones in this range I should be looking at?

Your advice and suggestions are appreciated. I’m a rookie, but I’m one of those uber-research types so I may be overthinking things a bit.

Sit in vs. Sit on
Bear in mind that sit in kayaks’ self rescue is considerably more difficult and slow compared to sit on top self rescue. This should be a manor consideration IMO, which is often overlooked by beginners.

You can find a sit on top that is identical otherwise to a sit in (e.g., Epic Kayaks V6 Tourer sit on top vs. its 16x sit in sibling). So it boils down to what style you want and can handle. In all but below freezing temps I prefer to paddle my surf skis (sit on top).

Thanks, I did know about self-rescue. I’m hoping that with a little skill that won’t be any big issue.

My main thought was more on the weather…it seems a big investment if I’m only going to be able to use it for about 3-4 months of the year. I’m hoping to still kayak down into about 40 degree temps. That seems a bit chilly if I’m getting splashed on with a sit-on-top.

Am I right?

I’ll probably get some neoprene or something to keep warm, but it still seems a bit much if I’m being splashed on the whole time as with a sit-on-top.

I think more about use than weather
I have a SIK but I also want an SOT. There are a few SOTs that perform reasonably well, but if you want to paddle long distances at a decent clip, a touring SIK is probably your best bet. If you want to fish or some other activity where you need a lot of gear out and you will be sitting around a lot, an SOT is usually preferable.

What do you mean here - “Thanks, I did know about self-rescue. I’m hoping that with a little skill that won’t be any big issue.” I really can’t tell.

Do you mean that you will learn to do a re-entry?(good) Or that you figure having some skill means you don’t need to learn it? (not so good) Getting better in a kayak rarely means staying dry in any case, and on water self rescue is a basic safety skill.

Seriously, learning to self-rescue is also a great crash course that can help in choosing a boat. It only takes about 40 minutes of getting real familiar with a boat’s lines and time to empty out the cockpit to arrive at some preferences for what you want to buy. It makes all the stuff you hear here about deck height and bulkheads quite real.

a few points
There are a few hybrids out there like that V6 or the Necky Vector, but in most lines the high performance touring boats will be SIKs. A touring SOT is not a magic bullet for self rescue like the more common super stable SOTs are. You still have to learn and practice and it is hard to do in rough seas. A properly equipped SIK with plenty of flotation is not all that much more difficult to re-enter than a high performance SOT. Don’t get me wrong - I like high performance touring SOTs and i want one. But don’t get one for the wrong reason.

40 degree
Having a sit in kayak (sink) could make you complacent and underdress for the possibility of a swim. I know, it does that to me. In a sit on top, you dress for the water, like it or not, as you are exposed to it. Which is safer in cold weather. You will need to dress the same in both cases, IMO, when the water is near freezing, so the main reason to get a sit-in will be if it has some features that appeal to you. I’d under dress only if I am very close (feet) from shore or in a group with support motor boat. Reading the recent “low cost dry suit” thread here shows there is at least one inexpensive option that every paddler who ventures more than a few feet off shore should consider and should be able to afford to be safer in cold weather.

That said, I am not trying to push the idea of a sot over a sink. Both can be the “right” choice. You are right - learning self rescues is not rocket science but common sense and most able-bodied people can do it quickly. More choices in sinks and they indeed protect from the elements well.

Unless money is no object, getting a used kayak to get started is a good idea, because your taste and abilities will likely evolve quickly and you will likely want to swap it for another one down the road sooner or later.

Oh, and to answer your question …

– Last Updated: Mar-03-14 7:15 PM EST –

Any of the three you list sounds OK to me as long as they have dual bulk heads or are equipped with air bags (for safety). Try them and see which one feels "right". They are all in the same ballpark, so go by feel and features that you like. As mentioned, what you like now will likely change over time, so keep that in mind...

I went through a large number of kayaks in several years after I started paddling - part of it was because I "outgrew" them, but mainly it was curiosity to try new boats as they do handle differently and teach different skills.

My first kayak was an 11 foot Cobra SOT for a season, then went to a Tsunami 145, which I quickly decided was too "recreational" and since then I have moved on to sleeker or more specialized kayaks (and even dipped my knees in a canoe, briefly).

If you are going to stick with easy recreational paddling, just get something safe, as light as you can afford (you'll use it more) and enjoy it! One of my favorite boats and one that I kept the longest was a recreational 40lb Perception Sonoma Airalite 13.6 foot long kayak that I bought used - I took it places it was not designed to go and it was tons of fun!

I do let it affect how I dress, but
Not dangerously so. I will wear some so called “warm-while-wet” fabrics in my skirted SIK if I will be near shore, not alone and the water isn’t very rough. I quoted “warm-while-wet” because it does not mean comfortable. It generally means survivable misery. The trade off is substantially more comfort and convenience if I do stay dry which is highly likely. I have owned and worn wet suits and dry suits. I think of them as necessary evils if you are going to endure that sort of trip. They are a pain; some may be more comfortable and convenient than others, but even if you have the best you look forward to getting out. I enjoy SOTs as 3 season boats (I am in the Southern US). If I were to do another trip that required a dry suit for safety, I would then use whichever boat made the most sense based on performance characteristics.

You need to dress to swim
It does not matter if you will be using a SOT or SINK you will need to dress to swim in the water. Believe it or not wearing a wetsuit on an SOT and getting wet, is not so bad as it cools you down without getting cold.

I would take some classes and rent a few boats before buying. If you want to do ocean paddling in washington, you are going to need some solid paddling skills before paddling on open water, even in the Sound you need some skills and experience on tides, waves and wind.

Here is a best of both worlds.

Allegedly. There is one in my living room and when it gets warm enough to put it in the water without a dry suit,I will find out.

I love the freedom to move of a SOT but paddled with a group of high end SINKs.

The most important
element of paddling is the paddler. The boat is merely the tool that gets one on the water.

The right boat is more about what works for you (at this time). In a year or two, your needs/wants for boat performance will probably change. It is all about the attitude and temperament of the paddler.

The issue with paddling is that it isn’t that difficult to get a boat and put it on the water and set out, but there are skills, knowledge, and preparation required that novices seldom have. For this reason, I’d recommend that you find a local club or shop and find short excursions so that you can learn just what you wish to do. Rent for a while and try a few different boats before making a decision. A good shop will let you test several hulls before you make a choice.

“Thanks, I did know about self-rescue. I’m hoping that with a little skill that won’t be any big issue,” is a statement of concern for me. Paddling safety isn’t something that one can consider after the fact. You have to be ready for the situations that arise or you may well capsize. Taking a self-rescue class can be a lot of fun and get you thinking about changing conditions and the logistics of executing self-rescues in a closed boat. Closed cockpit boats recovery is an entirely different process from open boat (I hate using the word SINK with anything that should float) recovery and is much more complex.

The ability to roll closed boats (some open boats can be rolled easily, some cannot, but I don’t know of any closed boat, other than doubles, where rolling isn’t just a matter of training) is a huge advantage. I find that bracing, surfing, and overall handing of most closed cockpit craft tend to appeal to me more than most open hull designs. But that is me and you may find that your personality is suited to very different craft. If one has no intention to learn to roll and will only rely upon reentry rescues, a SOT may be a better choice for most (but not all).

I’m a strong advocate of being safe on the water and many consider that I overdo it, but I’ve lived too long and seen too many accidents. Of the accidents I’ve witnessed, and rescues I’ve participated in, most were caused by a lack of judgement and training and all were made worse by those same factors.


You’re in luck.

Maybe you don’t know it, but you are very close to some great kayak shopping. Tacoma is where NC Kayaks ( are built and you can actually see them being built. Eddyline Kayaks ( are also built in Burlington, Washington (north of you). You can take a little ferry ride and drive over to Port Townsend–the home of Pygmy Kayaks. As a matter of fact, I think there are a couple of other kayak builders right in the Seattle area.

You can go to NC’s website (, see what they have to offer; the directions to find their shop and how to contact them is right there. Let me warn you, to see an NC close up and in person is dangerous. Talk to Doug Searls if you can.

As for kayaking year round, Seattle has it all. Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, Lake Union and then there’s Puget Sound.

Thanks Magooch! You hit the nail on the head. I know that kayaking should be easily doable year round here, so I want to make sure I don’t limit myself. Exactly as you mention…Lake Sammamish (10 min. walk from my house), Lake Washington (10 min. drive), the Sound (about 30 min drive).

I’m thinking I’d be on something like Lake Samammish 80% of the time. Easy calm water. Lake Washington has one side that looks like it can get pretty choppy, I want to know that won’t be an issue. The Sound is something I’d probably not hit until I had a little more experience (and training) under my belt, but I might like to check that out sometime too.

I didn’t know there were any makers here, so I’ll see if I can check into that. Thanks.

That close to Lake Sammamish?

– Last Updated: Mar-04-14 7:35 PM EST –

I think that is where George Gronseth does some of his intro lessons and maybe a demo. Call him and ask. He has both SINKS and SOTS but I don't know the rental policy.

For rentals, if you can get yourself to Port Gamble, the kayak shop there is open all year 'round. They operate 3 locations; the PG shop is their only one that rents throughout the year, if I remember correctly. It is a full-service kayak shop.

As to the question of SOT or SINK, you could use either one even in the cold PNW waters. That's because you're going to need either a full wetsuit or a drysuit either way, as seadart stated. The sea water stays cold even in the summer. Not that much temp range, unlike inland lakes that routinely change from freezing to 70-80 degrees.

IF you only intend to paddle small, warm lakes/ponds in summer, you might well want to get a SOT and not bother with full immersion wear. But if you have any notion of paddling elsewhere in the region, you'll end up needing better paddling wear, in which case SOT or SINK choice doesn't much matter. The main advantage of the SINK is that it gives you a wall of windproof barrier so there's less evaporative chilling.

There's a May paddle festival scheduled for the Seattle area, and Port Angeles is holding one in April (supposedly). Should be plenty of other places and times for you to demo boats.

When I lived in Colorado, I sometimes paddled a Prijon Twister (SOT) on a rare winter day when there was enough liquid water to paddle on (before the administrative closures locked out that option). Water temps were in the 30s, yet with a drysuit and Chota boots, plus gloves and neoprene cap, I stayed warm. It can be done.

George Gronseth
I think that is where George Gronseth does some of his intro lessons and maybe a demo. Call him and ask. He has both SINKS and SOTS but I don’t know the rental policy.

Haa! I checked to make sure, and yup…he’s the owner of The Kayak Academy. I was just over there today asking questions and looking at their boats.

The May paddle festival was mentioned by the person helping me today, too.

The lady I who was helping me was recommending a Dagger Alchemy (assuming it felt right) as what she thought might work best for me.

Alchemy is a full function boat

– Last Updated: Mar-04-14 11:37 PM EST –

It's not a rocket on speed, but it is truly a little sea kayak. Friendly stability for newbies, rolls like a dream, easy to maneuver. Hatches do have a tendency to leak if you start doing wet work, but there are dry bags for that. But it is a boat that will take you from ignorance to some real fun skills work.

IMO, the boats you listed in your original post don't have the ability to follow and support you as a paddler that the Alchemy does.

You are getting some decent advice from that shop.

Free lessons and more.

If you want to take a little drive down to Vancouver, Wa. next month (the 26th and 27th), there is a demo weekend at Lake Vancouver, put on by Alder Creek Kayaks. You can paddle as many boats as you want and I’ll even meet you there and give you free lessons if you like.

I was at Alder Creek yesterday and looked at a couple of 17’ NC kayaks that they have. They look like they are in excellent condition and they’re asking $1400 each. Or you might want to look at the 15’-8" model that NC has on sale right now for $1199. These are all composite (fiberglass) sea kayaks.

Magooch…you have an email.

Sorry about that.
I read your post too fast and thought it was a question. Anyway, I sent you one and I’ll check mine in a bit.