Sea Kayak on River

So someone’s recent post about paddling near Raleigh and Richmond got me thinking…both of these cities have access to both great ocean paddling AND river paddling from flatwater to whitewater. Do people who enjoy both ocean and river paddling own multiple boats, or can sea kayaks manage river paddling (say to class III). Would the newer breed of shorter but fully outfitted sea kayaks like the Alchemy and the Delphin fit the bill?

Just curious, I’m all coastal at the moment…

around here, different boats for each
My touring kayaks run from 15’ to 18’ and though I use the shortest rotomold one on some fast creeks (nothing above Class 1) I wouldn’t want to use it on anything above that – just too long and slow to turn. WW boats can be had cheap enough (any given day on Craigslist there are half a dozen from $200 to $400) – not worth banging up a $1000 plus sea kayak doing something it isn’t that good at anyway.

My experience with “hybrid” equipment in other sports has been “meh” so I would not be inclined to spend money on a supposed “boat that does everything”. That typically means, “that does everything but in a half-assed manner.” There is virtue in specialization.

Class 1 and easier class 2. I could
paddle my touring kayak down the Nantahala, but I would be unable to access many of the eddies I use to make the trip more interesting, and safer.

Downriver racing kayaks are just about as bad at whitewater maneuvers as sea/touring kayaks, and of course they are raced on up to class 4+. But that’s racing. If you want to enjoy whitewater, and master it, you need a kayak designed for it. Used ww kayaks are cheap, and store in less space.

Seakayaks in Class III

– Last Updated: Aug-03-11 12:19 PM EST –

Although you see videos of seakayaks in very rough river conditions, you should be aware that that a seakayak is not designed to survive being pinned in a high water flow situation, they tend to collapse, white water boats are designed with much thicker hulls and designs that avoid collapse of the boat if pinned against a rock or strainer. A friend of mine had his very nice seakayak (Valley,composite, don't remember model) fold and collapse on his legs when he got hung up in a powerful overflow/whirpool on the ocean. So be careful.

If you want to have the most fun…
get a WW kayak for WW, even class 2. As above by class 3 it’s the boat and the paddler - things happen a good bit faster in WW than in bigger water.

With a long boat you are shooting down the middle and seeing all the stuff that’d be fun to stop and mess with going by. WW boats give you more chance to stop and enjoy, and a dirt cheap to pick up used anyway compared to long boats. It’s darned nice to have a boat that you can throw into the back of a station wagon too if you go small enough.

I, maybe II
It somewhat depends on the river – is the rating because of big water, or lots o’ rocks?

I’ve taken a maneuverable plastic sea kayak in quickwater and class I, and enjoyed playing with moving water – forward and back ferries, peelouts, surfing tiny glassy waves, etc. Much above that it’s what Celia said – you may be able to run a straight line, but you’re missing out on a lot of play opportunities. The risk of pinning and folding a long boat is also a real consideration.

As the other folks said, used whitewater boats are inexpensive and great fun.

Depends on the nature of the river
If there are alot of river bends and the river is narrow, a long boat will tend to spin out and you will be doing alot of 360’s or wasting energy trying to stop the rotation.

On the other hand people surf tidal races and waves in long boats because the direction of the moving water is pretty constant.

Horses for courses
I am among those who use sea kayaks for tidal races, rock gardening, and surfing. We also sometimes tune-up for such by taking sea kayaks into safe class II rapids. However, for running ww, I prefer a ww boat.

While the first thing one friend did when he bought a poly Avocet was run the Sac, he just ran it rather than playing in it. Most sea kayakers I know also own at least 1 ww kayak. For all the reasons mentioned above, pick-up a used ww kayak if you want to run Class II-III rivers. It is more fun and safer than using a sea kayak.

Besides a ww boat is easier for pool sessions than lugging in a sea kayak.

two boats
Two boats because two is always better than one.

Those wildwater racing boats are only 14 ft long. I think they are limited. I think they just paddle as fast as they can and guess. I think someone could get decent at sea kayaking in whitewater but it would have to be a straight foward, wide river. Plus your intention would probably have to be to go down fast cuz you are going to have a hard time maneuvering.

Ryan L.

But in a ww kayak…
there’s nowhere to keep the chainsaw for clearing blowdowns :wink:

Yes, but why?

– Last Updated: Aug-03-11 6:45 PM EST –

I do use my WS Zephyr 15.5 on WW quite regularly.

Here's an example (class I/II mostly):

Mostly class II and occasional easy class III seems to be no problem for my kayak and I. It is fun and, while it can be dangerous in some situations, on larger bodies of water without too many obstructions it is not that much more dangerous than a dedicated WW kayak.

The fun for me is either when the water is low (e.g. nothing to play on with the WW playboat) or too high (e.g. too fast for the short playboat to catch the smooth-ish long waves).

For anything in-between, e.g. when my favorite play spots are "in-play" I find the WW kayak more enjoyable - more agile, lighter, more fun to surf/play with.

It just depends on what your local river offers and your skills. But I would not take anything longer than 15-16 feet on a swift river with lots of obstacles and turns - just not maneuverable enough and will be more struggle than enjoyment.

For seakayaking on a river I found that using some of the tricks that long-hull canoe paddlers use is very applicable. Read "Path of the Paddle" for instance - almost all that Mason says there applies to kayaks on moving water too. Read "Kayak" (about WW kayaking) and most of the water reading skills transfer too.

Here you go

This is my 17 foot plastic Eclipse, back a few years ago in the Dan River Race, just entering a long Class III rapid.

I wouldn’t recommend it for anything above class II.

I did many “oh sh-ts” before safely coming through it

I would have no problem running a plastic yak, 17 feet or under through class II and under, but not composite in the longer lengths

Jack L

The first response the best…
summed up the key point: WW boats are so cheap why risk a nice expensive sea kayak???

The other additional point being the fun factor. On that front, don’t ever go with anything “hybrid”. It’s just another name for “no good on anything”, except perhaps on frustrating the owner!

17’ Boat
I’ve done class II water in a 17’ kayak. It has it’s quirks, especially when the stern of the boat is leaving one eddy and the bow is entering another.

In the actual white water, the boat handled quite well and I didn’t have any difficulties, but on the flats where the bow and stern met opposing eddies, handling did get quirky, to say the least. There were times when I was turned 90 degrees in an instant and bracing had to be done quickly to compensate. I don’t think the boat would have behaved as well in water that was any more difficult than this, though I’ve seen texts that suggest Class III is possible in a sea kayak.


Rivers have rocks
why beat up an expensive sea kayak when you can buy a cheap WW boat. There’s also a lot to be said for having the right boat for the conditions.

Sea kayaks and white water
I guess it depends on what you are running the white water for in the first place. A sea kayak will run white water, but it isn’t a play boat. If you are tripping down a river that happens to have some white water, a play boat will not carry your gear.

I have two kayaks I have run rapids with. The first is a 14’4" Necky Looksha Sport. It has hard chines, some rocker, fairly flat bottom, and a rudder for long flat water, and sealed bulkheads front and back. It will haul all of the gear I need for a week and take a pounding in the rocks. It will handle up to Class III. It turns very well, but is heavy when you have to portage it.

The other sea kayak I have run rapids with is the CD Gulfstream. It not only “dances” on big water, it will “dance” in rapids too. I have to admit, taking a kevlar sea kayak down a river with rapids is a little crazy, but it can be done. It will carry more gear than the Necky and is lighter. It has some scars for its efforts.

Lots of good info
Thanks for the info in this thread!