Seeking Advice on Kayak Brand Choice for New Rental Business

I’m in the process of launching a kayak rental venture at a nearby lake, and I’m facing a dilemma regarding which kayak brand to invest in. I’ve noticed that Lifetime kayaks generally come at a more affordable price point, yet I’m intrigued by the fact that Pelican kayaks are notably lighter than their Lifetime counterparts. Although I’m aware that dragging kayaks on the ground isn’t recommended, given that I won’t be able to closely monitor every customer’s actions, I anticipate instances where this might occur. Pelican asserts that their kayaks boast greater durability and impact resistance. However, I’m unsure if this also translates to higher abrasion resistance. Have any of you had hands-on experience with both Lifetime and Pelican kayaks? If so, I’d greatly appreciate your insights on which brand you believe would be more suitable for a rental business. Additionally, I’m curious if anyone can shed light on whether Pelican’s Ram-X material can be effectively welded in case of any punctures.

They are really not repairable and neither brand of the lower priced rec style kayaks are very durable. I would not consider either one a “good investment” for the sort of abuse they will take in a rental livery (and i speak as someone who worked for outfitters who offered rentals.) Yes, you will spend more if you buy better boats from Wilderness Systems, Riot, Perception , Dagger or Old Town, but they will last longer. And the other comment about replacement parts is one you should consider. Renters are super hard on seats in particular and the cheaper rec boats are notorious for having seat hardware and supports break off and not be replaceable.

Also, depending on what the size of the lake is and the conditions your renters will encounter, you need to consider if short boats without bulkheads would constitute a safety hazard and potential legal liability in a capsize. They will sink when flooded and filled with water.

Have you contacted any of the manufacturers about their fleet sales policies? It used to be that they would offer discounts, since they are aware that renters will often go on to buy the same models which they have used as rentals.

Also, because companies can’t depreciate their rental fleet equipment after a certain number of years, many outfitters will sell off a number of their older rental boats at the end of season. You may want to keep track of similar outfitters in your general area to see if they publicize such sales and pick up some used boats in decent condition to start your enterprise.


Best of luck with your new venture! I have worked at two separate shops that provided rentals. One shop used a variety of brands, mostly Perception, Necky (before they disappeared) and Feel Free. The other used Emotion and RTM kayaks. From what I have seen with Lifetime kayaks working in the industry they are not the best built option out there. Lots of broken parts, leaks etc that used to come in for repairs. Of the two you mentioned I would go with the Pelicans, but if you could take another step up to Perception I think in the long run the durability would be a benefit, especially if you are planning to keep your fleet for several years.

Edited to add to what Willowleaf said - rental boats will get a LOT of abuse. It just happens. People aren’t nice to things that aren’t theirs.


In addition to your thinking on brand I recommend looking hard at Sit On Tops (SOT) rather than Sit Ins for your rental business.


That’s another good tip. Safer for renters since they won’t sink if swamped. But be sure to buy models with adjustable foot position (multiple slots for different sized paddlers) and with removable/replaceable seats.

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The old Canoe Escape on the Hillsborough River used Old Town almost exclusively. They seemed to be close to indestructible.

They also used them because they once had a sales shop and sold Old Town, so instant advertising you were paid for.

Osprey Bay and Sweetwater also did rentals connected to what they sold, so asking other people may be worthless information.

Lifetime is rotomolded, but they use a thinner amount of the plastic and will be a little more fragile.

Many Pelicans are thermoformed, which is closer to an acrylic plastic, and is harder to scratch.

It is mostly going to come down to which company you can talk into giving you a deal for ten or twenty of them. I would recommend going directly to a company rep because they will honor their warranties quicker and easier than if you use a third party seller.

Best of luck in your enterprise.

You might want to investigate (if buying new) arranging a rental dealer discount bulk purchase through a local (not chain store) kayak outfitter who is a regular stocking distributor for the brand(s) you select. The manufacturers usually pick up the freight costs for bulk shipments to dealers which could save you a lot of hassle and cost by combining your order with their seasonal shipments, even if you have to pay a markup to the dealer (profit margins on kayaks are actually much smaller than other sporting goods so it won’t be a huge savings – but since you are likely to eventually be selling off your fleet in stages over the years for tax reasons, you will eventually get some of the upfront cost back).

Also having a good business relationship with a dealer will help you with any warranty issues, replacement parts and bulk buying items like paddles and PFD’s which will be necessary for your rental livery. You might also be able to partner with such an outfitter in them directing customers to your rentals and even offering paddling instruction classes or loaning you higher end demo boats that their customers can try out at your location when considering what to buy. Could be a win-win for both of you.


how much are you going to invest in your new venture? How have you listed all your costs? How many kayaks are you looking to buy? How are you storing or transporting them? What are your insurance costs?

Your clientele is?

How long do you expect your venture to last?

Where is the area you’re renting? That may affect rates you charge.

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Look how all the fittings, straps, bungees, etc, are attached to the boat.

Screws means easier repairs if part available, rivets are a pain to drill out, simple holes [Pelican] means leaks and not durable.

Go with roto-molded, not Pelican, Lifetime, SunDolphin, etc Minimize all parts on the boats that can move, break, fall off: seats, footrests, hatches, etc


Of the two the Pelicans would definitely be more rugged and durable. They’re definitely repairable, Pelican even provides a link on their site to a vendor of plastic welding tools and supplies. Although the Pelican kayaks are tough as nails, everything attached to them is not. Seats, rigging, etc, are all lighter and less robust than brands like Ocean Kayak and Perception. Also the repair labor and lost rental income while they’re out of service can eat up some of your initial savings.

Some brands offer at least some models in outfitter versions that have thicker plastic and are noticeably heavier than the same model purchased in a retail store. They wouldn’t make them if outfitters didn’t want them. Outfitters wouldn’t want them unless there was some benefit to them.

I would go with a jackson riviera sit on top. I see a ton of these as rental boats in the south. Livery use is what it is intended for.

also budget for nice lifejackets- your customers are more likely to wear them if they are comfortable

the nrs ion is currently on closeout, also buy some universal pfds, and remember kid sizes, I also recommend that you sell chums, and suncreen

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Ocean Kayak brand Malibu 2 XLs are used at the place i work for double, triples with small paddlers, and single for large paddler rental. They have a single Ocean Kayak for normal sized paddlers. Wwll recommended.

The major brands should offer fleet discounts, which you may qualify for.

If you are planning on buying ten or more boats and staying in business for the long term you should be able to deal directly with a manufacturer. Why pay a markup to a middleman outfitter?

Look into comprehensive insurance coverage, including liability, theft, and property damage. It may cost a lot more than you thought. How long is your season? How many days are you likely to lose due to bad weather. What will you do with your fleet in the off season? Permits, zoning, taxes, etc. Renal boats are required to be registered and taxes paid on them in most states. If you will have employees, that’s a whole new set of requirements such as withholding, workman’s comp, unemployment insurance, etc.

Not to say that you haven’t already considered these among other startup expenses.

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Negotiate multiple boat purchases with one of the major, reputable kayak manufacturers. Sell them off as used at the end of each season. Rinse, repeat. Safety of your customers should be the overriding concern.

I’m a former owner of a kayaking business. We used only sit-on-tops for rentals because of the safety issues with sit-ins. The ones without bulkheads are accidents and wrongful-death lawsuits waiting to happen. They are suitable only within swimming distance from shore. And even kayaks with bulkheads are not suitable for beginners out by themselves because capsize recovery is not intuitive and is beyond the reach of the vast majority of beginners.

I would also say that if you have to ask about such a crucial business decision on a paddling forum, then you’re not knowledgeable enough to run a kayak rental business. Even if you’re a skilled, trained paddler, that doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the ins and outs if running a kayaking business. Water is an alien environment; if you get lost in the woods you’re likely to survive, but getting into trouble on the water can kill you. Quickly,

As such, there are many, many risk management factors involved, such as requiring lifejackets, minimum water temperature, weather conditions (especially wind and forecasted thunderstorms), age and ability of paddlers. Would you rent to minors without adults? What’s the minimum age/height/weight you would rent to? How would you rescue (or even know about) stranded/capsized paddlers? Etc. etc. etc.

If you’re serious about doing this, I would suggest you work for a season for an existing outfitter.


Plastic welding is not for beginners. It can fail if not done properly. I sure wouldn’t want to rent out a potentially leaky boat to beginning kayakers,

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I would agree with you. I was thinking of the technical question, can they be repaired, but not considering the larger issue, is it a good idea to rent out a repaired kayak.

I’ve done plastic welding kayak repair. It was harder and took a lot longer than what I expected. In your experience as a company owner, I’m curious if you (properly!) repaired kayaks and kept them in the fleet or if that type of damage would be an automatic sale or disposal?

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Thank you to everyone that has responded. You have all given me a lot to consider.

Wilderness Systems.

In laws have 2 Tsunamis for almost 20 years. We dragged them, launched them, left them in the sun without ever using protectant, never cleaned them. The bolts are only slightly rusty starting the last few years but mostly shiny. ITs the closest thing to indestructible I have ever seen, I highly recommend Wilderness boats as being bomb proof!

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