Sit-on-tops and sea water

So the seventh grade was the hardest three years of my life…

Can sit-on-tops be used in the Pudget Sound area and what precautions do I need to take.

Any advice would be helpful.



SOTS are OK but are you?
You can safely paddle sit on tops in severe ocean conditions if you have the right training and equipment. The coast in the northwest has cold water even in the summer time and in places has strong tidal flows and currents. You need proper immersion clothing. Make sure you check with local kayakers about areas you intend to paddle and that you have coastal paddling experience before attempting trips in the area on your own.

The book Seakayaker … Big Trouble will give you a healthy respect for the area. There are some SOT paddlers from the Washington area that post here ocaisionally also check on the forum for more specific advice.

SOTs in the Sound

– Last Updated: Jul-10-06 1:23 PM EST –

Your profile here in says you are from out of state, so I assume you will be visiting for a vacation. Welcome! Puget Sound has wonderful kayaking opportunities, from the spectacular San Juan Islands, to the sandy beaches and protected inlets of the South Sound and Hood Canal.

Here are some general notes for beginning sit-on-top kayakers in the Puget Sound area, whether you live here or are just visiting.

Sit on Top kayaks are great for Puget Sound, all year around, if you have the proper clothing and at least a moderate amount of training and experience.

Most experienced sea kayakers, regardless of type of sea kayak, in this area anyway, wear drysuits in the winter and wetsuits (or drysuits) in the summer. The water temperature is about 45 degrees F in the winter and 55 degrees F in the summer. (The water along the outer coast is a little warmer usually.) I usually wear a few layers of polypropylene or synthetic fleece under my farmer john wetsuit and drytop, and this works for me all year around. Avoid cotton.

The suggestion to join (or visit) a local sea kayak club is excellent advice. Also, be sure to take some classes in basic strokes, bracing, and rescues. Another good book is Sea Kayaking Safety and Rescue by John Lull. Be sure to practice deep water reentry for sit-on-tops (the Belly-Back-Legs reentry). It is easy with practice, but can be difficult at the beginning.

Here is an article about this reentry technique:

If you intend to buy your own kayak, hold off until you have taken those first classes, as you might get a different idea of what you want. In fact, try as many kayaks as you can before buying. If you want to paddle with friends in traditional sea kayaks, and you want to paddle a sit-on-top, you will need a higher-performing model than the average SOT. Try to find one at least 14' long and no more than 28" wide. Many are also flat-bottomed, which is fine for calm water but can be difficult in waves. Be sure to read reviews and try before you buy. Some great bargains can be found on the used market. Because it is hard to find higher-performing SOTs, many paddlers switch to sit-inside kayaks to increase their range of options. However, for fishing and diving, it is hard to beat a well-designed sit-on-top kayak.

As a beginner, stay close to shore and always paddle with others. Guided trips are great for your first explorations of Puget Sound. Avoid winds over 15 knots, especially offshore winds. Check the NOAA weather website or a NOAA broadcast for wind forcasts.

NOAA Forecast web page for Puget Sound:

If you capsize in a 15 knot wind and let go of your kayak, it could easily blow away. Consider using a paddle leash to keep your paddle attached to your kayak. If you capsize, hang onto your paddle, so even if you let go of the kayak, you will still be attached. Leashes can be found at local paddle shops or online. The coiled ones are best since they are less likely to get tangled.

With sit-on-tops, there is a compromise. It is easy to get on and off, but harder to perform advanced skills like leaned turns and rolls. Thigh straps can help with this, but only to a point. There is also a performance difference; most general-purpose SOTs are usually a little shorter and wider than sit-inside sea kayaks. Maneuverability is often good at the cost of efficient forward movement.

Sit-on-tops are fine in this climate if you are properly equipped and stay within your skill level. This requires experience and sound judgement, so be sure and learn as much as you can, keeping your paddling very conservative as a beginner.

Lastly, there is an outfitter, Rob Lyon, in the San Juan islands who is an experienced sea kayaker and fly fisherman. He specializes in sit-on-top kayaks and may be of assistance to you:


Thanks for all the help. I’ve been in the area for about two months and bought a 11’ pelican. I’ve been dinking around in American lake for the last month fishing and getting confortable with the yak before heading back to Vegas.

My wife and I will be back up around the middle of Aug and I hope to get out to the PS in a “controlled” area.

Excellent post
If I may try a condensed version, I’d say the three most important things to think about are staying warm, staying with the boat, and being totally comfortable with re-entries. Decent SOTs will handle rough water just fine and are, IMHO, a pretty good way to get exposure to more challenging water, but you have to be able to stay warm, re-enter quickly if you dump, and above all else not lose the boat. Paddle leashes are generally a good thing in SOTs.

Dress For Immersion
It really doesn’t make any difference if you are in an SOT, or a Sit Inside. Either way you should be dressed for a swim in water that cold.

What does that mean? That depends a lot on you. People’s tolerance for cold water varies by person. You need to find out what YOU need to tolerate a swim.