Suggestions for best "rough water" kayak

Dear Folks:

I live in Michigan and want to purchase a kayak capable of the rough conditions on the great lakes. Which kayaks are recommended for rough conditions? (I am looking for something for only 1 day trips, so storage capacity is not a concern). Thanks to all who respond.


To go straight in rough conditions
and make mileage or to play and manuever in rough conditions is something that will help narrow it down.

You did say day trips but that can still mean different things (3 miles, 20 miles ?) to different paddlers.

more info needed
Best for me, my size and abilities might not be best for you.

This reminds me of the farmer at the stand yesterday where I was buying corn. He takes a look at the two boats on the roof, a P&H Capella 161 and a NDK Explorer. He then asked are they sea kayaks? My answer is yes. He then asked how are they different?

I wasn’t in a particularly chatty mood as I had too much to do and so I responded with “different than what?” He didn’t mean from each other, but different than whatever he thinks is a kayak… It could have been an hour long Q + A period as his next question was - they don’t have rudders - what’s that?"…

So, in order for people to answer your question, you need to provide more info.


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– Last Updated: Aug-06-07 1:49 PM EST –

The NDK Romany and Explorer are widely considered to be good rough-water touring kayaks, as are the VSK Avocet and Aquanaut. There are many other good candidates such as the WS Tempests, the P&H and Impex boats, the Necky Chathams, and others -- depending on your intended use, anything from a surfski on down could work for you. It all comes down to personal preference and fit. Every boat is a combination of tradeoffs.

Look at the boats that are used by the guides and instructors on the waters you'll be paddling. That's often a good starting point.

If you're only planning on day trips I'd focus on the lower-volume boats.

Rough Water Day Boats
Among the boats that are widely considered to be capable and enjoyable day boats are:

NDK Romany

Valley Avocet

WS Tempest 165

Necky Chatham 16

P&H Capella 16something

Impex Montauk

These are among the boats most often referred to as ‘day boats.’ While some folk use longer boats for day paddles, these boats are all around 16’

Add one
I paddle a pintail in the great lakes, here in Northern MI. Not the fastest boat in the bunch but it’s made for rough seas; maneuverable and also roomy enough for weekend trips (longer if you ack like a backpacker). And in reality, in rough seas it can keep pace with most other boats.

CD Sirocco
My Sirocco is great in the rough stuff.

Guillemot Petrel
Designed for day trips in rough water. Nice video:

the ones made for rough conditions
Your question is a little like going to a shoe store and asking which ones are best for running and there’s a dozen to chose from. Ok,now what.

Lets look at variables
Lots of good kayaks, some listed above. But many more lesser know boats around the mud ball are also excellent.

I say look to a shorter kayak of 17 or less down to 14. You’ll want a decent amount or rocker, as well as reserve stability which is hugely important in clapotis, rock gardens, surges etc., as it allows you maneuver more effectively against that buoyancy. Balance in wind, a decent amount of volume in the bow, a snug, comfy fit, and a deck that allows for spirited paddling, rolling, bracing etc.

A true rough sea boat will tend to be designed specific to that objective, so you will see common traits of full chines, rocker, decent, but not excessive beam / reserve buoyancy etc. These traits make the above boats and others like them excellent in big water. These traits make these craft less effective for long distance flat water efficiency, but they still do fine at touring speeds.

Other brands to examine: Kajak Sport, Mariner, Pygmy, Impex, Foster’s boats, etc.

Cult mentality can be powerful, especially with the Brit boats, which are good, but I say paddle many in big water…take your time. Buy the one that just does it for you, and believe me one will call out to ya. Buy that boat regardless of the logo on it. Then go beat the hell out of it…OK! Good paddling.

rough water kayaker?
Without your profile, we have no idea your background/experience, but getting a “rough water capable” kayak won’t make you “rough water capable.” Generally, the better boats for such purposes will require more skills to be mastered to get the full potential out of the kayak. The same kayaks with an unskilled paddler can be dangerous.

More of the “more info needed” - what is your skill level? How much time/effort do you want to put into skill-learning? How rough is rough water?

you’re overanalyzing

Eskia on Lake Erie
I paddle a 16 ft. Necky Eskia in rough stuff on Lake Erie. It handles chop and waves very well.

However, it may be too big for some people. Depends on your size. My friend paddles a Necky Chatham 16 right alongside me in the same conditions (she’s smaller) and she handles it all just fine, too.

We purposely bought these boats to use on Lake Erie conditions, which means – it could change from flat water, to 3 ft waves, very quickly.

If you need to ask this question…
I don’t think you are ready for rough water yet

I am not trying to be sarcastic, just telling it like it is.

Rough water kayakers work up to it, and when they are ready for a kayak that will do what they want it to, they know the models to choose from.

Just my take,



My Opinion
Paddling in rougher water is 90% the paddler and maybe 10% the boat. I have paddled more than once in fairly rough conditions offshore when I was at my limit, my boat was far from its limit, and watched better paddlers in lesser boats paddle circles around me.

Happy Paddling,


How are Manitou & Recluse by Betsie Bay?
As long as this question is being asked I would like to know how the Manitou and Recluse models by Betsie Bay handle the rougher Great Lakes comditions.

In my “horse trading” I ended up with two almost finished composite Betsie Bay kayaks. So of course am wondering if they are worth finishing and the rough waters question is a biggie.




And, A Good One At That. :slight_smile:

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Jack, but the safest rough water kayak is the kayak sitting on the beach when it’s too rough to go out.

If/when you do get caught out in rough conditions, it is your skill and experience that will save your ass, and most skilled and experienced boaters do not intentionally go out in rough weather because it’s not really a wise thing to do.

boats to consider:
NDK explorer

Valley Nordkapp

Seda Ikkuma 17

seda swift 17

Prijon kodiak

CD solctice GTS

CD Sirroco

P&H cappella series

"most skilled and experienced boaters do not intentionally go out in rough weather because it’s not really a wise thing to do."

I think there are a lot of skilled and experienced boaters who would be very quick to disagree.

Also rough weather is a little hard to define as it dependes a lot on the perspective of the observer. Most skilled and experenced boaters know the difference between rough and too rough.

“Only by pushing our limits can we expand our limits.”

“Risk is necessary to growth”


“A ship is safe in harbour but thats not what ships are for” William Shedd

“Danger and delight grow on one stalk.”

“A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner.”

English proverbs

" A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned, for he will be going out on a day he shouldn’t.

But we do be afraid of the sea, and we only do be drowned now and again."