Trying to decide on length for sea kayak

-- Last Updated: Mar-29-10 7:45 PM EST --

Hi all, this is my first post here after lots of lurking. You all are a fantastic group! I would really appreciate some help deciding what length sea kayak I should choose.

I am entering my third year of paddling and I would like to upgrade my ride. I am having trouble deciding whether to go with something in the 14 foot range or something a little bigger. Here is a little background:

I am 5'8" and 150 pounds. I currently paddle a 98 Perception Shadow (16.5 feet). It has been fine when conditions are calm, but in rougher conditions I feel quite unstable in it and it takes quite a bit of water over the sides and the bow, especially when it is packed. Yes, I use a skirt, but it's nylon and I don't want to invest in a neoprene for this old boat, and I'd really rather have something that sits higher and feels more stable anyway. Also, the Shadow seems slow to me, although it might just be me - - I am not a very strong paddler.

I consider myself a sort of advanced beginner. I paddle big lakes in all conditions, big and smaller rivers, and a bit in Long Island sound. What I lack in talent and strength I make up for in persistence. I do at least one two-night kayak-camping trip per year. I plan on doing more open water kayaking in the future (Maine coast and such) and I don't think the Shadow is the right boat for me for that application.

I'm not an aggressive kayaker and probably never will be out there doing rolls and such, but I do like to go out on big water. I have not capsized yet, but when I do (inevitable, I figure) I would rely on wet exits and self or assisted rescue.

My priorities are stability in rough water and keeping up with the group despite not being a very strong paddler. I will sacrifice some maneuverability. Given all of this, would I be better off in a 14' boat or a 16' boat? I have read so many conflicting things I'm completely confused!

My boyfriend has a Cape Horn 15, which rides nice and high and is quite stable, but it's too big a fit for me. That's the type of ride I think I would like, though.

Any suggestions on actual boat make/model would also be much appreciated, but at this point I'm really trying to focus on what length. I am considering the Necky Looksha and the WS Tsunami but am very open to other suggestions. I will be demoing boats in April locally, but the demo will be a short cruise on a relatively calm, small river, so not too indicative of the rough conditions I want to be prepared for.

If you're still reading, thanks for any input!

now thats an easy one.
When torn between a 14’ boat, and a 16’ boat, one should get a 15’ boat.

Glad to be of help!

Impex- Currituck
My wife is the same ht/wt as you. She paddles an Impex - Currituck. We like big open water too. We paddle Lake Superior and camp in the Apostle Islands. She loves this boat! Handles big waves and rollers, hold a far amount of gear, and very responsive.

agongos, that Impex is a beauty. I forgot to specify, though, that I am looking for a plastic yak. I tend to beat mine up quite a bit. Also, I like a rudder since I’m not too strong a paddler (I have cubital tunnel syndrome in both arms).

ok, but . . .
. . . I guess I would rather try to figure out the right size, instead of just compromising. So I am wondering whether it is really true that a longer boat is faster, especially where the paddler is on the wimpier side. And I am wondering if the difference between 14 and 16-17 feet makes a significant difference in stability in rough water. Also, 15’ is a more difficult size to find. But thanks!

WS Zephyr … It’s 15 Feet
It’s skegged. Hey, if you ain’t racing it’s every bit as good as a rudder.

My 2 cents… if you’re going into rougher waters, get a reliable roll.

before picking a length . . .
Sounds like you’re interested in moving yourself to the next level, as far as your paddling environment, and you want a boat that will get you there. Bear with me for a minute while I completely diverge from your question about how long your next rough-water-capable sea kayak should be. :slight_smile:

Since you mention some concerns about stability, and say that you are looking forward to expanding your horizons, I’d highly recommend finding a good coach, and taking a couple “advanced-beginner” lessons covering boat handling, bracing, edging, etc. I think that will have two big benefits for you - 1) You’ll gain experience and confidence to better take on the ocean paddling you are looking forward to; and 2) You’ll gain comfort being off balance by learning how to get yourself back in balance. I think that might make you less focused on stability in your boat search, and result in you getting a boat that is better in rough water and a better platform for your growing skills.

In rough water there is such a thing as too much stability. When the water is bumpy you don’t want the kayak to follow all those bumps and slopes or else you’ll be on your ear - that’s what a wider “stable” boat tends to do. They’re made to remain parallel to the water’s surface, and if that surface is flat they’ll be fine, but in rough water, the paddler needs some freedom to determine which way is up. That’s why to a beginner, a more seaworthy kayak might feel a little “tippy” at first.

Get recommendations for a skilled, accredited coach in your area; learn to embrace the tippiness, and control the lean of the kayak. (It’s a great thing to do in late winter/early spring, because you can start by working in the pool.) Then I think you’ll be in a better place to look for that next rough-water boat, and make a selection that really takes you where you want to go, and doesn’t have you shopping yet again a year from now.

Very good advice from Nate (nm)

my 2 cents worth …

– Last Updated: Mar-29-10 9:36 PM EST –

Hi...first thing i would look at are boats with a high bow that'll cut thru and ride up over a wave instead of plow into them, such as the Prijon Seayak for example. I would also look @ boat widths, keep the boat in the 24"-26" widths for stability but still slender enough so they don't paddle like a barge, stay away from the 30" wide boats. Most sea kayaks are around the 24" range anyways. Boats in the 22-20 " width range are gonna be fast but tippy. I noticed the spec for a Shadow is 22" wide. Thats a tippy boat in my book. test Paddle as many boats as possible b4 you buy. since you want to camp ..i'd vote for the 16' or longer lengths for adequate storage capacity. I rather pack something and not need it , then need it and not have it. you didn't mention if cost and weight factor into the decision, that would be helpful. I can't recommend a specific boat, so look at everything available to you , Prijon's /current design/ necky / perception/ whatever and compare specs. I have a CD Solstice GT @ 24" wide and it's pretty stable( as long as the reach to the next kayak for a beer isn't too long!) good luck and safe paddling
PS: stability is a relative thing.....even a ocean liner could get tipped over and sunk in rough enough seas. another option is too scour Craigslist for used boats of any kind and also look for CLC or Pygmy wooden boats that may be for sale. they may be ideal for a woman because of their light weight. I know theres a couple of CLC boats up 4 sale in the northeastern seaboard states, as I was gonna go look at them but I bought something else.


– Last Updated: Mar-29-10 10:36 PM EST –

If you enjoy big water, in places where swimming is a bad idea, learning to roll would be a huge benefit. If nothing else it makes it easier to practice braces, edging, and other skills that give you more tools for handling wind and waves. If you're afraid of capsizing you'll never relax enough to feel comfortable in textured water.

As for boats, the Avocet and Zephyr are very maneuverable and playful in rough water. The Tempest 165 and the Aquanaut LV track better and are a bit faster. The Necky Eliza is a bit more stable, as is the CD Willow. The most confidence-inspiring boat I've paddled is the NDK Explorer.

Don't get hung up on length -- beam, depth, volume, cockpit fit, and hull shape all have an effect. There's no substitute for paddling a lot of boats.

Outfitting the cockpit for a good fit will also make you more confident.

Something that "sits higher" will be harder to control in the wind.

Here, here best advice …
See comments in the above post, spot on.

Instead of thinking about length take a couple of classes to stretch your skills and try out some different boats.

I could not believe when you said you had never capsized ??? Go out and play in small waves and get knocked over until you start to have fun, and get a really good sense for balance and bracing. Then start looking for a new boat. Kayaking is not about being a strong paddler. I have a friend who is much much better than me at bracing and rolling, she looks like a tiny dancer, it’s all about technique not strength or size. First get comfortable with moving and bumpy water, it’s where the fun is.

Necky Chatham
When i stepped up from my 14’6" rec/hybrid boat i found a good deal on a used necky chatham and haven’t looked back since.

If you are paddling on flat, calm, maybe windy with small waves, it’s not as fast as the less rockered boats, but when you get some waves crashing around you, i feel much more in control, and much more in control than i do in any other boat i’ve tried. Is it more tippy than a 24" wide boat, absolutly, but there’s no comparison for me when it comes to rough water. If you have an opportunity, try out a chatham.

I have also been taking a closer look lately at some of the boreal design boats, i haven’t tried any yet, but would like to get in a test paddle or two in a fjell or a baffin

What is your budget?
That will help us suggest a kayak.

I vote for longer
If you want to go farther and faster a longer boat will have more glide and will go faster than a very similar shorter boat. However this is just an aweful generalization. Width bow shape, boat loading all make a big difference.

But is not all about the boat. If you cannot keep up maybe is is you. Does your paddle fit? Are you rotating properly. Do you have the strength and endurance to keep up?

Buy a boat that makes you comfortable and learn to paddle it 4 to 4.5 miles an hour for a long time and you’ll keep up on the average group trip. A comfortable boat will help you paddle longer with out breaks and more often during the week and you’ll want to take lessons to make it work better.

I’m always getting creamed by retirees who just plan have endurance and know how to paddle well. They paddle often and it doesn’t matter if their boat is 14 or 16 feet they want to be at the front so they can see the wildlife.

Shadow sealion
I had a Perception Shadow 16.5 as an advanced beginner as well. I didn’t mind the thinner faded plastic or the keel stiffener. It held camping gear easily and had very nice looking lines for an older plastic boat, but also felt unstable in rough water. Worst of all it weather-cocked in the slightest wind and required the rudder most of the time. I upgraded to a slightly longer and narrower plastic Chatham 17 and love it. It’s actually much more stable in all conditions and as already mentioned, it’s very confidence inspiring in rough water. Unfortunately it doesn’t carry much gear, it’s heavy, and it’s actually slower despite being longer and narrower. The full chines, flatish bottom, and low but wide bow that makes it so stable also plows through the water more. The Shadows’ rounded hull is tippy, but moves faster. I think that trade off could have been compensated by the better balance, bracing, and edging skills that I now have. It’s been over a year now and I kinda miss the speed and looks of that old Shadow. I hope the new owner is putting it to good use…

I think you shoud stay with the Shadow
and give it more time and possibly get some lessons or help.

My wife has a Shadow, and doesn’t use it much now since she has a QCC-10, but she used to race it and we used to do a lot of off shore camping with her using the Shadow.

She didn’t find any of the problems that you describe.

Keep in mind that any kayak is going to be awash in rough water.

I think by reading your post, that you will have the same problems by moving to a different boat, unless you move to more of a rec. type boat, in which case you never will be able to keep up with your friends.

One other option is if you could try out the Shadows little sister; the Sole, if you can find someone with it. It is a carbon copy of the Shadow, but shorter.



65lb boat

– Last Updated: Mar-30-10 8:09 AM EST –

1. more rescue practice and lessons for rough water paddling
2. learn to roll
3. lighter kayak

Your priorities are at odds and no kayak will address the contradiction you've described. You want to go out in big water, keep up with other paddlers, but not do "rolls and such" and you haven't capsized "yet".

You won't keep up with other paddlers unless your comfortable and your technique is applying the hp to move you. Reducing the weight of the kayak can help a lot but you should NOT be out there in textured water unless you're comfortable. The only shortcoming to the Shawdow is that it's a normal heavy plastic boat that weathercocks too much without the rudder and there are lighter composite boats that will make it easy to keep up but if you aren't comfortable in bumpy water in the Shadow I really don't see much help with a more stable kayak. If you were a 175 top heavy guy who was just beginning and didn't know how to roll I could imagine the boat not feeling stable enough but for a woman your size it's stable, it's your comfort level that needs improving. There are other kayaks that will be easier to keep up but they won't be more appreciably more stable and the ones that are will be too big in high winds.

ps. using a neoprene skirt is not an investment, it's the proper skirt for water that comes over the sides. Your desire to go out into "big water" yet disconcerted by water over the sides is a contradiction. With your 150lbs the Shadow can easily carry another 80lbs comfortably.

pps. honoring your wishes for more stability to stay in your comfort zone and learn I'd suggest watching this page for a used QCC300 or letting the folks there know you'd like to get one. If it doesn't have a rudder so much the better. Get two BIG float bags and fill the space forward of the footpegs with them and tie them off.

ppps. as far as a better ruddered kayak than the Shadow I'd suggest the Necky Eliza but you still have to do lots of rescue practice. You really shouldn't be out in "big water" without a base level of comfort and a more stable kayak (compared to the Shadow) is a half measure.

prijon yukon with rudder.
I know alot of people will say its not a sea kayak

or its slow but It actually keeps up to the group as well as my Tempest 17 this boat rules the world of stabilty in big water/rough water. though you will go through waves and not up and over them it sits high and good neo skirt will keep you dry. definitly get the rudder. I added this and absolutly love it. this yak is about the best river touring yak also with the rudder up it handles like no other touring boat ever can.(you can spin on a dime)with this boat and rudder down I don’t think you will ever capsize unintentionaly. its just that stable. after owning this yak I don’t have much use for my t170 I have alternated trips comparing them to one another for speed etc… this boat is worth demoing take it out with another sea kayaker and see if you think.

prijons rule. lenth 14’5" desite what anyone says this yak keeps up.

"is a long boat faster?", not if you don’t have the hp to move it faster. The problem with the statement is that a linear measurment of length tip to tip above water describes NOTHING of what’s in the water which is the WATERLINE length. Ok, so you could have two 16’ kayaks with measured tip to tip out of the water as is normal in catalogs but the waterlines are entirely different.

So how do you go faster with the same waterline and same effort? Make the wetted area less (narrower) and make the kayak tippier. You don’t want tippier so you’re not going faster.

What you can do is get a lighter kayak and improve your technique. The faster acceleration will feel like going faster and the improved technique will make you faster for the same effort.


– Last Updated: Mar-30-10 8:17 AM EST –

the comments about "cubital tunnel syndrome" , "I'm not very strong" scream for one on one skills development or there's more injury for the future.