Trying to understand SOTs

I certainly understand why beginners might feel trapped in a regular kayak and might want a SOT. And I understand why fisherman like all that usable deck space and live wells. Is it because it’s self-bailing that many paddlers like SOTs? It seems like for racing, you could just use the same hull, drop a paddler in it with a deck and you would get higher initial stability by lowering the center of gravity and weather protection. Or is it about the higher stroke that SOT racers like?

I really don’t care what boat people paddle but really don’t quite understand why people use them other than the self-bailing aspect.

This might help explain part of it:

Ease of self rescue …
Ease of self rescue is one reason I bought a SOT. I live in a colder climate where the water temps make it important to get back on the kayack as quickly as possible. Also, while I don’t feel trapped in a closed deck, I just like to feel the sun from head to toe when it’s nice out. I guess it compares to the feeling of traveling by bike/motorcyle vs by car on a nice day.

All very good points…
…just look what happens with these guys and their SOTs in surf:


If I lived in south Florida year round
I would have a high end SOT. -Not nearly as hot as a enclosed SINK.

Jack L

other reasons …
#1…large open area to swing a rod or a net around while fighting/landing a fish.

#2…stability…stability…stability…most SOT’s( but not all ) are over 30" wide.

#3…easier access to live wells and storage not commonly available with SINK’s

#4…much easier to get on and off from when necessary.


– Last Updated: Aug-06-11 1:22 PM EST –

The last time I saw a recently active Ranger was nearly 10 years ago, and he had just switched over to calmer water and more photography. He arrived with a still-intact one of their custom designed SOT's, which was only in that state because it hadn't gotten wet with one of them doing Ranger-like things in it. I suspect finding an intact Tsunami Ranger boat now would be almost as hard as finding one of the world's best Stadivarius violins in grandma's attic.

As to the popularity of SOT's, they make decent platforms for someone to run mild class 2 rivers without knowing what they are about, and are fun for kids in summer camp to take out on the lake and just mess around. Fewer risks than a SINK and worry about flotation than a SINK. We see them used that way round here.

you mentioned racing
A surf ski is nice because they can be extremely narrow. So narrow that you can just about bet you are going over at some point. With no deck and self bailing, get back in is a snap.

Ryan L.

I’ll 2nd…
I’ve taken my SOT to Florida on occasion. It really shines in the warm climate. I’ve thought that if I lived down there, I’d have a long “fast” SOT.

…some of those guys (and gals?) are getting on in years and you can only bang your head against rocks for so long.

Anyhow it sure looks like they had massive amounts of fun when they weren’t getting slammed into rocks & shoals.

Tony M. in RI has two
a tandem and a single. He can do stuff in those boats that puts us SINK-ers to shame. Wears a wetsuit all winter, too.

My older teens love SOTs
they have awesome SINKs (a Current Design Squamish and a P&H Capella) but choose short wide Ocean Kayak Frenzys.


Ease and simplicity. No water to bail - just jump off, swim, climb on. No rescue materials needed ie bilge pump, paddle float etc. They love the feeling of the sheer openess of laying out and tanning and the coolness of not sitting inside a cockpit! They are slow and wide but they are not as interested in paddling long distances - more the sheer joy of floating, paddling a little and swimming. Thats why they love them best.

My reasons
1. easier access to storage.

2. I do a lot of river clean-ups, and I can carry more bags of trash with my SOT than with a SINK.

3. A couple of the launch sites I frequently use require a long haul from the parking area to the launch. With the SOT, I don’t have to break down my Nemo cart (ouch! pinches fingers! and takes time to take apart and put together) but can just stow it intact in the back well.

4. Florida summer–can dangle feet, sit sideways, getting in and out is easy.

I believe I just talked myself out of the SINK I was thinking about buying…thanks! you saved me a bunch of money.

Yes, the focus of my question.
If they are so narrow that you are always guaranteed a capsize than why not have the paddler sit in the kayak, increase stability with the same hull and install an electric bilge pump. It seems if a paddler is agile enough to get back on to a super narrow surf ski, they can easily get back into a cockpit (butt first) and flip the switch and bail the boat.

My point is that you would have way more stability with the same hull and probably never capsize in the first place.

Reasons for their popularity? Common insistance that a kayak have the stability of an oil drilling platform. Ease of getting in and out. No skill needed to re-enter. Easy access to all your gear/stuff. No care or consideration on performance.

With the way I fish and constantly hop in/out, most current advise would have me in a SOT. Trouble is, I own and have paddled SOTs, and don’t care for their rediculous weight or barge like paddling quality. I much prefer my 22" wide SINK with an ocean cockpit. (Keep the SOT just to pile the kids on for family trips.)

I think there would be a market for a sub-45#, 16’-18’ long x 22"-24" wide SOT, among fishermen and others who like the deck access of a SOT, but want something that paddles more like a SINK in a more reasonable weight. That would fill a curiously missing gap between surf ski and tub.

im not sure
You are adding much stability. You can buy that, it is called a k1. They are usually designed to go straight on calm water. There are other designs that some companies make that are 20 inches or less on width and usually 18 ft or more. I haven’t paddled them but I think it is dealers choice on what you prefer. It seems like ocean racers in cold water tend to use these more.

The surf ski is also desirable because of the sitting position. It is a more knees up and feet slightly below the butt position. A decked boat usually prohibits this. I have seen a few designs that have really tall front decks but I haven’t paddled them either. In a lot of the down river type races, the high finishers are on surfskis. They are remarkably fast and let you stay cooler and move around a bit. The longest distance paddler in 24 hrs was just set on a huki.

Ryan L.

I simply cannot stand to be locked
in position for long.In a SOT,I can move and keep my back from locking up.

Hard to say why …

– Last Updated: Aug-07-11 11:40 AM EST –

... but out of 36 or so boats in the high-performance kayak division at this year's Blackburn challenge, only 2 were decked boats (West Side Boat Shop Thunderbolts of some sort, if I recall). The rest were "sit on top" surf skis. Most of the ski guys were kayak guys just a few years ago. I am one of them too, now.

There is just something liberating with a ski vs. a similar kayak. You just hop and go. No need for a pump, no need for a spray deck, the thing weights next to nothing so it is easy to carry...

You are correct that a kayak of the same hull as a ski is less likely to go over in the first place (assuming good bracing skills) because you are "attached" to the kayak through your knees/tights and the kayak's braces. And if you do go over, then you can roll back quickly. However, if you can't roll back quickly, re-entry of a kayak is much more difficult in conditions that caused you to capsize in the first place. I had a Rapier 18 for over 2 years, now have Epic V10 Sport - similar stability but the ski is a lot easier to just remount and go. The Rapier I could roll (most times) or re-enter but then pumping is a real pain (huge cockpit). Racing kayaks are about weight saving - the deck adds weight and no one in a racing kayak would want an electric pump and batteries to lug around.

When going to open water you are supposed to dress for the water. In a ski you kind of have to do it - you are wet all the time. In a kayak half of you is protected and usually sweating like a pig under the spray deck while the other half of you enjoys the cool breeze outside.

If I had to deal with side chop and breaking waves from the side all the time, I think a kayak with proper bracing is better than one without (regardless of deck or not), since without that you can get thrown-off it more easily. But for moderate chop, where things don't come crashing over you from the side requiring you to roll/exit, the ski actually has enough contact - through the foot strap and the high bucket seats.

Yesterday I had a stroke improvement class in 1-2 foot wind waves with a long fetch, 20knot wind, white caps. Did that in sea kayaks. After the class I hopped on the ski for a quick run. Did not feel unstable at all and it moved so much better in any direction (due to the long hull and super narrow beam that is not affected much by the chop and a big understern rudder that allows great control). And was flying downwind linking waves and I was not sweating in the process since I could feel the cool breeze fully -;)

thanks for all the input
I have a much better understanding now, reading all the input.

Safety When Surfing Alone
Biggest reason I use a SOT still is that I like to paddle down the coast by myself and stop and surf and spots that are very hard to get to otherwise. I own SINKs and can roll, but recognize that a surf specific boat like a Cobra Strike is much safer when alone, very easy to climb back on and very easy to get away from the boat if swept over rocks, or pounded into the beach.

A few years ago I did a surf clinic with Sean Morely using my Cobra Strike on a very rough day. I was the only other boater in a class of 10 who was not swimming. I mostly just surf waveskis now, which are much higher performance when on the wave, have sold all my SINKs except one whitewater boat.