What attributes make a kayak "Rec"?

In my relatively brief time on P-Net, I’ve read plenty of posts espousing the virtues of or demonizing the ubiquitous “Recreational Kayak”. So what is a “Rec. boat” exactly? Most people mention big cockpits, wide beam, high primary stability, etc. Eventually the lack of built in floatation or bulkheads is mentioned.

I believe my old Dagger Blackwater 10.5 is classified as a rec. boat, but it has a cockpit small enough to accommodate a spray skirt and allows me to wedge my knees/thighs in enough to stay in while fully inverted if I like. It certainly isn’t fast and it’s stability would not be suitable for large waves, but I’ve had great fun in it on sheltered lakes and class 1+ rivers. It came with no real flotation, but the addition of float bags was easy enough (in my case, I added a rear minicel bulkhead). So do I paddle a classic rec. boat? Is the definition so broad as to be useless?

Everyone needs to start somewhere. Safety seems to be a big point of contention whenever a “Rec. boat” is mentioned, but I would posit that it is not the design of the boat that is inherently unsafe, so much as a lack of training. I’d be willing to wager that a well trained kayaker could be safer in conditions paddling a tubby rec. boat than a "newbie in a $3000 sea kayak.

So what is being done to educate first time kayak owners? In my state, we have to register our boats for a few bucks; that fee includes a boating rules and safety book that completely ignores paddle craft other than registration number placement guidlines. Responsible small shops tend to steer new boaters in the right direction, but what of the big box stores? You can buy a kayak, paddle, PFD, pump and car strap kit at Dick’s, but ask about floatation bags and you’ll receive little more than a blank stare.

Let’s suppose Dick’s carried Tsunamis and Tempests that flew off the shelves. Would their new owners be even marginally safer in cold weather, on big water or difficult conditions? So why are we demonizing a simple design that introduces people to the world of human powered boating when poor education is to blame?


My view is that a Rec. boat is
a misnomer for a rather stable touring boat meant to cover relatively short distances under easy circumstances, where the good ones are remarkebly easy to paddle with low power output, and I think a lot of the bias against them is based on the bad designs.

All kayaks are of bad design,
When put in the wrong environment. Simple design describes it best, I think. All tho I feel your description of a rec. kayak is perfect (a rather stable touring boat meant to cover relatively short distances under easy circumstances, where the good ones are remarkably easy to paddle with low power output)

I Agree…

– Last Updated: Feb-05-07 7:22 AM EST –

that it is the paddler rather than the boat. The rec boat is great introductory platform for a newer paddler. What I see getting "demonized" most often is these paddlers (lacking any significant skills or experience) maintaining that their "rec boats" can do it all. They can't, nor any boat for that matter. It's an issue of matching the boat to the conditions one expects or likes to go out in.

I love seeing folks paddle around lakes ponds and slow rivers in their rec boats. They having a great time and in pretty safe conditions relative to the performance parameters of the boat.

I get a bit leery when I start seeing rec boats in white water runs. Why? Having helped dragged a few to shore, I can tell you it ain't easy and somewhat dangerous since the suckers have huge cockpits that fill up (even with flotation) to make than huge floating logs in the current. The paddlers didn't have rolling skills and, if they did, the boats are wide enough that rolling it would be a challenge for a competent roller.

I've also seen rec boats being taken out into the surf zone. Last summer, I watched this couple try to take on 3" foot surf at shore break. They were able to made it out past the break zone just once, without waves crashing through and imploding their skirts and flipping them. No big deal, except for the freakin' logs headed for the kids swimming next to the shoreline. I watched the female struggle for five minutes trying to get her boat in, When she did, she couldn't turn it over to empty it because it was so heavy. I watch the guy try to catch a wave. He did and promptly broached and flipped over for a swim. Their boats were made to track more and can't maneuver well on a wave.

I've seen rec boats parked on the outer Harbor Islands. Yep, they made it out there. The conditions were pretty placid. But, anyone paddling in the ocean environment long enough know that the winds can turn up unexpectedly and churn up the waves. Even if they have a skirt and it doesn't implode with hits by waves, the short length of the rec boats make covering the 10 miles or so back to shore not an easy task when the winds and waves are up. And, for sure, unless the paddler is of significant size, the rec boat will be floating high and offering lots of windage for the waves and wind to act on. On top of that, controlling that boat in conditions would be relegated to lots of control strokes since rec boats are not conducive to edging and leaning. So, there is that much energy taken up in making correctional strokes rather than going forward.

Sure, I absolutely believe there is a place for rec boats in the range of designs and paddling venues. I and others here think the rec boat paddlers who think they can do anything with the rec boats are the idiots and giving their rec boats a bad rep. Even then, I don't bother anymore to say anything. Some of these rec boaters are quick to be defensive, overjudge their boats and likely their abilities. They're adults and entitled to their choices, even bad ones. I think the "lessons" will be imparted by the water. If they survive, they'll know better.


Whose demonizing?
Labelling a boat a Rec boat isn’t inherently an act of demonizing it. I think it is a useful category. There are folks who disparage Rec boats, because they are lousy boats for THEIR type of paddling (whitewater, open sea, etc.) but those are the kind of people born with a mental impairment–an inability to comprehend that other people’s lives, interests, goals are different than their own. They can’t help it. They were born that way.


– Last Updated: Feb-05-07 8:06 AM EST –

It isn't the boat, it's the user. And I disagree that there is no easily available education on what boat should fit in what environment easily available. While I might disagree with some of what a manufacturer's web site says in the details, overall they do provide decent info on whether a rec boat belongs in "big" water. I was knocking around a couple yesterday, and for example Dagger doesn't even have ocean or ocean bays listed for their rec boats. It only shows up on the "fitness" rating for the boats in the categories beyond rec.

Thre are also great websites out there that talk about kayak features, safety, technique and concerns like hypothermia, such as Atlantic Kayak Tour's site, some etc, as well as books if you dislike cyberspace.

I think that many newbies simply don't avail themselves of this info. It seems that a lot of people who would spend weeks perusing Consumer Reports and brochures and JD Power's ratings for a new or used car will turn around and get a kayak out of the nearest big box store based on no real research. They will make a choice based on advice from a well-meaning but sale-motivated young person who may know a lot about snow boarding but absolutely nothing about paddle boating, and end up with a boat whose dominant value is that it floats (with a paddle that weighs about as much as the last car they got).

I think it's just because those starting boats are cheap - very seductive really. And as long as you use them in the appropriate environment it's a hell of a deal. A few hundred dollars for something that allows you to get out and enjoy water that you aren't allowed to swim in, feel cooler on a hot evening - hard to argue with that. My sister and her husband have a couple of used Otters, and they have had a ton of fun with them the last couple of seasons. They are great boats for what they want to do. It's just that once the darned thing floats on that quiet pond or river well enough, it often ends up being trashed at the mouth of a cove or river going into the ocean when the same person goes on vacation. That is not so good.

By the way, our local group has had the same experience with people in rec boats that capsize in low level moving water. Not only does it risk the shoulder of the rescuers because of all the water in the cockpit, it makes it harder for the paddler to get out of the boat.

Rec boat’s bad reputation

– Last Updated: Feb-05-07 9:25 AM EST –

99.9999% of recreational boats are sold with no flotation and 98% of them will never have flotation installed. In CT rec boat users have died with no PFD on or strapped on the back deck. You have no thigh contact with the hull and therefore no boat control other than the paddle. The high rounded back deck makes it very tough to rescue yourself with a paddle float if you're lucky enough to get that far. And probably the most dangerous thing is that some fools get a false sense of self confidence in them and go out in the winter and in early spring with no proper cold water protection.

They spell disaster all the way and the normal paddling community has to take the hit with things like mandatory registration and a bad safety reputation because of them. I have also found that a great % of them don't want to learn about safety, wearing a pfd or deal with issues like that. What starts as an innocent plastic tub ends up with them going out in all kinds of conditions that the boat is not made for.

In CT we have a rescue day where our club has a session on a lake with free instruction and demos of rescues. I beg these paddlers to come and very few ever arrive. One thing we do is capsize a rec boat with no flotation and try to drain it. Almost no one - even the best paddlers can't drain it for a rescue. It's a real eye opener and reality check. Two paddlers on one - no problem.

only one
The paddler

Thank you for bringing this issue to
light. I too have felt a little uneasy, as a rec boat owner, with some of the posting regarding rec boats.

I am very pleased to see the responses so far to this post.

However, many rec boat owners do put a lot of thought and research into their purchases. I did under the guidance of my husband. He gave me a “must have” list, I added “what I wanted” to that and ended up with my Current Designs Kestrel 140 (TCS).

Its great getting out with a group of paddlers and learning from them. Many local clubs and shops offer courses (even free!) for basic skills.

As my paddling skills are improving, I am now considering adding a touring boat ( another Current Designs most likely). But is my Kestrel that will always heart.

As more of us older folks or those of us that have experienced health issues become paddlers, falling in love with the opportunities to experience nature and make new friends, boats of the rec boat type will continue to grow in popularity.

Sites like P-net are great opportunities for us to learn, or at least where to go to learn, skills from those of you that have more experience.

My rec boat will not do everything, but it will do a lot and has given me the confidence to seek out new skills and maybe even a new boat.

Thanks again for sharing your knowlege, understanding and support!


are 2 types of rec boats.The SIS style already described and most SOT’s.Either is perfectly safe on small protected waters where conditions simply cant go beyond the rec boats capabilities.Rec SOT’s can handle larger exposed waters as safely as touring style SIS’s.It’s the idiots that take the boats into places they have no business being in the first place that causes the trouble/bad rep.As pointed out conditions can change dramatically in a matter of minutes.Just keep in mind the yaks design,intended use,and wear a good PFD and you’ll be safe.Good luck!

education is key
I have a rec boat (its my first kayak). It makes a great first boat for easy conditions. At this point, I don’t have any desire to try whitewater or sea kayaking because I realize that my boat and my skills are limited.

I do think education is the key, though. I admit, I didn’t do a lot of research before I bought my kayak, but I have done quite a bit this winter, including taking a class. Colleges often offer these classes that are not real expensive. Other than that though, it can be hard to find places that offer classes. Its not real evident where paddling shops are or who would offer classes. Books and DVDs are great, but can get expensive. My local library doesn’t have much in the way of paddling info, either. It would be great if chain stores like Dicks sold books, and or even included informational material or a class with the purchase of a rec boat. Of course just because information is readily available doesn’t mean that people would use the information, but it would make it easier for people who want it. It takes a lot of work to be educated, and I think a lot of people just want to go out and play, and they don’t think they have the time to take the class or read the books.

I don’t think increased regulations would do much, because good, responsible people who don’t need the regulations would follow them, but the people who need to follow them won’t anyways.

Some of the issues are common sense though, like dressing for the weather and wearing a pfd. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of people that don’t have common sense.

Good Point about SOTs
SOTs take care of many of the safety issues that have been attributed to “rec” kayaks:

  • They have built in Flotation.
  • They will not fill up with water and become difficult to control.
  • They are easy to re-enter from the water.

    Unfortunately, they can still be paddled by stupid people…

Rec Boats have a place
My first boat was a dagger bayou. I still own it today. I find it a great boat for running long miles of river that have occassional whitewater (class I/II). I recently bought another rec boat/day tourer for overnight river running trips. It has the smallest cockpit of any of my boats to include my ww boat and sea kayak and it has thigh braces with a skeg.

I think they are great first boats because you can try out paddling without spending a bunch of money. If you like, then you can get into ww or other types of paddling, which is exactly what I did.

I do agree that they give folks a false sense of security and I’ve seen people run Class IV drops in a rec boat. They’ve been lucky they haven’t gotten hurt.

This year my paddling club is looking to have some rec kayak type training to encourage rec kayakers to develop the skills to negotiate easy rivers. Unfortunately, ACA doesn’t have any type of classes specifically designed for rec kayaks.

Juat a quick thought
This may have started a little backwards for the clearest discussion.

All kayaks are (hopefully) recreational - unless I have missed someone advertising for commercial towing or taxi services with a kayak.

But not all kayaks should be considered to be sea kayaks, or for that matter whitewater kayaks. There are added design features in these boats that are specific to those environments.

I almost bought one
I almost bought a rec boat as my first boat – but was instead encouraged here and elsewhere to look at used boats. I ended up with a much better (bigger, faster, safer) boat for only $150 more than the rec boat. There is nothing wrong with a rec boat if you know what you are buying, but most beginners don’t know what they are buying.

It’s in the way that you use it…

I enjoy seeing kids and parents out in rec boats on the local lake in good conditions. They’re a great way to introduce folks to the fun of being on the water, and to exploring the shoreline and the islands. I’m not happy seeing folks in rec boats in with no PFDs, in bad weather, soon after ice-out, or on the local whitewater runs.

I don’t think rec kayaks are inherently any more dangerous than open canoes. The “problem” is that beginners usually feel much more comfortable and secure in a rec kayak. It’s a bit like people complaing about how dangerous ATVs are when a motorcycle is obviously even less stable.(it won’t even stand up by itself) The appearence of safety can be deceiving.

I don’t think that folks here have “deamonized” rec boat designs. They have been very vocal about how rec kayaks were not appropriate for them, and for certain kinds of paddling.

As for what defines a rec boat – how about one where the marketing material contains at least three versions of the phrase “reassuring stability”? :wink:

Aren’t most kayaks recreational?
I suspect that a very small number of people use them for work.

Defined by what it lacks
Most rec boats are cheaper because not much thought has been given to its design and a lot of useful stuff has been left off/out. What is unfortunate about this is there are nice boats out there that have bulkheads, dry storage, thigh braces, and deck lines and are just as stable as most rec boats. They cost only slightly more than all but the cheesiest of rec boats. These boats are easy to paddle, track nicely and will allow you to learn some real paddling skills if you want to. You can even roll them. In terms of what you get for the money most rec boats are not a bargain and have almost no advantage over an entry level sea kayak except price.

I’ll be in Avon next Saturday
A place called, “Country Sports”. What would you recommend for me who likes rocky rivers but also does a 10 mile lake? 4 years paddling experience, cold water, large paddler.

DR. D…
I think that all depends on why…and what kind of water you intend to be paddling on.

I paddle a Loon 111 here in the mid atlantic region, sticking to the low flow limestone karst rivers we have here. Off shore or even the sounds in the Chesapeke are not for me. Class II is about as heavy a water as you will see me paddle in the Loon. I know my limitations with it and I’m no adreline junkie (okay maybe a little) But I can blow off my testosterone-laden paddling pardners and walk a class II and above when I know I don’t have the skill, knowledge, or the boat for situation. That being said, there a few CL II (+) rapids on the Greenbrier and the New (NOT in the Gorge)That I do run, but only because I have been through them enough over the years to know the safest line and the turns in them. I’m particular about the levels as well. I do the portage thing when the USGS levels set off the “too high” warning light in my head.

AS for a “better boat”…thanx but a fiberglass, carbon fiber or Kevlar 16 foot sea kayak where I paddle would be so much fuzzy cloth scrap where I take the loon. But if I were moving to the Outer Banks or a place down on the Chessy…a 17 foot QCC would definately be on my must-have list.

Picking a boat for your water type is similar to real estate: location location location. In other words, WHERE you’re going to be paddling is just as important as what.