What is a "true" sea kayak

Would really like to hear opinions from all sea kayakers out there.

what I mean is…
I guess I am asking is where do you draw the line between a sea kayak and others?

I am being purposely vague as I don’t want to lead this discussion in any specific direction.


Chesapeake Bay Swim -White Water Yak
During the Chesapeake Bay swim, held about three weeks ago, witness a small white water kayak out in the middle of the Bay gracefully playing on the water watching over the swimmers. She had absolutely no problem with the swells and current. Yeah, I’d say She put all of us “18’ Kayak” to shame thinking we had a monopoly on open water. To answer your question, what ever one feels comfortable paddling in is sufficient to be a Sea Kayak. V/R Humble

With a few exceptions singles would be

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max 25 inch beam, minimum 16 feet long. designed to be efficient over distancs in moderate conditions. Designed to be rollable. Maximum secured floatation front an rear (bags or hatches bulkheads.

I am referring to modern kayaks for adults. of course the Innuit and other native peoples did not have redundant floatation. But I believe that we modern kayakers should.

It is largely subjective…
…but most WW kayaks don’t do at all well on

open water. Not the staying upright part, but in

the actual GOING part. They don’t track well

and a good many have absolutely no glide. Ie, if

you stop paddling, you stop.

Maintaining course and speed is tricky because

they get bounced around a lot more.

Some are better than others. I have an old

school displacement hulled creek boat that does

MUCH better on open flat water than my modern

river running WW boat.

Typically, WW boats have better acceleration and

maneuverability than touring boats in that they

can get up to speed quickly, but neither can hold

a candle to my touring boat for speed on open water.

Like the guy said: it’s largely whatever you are

happy with.

Qajaq, Qajariaq, Sea Kayak, etc.
Though I’m very interested in all the various forms of traditional Inuit boat designs from both Greenland and North America, I will admit that my main interests to this point lean towards the traditional Greenland Inuit boats, so my comments below will refer more often to Greenlandic language and concepts as I consider our modern concept of the “sea kayak”.

In the most general terms, I’d say that “sea kayak” is a term we use to describe particularly “seaworthy” modern recreational “touring type” boats that, to sometimes widely varying degrees, adhere to the designs of traditional Inuit “hunter’s boats” (qajaq) that were meant to be used on the sea. This general definition would exclude certain more specialized boats, like whitewater and surf boats, racing boats (including open sea racing boats), and what we’ve come to call “recreational kayaks” (boats meant for use on generally calm, protected waters, but not generally considered fully “seaworthy” for open sea paddling, rough and/or cold water uses).

“Seaworthy” might mean different things to different people, but when I think of “sea”, I think of open waters, often cold, that are subject to tides/currents, swell, and often enough, weather conditions that can greatly enhance the effects of tides, currents, swell, and cause its own particular and severe surface conditions in addition to these.

Now, if anyone wants to get a little more picky with respect to more traditional definitions, I’ll offer the following…

Just as the Inuit have many words to describe various types of snow, so do they have various words to describe their boats; and they can get pretty picky about this terminology. For instance, a Greenlander means a very specific thing when they call a boat a “qajaq” (notice that there’s also no need to attach a word for “sea” onto this word, as it was simply understood to be a seagoing boat). To a Greenlander, a “qajaq” is a skin-on-frame boat, whose overall dimensions and shape, rib spacing, and deck beam spacing are derived by calculating the various body part measurements of the individual builder/paddler of the boat (anthropometric measurements). Therefore, each “qajaq” was meant to fit a particular individual, and by being so, would be at its “seaworthy best” for only that particular person. Any boat that might be “generally sized” in order to fit a range of body sizes/types, was not a “qajaq”, but a “qajariaq” (loosely translated to “qajaq-like”). This definition would then include all mass produced modern “sea kayaks”. It is only when we would go so far as to build our own skin-on-frame boats to fit our own bodies - using traditional design concepts/rules - that we might earn the right to call our boat “qajaq”.

It is interesting to note that while it is certainly true that the Inuit “qajaq” was essential to the survival of the people when used as a hunting boat, there is some evidence that even the ancient hunters may have enjoyed some moments of purely “recreational paddling”. The verb used to describe this activity is “qajartuarpoq” (“to paddle in a qajaq for pleasure”). This may or may not be a more modern concept, but until a Greenlandic historian steps forward to dispute the possibly ancient origin of this verb, we might assume that they did indeed find some time now and again to paddle purely for pleasure as well.


It is defined in almost all of…
the kayak race applications. i.e. - the difference between sea kayaks (touring kayaks), rec kayaks and racing kayaks .

Peter K basically says it above except the sea kayak has to have a least one dry compartment for storing equipment.

Float bags don’t count.




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Hi Jack,

You wrote:

"...except the sea kayak has to have a least one dry compartment for storing equipment.
Float bags don't count."

Does this mean that you would not consider a traditionally built skin-on-frame "qajaq" a "sea kayak"? How about any number of folding boat designs as well? Is it your belief that "Sea Kayak" is really so specifically and exclusively defined as you seem to be saying here?


Racing has its reasons for
defining them that way which do not relate to seaworthyness. but rather to fair racing within classes.

Right let us just be clear re: risk
Seaworthy can indeed mean many things. IF about Risk with capitol R, then the most efficient boat forward speed, safest in following seas, easy to roll, small cockpit volume, bulkheads or float bags with sea sock, least windage, etc, etc, etc. and so on.

The margin of safety resides mainly in our ability to make smart decisions and manage conditions, skills, etc. However, if only a discussion about the boat, there might be some agreement here about what affects margin of safety and what may not. Once chosen we all make our pact with the devil and head on out there.



Traditional skin on frame.
they were not meant to be used in the rough open seas.

They were meant to be in the calm open areas of the arctic.

There is a great museum in Juneau that takes you through the various stages of the native skin on frame crafts.

They wouldn’t have survived in the rough open waters.



Yep a sea kayaker might be able

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to make a rec boat survivable at sea for a lot of trips. but a non-skilled kayaker in a sea kayak at sea is not safe.

I give the poster credit; I think he wants to be a sea kayaker and wants a boat that might last him for a while on that journey rather than to make a rec boat survivable at sea for a lot of trips. but a non-skilled kayaker in a sea kayak at sea is not safe.

I give the poster credit; I think he wants to be a sea kayaker and wants a boat that might last him for a while on that journey rather than becoming a limiting factor in short order.

Nice of you to bring up sea socks in combination with float bags. Being a bulkhead and hatch owner on all my serious boats I forgot.

Nice of you to bring up sea socks in combination with float bags. Being a bulkhead and hatch owner on all my serious boats I forgot.

Just buy a kayak and get out on the water. it’s better than reading the responses to your multitude of posts. You’ll be happy (not said facetiously but with my perception of your best interests in mind).

with respect but profound disagreement
Perhaps indigenous Alaskan kayaks were not used so much in rough waters (I know you have traveld ther and been to alaskan museums) but Greenlanders coped with waves from calving glaciers and rougher waters as a matter of course. There is a really good discussion of this difference in indigenous kayaks in Derek Hutchinson’s “Eskimo rolling” on page 91 (in the king island roll chapter).

No doubt Greg Stamer or one of the other scholars could go further on the rough water culture in Greenland. It’s OK that we disagree on this minor point but I feel that I should uphold the excellence of indigenous peoples technology.

I agree. Also…
Though I have yet to build my first SOF (W. Greenland style), I have paddled a friend’s SOF in rough waters, and it was a joy to paddle! Perhaps I wouldn’t take one into heavy rock gardens or small sea caves with plenty of swell and waves (I prefer a somewhat shorter boat for these anyway), but in rough “open water” conditions, I feel just fine about the seaworthiness of a SOF boat.


For me
Something reliable in extreme conditions, with the ability to maintain a good cruising speed when loaded with enough gear for a week or two and easy to look at.

Surprise To Me…

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Jack, I feel my SOF is a tad bit more "seaworthy" than the canoe you proposed to do a P2P crossing with. ;) I suppose folks realize that discussions about "seaworthiness" is much about the paddler as it is with a boat or any other piece of equipment?


Researchers of "traditional" boats like Dyson, Heath, Petersen, Zimmerly, and even Ole D.H himself need to go to that musuem in Juneau 'cause they all seem to be wrong in extolling the seaworthiness of these boats in their books.

I had a great discussion once
and paddled with a guy who builds exact duplicates of the various SOF that were used many moons ago for museaums.

I think he said he had close to 35 of them in various museums and with collectors.

I will just leave my discussion with that.



On "calving glaciers"
No one in their right mind paddles a kayak within several hundred yards of a calving glacier.

That can be suicide !

After several hundred yards or more the wave(s) becomes a swell which anyone can paddle over wether you are in SOF, plastic, kevlar, touring, rec or even a canoe.