What size kayak?

I’ve done flat water type canoeing and am interested in getting a one person kayak - again, for flat water/large rivers.

I did some looking and damn, i’m more confused than ever. Yaks come in all sorts of sizes, don’t they? I’m a big guy - 6’, size 13 feet and 245 lbs, so does that mean I need a 17’ kayak? I can’t see that being correct, but some list a max weight (like a 12’ showed 200#).

I’m thinking of building a skin on frame…hey, I’d love a stripper canoe but I’ll never live long enough to complete it, but as long as a work of art isn’t my ultimate goal (or super light weight) I might be able to do a canvas on plywood type yak. But then I’ve seen some on clearance at Dicks for $200-300…but they’re the shorty kind.

I’m not after something ‘sea’ worthy (I assume a sea kayak is one with a rudder?) or something that I can pack a week’s provisions aboard. Speed has some appeal to me though, and I know that means length.

Any thoughts and advice from you experience folks out there?

My son has size 13 feet
and he just built a Pygmy Arctic Tern 17 high volume. He talked with them first and that was the recommendation.

My husband and I have a couple Pygmy Arctic Tern 14’s and they’re among our favorites.

Where To Start???

– Last Updated: Aug-21-09 11:10 PM EST –

The skin-on-frame is a real possibility - light, simple to construct, very light, inexpensive and capable of being very precisely matched to the fit requirements of the user-builder. Check Tom Yost's site for some very good info. Stitch and glue ply/epoxy kayaks, like the VOLKSKAYAKs we build and paddle, are also fairly straightforward to build (about 80-100 hours for a first boat, working from plans and raw materials), reasonably light (40-45 lbs), and relatively inexpensive. Then there's used plastic kayaks - look around, test-paddle as many as you can, and you can often find one in good shape for perhaps 1/2 retail...

Re a 'sea kayak' - I generally understand that to mean the boat is perhaps 16' or longer, has watertight bulkheads and hatches fore and aft, good deck rigging, a reasonably-sized cockpit with a properly fitted spray skirt and is designed to handle well in a variety of coastal paddling conditions. Some have rudders, others skegs, and a lot of very fine sea kayaks have neither, depending on paddler skill and hull design for control. As a general rule, longer and skinnier means faster, albeit with some reduction in initial stability.

Re the 'Dick's' boats - if it's short and beamy, it won't be fast and probably won't track really well. It will also likely not have bulkheads, which can lead to major problems if you flip or swamp the kayak. If you plan to spend your time near shore on relatively small bodies of water, it may do the job just fine, but the potential for growth is pretty limited. They've just hit here at Canadian Tire and Costco the last year or so, and there's a good few for sale after a season, as people realize the limits of these craft.

big man sizing for SOF’s
There’s been an extensive thread going over at qajaqusa.org forums this week advising a big guy who is planning to build an SOF on how to achieve the displacement volume and internal dimensions he needs. Seems like some pretty experienced builders had weighed in last time I checked, if you’re interested.

There was also a guy on there a few weeks ago selling a used skin on frame that he had built for a 6’4" 235# guy (if I am remembering correctly). Don’t recall if it is still available. I bought my own like-new SOF from a paddling.net ad poster for $800 and couldn’t be happier with it.

Ya Gotta Try 'Em
I’m taking a rental back in a few minutes. I wanted to know how a particular model would do in wind and waves so I rented it. Go to demos and try 'em all.

Big guy

– Last Updated: Aug-22-09 10:32 AM EST –

Two of the most-recommended big-guy boats for easy flatwater are the Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 and Old Town Dirigo 140. Very common, should be easy to find a demo, can easily handle your weight.

I wouldn't go shorter than 12' for flatwater.

If you want to build a stitch & glue, the Pygmy Osprey standard or Tern 17 might be good choices.

length versus max weight

– Last Updated: Aug-22-09 2:30 PM EST –

Except for at the extreme short end, length and max weight aren't really correlated. Boat designers can make a short boat carry more by making it wider or other means to increase flotation volume.

So you need to more look at what type of boat you want. The 4 major styles are:

Touring kayak - generally 16-18 feet, relatively skinny, good for many conditions, and for carrying a load. Fast and efficient, as kayaks go. Strongly recommended that one takes a basic sea kayaking class before using - there are some safety considerations

Day touring - similar to touring, but often a little shorter (14-16 feet) and maybe a touch wider. Can carry less. A bit less fast and efficient, but generally no slouch. Strongly recommended that one takes a basic sea kayaking class before using - there are some safety considerations

Recreational - still considered a sit inside kayak (as are the ones above), but have very large cockpit openings (often so large a spray skirt won't work) and are usually shortish and wide (like 30" wide, were a touring boat is often 22-24"). Relatively slow, but requires less knowledge to use. Still good to take a class to know how to get back in one should you flip.

Sit on Top - as the name implies, you don't sit inside, but sit on top. Usually wide and shorter, like a recreational boat. Easy to use - most people do fine without a class (though strongly recommended you practice getting back on, should you fall off).

Rudders or skeggs can come on any of the above, but are more likely found on touring or day touring.

My suggestion would be to take a kayaking class that covers the basics (strokes, recoveries, etc.) and also take every opportunity to demo, rent, try out boats of different shapes and sizes, and see what feels good. Then buy a used boat first, as after some use you may find that what felt good when demoing isn't really what was most appropriate for you. After a while, then consider a new boat or having a SOF made for you.

Go cheap on the first boat, but it is worth spending money on decent paddles.