Which Style of Kayak?


For a few years I’ve used a really old battered kayak. In that time I’ve purchased a number of other kayaks thinking they’d be better but each time they’re either very tippy or they’re slow and I’m struggling to know what to look for in order to get similar performance so I ended up patching it up to keep it going however I’d really like to find another.

The reason for being after a newer (still second hand) one is that it’s very old, the bit you sit in is very snug compared to most sit in kayaks that have a bit more space plus I’d also like to have two so that I can go out with other people but it’s useful to have two that are fairly well matched in terms of speed.

The current one I have seems to be surprisingly stable and cuts through the water quite nicely, at least compared to a sit on kayak I just sold because it was so slow.

Any advice on the style needed for a similar level of stability and at least as fast (faster would be a bonus but guessing that won’t be possible without sacrificing stability) would be really appreciated as I keep cocking it up. Anyone would think I run a kayak business the number I’ve bought and sold!

If it helps I paddle only on a tidal river.

Thank you.

Photo as upload didn’t work -
Showing the age/condition:

Since “restored”, but still not great on the inside!

Narrow, higher-performance boats are less stable, but you have to give yourself time to adjust to it. It will happen if you give it time (weeks to months) and you have decent basic skills (paddling, bracing, turning, etc.). There is no magic boat that’s going to be both fast and really stable; there’s always a trade-off. Once you learn how to handle a higher-performance boat, you’ll never want to go back.


What kind of water do you paddle in, and what kind of water do you want to paddle in? Flat calm lakes? Slow rivers? Fast rivers with rapids? Ocean bays? Open ocean?

For your “tidal river” how big is it?

Kayak designs are generally only suitable for certain conditions.

IMO a tidal river is usually best handled with something that has the characteristics of a sea kayak. Hull speed for when you need to go in a direction opposing tide and river flow going the same way. And sea kayak abilities in bumpy stuff for when the two forces collide.

But what l am seeing above is that you have spent time getting boats that feel safer to you rather than finding a paddling group or instruction to learn how to take advantage of a higher performance boat. Like a sea kayak.

I am wondering if your best bet, both for you and a guest boat, would be SOTs. They can be less tricky to handle.

I think the reason your old kayak feels stable is because you are used to it. If you spent more time in what you called tippy boats, you would have gotten used them too.

Boats are not tippy, they are sensitive, the people that paddle them are tippy.

My favorite advice to people is to tell them to find a boat that challenges them a bit. If it is stable the first time, you will be bored with it within six months.

I would try some of those boats you call tippy a few more times, get used to them. SOT sea cows are not great things on tidal rivers. Some days you have to paddle back upstream and they will beat you up.

It might be helpful if you would say something about your size and your relative fitness and maybe how much money you are prepared to spend. There is no general rule that higher performance boats are necessarily less stable.

From the information that you did allow, I’m thinking you probably need something over 15 feet and 17 or more might be even better. Be aware that not all longer narrower boats are equal in many ways. Some older designs that I have tried out over the years were real slugs and some had nasty little traits that definitely didn’t do much for your paddling enjoyment.

Thank you for all of the replies and sorry if what I was asking seemed a bit stupid, this is very much an occasional hobby for me. I’ll try and answer some of the questions.

I’m 5’8, 180lb muscular build, good fitness.

River is approx 6 miles in length. Tend to go out and do 4-8 miles currently, not that far. Tide can be quite fast. I won’t be taking kayak anywhere else as don’t have the ability to transport it.

Sorry if tippy is the wrong terminology. I guess my priority is something stable, maybe it’s a case of anything that’s sit in and similar shape to my current one will tick the boxes but it seems just a subtle change of shape can make a big difference to the stability. While I appreciate the comments about getting lessons and getting better, to be honest the appeal to me is to simply jump in and enjoy the surroundings, not so much about max performance or fitness and my balance is absolutely hopeless, plus if I want to be able to go out with others who may not be experienced. I realise that may seem odd for enthusiasts in a forum who are really into it but I’m lucky to find the time to go out once every couple of weeks during the warmer months.

All in all I guess I’ve answered my own question. Anything too narrow will sacrifice stability and anything too bulky and sit on will compromise speed so something similar shape to what I’m used to would be best. That said any pointers on what to look out for would be more than welcome.

I am curious about which other kayaks you have tried.

Did you try any sea kayaks?

Sea kayaks can be considered tippy by first impression, but it is usually in the head of the paddler. As soon as he relaxes, almost all sea kayaks will sit stable on the water. If he doesn’t relax, bets are off.

Also, stability is really something one should find in the paddle, not in the kayak. This is where lessons may help. Or at least some youtube videos.

Taking a better look at the photos, I suspect that the issue you have with other kayaks is less one of instability and more one of being able to relax in a different boat.

Assuming I have it right that you are paddling what is in those photos, that is not a barge. It appears to be along the lines of an ancient moving water boat, maybe for slalom.

If you go to what are called rec boats, yes they will be slow as molasses compared to that boat.

I would also posit that a lower level touring boat, say a Wilderness Systems Tsunami in the right size for you, should not feel any less stable than the boat in the picture. Probably more so. I mention this line because they are an example of boats that have features apt for handling any messy water if you find yourself in small haystacks, decent hull speed, and are among the easier boats to find used. Other manufacturers like Current Designs have boats in this niche.

These boats are also likely to have a more generous cockpit than the boat you show.

Spending more time in different boats is likely to be the cure. If you are comfortable in what is pictured, an entry level touring boat that can be picked up used should be something to which you can acclimate.

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No I’ve not tried a sea kayak. Most recent one was a Galaxy Fuego (sit on) which was too big and bulky, also tried a whitewater one (didn’t realise until after), think it was called a riot or something and a couple of ones I didn’t know the name of but very lightweight. I’ve not tried many other sit in kayaks similar size to mine so that has to be the answer I think.

That’s great thank you very much Celia, I will get reading on the type of kayaks you’ve mentioned.

Oh hell. I’ll stick my neck out. Get yourself a 14 foot Dagger of some model or another or a Wilderness Systems Zephyr. If those aren’t stable enough for you it’s time to find another hobby.


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Glad it helped. I just looked and in the CD line the equivalent would likely be the Vision boats. But I am not seeing them in plastic and even a used price will be higher. The Tsunamis, or Manitou series from Necky which also was heavily used in rental fleets, are plastic hence cheaper.

OOPS - got caught. The CD transition kayaks are also available in poly/plastic.


Cheers Rex. To be honest I don’t think what I’m used to is especially stable, fairly average I think but I’ve tried a couple of very difficult ones which I got on the cheap! Thank you, I’ll have a look at those.

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Thanks. Stupid question coming up…what impact does the length have? Think my current one is 15 foot(ish).

For the most part long, skinny boats are faster and less stable than short, wide ones. 14 to 15 foot boats tend to be a good compromise. I’ve really enjoyed the used Dagger Alchemy I acquired some years back. It does a pretty good job on flat water and an even better job in wind and waves.

CD has several of its Vision kayaks in poly, namely the 135R and the 150R.

And in its “Transitional” range they also offer the Whistler and Breeze in poly.


Length means little in terms of speed unless it is accompanied by less width. It is the ratio that matters. Expedition sea kayaks can be over 2 plus feet longer and four inches less wide than transitional kayaks. Giving them a skinnier ratio.

kfbrady, thanks for the catch of the CD boats being available in poly. I should have poked around a bit more.

I guess the other respondent were not able to see the photo links you posted — did you have trouble posting them here in the discussion?

The boat you have been using that you like so much is quite old, probably 1970’s or ‘80’s, appears to be laid up fiberglass and could be home made (many of us in that era built them ourselves from molds that our paddling clubs had). I’m guessing it is 13’ long and was probably made on the mold for slalom boats of the type that were used in Olympic whitewater races. I wouldn’t be very confident of the structural integrity of a boat that old. You’ve already noted that the cockpit is pretty snug and the boat probably lacks bulkheads and obviously lacks decklines and a rudder or skeg. So it does not have the safety features of a modern sea or touring kayak.

You’re an average sized guy so there are scads of boats that would fit you and handle well in the conditions you describe. I’d suggest you look for a used touring kayak 14’ to 16’ long and 22" to 24" in width. Celia suggested one common model (the Tsunami), others would be a Perception Carolina 14, Necky Looksha 14, Necky Elaho 16 or a Riot Edge 15.

If you like the boat’s handling, look for one the same length and width. Then look at the bottom profile - flat to semicircle, and see if you can match that. From your description you don’t need much rocker. I’m 6’2" and can’t fit into half the cockpits out there, for that you need to sit in one.

Yours looks somewhat like my Phoenix Appalachian, 1975, 14’ by 24". HIN starts with PHX. Nice lightweight boat but the cockpit is too short.