Which Style of Kayak?

So many helpful posts, seems like a great forum. Thanks all.

Willowleaf that’s interesting and you’re spot on in that it’s fibreglass, no bulkheads or decklines. No foot supports either, very basic.

Yes I struggled to add the photo but couldn’t see the error when on a mobile so not sure of the problem.

Thanks for the suggestions on boats as well as other posters Rex, kfbrady, Celia and Kevburg.

I totally get where you are coming from with “tippiness.” That was a concept that took some time to understand when I first started kayaking. Google “kayak stability” and you will learn all about it. Basically it comes down to primary vs. secondary stability. Primary stability is how stable (or non-tippy) the kayak is in flat water, whereas secondary is how stable the kayak is in rougher water. A kayak with high primary stability will tend to remain parallel with the water’s surface. This is great in flat water, but not so much in rough water, because if the kayak remains parallel to waves and swells, it will feel like it’s about to tip over! However, high secondary stability makes it easier for the paddler to keep the kayak upright in rough water – you remain parallel to the Earth but not always the surface the water. As a result, a kayak with high secondary stability will feel very tippy in flat water. This tippiness is necessary so that the paddler can stay upright when the surface of the water is all over the place.

There is of course a wide spectrum of primary vs. secondary stability, and there are a lot of factors that go into this, but mostly it’s the result of the shape of the hull.

My wife started out paddling on a Dagger Catalyst 13.0. It is a good all-arounder – a good mix of primary (good for flat water) and secondary stability (able to keep it upright when rougher) and easy to maneuver. I think that boat is no longer made, you might be able to find it used, but the equivalent is now the Perception Conduit. You can get it with or without a rudder. Check it out.

Thank you lytleric, that’s a good explanation for someone new to this and handy to know. I’ll check out the kayak you mentioned too.

Will see if I can grab a bargain sometime this year so I’m all ready to go for next year. I expect many of you kayak all year round but due to limited light it’s not so easy for me with my time restrictions (plus if I’m being honest I prefer it when the weather is warmer!). Until I find the right one I’ll keep using my epoxy antique!

As a gross simplification for boats that have the same general shape, including width, the longer a boat is the faster it will be. As a very general rule the maximum speed of any displacement hull–commonly called its hull speed–is governed by a simple formula: hull speed in knots equals 1.34 times the square root of the waterline length in feet (HS = 1.34 x √LWL).

There are other factors involved and it is not an absolute limit. A boat can exceed it’s theoretical maximum hull speed. but not really in a kayak. Hull speed considerations are why most surf skis and racing kayaks tend to be 18-22’ in length. Much longer for a single person boat drag, maneuverability, and stability come into play. As boat length is often used to classify a boat in more serious competitions, that its also why most of these boats will have vertical bows and sterns because it gives them the most waterline length for total boat length.

A brief description of primary vs secondary stability can be found here on this site. It has to do with hull shape. Various boats are often rated for both. My boat has a soft chine and only moderate primary and secondary stability. If you exceed the limits of secondary stability and don’t brace or take other corrective action, you’re going for a swim. When practicing wet exits, rolling, bracing, or rescues, playing around to learn the limit of the secondary stability for your boat is a good thing to know.


Judging from your photos and the ratio of cockpit length to length overall, I suspect your boat is shorter than 15’ but it would be easy enough to get a tape and measure it. I agree with willowleaf that it has the general appearance of an old,whitewater slalom K1 of 1970s vintage and may well be a home build. That was back before rotomolded kayaks were available and most of the river kayaks available in this country were patterned after Olympic slalom K1s. At that time the minimum length requirement for Olympic K1 slalom boats was 4 meters which is about 13 feet 1 1/8". Somebody would fashion a plug based on one of the few Olympic slalom K1s that existed in the US at that time, and the plug would be used to fashion molds. A club would acquire a mold which would be passed from member to member, and it would be used to lay up hulls and decks in the backyard.

As time went on whitewater kayaks became much shorter for maneuverability, and much less “pointy” for safety but in doing so they usually also became wider for buoyancy and a good deal of hull speed was lost.

I also agree with those who have suggested trying a rotomolded kayak in the 12.5-14 foot range like a Wilderness Systems Tsunami or a Necky Manitou. I tend to call these “recreational sea kayaks” and while they do give up a bit of speed compared to a longer and skinnier sea kayak, they should at least match the hull speed of what you have now, and most paddlers seem to find them pretty user-friendly.

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I am a new(ish) paddler, now in my second year. I own two boats, a Dagger Stratos 14.5L and a more “tippy” Romany Surf. I am 6’4” with a high center of gravity. That new tippy fealing is unpleasant and embarrassing if you fall out in front of a crowd near the shore. I have only tipped over once, early on with the Romany when a side wave hit me while backing out from a small island.

One of the best things I have learned is that you will feel tippy in a longer/narrower boat if you are just sitting still. If you get in and push off from a shore or dock and keep moving you will fund that momentum helps. Once moving you can experiment with your body posture. Leaning into the wind can create a better feeling of stability even if your brain tells you your boat is not level. A few hours really helps. You can then slow down to a crawl and test your stability. Having a freind to help you practice bracing helps as well.

This can take a little time, but pretty soon you will return from a good paddle and suddenly realize you never once felt tippy…

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Hi SJD, I think you’re looking for a fast sea kayak. It will need to be at least 16 ft. long and no more than 21 inches wide, because long and narrow is fast in kayaks. You should spend a little more money and get fiberglass or Kevlar rather than a cheaper plastic boat. Fiberglass and Kevlar make kayaks stiffer which again make the boat faster. They are also lighter which is a plus. Well worth the price, but you have to look for a deal. They will scratch more easily. How much do you care about scratches? When you go to look at the boat you’re thinking of buying make every effort to test paddle it, but if you can’t lay it on the lawn and sit in it. You can tell a lot about your self and a kayak sitting in it on the grass. Shift your hips around. Feel the boat. Have some mats handy in case the seller does not have any grass. The kayak in the photo is very tippy. Don’t worry about the next one being more tippy than that. It won’t be.

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I think you would do well with a 14-16 foot touring boat, something like a Dagger Stratos or Wilderness systems Tsunami. there are a lot more available in this size than there used to be. For the distance you are going a true sea kayak is probably not necessary. I have paddled rec boats, small touring boats, and an assortment of sea kayaks. I have an Alchemy, which I love, the predecessor of the Stratos. I use it in the Potomac River and in the Chesapeake bay, as well as in smaller rivers and large lakes. The boat is not tippy, but is maneuverable like a sea kayak, and I can keep up with some sea kayakers (although I am usually at the back of the pack). It is a good compromise for what you describe. I found the tsunami a bit too big for me and a bit slower, though still a good boat. You can be comfortable just hopping in this size boat, and if you feel like it, you can learn skills that would make you more comfortable in a true sea kayak.


It is true that a composite boat made with fiberglass, Kevlar, or carbon fiber will be lighter in that order. It’ a good thing as far as getting the boat on and off the car and to and from the water. However once in the water, except for acceleration, you will not see that much of a difference in performance for boats of the same model or general shape.

For lighter weight composite boats, they will usually start at around $2800 for fiberglass, $3600 for Kevlar, and $4200- 5000+ for carbon Kevlar. Each step up will generally save 5-7lbs each. A bit of care must be taken with them. They do not do well in rocky streams or shorelines and you should be careful using rough concrete ramps.

Rotomolded plastic boats by comparison are nearly indestructible, although they may weigh 60 or more lbs. as opposed to 45 lbs. for a Kevlar boat of the same model. The upside is they start at around $1600 and if rocky streams, rivers, and shorelines are where you will be paddling, they are the boat for you. There are many stories of these boats falling off a roof rack at highway speeds and just getting a few cosmetic scratches whereas a fiberglass boat may break into pieces.

As always, all boats are a compromise. No boat excels at everything. I spent the extra money for Kevlar because I used to do a lot of solo paddling and weight was important. I had to carry my 18’ boat up a six foot step ladder to get it onto a tall ladder rack on my pickup truck. Carbon fiber was not an option back then.

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Thank you again everyone for all of the help and advice, really appreciate it. I’ now know what I’m looking for and will update this thread when I find one. I think when I do find one it will seem quite an upgrade from what I’m used to!

That boat looks to be very much like the 3m boats I used to use for whitewater back in the mid to late 70’s Heck if yours was green it may have been my old one.

It’s a great design but made for downriver, and downriver salaam. And being fiberglass, you can easily grind them down and repair them, without too much difficulty.

If you’re looking for River in a tidal zone, and not whitewater. I’m quite happy with my Wilderness Systems Tsunami. I have the 17.5 ft one, and I get nominally with a Whitewater High Angle paddle, about 4.9 to 5.5 Mph. The Primary and Secondary stability is well rock steady Si much so that I’ve been doing Dry Entries off a dock with a 2-2.5 ft step-down into the cockpit.

The boat is FAST, and STABLE, but does not under any circumstances turn on a dime. The best I can manage to do with rudder and edging (And yes you can edge right to the cockpit rim) is a turn in about 3-4 lengths of the boat wide.

It also carries about 400lbs of you plus cargo.

the cockpit has plenty of room (I’m 6’4, 246lbs.) so it fits my big feet, and fat ass pretty well with sufficient leg room for me to get in and out easily.

if 17.5 is not you thing they do come in sizes from 12 ft, through 17.5 ft in about 2 ft increments. Though only the 16 and 17.5 are rudder equipped the rest are all rudder ready.

The best kayaks to me are sea kayaks with a cockpit. They should be 15 feet or longer. I like fiberglass or wood best. The better boats have a narrower beam, but the main difference is the shape of the bottom. The cheap short kayaks tend to have a pretty flat bottom with good initial stability. They feel stable until you get in rough weather. The better boats have rounded bottoms, v shaped bottoms or other configurations like 8 pieces of wood in the case of a stitch and glue boat like a Pygmy.

Rounded and V bottom boats are faster but have less initial stability. On the other hand they have good secondary stability and are harder to capsize. Work on loosening up your hips and practice bracing. Once you learn to push against the surface of the water, the boat will firm right up.