Which wooden kayak kit?

I’ve been paddling a SOT about a year and a half now, but am thinking of transitioning to a closed deck boat. My husband is willing and able to build me a wooden kayak, but we don’t have any ideas of which company to choose, or which type of kayak. We’re thinking of one in the 16-17 ft. range. Does anyone here have any experience with wooden kayak kits and would be willing to share their advice on the various companies and kayak models?

I’m 5-3, 120 lbs. and I want to paddle longer ocean distances and keep up with the other closed deck folks.


Read this thread

– Last Updated: Dec-02-07 6:13 PM EST –


Longer is not necessarily faster for a smaller paddler. Most of the kit boats in that length would be huge on you and the tighter lower volume models may be way over your skill level coming from a SOT.

Maybe try a few lower volume RM models made for your size.

Follow the links to their Building site. It’s an incredibly broad AND in-depth collection of information about building and repairing wood kayaks. Study it well for a few weeks or longer. I didn’t and wish I had, because you’ll learn about the many ways you can make mistakes :wink: (generally fixable, though, so don’t be scared away).

I built a Shearwater Merganser 16, which is one model you might put on your list of candidates. I’m 5’2" and under 110 lbs; this kayak’s deck is a bit taller than I’d like but still quite useable. You and I are near the bottom of its suggested paddler size. One very nice thing about it is that it has a 21" beam, something I couldn’t find in any other 16-foot S&G kit. All of them were 22" beam or wider, though that might have changed since then (2003).

The kit itself is complete, with everything you need including outfitting pieces, plus a generous supply of fiberglass cloth and epoxy. However, I opted to install commercial footpegs/tracks and backband instead of the kit counterparts because the latter didn’t look comfortable.

Being a first-timer at building ANYTHING, I found the instructions less than wonderful, though OK after calling the designer and asking questions over the phone. IF you have already built a S&G it would be no big deal.

To my immense relief, the kayak turned out watertight and straight. It’s also surprisingly fast. But it would be best if you could borrow someone else’s S&G of similar size before buying the kit.

Lots of good choices.
The Pygmy Arctic Tern is the most popular build, I think. I built a Arctic Tern 17, and it turned out great, despite my inexperience with woodworking. For you, the Tern 17 would be too big, as would the Chesapeake 16 and 17, I think. The Tern 14 might be perfect.

The kit manufacturers will usually give you contact information for owners/builders in your area. Most builders are happy to show off their work.

Skill level?

– Last Updated: Dec-02-07 7:18 PM EST –

I have a bit of trouble with this comment:

"...and the tighter lower volume models may be way over your skill level coming from a SOT."

She may not be looking for something like a very tight, very low volume SOF "rolling boat", but when it comes to questions of "skill level" coming from a SOT to a "higher performance" decked boat, I see no problem whatsoever with getting a boat that will not only be able to respond well to developing skills, but might also inspire her to develop such skills. After all, building a kit boat is no small investment; especially in time and effort, so why not start with something that will take her, and her developing skills wherever she wants to go for several years to come?

If she's encouraged to take only baby steps in terms of skill development by choosing a boat that can only handle so much, it's a self-limiting proposition. Just as with the SOT, where only a certain amount of skill development is possible and/or practical, this can become very frustrating in a hurry for someone obviously looking for a higher performance boat.


[edit] PS: Here's a small analogy from personal experience that may help explain my feelings as expressed above:

When I started playing the 'cello, the first instrument I used was provided by the school. Though I was able to develop some basic skills using that very limited instrument, it wasn't until I got a *very nice* instrument--and bow--that both my technical and musical development really took off. The moment I started playing the better instrument was the very moment that *the instrument itself* inspired my further technical/musical development. I feel the same way about boats and paddles.

I built a Golden Eye Hi years ago and loved it. I had never built a boat before and would say my carpentry skills were marginal at best and found it to be easy…Looking back…after I was done.

I also built a B&B Diva and tried a Merganser 17 from plans, the M17 ended up in the trash, my bad, ran out of time and space

The more Pygmy(s) and CLC(s) I see on the water, the more I like the Pygmy. Customer service was okay and the booklet was very easy to use.

Space and keeping it the proper temperature for curing is something to consider before you buy.

Now I said “May”…

– Last Updated: Dec-02-07 8:31 PM EST –

I'm just trying top inject a word of caution..

All we know is that she is female 5'3" and 120lbs. and been paddling a SOT for 1.5 years. That could be 12 paddles or 500 paddles.
Don't know if her husband paddles or if she has tried any other boats.
We do know she wants to go faster.
She may be buying a wooden boat she has never seen.

Seeing we don't know her skill level I would suggest that she try a production boat to see what size and characteristics would suit her.
Tempest 165, to name a few.

I typed out a treatise and accidently erased it.

In descending order

Osprey 13

Merganser 16

Shearwater 14/Arctic Tern 14

make sure you talk to someone YOUR SIZE who has paddled the boat in question. Talking to people who sell the kit in question and know people your size is not the same thing.


Start there, that is the forum for expertise about making wood/epoxy kayaks. Why not start at the top?

the problem there

– Last Updated: Dec-02-07 9:20 PM EST –

is that lower volume plastic boats are still 60lbs. A lower volume 13-16' s&g kayak could be 27-40lbs. For a 120lb person getting a kayak that weighs 30lbs is a BIG difference than one weighing 60lbs. The stability curve for a 22" wide x 13" Osprey13 is actually pretty high for small person.

Kayak kits and plans

– Last Updated: Dec-02-07 10:20 PM EST –

Cirrus LT for a kit boat or Storm SLT if your husband is interested in building a strip boat from plans. Vaclav is quick to respond to questions.
I built a Cape Ann for myself which paddles great and I am presently building a Storm SLT for my daughter,she is about your size.

Terns and Cirrus
I haven’t paddled a Cirrus but feedback from other folks leads me to believe that the Cirrus and Terns are the two best handling s&g kayak kits. Best as in balance of maneuverability and control for weathercocking with a lean.

Now all that needs to happen is the Caribou in it’s original plywood construction in kit form.

the deal is
I started with a Venus 10 and then moved up to a Necky Spike. I’ve been doing lessons and paddle at least twice a month both long (12 miles) and short distance. I am able to handle the 50 pounds of my Spike with no problem. I very much appreciate what Melissa said about not settling for too “beginnerish” of a boat given the time and effort involved and my desire and willingness for improvement of my skills. I would much rather have a kayak that’s a bit beyond me and learn into it, rather than one that I’m comfortable with from the get go.

I thank you, Grayhawk, for the link to the earlier thread–it’s got a ton of info and will be very useful. And you’re right, I’ve never seen, much less paddled, a wooden boat before, and I’ve got no experience with any sit-inside kayak at all. All I can say is I want to move into a closed deck boat for the reasons mentioned before, and my husband would like to build one, so it seemed like a good fit for both of us.

I don’t understand though how a longer kayak may not be as fast for a small paddler like me. I thought longer meant faster? Is it a skill issue? Will I be able to keep up with the other people in a 14 ft. boat?

Thank you
all for your advice! We will be looking at kayakforum.com in more detail. We’ve got a great start for research and I will slow myself down a bit before committing to any particular model.

Again though, as in my earlier post, I don’t understand how a 16 ft. kayak is too big for me. Does that mean too big to handle on shore, or too big in terms of paddling it? I’m sure I’m really showing my ignorance, but what am I missing here?

The faster/longer question…
Instead of trying to get into all this myself here, I’ll be lazy and let some real kayak designers explain:

http://www.marinerkayaks.com/ (click on FAQ link)

There are several interesting articles there, including one specifically addressing the longer/faster issue.


Here’s one more idea…
I always feel the need to bring this up whenever a “build it yourself” project is being considered…

How about also looking into SOF (Skin-On-Frame) construction? These boats are meant to be custom fit to your very own body, they’re very light (lighter than a wood/glass boat), the materials are inexpensive (much less than a S&G kit), you can choose the “style” of boat you wish to build, and they’re very beautiful as well.

I’ve built a S&G boat that I love, so I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from building one for themselves, but I just wouldn’t feel good about a discussion like this if SOF construction wasn’t also mentioned as a possibility.

Here’s a forum where SOF construction is discussed in detail:


Or, a shorter link to the same forum:



Lee’s Picks…
Gotta agree with them…

Never paddled a Merganser but the weight range looks right.

Arctic Tern 14 is a very efficient boat for the under 160lb. folks. I’ve had 110 pounders race mine and it does well. It will easily stay with a group unless they are dedicated performance paddlers.

Another to consider?
Another to consider is the Sparrow Hawk, a Mark Rogers/Superior Kayak design currently custom built in wood by Superior and formerly built in composite by Wilderness Systems. I’m not sure of the status, but the Superior Kayak’s website indicates that they are working on a wooden kit version of this boat. This is a 16.5’ kayak with a 21.5" beam designed for a smaller person. The recommeded paddler height and weight is: 5’-5’5" and 100-150 lbs. I own a WS composite version which I started to paddle this past summer and I really enjoy the boat even though I’m over the optimal height and weight range. It’s a pretty fast boat for it’s lengeth.


Maybe you could be one of the first to build one from a kit!


forget overall length
longer is faster if you have the hp. to go faster. It’s like a bicycle gear or running shoes. Beyond a particular point a bigger gear won’t make you go faster, your ability to exert X hp is the limit. If the boats you are paddling are rec. boats you are pushing a lot of water. You could paddle a 13’x 22" sea kayak a lot faster than you can push a 14’x28" SOT with a funky hull shape. Unless your friends are weekend warrior athletes and are just folks out paddling at an easy breathing pace where conversation is possible then the skinniest/lightest kayak will make the biggest difference and not whether it’s got a 12’ or 14’ waterline lenght.

For you to utilize a 15-16’ waterline length where that length is potential for speed you’re putting out effort thats similar to running fast. If your friends are putting out that effort then yes, you should look at a long boat but at that point I’d throw everythign out the window and suggest a QCCX10.

You’ll paddle with a lot less effort at average cruising speeds with a very light kayak than a long one. That’s why I’m suggesting the Osprey13. I’ve known a few women your size and weight who have used them although most folks will steer you to bigger/longer boats. Bigger/longer=more effort.

one more time

– Last Updated: Dec-03-07 12:08 AM EST –

the number of choices for people your size in 16' kayak are more towards 160lb-200lbs people or longer legged people. The 16' kayak is only faster if you paddle a LOT HARDER. If you aren't paddling a LOT HARDER then you could be paddling more weight than is necessary to float you in the water at an average cruising speed.

If you put on fifty pounds then a bigger kayak makes a lot of sense, if you are paddling at 4-5mph a longer kayak makes a lot of sense. If you don't plan on putting on weight and don't expect to put out an energy level that's like running hard then you end up paddling a boat that is too big 99% of the time. If you want to keep up with folks you want a skinny kayak, a light kayak, a kayak that fits.