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Although the more sophisticated Sit-On-Top (SOT) kayaks are considerably pricey, you get a lot for your money. These kayaks offer the freedom to launch on nearly any shore, lake, river, bay or beach, and are simple to operate.
Sit-on-top kayaks provide a safe experience, and you sit relatively high up for increased visibility over sit-in kayaks. Open, sit-on-top hull designs allow for easier mounting and dismounting off the kayak. If your kayak flips, it won’t fill up and sink, either. However, you will get wet on a sit-on-top kayak, so dress appropriately!
Some of our favorite fishing kayaks are SOTs, and while expensive, SOTs will last for years with some simple maintenance. You’ll find different power options for SOTs: paddle, pedal, and even electric motors.
If you’re just starting your kayak journey, check out the best sit-on-top kayaks. If you’re keen on fishing from your kayak check our best fishing kayak guide.
Sit-on-top kayaks are fairly simple, and designed with safety and comfort in mind. Typically, SOT kayaks offer ample storage for gear, pets, and larger riders. One size fits all with built-in seat mounts and molded foot rests for riders of all heights. Typically, between one and six scupper holes are found throughout your kayak’s deck for water drainage.
Most sit-on-top kayaks feature a tri-hull design for supreme stability. On top of the hull you’ll find one or two kayak seats (depending on the size of your kayak). Your kayak seat should be adjustable, breathable, and designed for kayaking. SOT kayaks typically have ample legroom, and are great for people with limited flexibility or mobility.
Choosing your first ‘yak can be overwhelming. We’ve put together a comprehensive guide: how to choose your first sit-on-top kayak.
If you’re nearly ready to buy, below are the most important features to consider.
Most SOT kayaks are made from roto-molded polyethylene, very strong stuff. There’s not much variation in materials, but are are made from a higher-density poly which can be stronger and lighter but cost significantly more.
Most kayaks carry enough weight for capacity not to be a huge concern, but particularly larger paddlers or those with a ton of gear need to double check the capacity ratings. Your kayak should have quite a bit more capacity than you’ll ever. Never load a kayak over 75 percent of its rated capacity, or you’ll have a bad time and severely push the limits of safety. Some large kayaks have capacity ratings over 450 pounds (or more).
Technically, longer kayaks are faster than shorter kayals, although short kayaks aren’t considered slow. A shorter kayak will offer increased maneuverability over their longer brethren. Shorter kayaks tend to be lighter. A longer kayak tracks straighter than a short one (there is less left-to-right shift as you paddle). As with most things in life, there are trade offs you need to consider when deciding on the length of your next kayak.
Wider kayaks feature wide, stable hulls, but are slower to pedal/paddle than a narrower kayak. Most kayakers prefer a wider kayak. Long and narrow touring sit-on-top kayaks used to be more popular, but fewer companies are offering these types of ‘yaks now.
Generally, the heavier your ‘yak, the more features it tends to have (the best fishing kayaks are notably heavier than regular SOT kayaks). Kayaks featuring smaller hulls without extra accessories will be lighter. Again, there are trade offs with weight: heavier kayaks track better once in motion, yet lighter kayaks tend to be more maneuverable. Also consider a lighter kayak if you’ll be solo paddling. Kayaks over 120 pounds are challenging for one person to load and unload on their own.
Consider your gear (if any) when choosing a SOT kayak. Some kayaks offer little (or no) storage. Kayaks geared towards fishing offer ample storage in waterproof hatches. Remember, you can use a fishing kayak recreationally, and kayaks with minimal storage are not ideal for fishing.
Nearly all sit-on-top ‘yaks include a rudder, or at least, offer it as an option. Although a rudder isn’t essential, they’re nice to have, and are worth spending extra money on. Rudders keep your kayak tracking straight, so you can focus on powering your kayak with your arms (or legs). For pedal-powered kayaks, a rudder is a necessity. You’ll find slightly different rudder designs from different manufacturers, so it’s worth doing a bit of research before you buy.
Some kayaks come loaded with accessories (at the expense of weight) while some manufacturers offer bare-bones models. Some also offer add-on accessories in addition to built-in features. Consider how you’ll use your kayak when deciding between a light and simple ‘yak or a fully loaded, albeit heavier, option.
A sit-inside kayak is more stable than a sit-on-top kayak. In the sit-inside (open cockpit) kayak, you’re sitting lower in the boat so you’re center of gravity is near the waterline.
Yes, sit-on-top kayaks are amazing recreational kayaks, and are a great choice for paddling from shores, including the ocean, lakes, and bays. SOT kayaks won’t take on water if you flip, and are easy to climb back onto. SOT Kayaks also make excellent fishing kayaks.
Sit-on-top kayaks are user-friendly and are great for beginner paddlers. SOT kayaks are very stable, easy to get into, and are relatively easy to control. We also believe they are safer than most sit-in kayaks.
Sit-on-top kayaks are the easiest to get in and out of, but with some practice most people can easily exit and enter a sit-in kayak as well. Make sure your weight is as centered as possible when getting in and out of your kayak. Getting into your kayak from a dock is more difficult than the shore. WIth your kayak next to the dock, keep your rear-end on the dock, place both feet.