While selecting a kayak for recreational kayaking styles can be pretty similar to whitewater kayaking, there are a few differences. We’ll walk you through the ideal kayak styles for the sport you’re interested in, and help you with some of the basics as well. Deciding on the right kayak will largely depend on your skill, your preferences and plans, your size, and how you’ll store and transport your kayak.
Types Of Calm Water Kayaking
Day Touring Kayaks For General Touring
This general touring kayak category includes boats designed for day touring, light overnight touring, fishing kayaks, and high-end recreational boats. Day touring kayaks at 13 to 15 feet in length are perfect for those seeking a nicely outfitted, full featured boat. With a slightly wider hull, day touring kayaks offer more stability than expedition touring kayaks, yet still provide efficiency and speed. Day touring kayaks with their water-tight storage capabilities are ideal for day trips and an occasional overnighter. The day touring kayaks are easier to handle off the water and are a good option if storage is an issue. These kayaks are ideal for beginners through experts.
Multi-Day & Expedition Touring Kayaks
Multi-day touring and expedition kayaks, at 16 to 18 feet long, are ideal for the person with more advanced paddling skills, or those with the desire to learn. The narrow width of the boats allows for faster hull speeds and is ideal for long days of paddling when it is necessary to cover long distances. These boats track straight and maneuver efficiently through the water, making them perfect for longer trips, island hopping, and bay crossings. They hold enough gear in their watertight compartments for weekend camping trips and weeklong adventures. Most touring kayaks have the option of a rudder to aid in the ease of steering and maneuvering.
Recreational kayaks are ideal for individuals looking for a low impact recreational experience that can be done on ponds, lakes, slow moving rivers and calm coastal areas. These kayaks are generally very stable, and have a large cockpit opening making them easy to enter and exit. Some recreational kayaks are open, sit on top models which are often the choice for paddlers who wants to fish from their kayak. The shorter length of recreational kayaks makes them easy to maneuver, and somewhat easier to store and transport compared to touring kayaks.
Kayak fishing is probably the fastest growing sector of kayaking. This spin-off from recreational kayaks offers stable, highly customizable kayaks. These kayaks are also a great choice for areas that are too shallow for big motors, or that don’t allow them at all. These come in two basic styles: sit-on-top or sit-inside/enclosed.
Sit-on-top fishing kayaks feature a molded deck that you sit on top of. These are extremely stable and easy to maneuver. They also offer flat deck areas designed for attaching accessories, and some also have areas for live bait storage.
Sit-inside fishing kayaks are a more traditional kayak design, in which you sit inside it. A touring sprayskirt is often used to prevent water from splashing over the sidewall and into the cockpit area. (These are typically made out of nylon material with an adjustable bungee around the cockpit rim. Many of them will also feature a zip-up waist or suspender straps. These skirts are designed to be lightweight, have a more universal fit than whitewater skirts, and are often more comfortable, since a watertight fit isn’t necessary around the waist. These skirts are not ideal for rolling or rougher water conditions, you’ll want something with a more water-tight seal.)
The advantages of this design are the hull speed and paddling performance, as well as the comfort of staying inside a dry protected shell.
Most inflatable kayaks are suited for both flatwater as well as whitewater. Inflatable kayaks are very stable and easy to maneuver. While not well suited for traveling long distances on flatwater, inflatables are a great way to enjoy your local river, lake or coastal area. Many can be packed with enough gear for an overnight trip. Inflatable kayaks are the easiest to store and transport as they can be rolled up and put in the trunk of a car. These are a great choice for beginner to expert level kayakers.
Storage and Transportation Tips
Due to the longer lengths of recreational and touring kayaks, they need special consideration when it comes to storing and transporting them. Luckily, many companies create products with this in mind.
Kayaks are best stored inside, where it’s cool and dry. Using cockpit covers to keep out any small critters and bugs can be very helpful. Some of us, however, don’t have garages or other storage areas to keep a kayak that’s 14 feet or longer. If you have to store a kayak outside, keep it upside down, use a cockpit cover, and try to keep it out of direct sunlight. Padded sawhorses can be a great low cost option for keeping your kayak off the ground, and the padding prevents oil canning.
Transporting these long kayaks can be difficult as well, and the first couple of trips may need some extra planning. Depending on the make of the vehicle you can store kayaks on top during transport, and there are also trailers specially made for kayak transportation, which can be extremely useful if you have more than one kayak you’re taking with you.
Essentials of flat water kayaking safety
We love watersports, and like to be prepared as well. Here’s a short guide to some basics that you should take on any paddlesport trip.
Paddle gear: If your boat is going to on the water, it should be equipped with these basics (and some may be required, always look at the laws for the areas you’ll be kayaking). Float bags in each compartment can keep your gear from rolling about, and help keep your boat afloat should you roll your kayak. A neoprene sprayskirt will help keep water out, and you may want to have a spare kayak paddle, just in case. Make sure your PFD is in good shape, and that you have your whistle and a boater’s knife as well.
Clothing: While dressing for immersion is always a good idea, comfort should be considered as well. Make sure that you use the appropriate combination of layers. Your outer layer will consist of a paddle jacket/pants, drytop/dry pants, or a drysuit. Thermal layers will usually consist of a top and bottom as well, and having an extra top and bottom in a dry bag can be a great idea for longer trips.
Logistics and navigation gear: Multiday sea trips should have detailed plans, maps, tide information, weather information, nautical charts and waterproof chart bag, a compass, personal id, and a little currency.
Safety gear: Most trips should have bilge pumps, paddle floats, paddle leashes (for rec and flat water use only, not for whitewater!), a tow system, signal mirrors, emergency strobes, and a first aid kit in a waterproof bag or drybox.
Dayhatch/deck bag essentials: There are a few other essentials that can make a day on the water a bit more fun, including sun protection, repair kits, food, a hydration system, and a boater’s sponge.
If you’re unsure of how to use any of your equipment, look to get a little extra training. Being prepared beats being in trouble.