Basking in the sun and soaking up vitamin D and breathing in the fresh air while paddling along the surface of the water, and taking in the beauty of the natural world. If this scenario sounds like your idea of perfection, then you may be thinking about taking up kayaking.
Both a sport and a recreational activity, kayaking involves using a self-propelled watercraft, similar to a canoe, to paddle the open water. Whether you want to paddle for exercise, for leisure – or both – the first thing you need to do is equip yourself with the necessary equipment, and of course, a kayak is the most fundamental piece of equipment you’ll need; clearly, as you can’t exactly kayak without a kayak.
When you’re shopping for kayaks, you’ll find that there are numerous options to choose from, and while they vary in design, build, and uses, there are two main types of kayaks: sit in and sit on.
While both will keep you afloat and provide excellent opportunities to enjoy all of the benefits that this watersport/recreational activity provides, there are some distinct differences between the two types of watercraft. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, though there are some fundamental differences.
What’s the difference between sit on and sit in kayaks? Which one should you choose? To learn more about each type of kayak, including their design, features, and a list of pros and cons, keep on reading.
- Sit On Top Kayaks
- Pros and Cons of a Sit on Top Kayak
- Sit Inside Kayaks
- Pros and Cons of Sit Inside Kayaks
- A Comparison of Sit On Top vs Sit In Kayaks
- Final Thoughts
Sit On Top Kayaks
As the name suggests, a sit on top kayak is designed so that the user sits on top of the watercraft. But what does that mean? It features an open cockpit, so rather than being positioned inside the vessel either at or below water level, the paddler sits on top of the vessel, and thus, sits on top of the surface of the water.
Because it lacks an enclosed cockpit, entering and exiting a sit on top kayak is relatively ease, which makes them an ideal choice for novice paddlers. Additionally, they tend to be the preferred choice for individuals who enjoy fishing while kayaking, as it’s a lot easier to fit the watercraft with features that fishermen would find useful, such as rod and paddle holders, as well as fish finders.
Furthermore, the open design of the cockpit and the wideness of the beam of a sit on top kayak makes it easy for fishermen to stand up and cast their rods and reel in their catches.
Pros and Cons of a Sit on Top Kayak
To determine whether or not a sit on top kayak is the right choice for you, it’s important to identify the benefits and disadvantages of the design. Below, we’ve outlined the pros and cons of the design of a sit on top kayak.
Sit on Top Kayak: The Advantages
- The most obvious and by far, the most popular benefit of a sit on top kayak, is what we outlined above: the user sits on top of the vessel, above the water level, and they can position themselves in a commanding stance. Not only does the position allow the paddler to gain a better view of their surroundings, but because the cockpit is opened, the paddler feels freer, so-to-speak, and as such, less claustrophobic.
- Another major benefit of a sit on top kayak is that, thanks to the open cockpit, it’s easy to enter and exit the watercraft.
- In the event that they capsize (a common occurrence, especially for beginners, but for experienced kayakers, as well), the paddler won’t feel as if they are trapped inside of a sit on top kayak.
- The center of gravity is much higher on a sit on top kayak, and as a result, the beam tends to be much wider (the beam refers to a kayak’s width at its widest point), and as such, the initial stability (the ability to remain in an upright position while paddling on calm waters) is much higher on a sit on top kayak.
- Since the hull is enclosed, the risk of a sit on top kayak sinking is virtually nil, as a sit on top kayak is inherently buoyant.
- Sit on top kayaks are constructed of molded plastic, a highly durable material, so they can withstand harsh conditions, such as constant exposure to the water, sunlight, the elements, rocks, sand, and other abrasive components; thus, they tend to last a lot longer.
- Sit on top kayaks feature self-bailing scupper holes in the bilge, which allows water to immediately drain out of the cockpit. As such, in the event of a capsize, the water will automatically drain out of the vessel, which means that paddlers don’t have to keep a bilge pump on-hand.
- Sit on top kayaks are available in a variety of different designs and models that are intended for specific uses; fishing and surfing, for instance. As a matter of fact, a sit on top kayak is the preferred choice of kayak fishermen.
- Sit on top kayaks that are comparable in design to sit inside kayaks tend to be less costly.
Sit On Top Kayaks: The Disadvantages
- One of the main advantages of a sit on top kayak is also one of its primary disadvantage: the high center of gravity. Though the wider beam of these vessels provides greater initial stability than sit inside kayaks, which is a good thing, this also means that the secondary stability (the vessel’s ability to maintain in an upright position while paddling on rough waters) is lower.
- Because of their wider beams, sit on top kayaks tend to be significantly slower than sit inside kayaks. As such, a lot more effort is required to propel them.
- While the open cockpit does offer benefits, there isn’t anywhere for paddlers to brace their knees (in a sit inside kayak, paddlers can brace their knees on the underside of the deck). As a result, sit on top kayaks tend to be harder to maneuver.
- The open cockpit design, wider beam, and the low degree of secondary stability, it’s hard to lean a sit on top kayak on its sides. This makes maneuvering difficult, which makes it almost impossible for paddlers to perform edged turns in. It also reduces the stability of the vessel in rough waters.
- Because of the open design of the cockpit, paddlers are exposed to the elements, and therefore, sit on top kayaks don’t provide any protection from the sun’s UV rays, the wind, or the waves as they break over the gunwale or the bow of the vessel.
- The markedly higher profile of the hull means that sit on top kayaks are more exposed to wind and as a result, they are far more prone to weathercocking, which refers to the tendency of the bow to swing into the wind, than a sit inside kayak. As such, it requires a lot more effort for sit on top kayaks to remain on course during windy weather.
- Though the self-draining scupper holes in the bilge of a sit on top kayak enable water to drain out of the cockpit if a capsize occurs, the self-draining scupper holes also permit water to enter the vessel, and in some cases, the water can collect in the bilge while paddling in rough waters. This is something that many paddlers find uncomfortable.
- A lot of sit on top kayaks aren’t equipped with enclosed holds that can be sealed closed with hatch covers; therefore, there is no dry storage for cargo.
Sit Inside Kayaks
As you can probably surmise from the name, a sit inside kayak is designed so that the paddler sits inside the vessel. The kayak feature an enclosed cockpit and the paddler is positioned so that they are basically even with the water level.
Sit inside kayaks tend to be a better option for experienced paddlers; novice paddlers can have a difficult time operating them, though that doesn’t mean they beginners can’t maneuver a sit inside kayak.
If you intend on going touring or if one of your intended goals of kayaking is physical exercise, than a sit inside kayak would be a great choice for you.
Pros and Cons of Sit Inside Kayaks
Just like sit on top kayaks, there are pros and cons associated with sit inside kayaks. Understanding the benefits and disadvantages of this design will help you determine if a sit on top kayak is the right choice for you.
Sit Inside Kayaks: The Advantages
- One of the most notable advantages of a sit inside kayaks over the sit on top design is that the center of gravity is a low lower. That’s because the paddler sits at or below the waterline, and as such, the secondary stability of this type of kayak is much higher. In other words, you can lean over the edge of a sit inside kayak with less risk of capsizing; therefore, you will be able to lean when you are turning your kayak and will enjoy much better maneuverability.
- Sit inside kayaks tend to be a lot narrower than sit on top kayaks. This is largely because of their lower center of gravity, and as such, they have a tendency to be faster and more efficient, insofar as paddling efforts are concerned.
- Because of the enclosed design of the cockpit, paddlers can brace their knees up against the underside of the deck when they are paddling in a sit inside kayak. Having the ability to brace your knees makes controlling and maneuvering the vessel a lot easier.
- Additionally, thanks to the enclosed design of the cockpit, the paddler will be better protected from the elements; the sun’s UV rays, the wind, and the water, for example. Moreover, sit inside kayaks are equipped with spray skirts, a feature that prevents water from getting into the cockpit, thus ensuring that the paddler will stay dry from when waves break over the bow or the gunwale of the vessel.
- Since sit inside kayaks tend to be markedly narrower, paddlers can use shorter paddler, which further improves their efficiency.
Sit Inside Kayaks: The Disadvantages
- Because of the enclosed cockpit, many paddlers find that they feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable in a sit inside kayak. In the event of a capsize, paddlers can also feel as if they are trapped inside their vessel.
- Since the center of gravity is significantly lower, the beams of a sit inside kayak are much narrower than the beams of a sit on top kayak. As a result, the degree of initial stability (the vessel’s tendency to remain in an upright position when paddling on calm waters) is much lower on a sit inside kayak.
- It’s harder to enter and exit a sit inside kayak, as they feature an enclosed cockpit. This is particularly true if the paddler capsizes. Additionally, in the event that a kayaker does capsize, they must use a hand-powered, foot-powered, or battery-powered bilge pump to remove the water that enters the cockpit, and therefore, they must carry one of these devices on them at all times.
- Some types of sit inside kayaks lack sealed holds and therefore, they lack inherent buoyancy, which means that if the paddler capsizes and the cockpit fills with water, the vessel can sink.
- The hatch covers on a sit inside kayaks are much smaller and the absence of an open tank well within the stern, the amount and size of the items that can be carried within a sit inside kayak are limited.
- Sit inside kayaks tend to be more expensive than their sit on top counterparts.
A Comparison of Sit On Top vs Sit In Kayaks
Now that you have an understanding about the design of each type of kayak, as well as the pros and cons of each type, let’s compare key features and elements of sit on top and sit in kayaks so that you can better gauge which design will best suit your specific needs.
Stability is important, as it impacts your ability to remain afloat, and the stability of the vessel is largely a function of its width. As such, you can expect that the stability of two kayaks that are of a similar width will also be similar. That said, there are other factors that impact the stability of a kayak.
A key factor that impacts a kayak’s stability is the height of its seat. Seats that are mounted high above the waterline have lower stability levels, and seats that are mounted lower have a higher stability level. Often, fishing kayaks are equipped with seats that are mounted high off the waterline to make casting easier; therefore, the ends of fishing kayaks with high-mounted seats need to be wider or fuller to offer the same stability level.
Something else that impacts the stability of a kayak is its fullness in the ends, which basically describes how far the width of the watercraft is carried toward the bow and the stern. Kayaks that have a boxier shape when they are viewed from above are said to have fuller ends than those that have a shape that is similar to a diamond. The boxier the kayak is from above, the more stable it will be at a given depth.
Touring sit inside kayaks are narrower than recreational kayaks, and therefore, they aren’t as stable; however, there are a variety of different designs on the market, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a touring kayak that offers enough stability to make you feel comfortable and secure while you’re paddling on the water.
The basics of the boat design of both sit on top and sit inside kayas are pretty much the same. You can acquire a pretty good understanding of how a watercraft will function and perform by looking at three key factors: the width, the length, and the rocker.
When all things are equal, a longer kayak will be faster than a shorter kayak, and a shorter kayak will be much slower. Many paddlers report that they notice a marked increase in their speed when the upgrade from a 10-foot to a 12-foot vessel, or when they go up in size from a 12-foot to a 14-foot watercraft. Again, if all things are equal, it’s easier to turn a shorter kayak than it is to turn a longer one. Though smaller kayaks are slower, they turn much faster, and while longer vessels move much faster over the water, they turn much slower.
The rocker refers to the curve of the hull as it runs from the bow to the stem of the watercraft. Increasing the rocker of a kayak will make it easier to turn. If you were to place a kayak on the ground, you would easily be able to see the position of the rocker; the bow and stern of a vessel that has a high rocker will not touch the ground. A watercraft that lacks a rocker will touch the ground from its bow to its stern. The more rocker a vessel has, the easier it will be to turn; however, it should be noted that the more rocker a kayak has, the slower it will be. Kayak makers must design the balance the right amount of rocker for each design according to the intended use of the vessel.
In terms of stability, the wider the kayak, the more stable it will be; however, narrower kayaks require less effort to move through the water. Kayaks that are fuller toward the ends are more stable, but they are slower than kayaks that feature sharper ends. As previously mentioned, the width and fullness of the boat must be balanced against the height of its seat in order to ensure reliable stability. Sit on top fishing kayaks that are fitted with high seats tend to be wider and feature fuller ends than sit inside recreational kayaks that are fitted with seats that are mounted closer to the waterline.
A large percentage of the time, when paddlers discuss performance, they are referring to speed. As previously mentioned, speed is largely affected by the length and width of a kayak. The longer and narrower a kayak is, the faster it will be; shorter, wider kayaks tend to be slower. This is the case whether the vessel is sit on top or sit inside.
Short recreational kayaks are markedly slow. Vessels that measure around 10 feet usually feel as if they are plowing through the water, while a kayak that is just a couple of feet longer – 12 or 14 feet, for example – will feel as if they are effortless moving through the water. With that said, if you’re a novice, or if recreational is your primary purpose for kayaking, choosing a kayak that measures at least 12 feet would be your best bet.
Due to the way that physics affects a watercraft, there isn’t an upper limit that determines how the speed of a vessel increases with the length of a vessel. If a kayak becomes too long, however, the drag on its hull will begin to offset the gain in speed that a longer hull offers. Kayaks that are designed for touring or racing can be quite long – 18 to 19 feet, for example – but typically, that’s length tends to be the limit. If a kayak were much longer than 19 feet, it’s speed advantage wouldn’t be notable; plus, it would be harder to maneuver it.
Generally speaking, the larger the kayak, the more storage space it will offer. Sit on top kayaks usually feature an open space at their rear, where gear can be strapped in place in a large dry bag. Many kayaks are equipped with front hatches that provide internal storage close to the bow. Sit inside kayaks offer under-deck storage. A lot of recreational crafts feature rear bulkheads with storage compartments that can be accessed via a hatch on the back deck.
So, which is better: A sit on top or a sit inside kayak? There isn’t a definitive answer to that question, as it really depends on your specific needs. That said, be sure to consider your needs when you are shopping – as well as your ability levels and how you intend on using the kayak – before you decide which one to purchase.