With many different types of kayaks and canoes available in today’s marketplace, it is no wonder that knowing which one and which accessories to buy can be a real challenge. Make the wrong choice and you could be left with a boat that is totally unsuitable for you or one that you and your ability as a paddler will all too quickly outgrow. Get it right however and you can look forward to many fun and rewarding trips out in your new craft.
In this article I have gathered together what I consider to be the key considerations that you need to be aware of when choosing a new kayak or canoe.
1) What type of kayaking will you be doing?
Kayaks and canoes can be used for many different activities on the water and in many different water environments. For example some are designed for touring, this may involve travelling quite long distances either on a day trip or on a longer expedition. Touring kayaks are designed for speed, efficiency through the water and comfort, so that you can more easily and more comfortably paddle over long distances. Because you are travelling further and paddling for longer, you will need to carry food and drink, and even a tent and other camping equipment. With this in mind, a touring kayak is generally larger than other types, and they are available as single seaters or tandem seats. They are also sometimes called ocean kayaks.
Many people will want to use their new craft for fishing, and with this in mind there are many that are designed specifically with fishing in mind. These will generally have good storage capacity, be comfortable, easy to paddle and stable (especially when stationary). This allows the paddler to silently and quickly enter even the shallowest of waters without scaring away the fish. Good stability ensures you will have no problems when it comes to fighting the fish and reeling them in. Additional features often include rod holders, anchor cleats, extra rigging, bait buckets, a GPS or fish finder mount and a tackle compartment. Angling kayaks are available as a one or two person craft.
For the ultimate thrill of riding the rapids or even a fast flowing river you will want a whitewater kayak. These are small, fast and incredibly maneuverable craft. You really need to be a paddler of quite advanced ability to handle these babies. This type are generally very tough and strong and can be used to perform all manner of outrageous stunts and tricks.
If your looking for a fun, easy to use and very safe boat, then you cannot go far wrong with a Sit on top kayak. As the name suggests, you sit on it rather than enclosed in it. This of course means that this type is ideal for the less experienced paddler or even the total beginner. It is very safe because there is no danger of becoming trapped in the event of a capsize. This fear of becoming trapped in an upturned boat can really put off novice paddlers. The fact that you cannot become trapped also means that a sit on is ideal for use by children. So obviously a touring kayak is not any use for shooting the rapids, and neither is a whitewater kayak much good as a fishing platform, but there is a class of kayak that tries to do all of the things you may ever want, it is the recreational kayak. These are available in all shapes and sizes and at varying price points.
2) How experienced a paddler are you?
It should be plainly obvious that if you are a complete beginner you will struggle with a boat that is tricky to handle at first but comes into it’s own in more extreme conditions, just as it would be pointless to go for an easy handling, gentle craft if you are an experienced paddler. You would be sure to outgrow your purchase very quickly indeed. So it is important that you consider the experience and capability levels of yourself and others that may use the craft, and try and strike a balance and match the handling and performance to your skill levels.
A beginner or an inexperienced paddler is probably going to be happier with a boat that has a good initial stability. This means that when stationary or travelling at low speed, the boat will feel very safe and stable. This initial stability is usually at the expense of performance. A more experienced paddler will have no problem with a poor initial stability, but will relish the feeling of having a good final stability. This is the boats natural resistance to tipping once the boat has been leaned to a point beyond it’s initial stability. Another factor influenced by confidence and experience is the size or tightness of the cockpit. A confident experienced paddler will like a tighter fitting cockpit where they can use their legs and bodies to give them extra control of the boat. However a novice may feel that this will restrict their ability to exit the kayak in the event of a capsize.
3) Transport and Storage.
Unfortunately your craft will spend far more of it’s life out of the water than in it, so you need to give serious thought to how and where you will store it, how you will transport it and also how manageable it will be. There is no point buying a huge kayak that you don’t have anywhere to store, any means of transporting and is too heavy for you to launch and recover. If storage space and transport is an issue, than maybe an inflatable kayak is the answer.
4) Cargo capacity and Comfortable.
Alongside craft made to carry one person, tandem kayaks and traditional canoes are available. These boats are a good idea for couples and families as they allow paddlers of varying experience and ability to paddle together. However many paddlers you will be carrying, you need to consider how much storage space is available within your chosen boat. It is inevitable that you will spend long periods of time sat in your craft, so a comfortable seat and sitting position is of vital importance. Look for a good quality, well padded adjustable seat and also for fully adjustable foot rests.
5) Initial stability verses Final Stability.
By it’s very nature a kayak cannot have both excellent initial stability and excellent final stability, so you will need to choose based on your level of experience and ability. Some craft are able to strike a good compromise between good initial stability and good final stability, and these will on the whole be suitable for all but the most experienced paddlers. It is worth bearing in mind that the stability characteristics will have an effect on the acceleration and speed. A craft with better initial stability, will by design, be wider and slower than a narrow faster boat which has a poorer initial stability but a better final stability.
How well will your chosen kayak track (hold a straight course) and how well and how quickly will it turn. Again, due to inherent design characteristics your boat will not be excellent at both. In general a longer narrower boat will track better and a shorter boat will be easier to turn, quicker and will generally be more responsive and maneuverable.
7) Purchase Price.
Your final consideration is cost. How much is your budget? Don’t forget the extras you will need. You will need to buy a paddle, a PFD, maybe some specialist clothing and footwear. You may need to buy a carrier for your car. There is a huge variation in the cost of kayaks. You can pick up a cheap inflatable for less than $100, but can easily pay well over $1000 for a more technically advanced boat. The good news is that there are many excellent kayaks available between $100 and $1000, so there should be one to suit all budgets.
By giving careful thought to the above points you are sure to make a purchase which will allow you many years of paddling enjoyment.