Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How To Buy A Sea Kayak

Buying a sea kayak can be a fun experience.  At the same time it can be overwhelming.  There are a lot of kayaks on the market.  In particular you have a lot of choices if you live in the US or Canada.  Kayaks come in many shapes, designs and offerings.  So how does one decide which kayak will fit the best.  

NOTE:  I am not covering sit-on-top style kayaks or fishing kayaks.  This is designed to help those looking for fully enclosed (decked) kayaks. 

Unlike a car where most people pick out a car by looks and then test drive.  I know many people buy kayaks the same way.  But I do not think that is the best way of getting the best kayak for you. Test paddling a kayak is a must!  If this is your first kayak, test paddle a lot of kayaks. Here are some simple questions to ask yourself when getting started.

* What are my goals as a kayaker?
  • Do I want to simply kayak along the shore on calm days in protected waters?
  • Do I want to cross large expanses of water with wave and currents?
  • Do I plan on camping multiple days  or just overnight from my kayak?

This is a good place to start.  Sea kayaks can be broken down into categories.  I call them Recreational Kayaks, Sea Going Kayaks and Surf Kayaks.  For this I will only talk about Recreational and Sea Going Kayak categories.  In looking at the questions above you can kind of start working towards a category.  If you answered yes to the first question then you can start leaning towards a Recreational Kayak.  If you answered yes to the second question then you are thinking about moving in to a Sea Going Kayak.

Recreational Kayaks tend to be short in length and robust in width.  They are very stable and are great for calm waters.  Some downfalls you have in this class:  Safety rigging on the deck tends to be minimal or left out.  Many times there is only one bulk head, so some sort of flotation is recommended.  Storage capacity is small, so you might be limited to shot overnight trips.  The overall design of the kayak is based on being very stable.  With a short waterline they are slow kayaks but have a good maneuverability because they are short.  This is a great choice for calm, protected waters.  Nice and stable for bird watching and relaxing.  Important to note:  doing self rescue from Recreational Kayaks can be tricky.  The key is they are more stable so you may not end up in a self rescuing position as easily.  But none the less, you should practice or take a class in basic self rescue techniques before kayaking.

Sea Going Kayaks are the step up in performance.  You should, but not always, have safety deck rigging.  Two bulkheads are a plus.  More room for storage if you plan to be out multiple days.  A longer water line provides a more swift kayak, but maneuverability takes more skill.  These kayaks are meant to handle rougher water conditions but stability is usually less than that of a Recreational Kayak.

If you have decided to stay in the Recreational Kayak category.  The process needed to buy a kayak is to find one that has the features you wish and do a demo paddle.  If the overall comfort and fit is good, you probably found your kayak.  I really do not compare much performance in this class of kayak as performance and stability are pretty similar throughout.

If you have decided you are going to get into kayaking, take classes and get the full potential out of your kayak.  Then you are in the Sea Going Kayak range.  Here you have entered a new world of options from hull designs and shape.  There are Soft Rounded Chine Kayaks, Hard Chine Kayaks, and Multi-Chine Kayaks.  Some have a lot of rocker and some less.  All of these factors play an important roll in the kayaks behavior.  This is an exciting choice.  Though I feel to be fair to yourself, take your time in selecting your kayak.  Remember that at first the kayak may feel a bit tippy and you may feel uneasy.  This does not mean that it is a bad kayak.  It usually means you have not developed the balance and skill to be in that kayak.

One of the best ways to get a start is to start with your skill building first.  Take a class where you can use kayaks that are provided.  Note the type of kayaks and design that you use. Lessons will help you develop the balance and skill to accurately select your own kayak.  I feel this is the number one way in finding a kayak that fit for you.  Do not let your instructor sway you into a purchase of a kayak right-away.  Know that many places that give lessons also sale kayaks.  So they are partial to a brand that works for them, but may not for you.  Take lessons with different instructors and select different kayaks to use.  All of this will help you in your decisions.

Now that you have reached a point where you can decide between Recreational and Sea Going Kayaks.  If you are excited and want to go shop for your Recreational Kayak at this point.  Well have fun and take your time.  Make sure to demo the kayak and that it is comfortable to be in.  If you are ready to get to the details of Sea Going Kayaks, please follow this link 


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