How to Choose a Kayak: The Ultimate Kayak Buying Guide - Hiseadock
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How to Choose a Kayak: The Ultimate Kayak Buying Guide

June 23, 2020
Kayak buying guide
Source: Freepik

Kayaking is a fun activity that allows you to explore different bodies of water using a small boat and a double-bladed paddle. You can paddle quietly around a lake or maneuver through raging river waters. Plus, anybody can go kayaking even without prior experience.

Choosing a kayak might feel overwhelming, with so many brands and companies producing various models. To help you select the best one we created this helpful kayak buying guide. From deciding on the material to getting a floating dock system, this guide will walk you through it all.

Table of Contents

Determine Where You Plan to Use Your Kayak

The first step in narrowing down your kayak options is to figure out where you’ll be using your kayak. Will you be paddling around calm, closed bodies of water like lakes and ponds? Or are you planning to go on exciting whitewater adventures? Or maybe you want to go kayaking in the ocean where there are wind and waves.

An image of a man water rafting
Source: Pexels

Knowing where you plan to use your kayak is important for many reasons. For instance, you’ll need a vessel that’s stable and won’t easily tip over if you’re rowing in fast-moving rivers. Similarly, you’ll need a kayak that can hold more weight if you plan on taking a friend along with you.

Here’s a general guide on the most ideal kayaks for different environments:

Offshore Kayaks for Seas and Oceans

If you plan on taking your kayak out to the open sea, then you’ll be exposed to the wind, waves, tides, and currents. You’ll need an offshore or sea kayak that is designed for safety and functionality.

Offshore kayaks are usually the sit-in type, with smaller cockpit openings to keep the water out. There are also sturdy ropes rimming the boat for you to hold onto in case you capsize. Additionally, offshore kayaks have a hatch that can be sealed.

Off-shore kayaks
Source: Freepik
People seen at the background kayaking around the sea
Source: Freepik

Low-Narrow Kayaks for Lakes and Ponds

For calm lake waters, a kayak with a low and narrow shape is ideal. It allows you to track in a straight line and cuts smoothly through the wind. The only drawback with this type of boat is that it’s difficult to maneuver.

If you’re going to be paddling through lakes with rougher waves, then you might want to look for kayaks with grab handles on the bow and stern.

Short Body Kayaks for Rivers, Waterfalls, and Creeks

These bodies of water are fast-moving; they can either give you a smooth journey downstream or a wild ride through the rapids. Either way, you need a kayak that is built for flowing waters.

Look for a kayak that is easily maneuverable—usually those with short bodies and flat hulls. You can choose between three types of whitewater kayaks depending on your needs: playboats, freestyle boats, and creek boats.

Types of Kayaks

As discussed above, kayaks come in many different sizes, shapes, and features. There are two main types of kayaks based on how you can mount and use them:

Sit-on-top kayak
Source: Freepik

Sit-on-Top Kayaks

As the name suggests, this type of kayak has molded-in seats that let you sit on top. It’s designed for comfort and is ideal for paddlers with long legs and big body frames. If you don’t like the feeling of being confined, then sit-on-top kayaks will make you feel at ease while paddling.

Sit-on-top kayaks are self-bailing, which means that there are small holes around the kayak that drain the water. However, you’re more likely to get wet with this one. It’s perfect for places with warmer climates or for kayaking during the summer.

Another great thing about sit-on-tops is the increased mobility for the paddlers. It doesn’t restrict your movements and allows you to easily get in and out of the kayak.

Sit-Inside Kayaks

Sit-inside kayaks have an open cockpit that allows you to be seated inside it. It allows you to brace your knees and keep your feet in contact with the kayak, giving you more control and stability. It also lets you make more efficient paddle strokes.

Compared to sit-on-tops, sit-inside kayaks protect you from getting wet. Some models may also have a skirt, which covers the cockpit opening inside the kayak. Thus, sit-insides are ideal for cold weather paddling.

A focused image of a person kayaking
Source: Freepik

From the two main types of kayaks come different kayak categories based on where they will be used. These are the following:

Recreational kayak
Source: Freepik

Recreational kayak

This type of kayak is designed for day trips on calm and closed bodies of water. It has a short and wide body that gives it more stability, which is great for inexperienced paddlers. However, this model is much more difficult to steer and has more wind resistance.

Recreational kayaks have high decks that offer a bigger space inside the cockpit. It also makes it easier to enter and exit the boat. The sit-inside style provides a drier experience, which is ideal for areas with cold climate.

Touring kayak

Otherwise known as a sea kayak, this type of vessel is specially designed for paddling on the open water. Its long and narrow body is built for speed and tracking—this makes it an ideal kayak for long rides on the water. The compact cockpit also lets you use your hips and knees to control the kayak by leaning, bracing, and rolling.

Touring kayak
Source: Freepik
Whitewater kayak
Source: Pexel

Whitewater kayak

Designed for rapid waters like rivers, creeks, or waterfalls, whitewater kayaks have three different types.

Play boats are easy to steer and turn, perfect for paddlers who want to go downstream while still engaging in play. They usually have a short and voluminous body for doing aerial moves. Plus, their tapered bows and sterns allow paddlers to do spins and cartwheels easily.

Freestyle boats are extremely short kayaks with flat hulls, designed for performing tricks and aerial moves. This is ideal for paddlers who want to learn freestyle tricks rather than paddling downstream.

Creek Boats are the best option for paddlers who want to delve into fast-moving rapids. They have round hulls and soft chines that can handle steep and difficult whitewater. They are also high-volume vessels, so they float better than other whitewater kayaks.

Things to Consider Before Getting a Kayak

After determining where you’ll be using your kayak and what sort of activities you want to do with it, you’ll need to decide on other specifications as well.


Kayak materials vary greatly depending on the type of boat and its manufacturer. Each material also has its advantages and downsides. Thus, it’s important to weigh in this aspect carefully if you want to invest in a kayak.

Wood — Wooden kayaks closely resemble traditional canoes. They’re undeniably beautiful to look at, especially with many different styles and finishes. Although they might look too primitive, wooden kayaks are actually sturdy when built with the right materials. Strip-built boats usually have fiberglass, varnish, and resin to make them as strong as possible.

If you have excellent woodworking skills, then you can build your own wooden kayak; otherwise, you’ll have to have it custom-built. Additionally, it should only be used on still and calm waters.

Rotomold Rotomolded kayaks are made of polyethylene plastic pellets, which are poured over a mold, heated in an oven, and rotated to create a one-piece kayak. Afterward, it only requires a few touches, such as installing the skeg, hatch, or rudder.

Polyethylene is a widely used plastic material, not just in kayaks but also in other industries. It’s an extremely sturdy material that only requires minimal maintenance. However, it’s also heavier and needs UV-blocking spray to prevent degradation.


Types of kayak material
Source: Freepik
An image that features sea kayaks on a lake
Source: Freepik

Composite — This material is usually made of a blend of fiberglass, carbon fiber, or aramid. The hull molds are sprayed with gel coats and injected with resin. Then, the deck and hull are joined using fiberglass resin.

Tourist kayaks are usually made of composites since the material is stiff and makes the boat faster and very responsive. However, it can be quite expensive.

Thermoform — This type of material is light, durable, and has a mid-range price. Thermoform kayaks are made when a sheet of ABS (an impact-resistant plastic) is bonded to a top layer of glossy acrylic. The sheets are then heated and sucked over a mold using a vacuum.

Thermoform kayaks are often made with a layer of UV protection. The disadvantage of this material is that it’s not as fast as its counterparts.

Weight capacity

A kayak’s maximum weight capacity is the most weight it can hold and still stay afloat. For example, if you weigh 150 lbs and your gear is 50 lbs, that doesn’t mean you should get a kayak with a maximum capacity of 200 lbs. If you do, then you’ll definitely be submerged in the water!

The best way to calculate the weight capacity that you should get is by using two methods. The first one is to multiply the kayak manufacturer’s maximum capacity rating and reduce it to 35%. This the best range that will allow you to safely paddle your kayak—this way, you won’t sink or feel any difficulty in paddling.

The second method is to choose a kayak with a maximum weight capacity that’s 125 lbs more than your body weight.


Figuring out the correct maximum weight capacity for you is extremely important. If you’re beyond the kayak’s weight limit, it will be very difficult for you to paddle and maneuver. As a result, you could lose stability and be at risk for capsizing.

A person with a life vest kayaking
Source: Freepik

Length, Width, and Depth

The dimensions of a kayak greatly influence its performance. Therefore, if you want to get the best out of your boat, it’s important to consider its length, width, and depth.

Determining the kayak’s dimensions
Source: Pexel

Choose longer kayaks if you’re going to use them for cruising; they have larger storage space too, which is great for overnight trips. Shorter kayaks are ideal for whitewater activities since the short hull makes them easily maneuverable.

If speed is a non-negotiable feature for you, then get a narrow kayak that easily cuts through the wind. For stability, get a kayak with a wider body. Long-legged paddlers will like kayaks with deep hulls. If you’re uncomfortable with confinement, a shallow hull will work fine.


The proper paddle can make a huge difference in your performance. For recreational kayaking, get a low-angle paddle with a shaft that’s only slightly tilted. It’s better suited for making slow, relaxed strokes when cruising down calm bodies of water.

On the other hand, a high-angle paddle with a more tilted shaft is designed to help paddlers gain speed. It is shorter and wider than a low-angle paddle, perfect for making quick and precise strokes.

Paddles can be made of various materials, such as fiberglass, carbon fiber, or plastic. In general, plastic is the cheapest among the three, but it also has the lowest quality. Although some paddlers think it’s indestructible, plastic will degrade quicker when exposed under the sun for a long time. Its flexibility also contributes to poor performance in the water.

Fiberglass is a mid-range paddle that has excellent durability and performance. It may sustain a chip, but the entire paddle won’t crack. It’s also more lightweight than plastic but rigid, giving you more speed and efficiency.

If you want the lightest and sturdiest paddle material, choose carbon fiber. It may be the most expensive, but it also gives you superior performance. It’s ultra-light and extremely rigid structure makes for excellent energy transfer with each stroke.

Types of kayak paddles
Source: Pexel


The hull of a kayak consists of the bottom, sides, and deck. There are various hull shapes depending on the type of kayak. It’s important to get the correct one based on what you’ll be using it for since it will greatly impact your performance on the water.

These are the common types of kayak hulls:

Types of kayak hulls
Source: Freepik

Round — If you’re frequenting rough, fast-moving waters and currents, getting a kayak with a round hull is advantageous. The rounded bottom makes it easy to tilt and maneuver; it can also increase your speed as you go downstream. Round hulls are not ideal for still waters since they can become unstable.

Flat — Flat hulls offer stability in still bodies of water. This makes them ideal for fishing or leisurely cruising in lakes and ponds. They’re also great for beginners who are learning how to paddle since they’re easy to operate.

Pontoon — This type of hull is best for novice paddlers since it offers the most stability. It’s easy to steer, maneuver, and keep upright because of its shape. However, it’s not built for speed, so it’s only good for leisurely kayaking or practicing how to paddle.

V-Shaped — V-shaped hulls form a sharp “V” at the bottom, which is designed to cut through the water. As a result, kayaks with this type of hull can track straighter and have faster speeds. However, this hull is more suitable for advanced paddlers since it doesn’t have great stability.


As discussed earlier, kayaks are categorized into sit-on-tops or sit-insides.

However, sitting on an uncomfortable seat can make your back and spine hurt.

You can choose to buy a padded kayak seat separately to make your experience more comfortable. It can then be fitted into the kayak’s built-in seat.

Kayak padded seats
Source: Freepik


For paddlers who need to store their gear and equipment in their kayaks, a hatch can be a very helpful feature.

Choosing a hatch for your kayak
Source: Freepik

When choosing a hatch, you should consider its sturdiness and water resistance.

Hatches may come in different shapes: circular, rectangular, or A-shaped. It may also come with different covers, such as rubber, screw, and twist-lock. It can be installed in a kayak depending on the style and material of the boat.


To help your kayak track straighter and improve its wind resistance, you’ll also need these accessories:

Rudder — This is a flat piece of fin that is hinged near the stern of the kayak. Its angle can be readjusted using foot pedals to help you steer the boat. Rudders are great for controlling the movement of your kayak more efficiently depending on the condition of the water and the wind.

Skeg — Skegs are installed towards the stern, under the kayak’s hull. Their function is similar to rudders: they keep your kayak track straight, especially when you’re paddling in windy weather. Since kayaks will naturally turn into the wind, a skeg helps prevent them from doing so.

Tracking fin — Tracking fins are usually found on inflatable kayaks. They also help you control the vessel and stay on course. The difference between skegs and tracking fin is that the latter cannot be retracted while paddling.

Choosing kayak accessories
Source: Pixabay

Popular Kayak Brands

With so many kayak brands in the market today, it can be overwhelming to pick one to invest in. Need to know about some tried and tested kayak brands? Check out this list:

Kayak brands
Source: Pexels
An inflatable kayak

Advanced Elements

This brand is all about inflatable kayaks, be it for touring, recreational, or whitewater use. Advanced Elements features inflatable kayaks that are designed and manufactured using cutting-edge technology. They also sell kayak accessories and other watersports gear.

Ocean Kayak

Looking for a unique and sturdy kayak? Ocean Kayak is a brand that offers modern and beautifully-designed models. Gearing towards recreational and fishing kayaks, they have models for tandem or solo paddling as well.

The Ocean Kayak Malibu 9.5
Old Town's Salty PDL 120

Old Town

This brand is the number one kayak builder for fishing and hunting purposes. Old Town sells a broad range of kayaks so you’ll never run out of options. Their newest model, Sportsman Autopilot 136, is a motorized fishing kayak that can be controlled using Bluetooth and a remote.

Sun Dolphin

Sun Dolphin has a line of affordable and feature-rich recreational kayaks that are perfect for family and group outings. This brand aims to promote outdoor recreational activities through its watercraft products. In addition to kayaks, they also sell pedal boats and paddleboards.

Sun Dolphin Aruba 8 SS

Docking and Floating Options

Now that you know what type of kayak to buy, you should also consider buying a floating kayak dock. You might ask, “why do I need a kayak dock?”, and here’s the best answer: conventional floating docks aren’t 100% safe and reliable for launching your kayak.

modular floating platform
Source: Pexels

Wooden floating docks have many disadvantages. They tend to rot when used for a long period of time. This makes them prone to damage especially during typhoons; repairing wooden docks every year can be costly.

Getting an exceptionally sturdy kayak docking system like the one Hisea Dock offers will help you launch your vessel safely and easily. Since it’s a floating dock, it won’t be affected by rising or falling water levels. It also holds up to typhoon quite well.


How will you transport a kayak?

Transporting a kayak can be done in two ways. The first one is ideal if you’re taking it from a nearby shelter to the waterfront. Two people can carry the kayak by grabbing each end. If you’re alone, you can grab the kayak and place it on your shoulders.

The second method is for transporting the kayak via a vehicle. Two people can carry the kayak on each end and place it on the rack.

What type of maintenance is needed for my kayak?

Rinse the kayak with fresh water after each use, especially sea kayaks. Make sure that metal parts like foot pedals and rudders are rinsed and thoroughly dried as well.

Don’t leave your kayak out in the sun for hours. Plastic kayaks can warp and deform from too much heat. You can also spray your kayak with a UV ray protectant.

Look out for scratches that could develop into cracks and punctures.

How do I store my kayak?

Store your kayak in a cool, dry place, like your garage. It’s best positioned on its edge when stored to avoid oil canning (deformation). If you must store it outdoors, position the kayak upside down. Then, cover it with a tarp and keep it in a shaded area to avoid damage from UV rays.


Buying a kayak entails paying attention to several details. Before you make your purchase, it’s important to determine everything that you need to make sure that you’re getting the best experience + your mone’s value. Investing in a kayak and a floating dock system will help you enjoy the outdoors more. Contact us today to learn more about our docking systems.

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