The Different Kayak Types and Their Uses

The Different Kayak Types and Their Uses

There are many different kayak types for a range of different uses. Whether you want to head out fishing on the local lake, tackle demanding whitewaters, or take to the seas for some coastal paddling, there is a kayak type for the purpose. 

In this article, we will be looking at 12 different kayaks and what they are best for…

Sit-in and Sit-on-Top Kayaks

There are two main styles of kayak. You will notice these two distinct designs over a variety of kayak types (to follow). These two styles are the sit-in and the sit-on-top kayak. As the names suggest, one design will see you sitting on top of the kayak and the other will have you sitting inside. 

When you are using a sit-in kayak your legs will be fully enclose inside the body of the boat. On a sit-on-top, your legs are exposed to the elements as you sit in a seat with your feet resting on the footrests. There are pros and cons of both designs and which one suits you will ultimately depend on what you want to do with your kayak.

Sit-in kayaks keep the elements off your lower body and will keep you relatively dry from splashes and rainwater. When using a sit-on-top kayak, you are more exposed to the elements and you are bound to get some level of water on yourself. 

The sit-in kayak is much harder to get in and out of if you happen to capsize in open-water however they provide essential stability in whitewater situations. You won’t see a sit-on-top kayak in whitewater as it is far too easy to fall out and far too difficult to manoeuvre down challenging sections of river. Sit-on-top kayaks are easier to mount both on launch and in open water. This makes it possible to go for a swim and get back on your kayak — whether that swim is intentional or not. 

Sit-on-top kayaks are perfect for anglers. You will often see this design in fishing kayaks because you can keep your tackle close to hand. Sit-in kayaks are great for touring, whitewater, and sea navigation. They offer more stability, protection from the elements, and quick recovery in difficult waters. For cold waters, the sit-in kayak will provide more comfort, during the summer the sit-on kayak is a great way to enjoy the warm weather.

  • Recreational Kayaks
  • The recreational kayak is designed for easy steering and great stability. This kayak comes in both sit-in and sit-on styles, has a wide hull and a short length (usually under 12-foot). As the name suggests they are used for recreational purposes. Best used on flatwater, calm coastlines, and tame rivers they offer a great way to get out exploring for fun. Although they can cope with whitewater to some degree, you will quickly find yourself out of your depth in anything over grade 2. 

  • Whitewater Kayaks
    Whitewater kayaks are much shorter in length (4 to 10-feet) and are designed to move quickly through fast water with excellent manoeuvrability. You will only find sit-in whitewater kayaks for obvious reasons. They are constructed form hard-wearing materials that can take a beating from rocks, rough water, and other obstacles in the water. 

  • There are a couple of types of white water kayaks — the creekboat and the playboat. The playboat is the shortest in design with a scooped bow and blunt stern making them incredibly manoeuvrable in whitewater. Perfect for performing technical tricks, these are a great all-rounder for navigating fast water, and with some skill, can be used to navigate anything from grade 1 through to grade 5. Creekboats are longer with a higher-volume, allowing them to resurface quickly in strong waters. They are perfect for navigating gorges and narrow, shallow, fast-flowing creeks.

  • Crossover Kayaks
    Crossover kayaks include two kayak types in their design. You will find these in both sit-in and sit-on styles. Crossovers provide the kayaker with a boat that can be used in multiple situations. You will find crossovers such as whitewater x recreational kayaks that allow you to comfortably navigate flatwater while being able to cope with low-grade whitewaters as well. You will also find boats that cross some elements of fishing kayaks with touring or recreational kayaks, semi-inflatable kayaks, and touring kayaks with elements of whitewater kayaks. 

  • Inflatable Kayaks
    Inflatable kayaks provide you with a full-sized kayak that can fit in the boot of a car and be stored in a cupboard at home. They are primarily created for recreational use, but you will find some that can navigate low-grade whitewaters. Apart from a few crossover exceptions, you will only find inflatable kayaks that are sit-on-top; however, you do get a bit more protection from the large, inflated side walls. 

  • Most modern inflatable kayaks are much stronger than you would expect and are durable enough to cope with anything you would put a recreational hard-shell through. They are relatively stable in the water and easy to manoeuvre but you will never get the same tracking as you do with a hard-shell kayak. 

  • Folding Kayaks
    Folding kayaks offer the same portability benefits as the inflatable kayaks. You will find these kayaks in both sit-in and sit-on-top styles. Although a little larger when packed, the folding kayak usually packs down into an easily transportable suitcase. They are based off of the age-old Inuit “skin & bone” design where a frame is wrapped in a watertight skin. Usually designed for touring, they offer the manoeuvrability and stability of a regular 1-piece kayak. They are not as durable though, and they are prone to cracking after extended use or a particularly demanding tour. 

  • Touring Kayaks
    Touring kayaks are designed for multi-day trips and expeditions across large lakes and rivers. True touring kayaks are sit-in only however there are a few sit-on-top tourers out there. They are relatively long at 12 to 24-feet, are narrow, and have a pointed bow and stern. These features make it fast and efficient over long distances, making ambitious multi-day journeys less strenuous and more achievable. They will feature one or two large bulkheads for sealed storage and plenty of room to strap extra gear on top. This room is to accommodate your camping essentials on a longer trip.

  • Fishing Kayaks
    Fishing kayaks are, you guessed it, designed for fishing. Freshwater fishing kayaks are usually sit-on-top and saltwater fishing kayaks tent to be sit-in; however, both styles can be found in both environments. In their design, they feature ways to keep your tackle to hand and multiple rod holders. You will often find flush rod holders toward the back of the boat for trawling, and deck-mounted rod holders on one or both sides in front of the seat.

    They have a flat wide hull for stability when playing fish and some even feature a waterwheel pedal system or a mount for an electric outboard motor. These features allow you to stealthily creep up on the fish without disturbing the water’s surface. They also allow you to keep your hands on the rod. Don’t expect these features in every fishing kayak though as designs can differ drastically.

  • Pedal Kayaks
    Pedal kayaks offer a way to paddle your kayak without putting oar to water. You will find these kayaks in sit-on-top styles only as they require unrestricted movement of the legs. They feature a waterwheel, flipper, or propeller mechanism connected to pedals where your feet rest, so you can navigate the water hands-free. These are great for people that suffer with back issues and struggle to row traditionally. You will get a different work out with these kayaks and when used in conjunction with a paddle, you will work your entire body. As mentioned in the last section, they are also great for anglers that want their hands on the rod to make casts at all times. 

  • Sea Kayaks
    Sea kayaks are relatively similar in design to touring kayaks. They come in sit-in style only with a long and narrow design for faster and easier paddling. They are designed with a “high rocker” (the curve from bow to stern) as this helps tackle oncoming waves. The bow is pointed with an extremely narrow profile which is great for dealing with rough waters but not so great for stability. Sea kayaks have excellent tracking and are much better at dealing with waves and rough water than other kayaks.

  •  Tandem Kayaks
    Tandem kayaks are designed to accommodate two people. They are usually sit-on-top kayaks as it is easier to accommodate two kayakers on a smaller boat. You will find sit-in tandem kayaks however these are much longer and more difficult to transport. Tandem kayaks come designed for a range of uses. You will find tandem sea kayaks, touring kayaks, recreational kayaks, and inflatable kayaks. A larger hull is needed to support the weight of two paddlers which means there is usually a good amount of storage space on these kayaks.

  •  Sprint Kayaks
    Sprint kayaks are designed specifically for the purpose of racing. Designed as sit-in only, you will see these kayaks in events around the world competing against each other. These kayaks are for the athletes out there that row purely for sport. There is even a kayak sprint event held in the Olympics. Designed for sprints of 200, 500, and 1000-metres, these kayaks are slick, narrow, sharp, and fast! 

  •  Surf Kayaks
    The surf kayak is designed for one purpose and one purpose only — surfing! Sit-in surf kayaks are more common because they offer more stability in rough water. These kayaks are made to take on heavy surf and ride waves in a similar way to a surfboard. They have a narrow front profile with a turned-up bow that is designed to punch through large waves and ride the surf back toward shore. These kayaks are primarily made to have fun in the ocean and are not so good for paddling long-distance or navigating fresh waters.
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