A Discerning Buyer’s Guide
If you have spent any time in the kayaking world, then you have likely taken part in a conversation that had something to do with the benefits of a Sit-On-Top (SOT) kayak versus a more traditional Sit Inside kayak. If you are anything like the average kayaker, then we imagine that conversation didn’t go very far.
That’s because both styles have their advantages and disadvantages, the things they can do that their competitors simply cannot. But we aren’t here to play fair. We’re here to tell you that SOT style kayaks are hands down the most comfortable and versatile kayaks on the market. The Best Sit on Top Kayaks are not only generally less expensive than their sit inside counterparts, but they are often far more comfortable as they can offer a more complete range of movement.
Here’s a quick summary of our five favorite sit on top kayaks of the year.
But before we take a closer look at 5 of the Best Sit on Top Kayaks, we should take a moment to talk about just what, exactly, is the difference between the two styles.
What is a Sit on Top Kayak, and Why Should I Choose One?
In the off chance that you can’t tell from context clues what a Sit-On-Top Kayak is, we are here to break it down for you. Whether you are paddling around the Dalmation Coast or island hopping in the Belize Barrier Reef (both of which are among the 10-Best Kayaking Spots in the World) you are going to need have the right kind of boat beneath you.
• SIT INSIDE KAYAKS
These are the most traditional form of kayak construction. It utilizes a hollowed out “cockpit” in which you stick your legs. Having your legs inside of the boat as opposed to outside of it grants you greater control of hull movement and is very much the preferred construction method for whitewater kayaking, in which you most certainly need to stay inside of your boat.
• SIT-ON-TOP KAYAKS
Sit on top kayaks have been gaining popularity in recent years because of their ability to provide a fast and fun way to recreate at a more affordable price than traditional kayaks. They are significantly easier to get in and out of, so they have begun to overtake traditional sit-inside kayaks in terms of sales. One of the biggest drawbacks to a Sit-On-Top kayak is that you do not have the same amount of control over your boat, that is, the ability to use your legs & lower body to help maneuver against waves or rapids. For this reason, you generally will not see whitewater kayakers on anything but a sit-inside kayak.
Kayaking Safety Essentials
Before we go any further, our team wanted to take a moment to encourage you, the prospective kayak buyer, to make sure that you are read up on all the basic safety info that you need to go out on the water. While kayaking is a fun sport, certain dangers are unavoidable but can be protected against with things like PFDs and Kayak Safety Lights.
More information on Kayaking Safety- The Essentials, available here by Paddling.com.
The Five Best Recreational Kayaks
# 1 Best Sit-On-Top Kayak for Beginners: Brooklyn Kayak Company BKC UH-FK285
|9’ 5”||33”||300 lbs||44 lbs||RED & YELLOW|
SPECIAL FEATURES: High-back seat
Although it is not advertised as such, the BKC UH-FK285 by Brooklyn Kayak Company is actually one of the best little fishing kayaks for the money, and it has all the features to back that up without being all in your face about it. First of all, it’s got three rod holders as a standard feature, more than most kayaks have at all. There’s also the additional storage in the specially designed waterproof hatches, something that could work just as well for fishing bait as it would for storing your phone or snacks.
One of the first things that we noticed was the chair, which is considerably taller than many of the sit on top kayak models in its class. We really like a high-back chair, as it always feels more comfortable and manages to take a good amount of strain off of the lower back. This chair works a lot like those camp chairs that were popular in the 90s, as a simple two strap system is utilized to create a rigidity that is both comfortable and performance-ready.
Speaking of performance, the BKC UH-FK285 (Brooklyn Kayaks really should do something about that name) performs well in a sort of all-around way. While the straight-line tracking is impressive for a fishing kayak, the boat is just as maneuverable as many shorter river kayaks. That means that no matter where you are headed and what the water terrain is like, this kayak will likely be up for the challenge.
What it’s lacking…
The included paddle is a bit too short to appreciate. We had to swap it out for one from our collection or we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere fast. It’s not that big of a complaint seeing as how most kayaks, in fact, do not come with a paddle at all.
What do you all think of the color scheme? Reminds us of our favorite popsicle, melting around our mouths on a warm summer’s day.
Brooklyn Kayak Company BKC UH-FK285
- Good all-around performance
- Great fishing features
- High-back soft chair
- The included paddle is too short to be of any use for most riders
#2 Perception PESCADOR Sit on Top Kayak for Recreation
|10’ or 12’||32”||325 lbs||57 lbs||SUNSET / SEASPRAY / RED TIGER / MOSS CAMO|
SPECIAL FEATURES: SPILL-RESISTANT BEVERAGE HOLDER
If you don’t speak Spanish, then you might not be catching the drift of the name that PERCEPTION decided to give one of its newest and most popular recreational kayaks. PESCADOR means fisherman, and that might tell you something about what sort of activities you might be getting up to while you are riding on top.
So what are the fish-ready features? Well for one there is the remarkably roomy rear landing pad with gear strap. This is where the fishing crate goes that has all your stuff in it, and if you have any luck, where all the fish will go after you have pulled them in. The extra space is a luxury but one we are not willing to give back under any circumstances. It is in fact large enough to facilitate paddle storage alongside a fish crate.
Although this kayak is the perfect fishing vessel, it has become increasingly popular for recreational riders who are simply looking for a heavier, more stable boat that can perform in a variety of conditions. And the stability is perhaps one of the greatest features about this item hands down.
Re-mounting in case of capsizing is an absolute piece of cake with this kayak. It will hold balance well enough for you to pull in the catch of the day, too, instead of pulling you into the water for an unplanned dip.
If we could make any changes to the PESCADOR, it would perhaps be the addition of a gear track or some clip rings. This kayak is so comfortable that we kind of want to convert it into our new all-around adventure yak.
- Roomy fish deck
- Great stability & tracking
- Secure beverage holder
- Not enough gear storage for such a high-performance kayak
- 6x kayak plugs required for use
#3 Best Sit On Top Kayak Under $300: Sundolphin BALI SS 10-foot Sit-On-Top Kayak
|Sundolphin BALI SS||LENGTH||WIDTH||CAPACITY||WEIGHT||COLOR(S)|
|10’||30”||395 lbs||44 lbs||BLUE / LIME / OCEAN / PINK / RED|
SPECIAL FEATURES: Great VALUE
We wanted to be sure to include a few picks that were on the more budget-friendly side of things, and when it comes to making budget-friendly kayaks that don’t compromise on performance, there was no other manufacturer to go with other than SUNDOLPHIN. Their BALI SS kayak is one of the most popular recreational boats in the world, and it’s the model you are most likely seeing at beach-side resorts and mountain lakes. That’s because it is quite simply the best bang-for-your-buck kayak on our list.
Durability certainly isn’t an issue here, They call it FORTIFLEX, but it’s really just the same molded polyethylene as any other recreational kayak, but this is certainly not a bad thing. There isn’t a whole lot that you can do to damage this thing, and that includes prolonged sun exposure. Sounds like that Fortiflex is pretty good at keeping those UV rays from causing any damage.
On the downside…
Of course for a price like this, you are going to have to make one or two sacrifices. Usually it’s either stability or maneuverability. In this case, it’s maneuverability. This kayak simply sits too deep in the water to make it an effective turner. It can be difficult to change directions and it takes a considerable effort to keep the thing moving in a straight line. That isn’t to say that it isn’t fun to ride. The BALI is an absolute pleasure, just not if you have anywhere to be in a hurry.
Our other major complaint is the seat. It is just too small to provide the kind of support you need, especially for one of these entry-level kayaks that take a little bit more exertion to control. Fortunately the problem is not that difficult to solve. There are a lot of companies that are making affordable kayak seats, and it is a great way to make sure that you are having the most comfortable water adventure possible.
One last thing: it could use a few handles along the sides. As it stands, it can sometimes be hard to get a good grip on this thing.
Sundolphin BALI SS
- Great price
- Very durable
- A good amount of storage for an entry-level kayak
- Can be difficult to maneuver in advanced water situations
- Seat is small and uncomfortable, we recommend replacing it
#4 Ocean Kayak FRENZY One-Person Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
|Ocean Kayak FRENZY||LENGTH||WIDTH||CAPACITY||WEIGHT||COLOR(S)|
|9’||31”||325 lbs||44 lbs||ENVY / SUNRISE|
SPECIAL FEATURES: High-back seat
If there is one company that can give Sundolphin a run for their money in terms of providing affordable kayaks that still offer great handling and performance, then it would perhaps be OCEAN KAYAKS. Their line of affordable kayaks are some of the sportiest little boats out there for the price.
The shape of this boat is perhaps its very best feature. It manages to cut through the water without being dragged down by it, giving it a wonderful responsive feel and increased stability in all sorts of conditions. In fact, we have never seen a sit-on-top kayak that can handle rivers as well as the FRENZY. We are not sure how exactly they did it but we were thrilled to dunk this thing into the water to see how she would perform.
There isn’t a whole lot of storage here. Certainly nothing close to the kind of storage that you would find on an angling kayak. Perhaps that is because the FRENZY represents a pared down, minimalistic approach to the modern recreational kayak, something that OCEAN has been trying to achieve since their inception. We love that this boat doesn’t have a whole lot of bells and whistles on it, but instead it has it where it counts, which is in motion dynamics and sheer stability.
Our team agreed that the leg room was a little undersized on this kayak. We are not a particularly tall bunch, and even we thought that it might feel a lot better on the legs if we could stretch them out just a bit further.
Ocean Kayak FRENZY
- Fantastic value for a high-performance kayak
- Great handling
- Not a lot of storage or extra features
- A little skimpy on the leg room
#5 Best Sit on Top Fishing Kayak: Lifetime WEBER Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak
|11’||33”||300 lbs||58 lbs||LIGHT OLIVE|
SPECIAL FEATURES: Extra length (adds speed & boosts tracking)
At 11 feet long, the WEBER by Lifetime Products is the longest kayak on our list. Why would you want a longer kayak? Well for one thing it will allow you to go a heck of a lot faster out on the water, and it will be a lot easier to get wherever you are going. That is because longer kayaks also tend to have a slimmer profile, and they cut through the water much easier than their fatter, bulkier counterparts.
Tracking is also an important benefit that comes from operating a longer kayak. Because there is more surface area of boat in the water with a longer kayak, they are less susceptible to the whims of the water and thus are more efficient at maintaining a course.
While the WEBER is stable enough for a recreational kayak, the additional length actually plays against it in this case. This long and narrow kayak may be fast and sleek, but it does lose balance quicker than other kayaks, and it is significantly more difficult to re-mount in the case of a tip-over. For the seasoned kayaker this may not be an issue, but for someone trying to pull in the mother of all bass, then they might want to look for something with a bit more side-to-side stability.
The inability of the WEBER to perform as a stand-up fishing kayak should not speak ill against it, as the vast majority of angling kayaks on the market do not offer that kind of stability.
- LONG kayak means more SPEED
- Great tracking
- Not as stable as shorter kayaks
BONUS PICK: Best Sit-On-Top Tandem Kayak
Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Sport Kayak Pro Package
|Sea Eagle SE370||LENGTH||WIDTH||CAPACITY||WEIGHT||COLOR(S)|
|11’||33”||640 lbs||26 lbs||WHITE|
SPECIAL FEATURES: More Capacity
We couldn’t let this whole list go by without including a tandem sit-on-top kayak, because to put is simply, kayaking can be a lot more fun with your favorite adventure buddy by your side.
In addition to the massive 640 pound capacity (which is more like 3 people), the SE370 is an inflatable kayak, which means that not only is it capable of being broken down to an incredibly small size, but it has an extra degree of plush comfort that you simply cannot find with traditional polyethylene kayaks.
Sea Eagle SE370
- More compact & portable than polyethylene kayaks
- Very comfortable
- Not as agile or maneuverable as traditional kayaks
The Five Factors that Make or Break a Sit on Top Kayak
Although one kayker’s recreational goals might differ considerably from another kayaker’s, there are a few things that every water sports enthusiast should consider before getting out on the water.
The longer a kayak is, the faster it can go. Longer kayaks also have the added bonus of improved tracking, which makes it easier to hold a straight course in the water. This is why long kayaks are popular among distance kayakers who have a lot of water to cover.
Short kayaks are better for quick turns and on-the-spot maneuverability. They are also better for smaller riders who might not have long enough legs to operate a kayak in the 10’ to 12’ range.
There is less variation in kayak width than there is with some of the other factors on this list, but it is an important factor because width has a direct connection with stability. In fact the wider a kayak is, the more stable it will be in the water, and the easier it will be to re-board in case you capsize.
The amount of total weight that a kayak can carry varies from 200 pounds on the ultralight range to 600 pounds for some of the tandem and inflatable kayaks that are out there.
However, many kayaks start to demonstrate performance drag just before their weight limit, so if you are looking to buy, it might not be a bad idea to choose a model with a weight limit at least 75 pounds heavier than you are. This will also allow you to pack plenty of snacks, gear, and fresh drinking water without worry.
Okay, so there’s no actual evidence that a kayak’s color will change the way that it performs, but it is an important factor nonetheless. Kayaks come in all sorts of wonderful, creatively-named colors, so be sure to pick one that represents your wild side!
The overall weight of a kayak may influence how deep it sits in the water and how easy it will be to paddle, however, the more obvious thing to think about is carrying your kayak around, even just from your car to the water. You want to purchase a kayak that is light enough that you can get it in and out of the car (or on top of in many cases) without too much effort.
How to Re Enter a Sit on Top Kayak
One of the most difficult things about kayaking for beginners is how hard it can be to get back in the boat once it has tipped over. For information on mastering this necessary technique, check out Walt Lariscy’s excellent instructional video on the subject.
Top Recreational Kayak Brands
Brooklyn Kayak Company
Also known at the BKC, the Brooklyn Kayak Company designs all their Kayaks here in the USA with the end user in mind. They make some incredible mid & upper-level kayaks, but don’t have as many on the more affordable end of the spectrum.
PERCEPTION Kayaks has been in the game for over 40 years, and their significant experience shows in their products. They are well-known for their line of moderately priced yet feature-packed fishing kayaks.
OCEAN kayaks have an incredibly diverse product line, meaning that it it possible to find anything from a cheap kayak for under a few hundred bucks to a high end top-of-the-line professional kayak. They’ve also got some great kayaking accessories to make the trip even easier.
The story of Lifetime Products is perhaps not what you would expect from a company that is known for some of the most durable recreational boats that you can get. They started off designing basketball hoops, then expanded into plastics production. Kayaks emerged as one product that they were particularly good at making, so they ran with it, and we are glad that they did.
Sea Eagle Kayaks
We love Sea Eagle Kayaks because they are one of the only water sports companies that has figured out how to make a good inflatable kayak that doesn’t compromise on performance. Their SE370 Two-Person tandem kayak earned a special place on our list because of how wonderfully comfortable it is for full-day trips with a partner.
Q: What is the best length for a sit-on-top Kayak?
A: Choosing the best length for your new Kayak is a very important decision and one that should not be taken lightly.
You can determine what length you need by considering the activities that the kayak will be used for. For example, if you enjoy paddling about in the choppy waves or in fast flowing rivers, you are going to want about the shortest kayak that you can get because it makes it easier to make quick turns and course adjustments.
However if you are more about distance and speed, then the extra length is exactly what you are looking for. The longer a boat is, the more effort it requires to turn, however, it is this same feature that gives them so much more speed than other kayaks.
Q: Do I need to wear a Kayak personal flotations device (PFD) When I’m on the water?
A: While there are federal laws that require the wearing of a flotation device on the water, there are codes and regulations enforced at the state and community level, so it is the riders responsibility to know what the rules are and to follow them.
Even if there are no rules requiring, we highly recommend that you wear a PFD when kayaking. Even experienced kayakers can get themselves into unexpected situations, and having something on your chest that helps you get back to the surface fast could mean the difference between life and death. If you want to see a list of our favorite life jackets for kayaking, or just want to learn more about kayaking life jackets, check out our article on Personal Flotation Devices.
According to the United States Coast Guard, the evidence is clear. LIFE JACKETS SAVE LIVES.
Q: Do I need to order my own paddle for this?
A: One of the strange things about the kayak industry is that some manufacturers provide paddles with their kayaks and others simply do not. This is because entry-level kayakers do not generally require more advanced paddles. For this reason, it is the more affordable boats that usually come with paddles, while the kayaks designed for advanced users often will include no paddle as the rider herself / himself will likely already have one that suits them.
Are you excited to get out on the water yet? We sure are. Our whole team is going to pile on to the Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable kayak. Or at least, as many of us as we can without disrupting the recommended weight limit.
But if you are more of the angler type, then boy have we got the “angle” for you. Perception Kayak’s PESCADOR is one of the best mid-range fishing kayaks that you can get. It has way more features than entry level kayaks, but isn’t as insanely expensive as some of the more professional models that exist.