What Size Kayak Do I Need? An Intro To Personal Watercraft

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I've found that there are few things more fun than a day on the water, paddling on a paddleboard or kayak. But when searching for the right kayak for a few hours in calm water, I found myself asking, "What size kayak do I need?"

If you've been in the same position, you may be surprised to know that the answer isn't so direct. The size of the kayak is usually related to what you're using it for. Plus, it depends on how many passengers you plan to take on it.

To find out what size kayak you need, you'll have to ask yourself a few questions. The most important is the kind of water you'll be rowing on. This could be a placid lake, a flowing river, or choppy ocean waves. Also, you'll need to consider how long you plan on being out in your kayak.

Knowing how to answer these questions will help you pick the right size kayak.

What Size Kayak Do I Need?

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When you're out on whitewater with your kayak, you want to be able to maneuver it through tight turns and dangerous water. If you're on the ocean or a lake, you'll want to go for a kayak with a little more stability. It should have room to keep supplies like water, sunscreen, and other safety tools.

The place you plan on kayaking, whether on a river or the ocean, determines what size kayak you need.

You should also look out for the number of people you usually kayak with. If you like to row with a partner, it stands to reason that you'll need a kayak with two seats. If you usually go solo, a single-seater kayak is best.

The Various Types Of Kayaks

It may surprise you to learn that there a lot of different kayaks, based on use and capacity. A lot of times, the size of the kayak is not just in terms of hull size. It also includes storage capacity and cockpit size. These are important to consider when you ask, "What size kayak do I need?"

It's not just about the size of the boat, but how much room you have inside!


Unless you have experience with kayaks, the sit-inside kayak is probably what you picture first. Sit-inside kayaks are great options if you plan on moving faster, and if you plan on being in your kayak for a while.

They keep you dry down in the cockpit, protecting you from cold water. Sit-inside kayaks, in general, have the added bonus of keeping you dry. That's something their counterparts don't guarantee.

This is great for long kayaking trips. If you plan on being out on the water for multiple days, you probably don't want to get wet every day! They can also protect your supplies from getting wet. A sit-inside kayak may not necessarily be bigger (or smaller) than other options, but that choice is as important as size.

Sit-ins, because they protect you from the elements and are more stable in rough water, work best in rough water and on long trips.

One sit-inside kayak you may consider is the Perception Sound Sit Inside Kayak. This kayak has an adjustable seat and storage spaces.

It works best when used in still water, and has storage for fishing poles, coolers, and other supplies. At 10 feet and 6 inches, this kayak will work well for solo fishing trips. It only weighs 46 pounds.


Sit-on-top kayaks may sound a bit counterintuitive at first. These kayaks are more like platforms with seats than they are strictly boats.

But their open structure is actually much friendlier to beginners than the sit-inside, even though the sit-inside feels more protected. That is because the sit-on-top type of kayak is very forgiving to mistakes.

Sit-on-top kayaks are often wider than sit-insides, so they are easier to get onto. They are more stable, especially on smooth flat water.

If you plan on taking a sit-on-top kayak onto rougher water, make sure you have a little more experience. Sit-on-top kayaks can easily flip, since the center of gravity is higher than a sit-inside.

If this happens though, sit-on-top kayaks have your back. They actually have what are known as scupper holes. These allow your kayak to drain if it flips over, and your sit-on-top kayak will never actually sink.

If you want a sit-on-top kayak, why not check out the Vibe Kayaks Skipjack 120T Tandem Kayak? This kayak is on the long side, but it sits two or three people and is great for fishing trips.

At 12.2 feet long and 72 pounds, this kayak is big enough to fit you and two angler friends. It's also light enough that you and another will easily be able to carry it.

Picking The Right Kayak For Your Adventure

people kayaking

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All of this doesn't quite answer the question of, "What size kayak do I need?"

Whether sit-on-top or sit-inside, it doesn't affect how big the kayak can be. What's more important to answer the question of "What size kayak do I need" is to determine how many people you plan on kayaking with, and where you want to go.

Kayaks broadly fall into three categories, which are recreational, day-touring, and touring or sea-touring. These different types of kayaks depend on what kind of water you'll be on and how long you'll be sitting in them.

Where Are You Going?

Take a moment, especially if you're a new kayaker, and visualize your goals. Where will you be taking your kayak?

Are you going for day fishing trips, or planning a trek up the coastline? Knowing where you want to end up, literally and figuratively, will help you answer, "What size kayak do I need?"

Staying on the lake

Recreational kayaks are generally the smallest, with enough space for one or two people. They also have the least amount of space when it comes to storage. Whether it is a sit-inside or a sit-on-top kayak, recreational kayaks require the least amount of space and skill to use.

They are great if you plan on going out on the lake or a slow river, and will be heading back to shore -- maybe with a few fresh fish! They are definitely too small to support you for more than a few hours.

Out for the day

If you're more adventurous and like to spend a weekend on the water, a day touring kayak is the option for you. These kayaks are larger than their recreational cousins.

Longer kayaks actually move more efficiently through the water, letting you cover more distance with each stroke. Plus, they have room for your cooler and other needs.

These kayaks are pretty much exclusively sit-in. Since they keep you from getting wet, while you're guaranteed to get wet riding a sit-on-top, they are certainly more comfortable over long distances.

Going out to sea

"What size kayak do I need for kayaking on the ocean?"

If you want to take on the big blue, you'll need the biggest and sturdiest kayak available. These hefty kayaks are made to carry you long distances. They let you keep supplies in your craft that will support you over days or more. Plus, they can stay upright in waves and currents.

Should you decide to go after this grandest of kayaking challenges, REI recommends you decide early. Buying a sea-touring kayak at the start of your kayaking journey will save you money in the long run. Plus, it might be more difficult at first. But handling a large kayak like that will help you improve quickly.

One such kayak is the Pakayak Bluefin 14 Foot Hardshell High Performance Sea Kayak. This kayak is a seafaring machine from bow to stern.

Pakayak modeled the hull after the bluefin tuna, so this kayak is fast and stable in ocean waters. Each end of the kayak has watertight hatches to hold all your gear. At 14 feet, you won't be cramped on long ocean rows.

Who Will You Go With?

Finally, know who you're going with!

If the question isn't "What size kayak do I need", but rather, "What size kayak do we need," a tandem kayak may be for you.

A tandem kayak lets you share the adventure with your loved ones. These kayaks are great if you know you're going to have a partner along. They are larger and usually have storage built in. However, you will have trouble if you plan on ever going solo. These bulky boats are hard to maneuver alone.

One tandem kayak you may want to try is the Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak. This kayak is great for relaxed days with friends and family out on the water.

Cushioned, comfortable seats are adjustable and fit to you. Plus, footwells let you brace your feet for stability. At 12 feet long, there's plenty of room for two!

Which Is The Right Size Kayak For Your Adventures?

man kayaking

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So, the only clear answer to the question, "What size kayak do I need?" is, "It depends!" But, there are a few guidelines to follow.

The more serious you are, the larger a kayak you need. This excludes things like whitewater kayaking and focuses on long-distance or recreational uses.

Smaller kayaks and sit-on-top models are useful if you're packing one in on a car. They're light and maneuverable on and off the water. Kayaks as small as seven feet will work for you.

If you're planning on surviving with what you brought on your kayak, then obviously the bigger the better! You probably don't want to be out at sea on a glorified raft. So, if you are going into rougher and more dangerous water, sea touring kayaks can be as big as 14 feet.

Now that you know how to make the choice, which size kayak will you buy? Let us know in the comments below.


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