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Sit-in vs. Sit-on-Top Kayaks

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Schessl | Green Wave Forum
Published Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Some of the most common questions we receive from prospective new kayak buyers are “should I get a sit-in or sit-on style kayak?” What is the difference? What works best in Florida waters? Which one is easier to handle or faster?

Lots of questions. Not a lot of easy answers since each person is different and there are so many different paddling environments in Florida. To help answer the questions, I've prepared this quick comparison for those people interested in Sit-IN KayakS (SINKS) and Sit-On-Top KayakS (SOTS).

Overview of Styles

Online Poll
I paddle a ...
Sit in Kayak 14 feet or more (31 votes)
11.57% 11.57%
Sit in kayak less than 14 feet (92 votes)
34.33% 34.33%
Sit On Top Kayak (97 votes)
36.19% 36.19%
Solo Canoe (6 votes)
2.24% 2.24%
Tandem Canoe (9 votes)
3.36% 3.36%
Other type of boat (5 votes)
1.87% 1.87%
I don't paddle (28 votes)
10.45% 10.45%

SINKS (sit-in) kayaks generally have a more efficient design; they are frequently longer and narrower, making them easier to paddle and faster. With a SINK, as the name says, you sit in the boat and are lower to the water. Almost all have a raised rim around the cockpit where you can attach a spray skirt to seal you into the boat. This is useful for keeping water out of the boat and allowing you to paddle all four seasons as you'll stay relatively dry and warm. Most SINKs also have dry storage areas to keep your equipment nice and dry. Most people when they think of a kayak, they think of the sit-in style.

SOTS (sit-on) kayaks are relative newcomers to the kayaking scene. They are, as the name goes, a kayak that you sit-on-top. SOTS are very popular with those who like to play in the surf or go fishing since they are easy to get in and out of. SOTS are also usually very stable kayaks and some of them you can actually stand up in the boat. To gain this stability SOTS are short and wide, making them less efficient at long distances and slower than sit-in boats. When you do get water in your SOT, it will drain out of holes in the bottom so there is no need to bail out water and no worrying about swamping the boat.

Here is a quick comparison of the differences:

SINK (sit-in)

  • Faster and easier to paddle than most sit-on kayaks
  • You stay relatively dry
  • Protected from the elements (sun, cold, rain, etc)
  • Designed for covering longer distances
  • Dry storage areas for equipment
  • Best for day trips and touring
  • Can be difficult to get in and out (especially on the water)
  • Smaller cockpits
  • May require a spray skirt in rough water
  • Movement is restricted and you cannot easily change positions
  • In hot weather a sit-in can get very warm under the deck, especially when using a spray skirt
  • Minimal access to items placed on back deck (back part of kayak) and no access to items in dry storage

SOT (sit-on)

  • Stability is usually greater than sit-in
  • Relatively easy to get in and out (including on the water)
  • Freedom of movement
  • Large storage areas on the deck, easily accessible
  • Best for fishing and surfing
  • Exposed to the elements (sun, cold, water, etc)
  • Exposed to wave splash and constant drip from the paddle
  • Slower and more difficult to paddle than sit-in
  • You will always have a wet bottom from sitting in small amount of water   

As you can tell there are pros and cons for each style of kayak and no perfect kayak exists. Many times your choice of kayak is dictated by the activity you want to do. For instance, if you will be fishing 90% of the time and touring 10%, get a SOT. If you are 90% day trips and touring, get a SINK.

Whether you get a SINK or a SOT, be sure to make us, Green Wave Forum, your home on the Internet. If you'd like to contribute to this article, please leave a comment below.

Last update Tuesday, January 27, 2009

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Cmt Sit-in vs. Sit-on-Top KayaksLogin to Post   
You are in the public comment zone. What follows is not from Green Wave Forum; it comes from other people and we don't vouch for it.
pinklady on 12/7/2008 2:12am
I have an Ocean Venus kayak.. It's not as fast as my granddaughter's Sit-in, but it tracts well and very stable for someone like me who has a hard time getting in and out of sit-ins.
enjoyindoin on 12/4/2008 3:43pm
Please, I have been eying the titanium. 23 oz. ergonomic Werner paddles...holidays around the corner, and family would just as soon give me a Gift Certificate...they seem too good to be true,feather light...any negatives???

I always think the heavier ones I currently use allow for more resistance excerise...silly me!!!