Kayaks are designed with specific purposes and water conditions:
Recreational kayaks are an excellent choice for beginners and those planning on shorter trips on calm, flat water. These kayaks are wide, short (up to 12 feet) and very stable.
Sit-on-top recreational kayaks are very popular, too. These aren’t quite as stable as the sit-inside models, but offer these advantages in case of a capsize:
• No need to scramble out, and…
• Easier to climb back on from the water than a sit-inside kayak.
Fishing kayaks are designed for stability and for carrying a lot of gear. The models designed for standing on are the widest and the most stable of all. Here’s a video from
our friends at Wilderness Systems about fishing kayak stability.
Touring & Sea Kayaks
If you’re interested in long days of kayaking on the ocean or large lakes, you’ll want a touring kayak or sea kayak. They’re designed for speed, so they are the narrowest and longest of the kayaks—up to 19 feet.
These are also the least stable. Both because of their design and the types of conditions you’ll be in, it’s important to develop the skill and experience to roll and self-rescue in these types of kayaks (more on that below).
A whitewater kayak is designed for a specific purpose: running whitewater. It’s not a good choice for any other type of water condition. Simply by the nature of the activity, whitewater kayaking demands skill and experience—including a roll, a wet exit and a bow rescue.
Test Your Kayak’s Stability
Once you have your kayak, the best way to get comfortable and test its stability is to take it out in a safe spot on a warm day (preferably with someone else) and try to tip it! Test its tipping point and capsize intentionally. Practice climbing back in.
If touring or whitewater are in your future, get training on more technical rescue skills like rolling and self-rescue.
Also, keep this in mind: As with any recreation activity, paddling is physical. So the better shape you’re in—especially core strength—the better able you are to both keep your balance and climb back in if you capsize.
In this video, Ken Whiting shows one technique to help keep you from flipping: