Buy or Rent a Kayak: What’s Best for You?

7-minute read

So you’ve rented kayaks a few times and love your time on the water. Your next question is: Should I buy a kayak or keep renting? We can help you think that through…

four people in rental kayaks

Renting can be a great option for occasional kayakers (Photo courtesy of Amelia Island Kayak Excursions)

NOTE: While we’ll focus on kayaks here, all of these pro/con considerations cross over if your preferred paddling craft is a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) or a canoe.

Pros and Cons of Renting Kayaks

Small Investments Over Time

If you love to kayak but only see yourself on the water a handful of times a season, renting may be your best option. You’d have to rent frequently to total what you’d spend on even an entry-level (but decent) kayak.  

Renting means you can spend small amounts here and there rather than come up with one large chunk of cash for your own boat.

No Need to License Your Own

Some states in the US require you to register and pay fees when purchasing a watercraft. You’ll need to check the regulations where you live—your state or province.

For example, here in Wisconsin kayaks, canoes and paddleboards under 16 feet don’t need to be registered (which includes most kayaks that aren’t sea kayaks). But in neighboring Minnesota, any boat over 10 feet has to be registered, which means a nominal license fee every three years.

If you stick to renting, no worries there.

a bunch of people on the shore ready to kayak

One huge advantage of renting is no hauling back and forth to the launch! (Photo courtesy of H2GO Paddle)

No Storage or Transportation Issues

When you rent kayaks you never have to think about storing one. That’s a real advantage if you live in an apartment or a home without a secured garage or shed. It’s even an advantage if you have a garage but it’s full of everything else you own!

You also don’t need to transport rented kayaks. Either you’ll paddle the water at the rental venue or they’ll shuttle the kayaks (and maybe even you) to the launch site. So you don’t need a vehicle rack or trailer.

Limited to Renters’ Locations and Hours

There are a couple of definite limitations if you stick with renting kayaks. For one, your rental options depend on what’s in your area. You’ll only be able to kayak on rivers or lakes that are serviced by these outfitters. Depending on where you live, that could mean a whole range of options or very few.

You’re also limited to the hours the outfitters are open and their rental season. If that works for you, awesome! If your paddling life will be too stifled by these limitations, you may want to consider buying your own kayak instead.

Limited to Renters’ Quality

When you rent you won’t have much choice in the size and quality of the kayaks you’ll use. If you just want to get on the water on hot days and enjoy some paddling time with friends, this won’t bother you at all. But if you’re interested in how a kayak feels and performs, this could be a disadvantage.

Some outfitters invest in quality boats, PFDs and paddles…and others put together the cheapest fleet possible. A little research will clue you into what you’ll find around you.

kayakers in sea kayaks, three of them standing up

Sometimes renting is the best option if you travel or need a specialized kayak for environments like the ocean (photo courtesy of Laila Johanne Reigstad)

You Can Still Invest in Your Own Paddle and PFD

Even if you stick to renting, you still can (and we highly recommend you do) invest in your own paddle and PFD. Why is this such an advantage? Because once you’ve used a nicely crafted, lightweight paddle that’s designed for optimal performance you’ll never be happy with the clunky, heavy paddles most of the rental companies use!

And the size of paddle you use makes a difference. A paddle that fits someone 5 feet tall doesn’t fit someone 6 feet tall. Buying your own paddle means you’ll have the right fit, the right weight and the right color.

Same with the PFD. You’ll be happiest with a PFD that fits your body well, is comfortable and has all the features you want. Using a rental PFD? No guarantees other than it will keep you afloat if necessary.

Anytime you rent, bring your own paddle and PFD and you’re set.

Pros and Cons of Buying a Kayak

You Can Choose the Length, Width and Quality of Your Kayak

If you decide to purchase your own kayak, be sure to take time to research and try out as many as you can before you hand someone your money. Take advantage of demo days at local retailers, ask friends if you can try theirs, or go to outfitters with quality boats and rent a few different styles. You’ll want to choose one that fits you well, has a comfortable seat and is designed for the type of water environments you want to paddle.

kayaking a Norway fjord

With your own kayak, you’re free to kayak any body of water whenever you want to (photo courtesy of Tomasz Furmanek Photography)

If there’s a healthy used market in your area, that’s a wonderful resource to take advantage of. Kayaks last for years, so buying used is a great option. If you decide to buy new, we recommend shopping at a paddlesports retailer rather than the big box stores. Not only will you get a better kayak, but you’ll get help from people who know paddling.

Freedom to Paddle When and Where You Want

Having the freedom to paddle wherever and whenever you want to is the next biggest plus of having your own boat. Want a sunset paddle? Check. Sunrise paddle? Check. Want to kayak in September when the rental shops have closed up for the season? No problem. In April before they’ve opened? Gotcha.

With your own kayak you can paddle the most popular destinations in your area during off-peak hours, and lesser-known destinations not serviced by outfitters.

Investment in Paddle, PFD, Vehicle Rack and Other Gear

Owning your own kayak also means owning the rest of the gear to paddle, store and transport. That includes a paddle and PFD at the very least. If you don’t have a rack on your car you’ll need some way to haul it, and a hanging rack for your garage keeps it off the ground.

Storage and Transporting are a Big Deal

Before you decide to go out and lay money down on a kayak you need to answer these two questions:

  • Where will I store it?
  • How will I get it to the launch and back?
two people with their new kayaks and paddles, just bought at a retailer and loaded into their truck

A way to transport and a place to store kayaks is a must, like these new kayak owners (photo courtesy of H2GO Paddle)

The answer to these questions will help you decide whether buying one is your best option. It’ll also influence the length and weight of the kayak you bring home. Do you have room for a 12-foot boat? How much can you lift by yourself to store it and get it on and off your vehicle?

Inflatable Kayaks are an Option Too

That said, if you don’t have storage room or hauling capacity for a hardshell kayak, you can always consider buying an inflatable model. There are many high-quality inflatables on the market that perform well.

These kayaks fold or roll into a storage bag that can be kept in the corner of a shed or even a closet in your home. And you can usually fit them inside your trunk or backseat to take back and forth to the lake or river.

One detail to be aware of: An inflatable needs space and time to fully dry before you pack it up again for storage to prevent mold from growing on it.

man paddles an inflatable kayak

Inflatables are a viable option, especially if you have space issues! (photo courtesy of Go Paddle/Ken Whiting)

Whether you’re in a season of life to rent or to buy, anytime you can get on the water to paddle is a win!

What paddling questions can our friendly Customer Service team help you with? Contact us here: 715-755-3405 or [email protected]

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