How to Choose: Sit-on-Top vs. Sit-In Kayaks


woman paddling a sit-inside kayak

When you choose a new kayak, one of the questions you’ll ask yourself is: “Do I want a sit-on-top or a sit-in model?” This video from Paddle TV covers the differences that will affect your decision.

Aqua Bound Prostaffer and kayak expert, Ken Whiting, compares two kayaks that are at a similar price point in order to compare them as equally as possible. Take a look:

What Type of Paddling Do You Want to Do?

Answering this question is the first step in deciding whether to choose a sit-on-top or a sit-in kayak.

Sit-on-top kayaks are an excellent choice for:

  • Recreational kayakers who want stability over speed. You can even stand up in many sit-on-tops.
  • Kayakers who prefer a kayak they can get on and off easily, as opposed to getting inside and out of a sit-in kayak, which is a little trickier.
  • Kayakers who like the peace of mind that they won’t swamp. If you should happen to capsize, it’s fairly simple to flip it upright and climb back on with some practice.
  • Kayak anglers

Sit-inside kayaks are the best choice for:

  • Kayakers who value performance
  • Paddlers interested in multi-day kayak trips
  • Oceans and big open water (sea kayaks)
  • Rivers with whitewater (whitewater kayaks)

kayakers paddling sit-on-top kayaks

(photo courtesy of @eddylinekayaks)

Comparing the Performance Between Sit-on-top and Sit-in Kayaks

There’s no question that sit-in kayaks perform better than sit-on-tops. There are several reasons for this:

  • Your center of gravity is lower, which allows the kayak to be narrower and still maintain stability. A narrower kayak moves through the water more efficiently than the wider sit-on-top.
  • The sit-ins allow for more body connection with the kayak. You’re not just sitting lower, right on the floor in your seat—your thighs, knees and feet are engaged as well. Ken likes to compare it to wearing flip flops vs. running shoes.
  • Sit-on-tops are made of, essentially, heavy molded plastic. Sit-ins, on the other hand, can also be made of higher-end materials that are lighter and faster.

Stability of Sit-on-tops vs Sit-in Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are designed for stability in their width, and so are great for anglers and others who value stability over performance.

Sit-in kayaks have something called edge stability, which means you can roll them onto their edge and they’ll stay there. This is important for those who value performance paddling over stability.

That said, the more economical recreational sit-in kayaks are also designed for stability. It’ll be hard to capsize one of those even if you try!

kayak angler using a sit-on-top kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks are definitely the best choice for fishing (photo courtesy of @kayakkenwhiting)

Comparing the Comfort

There’s no debate here—sit-on-tops are more comfortable! You’re not confined inside the boat so you have more freedom of leg movement. You can even stand up for a change, which can make a big difference on a long day of paddling.

The seats of sit-on-tops can get, as Ken says, “downright luxurious.” Many sit-on-tops offer a height-adjustable seat, giving you even more seating options.

Exploring the Different Features

The value of the features of sit-on-tops vs. sit-ins is very subjective. Deciding which are most important for you goes along with our first point above—what type of paddling do you want to do?

Sit-inside kayaks offer great features for day trips and multi-day trips, like covered hatches with storage space for gear. Bulkheads separate individual compartments, which helps keep water (mostly) out them.

Sit-on-top kayaks have great features for fishing, including an open deck with many ways to customize it for your own preferences.

What About Safety?

The most important safety guidelines, much more than what kind of kayak you paddle, are:

  • Always wear your PFD when you’re on the water
  • Know your own paddling skills and limitations
  • Use your common sense

With that in mind and all things considered, a sit-on-top is safer, especially for beginning paddlers. This is primarily because it can’t swamp. If it does flip, you can right it while you’re in the water and climb back on, with some practice.

There are situations where a higher-end sit-inside kayak is safer, when it’s paddled by a kayaker with the right skill set. That includes ocean and large lake paddling with waves and tides, and rivers with heavy current.

sit-inside kayak in waves

For paddlers with the skills for big water kayaking, sit-ins are safest in big waves and other tricky conditions

When you learn to roll your kayak, you can right yourself from a capsize. They’re much more maneuverable, and so it’s easier to paddle it out of risky situations.

Which Is More Portable?

No kayak is easy to move around! But sit-ins tend to be much lighter, making it easier for one person to carry. Most sit-on-tops require two people to carry if it doesn’t have a stern wheel or you’re not using a cart.

We hope this helps you narrow down your choice of which kayak to buy. Happy paddling!

Let our friendly Customer Service Team help you choose a kayak paddle today! Content them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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