Should I choose a Sit-on-Top or a Sea Kayak?

Dec 7, 2022

Sit on top kayak tandem with child in middle

Should I choose a Sit-on-Top or a Sea Kayak?

We often get asked “Which is better? A sit-on-top kayak, or one of those ones where your legs are on the inside?”

Of course, there is no easy answer to this question. Instead, I would ask, “What is it you want to get out of your time on the water?”
So, take a moment to ponder that, what do you want..? And let’s look at some of the fundamental differences between the two:

sit on top self rescue with child


As you probably guessed from the name, you “sit on top” of a Sit-on-Top (as opposed to sitting inside like a closed cockpit kayak).

These crafts are generally wide, stable, and easy to manoeuvre. The benefits of this are that anyone can hop on one and feel reasonably at ease (assuming the conditions are appropriate of course).

There’s no fear of capsizing as you feel pretty stable, and even if you do capsize, you’re only going to tumble off the side, often still with dry hair, and then clamber (albeit ungracefully) back onto the kayak. For most people, falling off a Sit-on-Top kayak is less daunting than falling out of a Sea Kayak.

Sit-on-Tops can be a great stable base for different activities, you can easily take a child on board with you, or even a dog. You can fish, even the more basic models generally come with the option of a rod holder attachment. You can scramble around and play games and mess around in safe bays and do short journeys.

All in all, Sit-on-Tops are wonderful for someone who wants to get out and have a bit of fun on the water without taking it too seriously!


Sea kayaks

Sea Kayaks (Or “Enclosed cockpit kayaks”)

Sea kayaks offer the chance to progress your paddling and go further. With a “proper” sea kayak you can go as far as your skill level (or energy!) allows you to.

Although initially seemingly less stable and manoeuvrable, once you have the hang of how to handle a sea kayak correctly, you will find that you can take your sea kayak places you never thought possible. You can explore further afield as they are faster than a Sit-on-Top and can handle much bigger conditions, cutting through the waves with ease (here is where your skill level will set the limit, as opposed to the kayak itself).

You can carry plenty of gear within the hatches of the sea kayak, meaning you have the option of overnight trips, there is nothing quite like pulling up on a secluded beach, which is only accessible by water, and spending the night under the stars.

There are far more opportunities to further develop your skills in a sea kayak. If you are someone who loves to push boundaries and really explore what you are capable of then a sea kayak will give that to you the sea will challenge you in new ways.

Sea kayak in whitewater gap

What about other crafts?

There are so many different disciplines in the paddling world, you can take to a river for a gentle amble on a pleasant day, or you can throw yourself off high waterfalls and down huge fast-moving rivers. You can canoe on a lake with your family or you can paddle a marathon boat and race as fast as you possibly can. And that’s only a few of the options. Paddling is such a wonderful sport because it is so accessible to everyone regardless of age, gender, ability, etc.

White water kayaking girl on waterfall

So what now?

If you still can’t decide which craft is more suited to you, or you’d like a little instruction on how to use one before you venture out (highly recommended), then why not try both?

Sea Kayak Academy offers a Sit-on-Top Improvers Day and an Introduction to Sea Kayaking Day. Start with the Sit-on-Top day and then move on to the sea kayak day, and see which one is the best fit for you. Or if you want to get an idea of the two crafts side by side, we offer Private Guided Days where you can opt to try both crafts on the same day.

Kayaks in cave archway

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