Boat Primer #1 - Learn The Boat Basics
Paddling is a simple and fun activity but there's actually a lot that goes into it. Some simple questions and truthful answers can help you find the right equipment to do what you want to do and get the most out of it. And ultimately that is our goal: to help people enjoy their paddling experience to the fullest.
Let's start with a guide for choosing boats from our owner, Keith Miller. It's all about F.I.T.:
- F: For you. It's not about what your friend has or what's the coolest new boat on the market. It's about what is going to work best for you - the right size, style and material
- I: Intended use. Does the boat design match the type of paddling you will be doing?
- T: Type of water. Flat or rough, ocean or river, the boat needs to be appropriate for where you will be paddling
So before even looking at different types of boats, ask yourself some questions. Are you looking for fun and relaxation? Excitement and adrenaline? Travel and camping? Great scenery or a hard workout? Taking the dog and kids or time alone? Do you want to grow with the sport or stay where you are? Paddling can give you pretty much anything you want, so knowing what you want helps you find the paddling that will provide it.
If you're looking for simple relaxation on flat waters then recreational kayaks are a good way to start. These can be Sit-On-Top or sit inside. They are generally 9'-12' long and are wide and stable. Sit-On-Top kayaks have an advantage in that they are relatively easy to get on and off, even when in the water. The sit inside kind tends to keep you drier and warmer, but will require some knowledge and practice to get back in if they happen to flip in deep water. These boats are good for protected lakes and easy afternoon paddles.
And a general question that particularly applies to rec boats is single vs. tandem. Often people think that they will save themselves some money by buying one boat for two people. But unless those two people always want to go paddling together, and when they do they have the same goals and desires on the water, tandems often create more stress than they are worth. You really need to know your partner well before locking yourselves into a boat together.
Another option to consider if you paddle with a partner and like to take a lot of gear is a canoe. You can throw in the cooler and a dog or two and still have room to move around. But while they do make some specifically for whitewater, most canoes are best on flatter water. Definitely not for ocean paddling.
If you do want to head out on the ocean then you probably want to look at sea kayaks (though sea kayaks are also perfectly at home on lakes and some rivers). Sea kayaks are generally 15'-18' long and considerably more narrow than rec boats. They are not quite as stable but they are much more capable of handling rough water in the hands of a skilled paddler. Being longer and narrower they are also much more efficient - you can get to your destination in less time with less effort. Some models are good for playing around in rough water and some are designed for multi-week expeditions. They generally come in plastic or composite (more on this later).
In between sea kayaks and recreational kayaks are boats often referred to as 'transitional' boats. They will be 12'-15' long and often sport the features of a sea kayak in a shorter, more stable package. They are sit inside kayaks that are still beginner friendly. They can handle a little bit of rough water, maybe even some protected ocean, and will be more efficient than the rec boats.
They also make some Sit-On-Top kayaks that are designed to handle ocean conditions. These boats are often around 14' in length and will be more streamlined than many SOT's. They are popular platforms for divers and fishermen since they have plenty of space to store gear while it is still accessible on top of the deck.
And a different ball game all together is whitewater kayaking. Going down anything other than flat rivers requires specialized boats. Whitewater kayaks are generally 6'-8' in length and made out of durable plastics. They are designed to turn and are very maneuverable - but that very same quality makes them annoying to paddle on flat water since they won't go straight.
Within each type of boat there are many additional questions - what material, what width, what hull shape, what type of chine, etc. We'll take these one at a time as we keep exploring kayaks (and canoes) and what make the right F.I.T. for you.