Best Sea Kayaks
If you have that calling for exploration, then sea kayaking may be your next passion. If you’re a kayaker, chances are you’ve felt that call to test your skill on the waves of the open waters, while experiencing the tranquility that the sea provides. If that sounds like you, you’ll probably want to meet that challenge head-on, and you’ll need the best sea kayak to help you. So it’s time to stop renting and look at what are the best sea kayaks of 2018. Here is our list of the best sea kayaks available on the market today.
In a Hurry? The test winner after 11 hrs of research
- Lightweight construction
- Superior directional control
- Nice balance between stability and freedom of movement
- Riot Edge Flatwater 14.5 LV
- Necky Chatham 18
- Perception Carolina
- Wilderness System Tsunami 125
- Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145
- Ocean Zest Expedition
- Advanced Elements Advanced Frame
- Sun Dolphin Aruba SS
- Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable
- Oru Kayak BayST
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Picks
1. Riot Edge Flatwater 14.5 LV
- Lightweight construction
- Superior directional control
- Nice balance between stability and freedom of movement
- Does not fold or deflate for easier storage
This kayak from Riot Kayaks is one of the most stable, versatile and easy to manage touring or sea kayaks that we’ve found on the market today. If you’re looking for something that is a great choice for both beginners and experts alike look no further.Read more
The hull of this sea kayak is constructed of a lightweight polyethylene material that offers a good deal of strength and relative ease of movement through the water. Chances are a kayaker won’t get too fatigued when paddling this boat.
This sea kayak from Riot provides directional control using a rudder system that is operated by the kayaker using cockpit controls. This makes it easy to control the kayaks ability to track and keep the keel in line overall.
The cockpit of this kayak measures 36.5 inches by 19.5 inches, so in most cases, it will be a snug fit overall. In addition, the cockpit seat is fully adjustable, so the kayaker can easily make any adjustments that safety or comfort dictate.
Overall, this sea kayak measures about 22.5 inches across at its widest point, making it fairly slim when it comes to sea kayaks.
However, the length and the depth of the boat create an overall stability that is a good balance between freedom of movement and control.
Between the directional rudder system, and the well-rounded shape and design, this sea kayak is fairly maneuverable. While we wouldn’t necessarily use it for kayaking a river, it is more than adequate to handle long trips on the open ocean.
If you’re looking for a great sea kayak that provides great balance, the range of motion, and control, this example from Riot Kayaks is certainly one to place on your list.
2. Necky Chatham 18
- Slender design makes it a great choice for the open ocean
- Can carry up to 275 lbs easily
- Rudder control for precise navigation and directional control
- Not as maneuverable as some wider sea kayaks
With its sleek design overall and a substantial maximum load of 275 pounds, this sea kayak dubbed Necky Chatham 18 is a wonderful choice for those long sea tours where comfort and access to supplies are key.Read more
The hull is made from a lightweight polyethylene material that is not only watertight, but very easy to move, both in and out of the water.
This sea kayak uses a drop-down rudder system controlled by cockpit foot pedals for maximum control and flexibility in navigation.
The cockpit of this sea kayak measures approximately 29 inches by 16 inches in size, making a fairly snug fit, especially for smaller women or younger men.
Because of its relatively narrow width and longer profile, this kayak doesn’t offer as much stability in rough waters as some of the wider examples on this list. However, for longer ocean voyages where keeping to a straight path is more desirable, this is a great choice.
With a length of just over 15 feet, this is one of the longer examples of a sea kayak on this list. That means that it may not be as maneuverable as a shorter example. However, as a touring or sea kayak, this longer shape is great for calmer waters or longer trips.
If you’re searching for a true touring sea kayak that allows you to go on long expeditions on the open ocean with all the necessary supplies, this choice from Necky is certainly a viable option.
3. Perception Carolina
- Excellent strength and durability
- Relatively stable
- Optional rudder makes tracking and turning during high winds relatively easy.
- Turning and navigation not as easy for a beginner
This sea touring kayak from Perception Kayak offers a great way to go the distance on the high seas with ample storage space, very comfortable cockpit area, and superior strength and durability overall. If you’re looking for a workhorse when it comes to sea kayaking, this one should certainly be on your list.Read more
The hull of this sea kayak is made of a high-grade polyethylene plastic that is formed with a rotational molding process for added strength and durability overall. It features one-piece construction that is UV, abrasion, and impact resistant.
This sea kayak features an optional rudder system that can easily be employed to help a kayaker keep a straight trajectory during windy conditions if necessary. Other than that, the design of the kayak and the skill of the kayaker are used to keep things going in the right direction.
The cockpit measures approximately 40 inches in length and 22 inches in width, making it one of the more sizable cockpits available on this list.
The v-bottom design of this sea kayak does offer less stability than more flat based ones, but it is still more than adequate for most sea-going ventures. While we might not suggest this sea kayak for a novice, once some experienced is achieved, maintaining the stability of the kayak through movement and piloting is easily accomplished.
Most kayakers with some experience find this kayak fairly easy to maneuver and navigate through calm or covered waters. The overall hull design allows for a decent freedom of movement, and the kayak allows for good tracking and relatively easy turns with a moderate amount of effort.
If you have some experience on the open waters with a kayak, and you want a boat that provides a relatively stable and comfortable ride, the Carolina Kayak from Perception is certainly a viable option.
4. Wilderness System Tsunami 125
- Very comfortable on longer trips
- Excellent maneuverability
- Cockpit may be too large for some individuals.
This kayak from Wilderness Systems offers superior comfort and dependability for longer trips in calmer waters. If you’re looking for a new kayak that is great for extended day trips on the open waters, this one is a great choice.Read more
The hull consists of a molded polyethylene material that is relatively lightweight and strong. It is designed to withstand easily longer trips in coastal waters or in lakes and calmer rivers.
This sea kayak is outfitted with the ability to attach an optional rudder. However, most kayakers find that the overall maneuverability of this kayak is good enough to allow them to easily change directions with a simple shifting of their weight or use of a paddle.
The cockpit measures 36 inches by 20 inches, which makes it a great choice for larger individuals.
The v-bottom shape of this sea kayak allows for fairly good stability in a wide range of situations. While it’s not as stable as some of the flat bottom kayaks available on the market, this sea kayak serves quite well overall in both ocean and lake environments.
This kayak tracks and turns extremely well with a minimal amount of force needed to get the job done. It moves through the water with relative ease and is comparatively fast considering its larger size.
If you’re looking for a sea kayak that can go the distance, and do it in comfort and style, the Tsunami 125 by Wilderness Systems is certainly something to consider. While it may not be suitable in size for smaller individuals, for most people it is a very comfortable option.
5. Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145
- Excellent overall stability
- Great maneuverability
- Ample room and comfort
- May be too large for smaller individuals
Designed to be more comfortable and faster moving than most sea kayaks of comparable size, the Tsunami 145 by Wilderness Systems offers a way for the avid sea kayaker to not only enjoy the sea voyage in relative comfort but also get to the destination as soon as they desire.Read more
Like many of the other Wilderness Systems kayaks, this hull features molded polyethylene material that is extremely lightweight without sacrificing any significant amount of strength.
This sea kayak features a course control rudder, which makes it relatively easy to track through less than calm waters or make course corrections on a windy day.
The cockpit measures approximately 35 inches in length and 19 inches in width, which makes it a good choice for those with longer legs or overall larger bodies.
This sea kayak has an overall length to width ratio of sixteen feet to approximately two feet, making it one of the wider ones on this list. The overall dimensions of the kayak make it overall fairly stable, even under less than idea touring condition.
Despite its larger size, the Tsunami 145 was found to be extremely easy to maneuver through flat waters and coastline areas. It was found to be very responsive to the manipulation of the rudder, as well as the weight shifts of the kayaker.
The Tsunami 160 by Wilderness Systems provide a great choice for larger or taller individuals that demand superior comfort and control during longer sea kayaking adventures. If you want stability as well as superior maneuverability, this kayak is a great choice.
6. Ocean Zest Expedition
- Excellent strength and durability
- Lots of storage space
- Fastest kayak on the market
- Heavy to load on vehicle
The Ocean Zest is rated as one of the fastest Kayaks on the market and is perfect for that day getaway or for that weekend adventure. This Kayak does not confine you to a cockpit, so much more room for storage.Read more
The hull is fashioned out of a high-density polyethylene material that allows for superior strength overall while maintaining a relatively low weight of 75 lbs.
While there is no rudder or skeg included with this particular sea kayak, it does have the ability to attach a rudder. Simply attach the rudder to the in place screw fasteners to allow for a more precise directional control
This sea kayak features an on the top design, meaning that the cockpits sit on top of the hull, and not within it. However, each cockpit area has a dedicated seat area that measures approximately 19 inches in width, which is more than enough to accommodate the average adult.
This is one of the most stable sea kayaks available. The length is approximately sixteen feet, and the width is nearly three feet in length, which provides a good deal of compensation when the waves become more turbulent.
Because of its larger size, this sea kayak isn’t quite as maneuverable as others on this list. If your path on the water includes calmer passages or the open ocean, this kayak will serve you well. However, if you expect a few rapids or places where finite control is needed, you may wish to look elsewhere.
For a two-person kayak that has great stability as well as the capacity to haul a good deal of equipment, you can’t go far wrong with the Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition Touring Kayak. While it may not be as maneuverable as some on this list, it’s still a great option for most.
7. Advanced Elements Advanced Frame
- Extremely lightweight
- Very responsive
- Can be difficult to manage in high winds
This sea kayak combines the strength and durability of a ridged body kayak with the ease and convenience of an inflatable boat. If you’re looking for a solid hybrid that is more than capable of handling the larger waves of the open ocean, this is a great choice.Read more
The hull is made of a collapsible aluminum frame surrounded by a three-ply rubberized inflatable shell that is designed for maximum buoyancy and durability.
The stern area of this kayak acts as a built-in skeg, allowing for a respectable amount of control and tracking ability.
This style of sea kayak features a stable, inflatable seat area that is sized to accommodate most adults without too much trouble.
The length to width ratio of this sea kayak is fairly high making it one of the more stable ones available once the initial set up is complete. The final dimensions of this kayak measure ten feet in length by nearly three feet in length.
Because of its lighter structure and smaller size, this sea kayak is able to respond quickly to changes in wind direction and overall paddling. While it can be difficult to control in stronger winds, overall, the maneuverability is quite good.
This sea kayak from Advanced Elements provides a great way for the avid kayaker to enjoy the coastal waters or a calmer lake without too much weight or hassle of transport. This kayak is easily portable and able to assemble in just a few moments.
8. Sun Dolphin Aruba SS
- Very rugged
- Very stable
- Good amount of storage space
- Not easy to maneuver in high winds
This seaworthy kayak from Sun Dolphin provides an extremely rugged hard shell choice for the avid kayaker that desires to experience the open waters with minimal impact from environmental dangers that may surround him.Read more
The hull is comprised of UV-stabilized high-density polyethylene, making this kayak one of the most durable, and damage resistant ones on the market today.
This sea kayak does not feature any skeg or rudder, but instead relies on the skill of the kayaker and the overall design of the boat for proper tracking and turning.
The cockpit is one of the largest we’ve seen in a kayak of this size, and it can easily accommodate a larger individual as well as a substantial amount of gear if desired. Also, the padded seat is fully adjustable for a more customized fit.
Based on the overall dimensions, this sea kayak offers a great deal of general stability. The length is approximately 10 feet, and the width is just about 2.5 feet.
Overall this kayak handles quite well in calmer waters but becomes a little harder to manage in waters that are a bit more turbulent. Tracking is fairly straightforward, and making turns is possible with a bit of effort.
If you’re looking for a rugged sea kayak that can withstand a lot of abuse, this example from Sun Dolphin might just be what you need. While the maneuverability leaves a little bit to be desired, overall it’s a very stable kayak.
9. Sea Eagle 330 Inflatable
- Very stable
- Easy to inflate and put together
- Can be off balance
- Not always easy to maneuver.
This example of a sea kayak from Sea Eagle is a great choice if you’re looking for something that has the convenience of an inflatable kayak with the overall stability of a rigid hard shell one. Able to easily accommodate two adults and their gear up to 500 lbs, this is one kayak that can easily handle just about anything you can throw at it.Read more
The hull material is comprised of an inflatable 33-millimeter polykrylar hull with sturdy I-beam construction and welded seams for extra durability.
This kayak includes a skeg to help the two kayakers to navigate the waters easily and maintain tracking when necessary.
The Sea Eagle features an open cockpit plan consisting of two inflatable seats, each one positioned at either end of the kayak to help maintain proper balance and stability.
This is by far one of the more stable sea kayaks available on the market today with the relatively wide base compared to its length.
While this sea kayak excels in both stability and durability for an inflatable version, it does fall somewhat short when it comes to maneuverability. While tracking is a fairly simple process, making turns rapidly in this kayak is difficult indeed. It also has the potential to be unbalanced, depending on how well it is inflated.
This kayak by Sea Eagle easily makes its home on the lakes, open sea waters, and calmer rivers. While it lacks some maneuverability, it is one of the most stable inflatable kayaks on the market today.
10. Oru Kayak BayST
- Foldable yet very Durable
- Easy to store
- Set up can be difficult the first couple times
This kayak from Oru Kayak is not only stable, versatile and easy to manage but also folds for easy storage and transportation. If you love to Kayak but are limited on storage space, this may be the Kayak for you!Read more
The hull of this sea kayak is constructed of a custom polypropylene material and unfolds like origami but still offers a good deal of strength and ease of movement through the water. Don't let the origami style hull make you think this Kayak is not durable, as in the water it can withstand scraping and light impacts caused by rocks and coral.
This sea kayak from Oru does not have a skeg or rudder but is solely directed from paddling and also the shift in weight from the paddler.
The closed cockpit of this kayak measures 16 inches by 30 inches, so it will be a snug fit. In addition, due to the cockpit being closed, it allows for a spray skirt to be added so you can take on rougher conditions.
This sea kayak's design allows for a graceful paddle and its dimensions of 12 x 33 x 29 inches allow it to be perfect for beginners but at the same time fast and sporty for expert kayakers.
This sea kayak's sleek design allows for it to be maneuvered quite easily by the operator. This kayak weighs 28lbs, and due to this is quite quick on the water.
If you’re looking for a great sea kayak that provides great balance, range of motion, and can be stored and transported with ease, this kayak from Oru Kayaks may be the one for you!
Criteria Used for Evaluation
The hull of your kayak is your first line of defense against the open ocean, the various animals that you might encounter, changes in temperature and weather conditions over time, as well as the current all have an effect on the Kayaks performance. So the construction details of the hull can be very important in determining the overall seaworthiness of the kayak in question.
For the most part, modern kayaks have hulls that are either hard shell or inflatable in design, with a few that are a hybrid between the two, such as the Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Kayak. The hard shell kayaks usually consist of either molded resin plastic materials or lightweight polyethylene or fiberglass material. The inflatable kayaks are usually created using ripstop PVC material that has multiple layers to help prevent puncturing or tearing.
The material that is used to make the hull of the kayak is usually an indication of the overall toughness and durability of the kayak as a whole. For the most part, these kayaks were well designed and used materials that could easily withstand the average amount of abuse dished out by novice and expert kayakers alike.
The cockpit of the kayak is where the kayaker maintains control and interacts with the kayak itself. If the cockpit is too small for the person, it can be extremely uncomfortable, and the kayaker risks serious injury if the kayak should tip over. If it is too large, the kayaker can’t use his arms, legs and overall weight effectively to steer and control the kayak in general. For the most part, these kayaks offer cockpits of various sizes and shapes, and they often can easily fit most average sized adults, or in the cases of the Sun Dolphin or the Ocean Kayak examples listed above, larger individuals as wells.
The stability or the ability of the kayak to prevent itself from tipping can be a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to operating a kayak. While you certainly don’t want to have the kayak tip over during use, you do want a bit of instability in the boat to allow subtle weight shifts to help produce turns and banks when necessary. However, once the kayak is headed in the right direction, if it’s too unstable the kayak may not be able to track efficiently. It’s a true balancing act.
Thankfully, in the cases of the kayaks presented here, that balance is achieved. Some, like the Necky Eliza, provide superior stability through the use of a longer, yet narrower hull, while others, like the Sea Eagle Pro 330 provides the majority of the stability through the wider and lighter construction.
Ease of Use
How a kayak moves through the water often helps to determine how much overall fun and enjoyment the kayaker has. After all, if the kayak is difficult to steer, all of the energy and concentration of the kayaker will be spent trying to make sure that they stay upright and are headed in the correct direction. However, if a simple shift of the weight or a pull of the kayak paddle is all it takes to maneuver around an obstacle, or avoid a swell, more time and energy can be spent on enjoying the surroundings.
For the most part, the kayaks presented here have decent to excellent levels of maneuverability. Some, such as the Advanced Elements Advanced Frame Kayaks are extremely responsive and can easily be adjusted to meet the changing needs in the water. Others, like the Ocean Kayak Zest, are a little less responsive, relying more on stability and subtle movements to travel through the waters effectively.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Sea kayakers are known for traveling over great distances, often tens or hundreds of miles per day for multiple days at a time. As you realize, supplies are often needed during those long trips to make sure that everyone stays healthy and alert. So, having enough storage space for what you want to bring is definitely something to consider when buying a kayak. For the most part, each person traveling on a kayak trip needs to be able to carry enough supplies to allow them to kayak during the day and camp out comfortably at night. A typical list of items carried in a sea kayak includes a sleeping bag, iodine, a personal mess kit, toiletries, a tent, food rations, water, and other outdoor essentials. One way to think of it is that the bulkhead and storage areas of your kayak need to be able to hold the same amount, and type of materials that you would place in your backpack during a multi-day backpacking trip.
Other Factors to Consider
Another criterion to take into consideration is how much room for storage of your kayak is available for your use. Sea Kayaks often come in three different hull styles, namely hard shell, inflatable, and foldable. While hard shells offer much more protection, stability, and performance overall, they are also a fixed size, and can be difficult to store, especially in an apartment or small house setting. And while inflatable or foldable kayaks don’t offer as much overall performance on the water, they are far superior when it comes to their storage options.
Frequently Asked Questions
The pilot of a kayak is the kayaker who is in control of the boat. For the most part, that should be you. However, there will be times when it is not. Perhaps your one of your children wants to take your kayak out for a three-day weekend with their friends. Or your neighbor wants to borrow it for a trip down the coastline. Whatever the case, the kayaker in question needs to be able to properly fit into the cockpit area in order to safely pilot the kayak. By understanding that is likely to use the kayak, as well as their overall kayaking ability, you can choose a style of kayak that would be the most suitable to the situation that exists.
The size of kayak you buy, indeed the size of any kayak you buy, depends mostly on you, your skill level, and your body proportions. Assuming that you have some skill, or at least you know standard safety protocol when it comes to kayaking, and you’ve been practicing your skills adequately enough, the only thing left to consider is the relationship between your body proportions and the kayak itself.
The kayak needs to essentially be an extension of your own body. When you shift your hips and body weight to the right, your kayak needs to be small enough to be able to respond to your movement, yet large enough to shift effectively in the water. When you use your kayak paddle to glide forward, the kayak itself needs to be long enough and light enough to move with your body.
That being said, it’s important to note that the kayak should be comfortably snug around your body, not uncomfortably tight. After all, if you flip over, you’ll need to be able to quickly exit, and being in a cockpit or kayak that is too restrictive can be dangerous.
One general rule of thumb is to start with your weight and compare it to the weight span of the kayak itself. If you fall within the range, chances are you’ll be comfortable in it. Also, take a look at your height and compare it to the length of the kayak. If the length is around three times your height, it will probably be long enough to keep you upright, but short enough to allow your paddle to move you easily through the waters.
Simply put, yes, you should paddle a kayak differently than a river kayak, but there are some similarities. First, both paddling styles have your hands about shoulder width apart on the paddle itself. Second, both use the same basic bicycle-like rotation of the shoulders to propel the kayak forward.
The difference lies in the angle at which the paddle enters the water. Kayaks that are meant to be used in a river or small lake environments are often smaller and more responsive, which often require a higher angle of entry to maintain overall control. Sea kayaking often requires a gentler, or shallow angle to help maintain stability and speed of movement.
The ability of a kayak to stay the course once it is underway is its ability to track. Often the ability to track well is a sign that the kayak is well balanced and able to withstand influences from outside sources like wind or waves under the direction of the kayaker herself.
As you can imagine, the ability to track well is key to a sea kayak, especially if you are navigating unfamiliar waters or waters where references to land are few and far between. While you can certainly gain insight to your position using a compass, if a kayak has poor tracking ability, it can and will eventually lead you off course if regular corrections aren’t made.
Generally speaking, your paddle needs to be long enough so that when you stroke into the water the paddle will be able to reach beyond the gunwales of the kayak while you can maintain a proper kayaking posture. That means that the wider the kayak is, the longer your paddle should be. In addition, you should also take into account your torso height, which is also directly related to the length of your paddle. The longer your torso, the longer your paddle needs to be.