Kayaks come in many shapes and sizes depending on the required use and the rider’s skill level. Short and squat kayaks are specifically for staying afloat in white water, and long and slim kayaks are perfect for slicing through at high speed.
Making sure you know what you want before you buy your next kayak can ensure you get the right boat for your personal preference.
A big decision to make while looking for your next kayak design is the choice between sit-on-top kayaks or sit-inside kayaks. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. We’ve taken the time to break down the two very individual styles to find out which has the biggest advantages for you.
Sit-on-top kayaks feature a wide open cockpit with a large kayak deck. The sit-on-top design has the paddler’s body set high in the boat and raises the center of gravity above the water. They are often used as stable fishing kayaks or as beginners kayaks.
Sit-on-top kayaks come with a lot of great advantages versus sit-in kayaks. The wide-open design allows for super easy entrance and exit on the shore and while in the water, and the large open deck has more space for storing gear.
If your intended use is for kayak fishing, then the freedom of movement and wide deck area of a sit-on-top kayak is ideal. You can move around the deck with the unrestrictive cockpit rim, attending to multiple rods or fishing spots. Many sit-on-tops come with kayak anchor points for your rods around the hull design.
Sit-on-top models have plenty of storage for fishing equipment, coolers, and other cargo you may need for multi-day trips. Loading the deck with everything you need is no problem for kayak anglers.
Great For Beginners
For nervous paddlers, the open cockpit will mean you don’t feel confined in the sit-on-top kayak. The most significant difference in sit-on-top vs. sit-inside kayaks is the seated position on the boat. For a new paddler, sitting down inside the kayak may feel a little daunting. With sit-on-tops, you never feel locked down and restricted by the smaller cockpit.
The open and flat design means that if you do accidentally take a quick swim in the cold water, self-rescue by simply climbing back aboard is very simple. You don’t need to worry about having your legs or body inside the hull of the boat.
Alongside the benefits of sit-on-top kayaks come the disadvantages. Their high center of gravity, limited mobility, and large cockpits can pose a few problems for the aspiring paddler.
With a sit-on-top kayak, you will be much higher in the water than your sit-inside counterpart. This inevitably leads to a higher center of gravity and a higher chance to capsize.
In any kind of adverse water and weather conditions, you want to be as low in the water as possible. Your lower body weight and keel will keep you stable even when the water gets choppy, and the wind gets high.
Paddling at speed requires streamlined and typically narrower kayaks. Due to the nature of the large cockpits and broad decks of sit-on-top kayaks, paddling becomes much slower. The angle at which you paddle is often not optimized for speed.
Without being able to lock your knees against the inside of your sit-on kayaks, you lose a lot of the power required for hard and fast turning.
Sit insides feature a closed cockpit design, room for your legs and knees inside the hull, storage in the forward and rear bulkhead, and the ability to add a spray skirt. They are great touring kayaks, recreational kayaks, sea kayaks, and for many other uses.
Sit-inside kayaks are the much more popular option; they offer the traditional shape, added stability, maneuverability, and protection from the elements while ocean paddling or out in cold weather. But, of course, nothing is perfect.
Stability is key when you’re inside a sit-inside kayak. The last thing you want when you’re paddling is to capsize. Thankfully, due to the design of sit insides, they sit low in the water and offer good stability even in adverse conditions. As a general rule, the lower your center of gravity in open water, the more stable you are.
With all sit-inside designs, your legs are locked against the inside of the kayak hull. The narrow shape allows you to use your thighs to assist in turning your sit-inside kayaks while paddling. The assistance of your legs gives more control vs. sit-on-top kayaks.
Sit-inside kayaks are traditionally much thinner than the sit-on-top alternative. This makes them a much better choice as a long-distance touring kayak and sea kayaks, where you will be expected to expend a lot of energy.
Even the tried and tested design has its downfalls.
The biggest gripe people have with sit-inside kayaks is the locked-in feeling that comes with an enclosed cockpit. The claustrophobic style isn’t the most user-friendly and can cause concern that the paddler may get trapped in the event of a roll.
Climbing back aboard and re-enter seems like it wouldn’t be as easy as with SOT kayaks.
Due to the nature of the hull, it isn’t possible to have scupper holes built into the kayak. This means reliance on a kayak bilge pump to push water out of the boat.
Although many sit-inside touring kayaks and recreational sit-inside kayaks have a lot of storage, they will always have less than sit-on-top kayaks. The wider kayak design of SOT kayaks allows for much more luggage.
Comparison of Sit-on-Top Kayaks vs. Sit-Inside Kayaks
Putting the two designs against each other over several defining factors will help you narrow down your decision.
Sit-on-Top vs. Sit-In Kayak Stability
This is a comparison that is easily won by the sit-inside kayak. The nature of the sitting position, with the lower center of gravity, knee and thigh control, and control offered by a lower paddling position, make the sit-inside kayak very stable, even in choppy waters.
For things like tandem kayaking or similar paddling uses, the length can be very long. Most recreational kayaks need to be long and wide so a sit-on-top would make a great choice as a recreational kayak. The wide deck provides a stable kayak for even the rookie paddler.
Sit-inside kayaks can come in a full range of designs, from the sit-inside touring kayak all the way through to whitewater and the fishing kayak. The versatility of a sit-inside means they can be built to meet any paddler.
Sit-on-tops are perfect for recreational boats or for loading up with camping gear rather than extreme paddling. They would be a poor choice for anyone looking to do anything that requires the paddler to be able to stay locked into the boat and control with their legs inside the deck.
Although stable, they are not the best kayaks for speed or control.
Recreational vs. Sea Kayaks
Recreational kayaks are wider, more stable, and can be found as sit-on and sit-inside kayaks. They have wider bodies and shorter noses and tails. Inflatable kayaks are often recreational, as are most of the sit-on-top kayaks out there. They are ideal for a warm-weather paddle.
Sea kayaks, or touring kayaks as they are also known, are longer in the nose and tail, narrower in the middle, and designed for speed and agility. It will be very rare that you will see them as sit-on-top or blow up kayaks.
When it comes to safety and stability performance, they are both equally safe and stable. You shouldn’t have an issue riding in as long as you are confident. For beginners, a sit-on-top may help build your confidence, but the sit-inside design requires much less effort to become stable and secure.
The sit-inside kayak requires considerably less effort to paddle; you will be flying off the shore in no time. They perform appreciably better in the water than their counterpart due to their shape and other factors.
Decent sit-inside or sit-on lifetime kayaks are made from solid materials like hard-shell plastic. They are made to take abuse, such as repeatedly being dragged or ridden onto a shore.
If you’re looking for something more lightweight to paddle, then fiberglass, carbon, and even some foldable materials are available. They sacrifice durability for weight.
When the warm weather subsides, and it’s time to climb out of your sit-inside or sit on top and put it away, you don’t want to lose half your garage. Sit-insides and their counterparts can all be bought as inflatables.
If storage is an issue for you, consider easily packed-away inflatable kayaks. They’re cheap, lightweight, sturdy, and durable, and all these features can fit snugly inside a cupboard.
What’s Your Best Choice?
Different strokes for different folks! Choosing the right kayak for your desired day out on the water.
Sit-in or On For Beginners
I think that as a beginner, you shouldn’t avoid getting into a sit-inside kayak because you’re nervous. The SOT choice is a good way to build confidence, but as a mode for learning, they are just putting off the inevitable.
Ocean and Fishing
For fishing, a SOT is a perfect choice. Loads of room, plenty of room to move around, and often many pole points around the deck. The stability lends itself to throwing your body into landing a catch.
As a fishing ocean kayak, sit-inside kayaks rule supreme. The closed-top style will keep water out, the slim shape and low gravity will keep you cutting through waves, and the pointed nose and tail will make paddling a dream. If you hit a big wave on a SOT, you may end up in the water.
Sit-In VS. Sit-On Kayak- So Which Should You Buy?
After reading this, you should be able to make the right decision. Every paddler is different, and so is every kayak. If you are a beginner, go for a SOT, while if you are an expert, adventurous kayaker, take the sit-inside kayak for a spin in rushing waters.
But you won’t know until you’ve tried. So, get out there and give some a go!