Want to live a little wilder and enjoy what you do more? Step off the bank and onto a sit-on-top kayak, where a new world opens up to turn your “if only” moments into memories.
We’ve done the spadework for you and selected the best sit-on-top kayaks, from beginner paddling to fishing kayaks to coping with more demanding water conditions. Get a head start with your new activities and prepare for the adventures ahead.
Best Sit-on Kayak for Beginners
Pelican Sentinel 100X
This is a great kayak for people with little to no kayaking experience. It’s easy to get in, very stable, and great for straight tracking and cruising. This often comes at the expense of speed and maneuverability, but this sit-on-top kayak still paddles around quite easily. The back support seat adds value to your experience.
This kayak offers stability that will put any novice at ease on the water. Bungee line paddle holders will reduce awkward moments, while comfort is addressed with a back support seating system, cup holder, and removable storage compartment.
The flat bottom allows for easy handling, while the lightweight and patented RAM-X materials improve the ease of transportation and storage. Safety has been considered with additional foam block floatation between the deck and hull.
The manufacturer offers a limited lifetime guarantee on both the deck and hull, which could mean anything to an imaginative person. The word “limited” means just about anything.
Although it’s a beginner kayak designed for calm waters, this may come across as restricting to a novice who wants to test the elements.
The Pelican Sentinel 100X is easily the best sit-on-top kayak for beginners. There is no learning curve as far as balance is concerned. It is stable on the water and comes with creature comforts like the back support seat and a removable storage compartment.
You will find this sit-on-top kayak easy to use, store, and transport to the water’s edge. Thanks to the twin-arched hull and lightweight materials used in the construction, this is a fine choice for people who want to start kayaking for leisure without going overboard with specifics.
- Length: 114 inches
- Weight: 41.8 lbs
- Dimensions: 9′ 6″ X 30″ X 11″
- Max Capacity: 275 lbs
- Use: Recreational
- Skill: Beginner
Best for Freshwater Fishing
Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100
Weighing in at 52 lb, the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 is the ideal fishing kayak for the discerning fisherman. With one top-mounted and two flush-mounted fishing rod holders, multiple footrest positions, and an adjustable padded seat with back support, you’re all set for a comfortable fishing experience.
With ample on-deck storage and two additional storage compartments situated in the rear and middle, the capacity is more than enough for fishing gear and sustenance for a day out on the water.
The kayak is well designed and very stable, even in windy conditions or when dealing with a motorboats’ wake. The deep hull is made from high-density polyethylene and has a flat bottom that adds to stability.
The two storage compartments run the hull’s full length, which makes retrieving items a big challenge, especially items like bottles that will roll away from the compartment lid area. It is actually one compartment with two access points.
The kayak does not come with a paddle. If you want a paddle, it can be purchased separately.
For a single person fishing kayak, the Lifetime Tamarack Angler 100 comes complete with all the bells and whistles to make fishing a pleasurable experience. The padded seat is a big plus point that ensures a painless waiting game.
The kayak sits well on the water and it’s possible to stand and cast (you’ll definitely want to practice this, though). The degree of maneuverability is impressive, especially for such a stable fishing platform.
- Weight: 52 lbs
- Dimensions: 120″ x 31″ x 14″
- Max Capacity: 275 lbs
- Use: Angling/Fishing
- Skill: Beginner to skilled
Best for Straight Tracking
Perception Hi Life 11
The versatility of the Perception Hi Life 11 includes pets and family members in the fun. With front and rear swim decks and lowered sides with grip handles, swimming and getting back on the kayak is easy. Additional stability is provided by the removable rear fin, which makes stand-up paddling possible.
The kayak has a raised padded seat with a fold-down back, and beneath the seat is a cooler complete with a drain to keep food and beverages cool. In addition, there is a cup on the deck holder to keep your drink safe.
It can be accessorized to fit your purpose by using the build-in gear track to mount your phone or fishing gear.
It’s built from high-density polyethylene, and the deck cushioning allows for a non-slip and soft surface while the fin improves tracking and overall stability.
The raised seat may pose problems for some people. as the paddle doesn’t dig deep enough into the water. This is easily remedied, of course, with a longer paddle.
Because there are no footrests that allow you to lower your knees when paddling, it can become uncomfortable after a while.
If you are out to include the family in the fun, then there is no better choice than this versatile kayak – it’s basically a stand-up paddleboard and a small boat in one. The recreational range includes kayaking, stand-up paddling, swimming, fishing, or whatever your pleasure is.
PThe detachable fin and overall size of the kayak make straight tracking simple. It is designed for calm slow-moving water as well as calm coastal waters. There is added stability with the extra width, and the hull design makes it glide on the water.
The weight limit of 280 lb will mostly not allow for two adults on the kayak, but kids and pets can most definitely ride along.
- Weight: 55 lbs
- Dimensions: 11′ x 34″
- Max Capacity: 280 lbs
- Use: Slow-moving waters
- Skill: All skill levels
Best for Steering Control
This is a single angler kayak with loads of watertight storage. It sports a pedal-controlled rudder for hands-free steering, a slightly raised seat, and drip stops on the paddle so you can literally stay dry while paddling or fishing in calm waters.
The large rear storage area will make fishermen happy, it can take a mountain of gear while the front watertight storage compartments keep items dry. Just open the waterproof hatches to use the added storage space in the hull.
With two upright rod holders next to the back of your comfortable ergonomic seat and one in front of you between your legs, you can have more lines in the water.
Standing up to cast and fish is made easy thanks to the superior stability of this kayak.
The front handle grip may pose a problem for people with small hands, as it’s difficult to get a solid grip on it.
The rear handle cannot be comfortably used with the rudder still in place because it is fitted almost over the handle, but two side handles can be used.
The BKC RA220 is a fine fishing kayak that is sturdy and well-designed, catering to just about every need an angler may have. The different storage facilities allow a variety of gear, including electronic devices that need to be carted along.
The flat polyethylene hull offers great stability and safety, while the aluminum-framed seat ensures a comfort level that will outlast your time on the water. The hull also has a fish finder cut-out that will make your fishing experience all the more pleasurable.
For kayakers who are concerned with the weight of their gear, this is one of the best sit-on-top kayaks to own. The weight capacity is impressive, especially when compared to the weight of the kayak itself. It’s certain to create memorable fishing moments.
- Weight: 68 lbs
- Dimensions: 11’6″ x 34″
- Max Capacity: 550 lbs
- Use: Stream, ocean, rivers and lakes
- Skill: All skill levels
Best Hull Construction
The large open storage space on the front and rear, complete with bungee lashing, provides ample space to balance the load and allows easy access to your gear. Having your fishing gear secured to the kayak is a must for anglers and the Perception Pescador Pro 12 offers just that.
The seat is removable, and its lawn seat style means you can use it around the campfire. Stability on the water coupled with the ease of maneuvering the kayak in tight spots is an absolute pleasure.
The upright paddle holders behind the seat are not positioned very well. While paddling, the rods have a tendency to get in the way of the paddle.
What is missing is a small watertight compartment built into the hull to pack away things like car keys and cell phones.
The one-piece construction is ingenious, and there is enough storage space for fishing gear as well as weekend camping gear. With a width of 32.5″, you are guaranteed to remain stable even while fighting strong fish.
The kayak is well designed and suited for both dam and river fishing. There is no need to try and stand when casting because the raised seat position gives you that advantage.
Gear and accessories can be secured to the rails on either side of the kayak, including rods, which can be an alternative to the upright rod holders. This feature alone makes it a worthwhile investment.
- Weight: 57 lbs
- Dimensions: 12’ x 32.5″ x 14,5″
- Max Capacity: 375 lbs
- Use: Angling/Fishing
- Skill: Beginner to skilled
Best Compact Design
This nifty, lightweight, and compact recreational kayak offers hours of seating comfort thanks to a padded seat with back support, complimented with molded-in footwells to fit different kayakers. It also has a molded-in paddle keeper and molded side carry handles.
This is an entry-level kayak with excellent stability even in choppy conditions. Its watertight central storage facility and the tankwell storage with cargo net lacing on the rear make it ideal for camping excursions.
Although this is a sit-on-top kayak, the deck will still catch water. To remedy this problem, there are self-bailing scupper holes to drain water from the cockpit and tankwell areas. The molded paddle keeper and molded carry handles add convenience to the overall design.
Due to its short length, tracking is not straight but veers left and right with every paddle stroke
The molded carry handles on the sides may be too shallow for a person with big hands.
If you’re looking for a short, compact kayak, this is a good choice. It handles great and is easy to control in windy conditions or choppy waters. The self-bailing scupper holes ensure your gear stays relatively dry.
Comfort was definitely addressed with the fold-away padded adjustable seat and molded footwells that allow you to change your legs’ position. The kayak’s width enhances its stability and allows you to move around without the fear of tipping over.
Storage was another big design success. From the watertight central compartment to the rear tankwell to the molded-in paddle keeper – using, transporting, and storing the kayak couldn’t be easier.
- Weight: 45 lbs
- Dimensions: 9′ x 31″
- Max Capacity: 350 lbs
- Use: Flatwater Kayaking
- Skill: Beginner to skilled
Best Sit-on Tandem Kayak
Vibe Skipjack 120T
This tandem sit-on-top kayak with a load capacity of 500lb can be operated by one user, two users, and even three users. The jump-seat behind the main front seat is best to be used by a child, though. Well thought out storage space in this tandem kayak makes it perfect for recreation, including fishing.
Two or even three people can fish off this well-designed tandem kayak. There are 2 flush rod mounts with 4 mounting points for rod holders (Scotty, RAM, or Railblaza mount). With 2 V-wave hatches with built-in cup holders, all small items can be safely stored away, and a rear open storage area equipped with tie-downs is used for larger gear.
It sports an open slip-resistant polyethylene deck that makes life a breeze when getting on and off the kayak. There are multiple footrests, for different kayakers, and comfortable seats for those long hours.
For its size, this recreational sit-on-top kayak has a 500lb load capacity which is excellent for its class, but this may still not be enough to accommodate larger couples with a child plus extra gear.
The plastic buckles that hold the seats in place are flimsy and break easily when under pressure.
The Vibe Skipjack 120T is a dream kayak for fishing and weekend camping excursions. Built for couples with an added jump seat for a child, it is strong and stable enough to handle light ocean surf, choppy lake conditions, and low-grade white water.
The extra width makes standing up to cast an absolute pleasure, and the non-slip deck helps to avoid nasty slips. Tracking and maneuvering the kayak is simple, thanks to the Viking like strong boat hull that glides over the water but digs in at the front and rear for effortless control.
Storage compartments are perfectly situated for easy access, and the cup holders are within arm’s reach of the seats.
- Weight: 72 lbs
- Dimensions: 12’2″ x 35″
- Max Capacity: 500 lbs
- Use: Stream, rivers, ponds, dams, open ocean, and ocean surf
- Skill: All skill levels
Best Sit-on-Top Kayak for Kids
Lifetime Youth Wave
Made for children 5 and up, this lightweight kayak sports a lot of features designed to build confidence in youngsters as they adapt to a new water world. The swim-up step at the back is a well thought out necessity while the hull structure ensures ample stability. Adult supervision recommended.
For a first kayak, this one comes complete with a paddle and will put a smile on any kids face. The stability is incredibly good, and standing on it doesn’t seem to be a problem.
The hull design is flip resistant and has a twin fin design to improve tracking. There are also multiple footrest positions and a paddle cradle near the front of the kayak.
If your child lands in the water, the swim-up step at the rear will allow them to safely get back on the kayak.
The standard kayak doesn’t come with a seat, so this will have to be an extra purchase if you feel you need one for long hours on the water.
It may be a bit pricey for some, but your child’s safety is worth the investment.
To help children enjoy kayaking as a recreation, this youth kayak is loaded with features that are designed around safety. The industrious design creates a stable and fun sit-on-top kayak for young children to build their confidence.
The swim-up step at the rear makes it so easy to board the kayak again, and it also allows kids to have a quick dip without fear of getting stuck in the water. There are also self-draining scupper holes that keep the cockpit free of water.
Kids can carry this lightweight kayak themselves, as it’s small enough to transport and comes with moulded finger handles. Some seasoned kayakers use this kayak as a tow along kayak for extra camping gear.
- Weight: 18 lbs
- Dimensions: 6’ x 24″ x 9″
- Max Capacity: 130 lbs
- Use: Flatwater Kayaking for children over 5
- Skill: Beginner/youth
Guide to Choosing a Sit on Top Kayak
While fishermen enjoy kayak fishing because it increases possibilities, just paddling the waterways and taking a dip every so often is great fun as well.
Whatever you need a sit-on-top kayak for, kayaking is a relatively inexpensive way to engage in the recreation nature has to offer.
Sit-on-Top Kayaks vs. Sit-Inside Kayaks
Let’s start with the obvious. A sit-on-top kayak means you will sit on top of the kayak, whereas with a sit-inside kayak, the lower part of your body will be below deck.
Both types of kayaks are built for specific purposes.
Fishing is one of the water sports that gives you the opportunity to be out in nature, but sit-inside kayaks are not the best option here. They tend to be narrow and relatively unstable, sometimes even requiring the use of a paddle to balance when sitting idle on flat water.
Wider sit-in kayaks make fishing possible, but they’re still not as stable as sit-on-tops, and leave little room to store and access your fishing gear. With sit-on-top kayaks, you can literally go anywhere and fish from your kayak while still having all your gear at your disposal.
Recreation, Racing, and Whitewater
Both types of kayak can be used for recreational rides on calm waters, but a sit-inside kayak would be the better choice for racing and whitewater fun. Sit-in kayaks are built for this purpose, are more agile, and although it can’t be totally avoided, they also limit the discomfort of getting wet.
A sit-in kayak conceals the bottom half of your body in a snug watertight cocoon, thanks to splash skirts that are secured around your waist. This still leaves the top half of your body exposed, but at least you’re halfway there.
Sit-on-top kayaks leave you fully exposed to the elements, but at least they’re mostly tip-resistant nowadays. The seats on sit-on-tops are elevated (to different degrees), so that helps a bit, and there are scupper plugs to continuously drain the deck.
Bottom line: if you’re into racing and whitewater kayaking, go for a sit-inside kayak. Otherwise, make your choice based on storage and accessibility necessities, and optionally include your dislike of getting wet into the equation.
Tracking and Stability
Tracking is a bit of a sore point with kayakers, but contemporary hull designs for sit-on-top kayaks make it easy to paddle in a straight line without doing the shimmy shake.
The length and width of a kayak influence its stability, while the hull shape improves tracking and further contributes to stability.
Skegs and Rudders
Some kayaks come with a skeg for better tracking and stability, while others may have a rudder attached. A skeg is basically a fixed fin, while a rudder is adjustable. It’s mainly there for stability, though, but it comes with the added benefit that you don’t need to rely on a paddle to steer your kayak.
The rudder is usually foot-controlled, which is great when you’re fighting a fish or when you need to maneuver in tight spots. Or when your kayak is drifting toward a rocky outcrop and you need to avoid a collision. You probably need both hands in these conditions.
Hull design, width, and length of a sit-on-top kayak all contribute to stability. The wider a kayak is, the better your center of gravity will be, and the more stable the kayak.
The improved stability may even allow you to stand up, although this doesn’t mean the sit-on kayak won’t succumb to your weight and dunk you if you stand on the edge. You still have to pay attention to moving around on the deck area.
A long kayak also helps with stability, but the main purpose of length is tracking and speed. A longer hull gives the kayak more body to float, which enables it to glide on top of the water. This way there’s less water displacement, which means better speed.
Also notice how flat the bulk of kayak hulls are, while the front and rear tend to dip a little deeper in the water. This mimics the longboat design that gave the Vikings superiority on the water, back in the days. Their ships were fast and could travel on rivers where no other ships could go.
Dual Purpose as Paddle Board
While you can stand on most sit-on-top kayaks (with a little practice), only few are really up for the task to double as a stand-up paddleboard (also called SUP). If this is something you like, the Perception Hi Life should really be on your shortlist. A kayak that allows for both seated paddling and stand-up paddling greatly increases the possibilities and potential fun.
Comfort and Usability
An aching lower back is enough to store a kayak away for eternity, so if you’re susceptible to back pain the seats deserve extra attention.
Seats and Paddles
Although sit-on-top kayak seats are all designed with comfort in mind and a lot of focus has been placed on back support, this differs widely between brands and models. You will have to decide based on your specific needs.
To reduce any water discomfort, most sit-on-top kayak seats are raised and adjustable. If you really want to minimize splashes, though, you need to look at something like the Perception Hi Life we reviewed above. The seat of this kayak is higher than the others.
Most paddles can be adjusted. You can increase or decrease the length of the paddle so you can make every stroke count.
Some paddle types come with soft rubber grips, or rubber water stoppers to prevent water from running down the paddle and dripping into the kayak (or over you).
Storage and Accessories
Simple things like storage and cup holders can either make or break your outing, so always consider what creature comforts are important to you when matching a sit-on kayak to your needs.
Is waterproof storage a “must have”? Is there enough space for your camping and fishing gear, or for your weekend getaway? Is the weight capacity of the kayak good enough to handle the extra weight of your camping gear?
Are you the catch and release type of fisherman, or will your catch be served at your next campsite meal? Where and how will you store your catch without all your other gear ending up with that fishy smell?
These are all questions to think about when contemplating your first or next sit-on kayak purchase.
A cup holder that’s placed between your feet will have you bending forward to reach it, which might frustrate you to no end. On the plus side, built-in rails can help accommodate your gear without it being necessary to modify or drill holes in the deck.
Bottom line: make sure to deal with weight capacity, storage capacity, drink holders, rod holders, and the ability for add-ons like fish finders to your kayak.
Know What to Look For?
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