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I own a 5.18m Sea-Kayak. Obviously a sit-in type with a watertight spray skirt. It has two hatches which also close to not let water in, even if forcibly submerged.

On my trips to other countries (recently Lithuania, USA, Canada, Croatia) I am always offered sit-on-top kayaks. Sit-in type of kayaks are sometimes available but not always. Less so in purely recreational setups, such as calm, but touristy lakes. Rental shops advertise them as:

  • being more fun
  • have holes to let the water out
  • are more stable
  • are faster

As I see it, in fact they

  • have holes which let water in from below (not suitable for cold weather/water)
  • are very sensitive to wind (hard on beginners, and for extended duration)
  • have very little ability to hold direction (and are again thus more difficult to handle for beginners)
  • do not have storage capacity for tours

So by my observation they are not good for beginners (hard to steer, wind sensitive), they are not good for experienced people (no hatches for storage, too slow, exposed to all elements).

Accordingly they would be especially bad for rental shops because those more often than not target beginners.

What makes them special? Why do rental shops go with them? What are the advantages?

4

I would think that the main advantage in a rental situation is the fact that they are effectively unsinkable. Coupled with that, if you flip it, it is easy to roll it back over and climb back on top. Not so with sit-in kayaks, where getting upright when you have turtled is a skill that must be learned and practiced, and can be dangerous if you're clueless.

That being said, since you are sitting pretty high, you also have a better chance of falling in the water when on top of a sit-on-top yak.

The scuppers (holes in the bottom) don't really let in much water, and they are very good at getting water out once it gets in. But, of course, the reality is that your feet are going to be wet - so dress accordingly.

  • The one time I tried a sit-on-top my bum got soaken wet because of all the water coming in through the scuppers - much wetter than I ever got in a sit-in even without spray skirts. Regarding the wet exit, there are sit-in kayaks with very big holes for getting in and out. Rental shops often don't provide spray-skirts for those and thus people will effectively fall out by themselves when turning upside-down. Your points seem still valid to some degree - I'm not convinced that they outweigh the disadvantages. – cfi Mar 23 '12 at 8:11
  • I just realized that we probably have to distinguish between sit-on-tops with chairs and those without. The latter are pretty much small and flat plastic shapes where one sits only few centimeters above water level. These are the ones I see at rental shops. The one you seem to have in mind is what I've seen people owning when they want to fish or when they use their feet for moving forward – cfi Mar 23 '12 at 8:17

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