Should I buy a Sit-in or Sit-on Kayak?

Should I buy a Sit-in or Sit-on Kayak?

An important factor to consider when buying a kayak is what type of kayak to buy. There are two types of kayaks, a Sit-on-top (SOT) kayak or a Sit-inside kayak. This can be a confusing decision to make, especially if you are a beginner. The style of kayak, a Sit-inside or a Sit-on-top, will be more suitable to you depending on where you plan to paddle or whether you like a stable kayak or a fast travelling kayak.

Before we look at the differences between Sit-on-top kayaks and Sit-inside kayaks, there are many similarities between the two. They have some of the same parts. The stern of the kayak, which is the back of the kayak, has rudders, and some have grab loops. Both kayaks have foot support, as well as seats.

The Difference between a Sit-in and Sit-on-top Kayak

The most obvious difference between these two types of kayaks is that the Sit-in kayaks are enclosed, and the Sit-on-top kayaks are open. In the Sit-in kayak, there is an area called the cockpit. This is where you sit. You will also have foot-pedals that are adjustable. The cockpit rim can be attached to a spray skirt in order to block the water out. Each kayak design has its advantages and disadvantages.

Sit-inside Kayak (SIS)

This type of kayak is a traditional-looking kayak. The paddler sits inside the hull of the kayak. The paddler’s legs will be under the deck. An example of a Sit-inside kayak is the Old Town Dirigo 120 hardshell kayak. This type of kayak is much warmer because it blocks out the wind from your lower body. If you want to stay dry, this style will be better suited to you. If you are paddling in cooler water, it will keep the cold water from getting into the kayak and on you, keeping you warm in the kayak. These types of kayaks are preferred in cold water for this very reason.

The Advantages Of A Sit-inside Kayak

There are many great features on the Sit-inside kayak; 

  • The secondary stability allows the paddler to turn more efficiently. 
  • The kayak leans on its side, which makes it easier to keep the kayak straight in rough water conditions. 
  • The centre of gravity is much lower compared to the Sit-on-top kayak. 
  • These kayaks can be made in a narrow design or a wider design; the narrow design provides a faster speed. 
  • The paddler also has a lot of control in a Sit-inside kayak. 
  • The paddler’s knees are placed by the underside of the deck. This also allows for flexibility in the kayak. 
  • The covering of a Sit-in kayak protects you from the sun as well as cold weather. 
  • In a Sit-inside kayak, you are less likely to be affected by windy weather due to the sheltering this design provides. 
  • A Sit-inside kayak requires less effort to propel the kayak forward. 
  • The design of the beam is narrow and therefore allows paddlers to use a short kayak paddle. 
  • The cockpit in the kayak is also kept dry unless it has been hit by strong waves. The absence of self-draining scupper holes that are located at the bottom of the kayak is the reason for this.

The Disadvantages Of A Sit-inside Kayak

There are some downsides to the Sit-inside kayak design. The most common disadvantage of a Sit-inside kayak is the confinement that most paddlers experience in the design. 

  • The open cockpit is not a favourite among all paddlers. In the event of a capsize, the kayak would be challenging to get back in. 
  • The paddler would have to remove the water in the cockpit of the kayak with a battery, hand, or foot-operated bilge pump. 
  • The lower centre of gravity of the kayak and the narrow design of the kayak results in a lower amount of stability. 
  • You are also limited to a specific size of items you can carry. There is no open tank well in the stern, and there are smaller hatch covers. Therefore you can only carry small items. Your items have to fit through the hatch.

Sit-on-top Kayak

This type of kayak is very user friendly. A Sit-on-top kayak does not have an enclosed cockpit. In this kayak design, the paddler is positioned on top of the kayak. Unlike a Sit-inside kayak, the paddler is above the surface of the water in this type of kayak. There is no inside access to the kayak. The seat and footwells are all found on the deck of the kayak. An example of a Sit-on-top kayak is the Hobie Mirage Passport kayak.

The Advantages Of A Sit-on-top Kayak

Sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for warm water as the possibility of you getting wet in this type of kayak design is very high compared to the Sit-inside design. 

  • There are no features to stop the water from hitting you. If you are not a fan of too much water getting into your kayak, you can purchase scupper plugs. Scupper plugs cover the self-bailing drain holes in the kayak. This will limit the amount of water that will collect under the paddler. 
  • The scupper plugs also allow paddlers to play in the surfing zone without needing a bilge pump. 
  • Paddlers enjoy going to tropical areas in this type of kayak. You can easily jump into the water for a quick swim as this kayak design is easily accessible. 
  • You can exit and enter the kayak with ease, unlike the Sit-inside design. 
  • The openness of the kayak limits the feeling of confinement for the paddler.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are highly unlikely to sink because their hulls are enclosed. 
  • When it comes to carrying items, the open tank well in the stern allows for paddlers to carry relatively large items. 
  • These kayaks have a higher degree of initial stability. Your kayak is likely to stay upright when you are sitting in the kayak.

The Disadvantages Of A Sit-on-top Kayak

There are a few cons to the Sit-on-top kayak design; 

  • The kayak has a wide beam design and is therefore not as fast as the Sit-inside kayak design. If you are a paddler who enjoys a fast-paced speed on the water, then you will need to take this factor into consideration. 
  • The wider beam design will take a lot more effort to move forward. The paddler should be aware of this, as long-range excursions would not be ideal in this kayak.
  • You will be required to use a longer paddle; however, If you are into kayak fishing, the sit-on-top design would be ideal for you. 
  • You do not have as much control as you would have in a Sit-inside kayak design as the paddler’s knees will not be against the underside of the kayak. 
  • You are not protected from the sun or the wind due to the open cockpit. 
  • There is not a lot of water in the bilge because of the self-draining scupper holes.


A Price Comparison Between The Sit-in and Sit-on-top Kayaks

For paddlers on a budget, it is important to consider how much each type of kayak design will cost. The table below shows a price comparison between some of the best brands for the Sit-inside kayaks and the Sit-on-top kayaks.

Kayak DesignBrand NamePrice
Sit-inside KayakOru Kayak Bay ST$1,350.00
Sit-on-top KayakPerception Tribe 13.5$700.00
Sit-inside KayakEddyline Skylark Kayak$1,399.00
Sit-on-top KayakHobie Mirage Passport$1,399.00
Sit-inside KayakPerception Sound 9.5$469.00
Sit-on-top KayakMako 12 Riot Kayaks$999.99
Sit-inside KayakEddyline LT Kayak$2,199.00
Sit-on-top KayakBoss 13 SS Sun Dolphin$799.00

What to wear on a Sit-in and Sit-on-top Kayak

When you are paddling, it is important that you are comfortable and that your clothing is appropriate for the type of water you will be in, as well as the type of kayak you will be in.

If you plan to go paddling in the summer on a Sit-on-top kayak, these are the clothing options that will be best suited to you;

  • Long John or Wetsuit
  • Midweight water shoes
  • Rash vest
  • Lightweight touring cag

If you plan to go paddling in the winter on a Sit-on-top kayak, these are the clothing options that will be best suited to you:

  • Dry trousers
  • Warm thermals
  •  Midweight water shoes

If you are paddling in a Sit-inside kayak, you can apply the same criteria as mentioned above. Even though you will not be exposed to the weather as much as you would in a Sit-inside kayak, it is still advisable to dress appropriately.

Once you have taken into consideration everything you need to know about the two kayak designs, you need to determine what type of water and in what weather conditions you will be paddling in, in order to choose your preferred kayak design. 

As we discussed, both Sit-on-top and Sit-inside kayaks have their advantages and disadvantages. Whatever kayak design you choose is up to you and your requirements. Purchase your kayak today and start paddling! 

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