The best sea kayaks are perfect for paddling in all sorts of saltwater environments, from estuaries and bays to open ocean waves

They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and styles, but the best sea kayaks are floating escape pods that enable you to leave your troubles on the shore and set off on an aquatic adventure, touring and exploring along coastlines, paddling solo or with friends, for a few hours or over several days.

Finding the ideal boat for you takes lots of research, but we’re here to help steer you towards the best sea kayak to suit your paddling preferences. There are many considerations to weigh up – do you want a sit-on-top or a sit-inside kayak? What sort of length should you go for? Do you require a rudder or skeg, and what about storage – how much is enough? Is plastic or fiberglass best for you?

A lot depends on your level of experience in a kayak, and the rest will be determined by what you plan to do with the boat once you’ve purchased it. If you’re fairly new to kayaking and just want a stable craft for messing around in fairly calm water during the warmer months, then a broad, relatively short, plastic hulled sit-on-top will be perfect. If, however, you’re intending to do some serious all-season sea kayaking and touring, then a more technically capable sit-inside boat with dry storage areas will be better for you. These questions and considerations are explored in more detail below, but first let’s take a look at some of the best sea kayaks available today.

Paddlers interested in sea kayaking who don’t have room at home for a rigid boat, or the means to transport one, should check out our guide to the best folding kayaks.

The best sit-on-top sea kayaks

Perception Triumph 13

Perception Triumph 13

A versatile, high-performance sit-on-top with a streamlined profile and loads of funky features

Specs

• Guide Price: £699.99
• Length: 409cm / 13ft 5in
• Width: 75cm/30in
• Weight: 27kg/60lb
• Cockpit dimensions: N/A
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 160kg/352lb

While sit-on-top kayaks can be a lot more forgiving for less experienced paddlers, especially when out on the waves, you can still find open-cockpit craft that offer decent levels of performance, and the Perception Triumph 13 is one such boat. It boasts a relatively long and narrow hull, which has a flat bottom for enhanced primary stability but a pronounced chine, so it glides across the water a good bit faster than less streamlined sit-on-tops. A highly versatile kayak that can be paddled in a range of environments, from rivers, lakes and estuaries to bays and coastlines, the upswept flared bow offers reasonable manoeuvrability.

The plastic construction is highly robust, so you don’t need to be overly cautious around rocks (so long as you don’t mind a few scrapes and scratches). It has an excellent seat and the structural elements include good footrests for efficient padding with an engaged core. There’s a large recess area at the back for wet gear (snorkeling stuff, or fishing equipment, whatever you’re into) and extra built-in features include a child seat for a small co-pilot, a drink holder and lots of carry handles. There’s hatch storage at the front for dry clothes, picnic stuff or even camping gear if you want to do longer trips. When paddling in waves, the deck automatically drains. Obviously, being an open top craft, there’s no protection from the elements, so this is best for fair-weather fun days out.

Perception Triumph 13 – side profile

Reasons to buy

• Good for families and novice paddlers
• Extremely versatile
• Very stable
• Self-draining
• Streamlined profile (for a sit-on-top)

Reasons to avoid

• No cold weather protection
• No rudder as standard
• Heavy
• Much slower than sit-inside

Buy the Triumph 13 now at Perception Kayaks

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Wilderness Systems Tarpon E120

Wilderness Systems Tarpon E120

A well-featured sit-on-top that moves nicely on the water and facilitates multiple marine hobbies

Specs

• Price guide: From £950
• Length: 373cm / 12ft 3in
• Width: 76cm / 30in
• Depth: 35cm / 13.75in
• Weight: 29kg / 63lb
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 159kg / 350lb

While they can’t offer the same level of protection and performance as a sit-inside, not all sit-on-top sea kayaks are simply big lumps of floating plastic. The Tarpon E120 has plenty to offer the recreational paddler looking to explore their local coastline and enjoy some wave action. For starters, it’s very comfortable ride, with the Phase 3 AirPro seat providing nice soft pew, and adjustable foot braces encouraging a good paddling position.

There’s a decent amount of dry storage on this boat too, with an Orbix bow hatch and a midship hatch, and the rear, bungee-covered tankwell offers loads more carry capacity for snorkeling or fishing equipment. The SlideTrax Accessory System allows you to add after-purchase extras such as rod holders. There’s even a cup holder. The flat-bottomed hull design of the Tarpon makes it super stable, but a pretty pronounced chine means it can cut through the water at quite a clip. It self drains, and you can add a rudder as an optional extra. Although it is a tad heavy, the Tarpon is easy to move around both on and off the water, with decent carry handles on the front, rear and both sides, the latter complete with a paddle holder.

Wilderness Systems Tarpon E120 – side profile

Reasons to buy

Stable
• Versatile – good for fishing etc
• Reasonably maneuverable (for a sit-on-top)
• Decent glide (for a sit-on-top)

Reasons to avoid

• Heavy
• Bulky
• No cold-weather protection

Buy the Tarpon E120 now at Wilderness Systems

The best plastic sea kayaks for beginner and intermediate paddlers

Perception Carolina 12

Perception Carolina 12

A compact sea kayak that’s ideal for beginners and occasional paddlers, which performs well in all sorts of saltwater scenarios

Specs

• Guide price: £899.99
• Length: 366cm / 12ft
• Width: 66cm / 26in
• Weight: 22kg/49lb
• Height: / 37cm / 14.5in
• Cockpit dimensions (W x L): 55 x 100cm / 21.5 x 39.5in
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 125kg / 275lb

For a sea kayak, the Carolina is a bit of a shorty, but if you’re not doing much long-distance touring and open-ocean paddling in big swell, then extended length really isn’t crucially important. In fact, a short, nifty boat is a very good option for lots of people, being easier to store and transport, and more maneuverable in many situations. The 12ft length of the Carolina means this extremely popular model is ideal for paddling in bays, inlets and along most coasts, and it’s also very capable on lakes, estuaries and slower flowing rivers.

Made from high-density polyethylene, it’s very tough and will easily survive a bit of rough and tumble on pebbly beaches and rocky coastlines. With built-in buoyancy, excellent primary stability, and a large cockpit, it’s easy to enter and exit the kayak in both wet and dry scenarios, so this is a very good boat for beginners and more occasional paddlers. It has a relatively flat hull, combined with a V-shaped bow and stern, which means its both stable, but also tracks well. It has bungee deck rigging fore and aft, for stashing stuff you want to access easily. And, despite its relatively short length, the Carolina still boasts two storage hatches for carrying larger kit for longer days on the water, or even overnight camping adventures. The seat is comfortable, it has padded thigh braces and easily adjustable foot rests, so you can use a good efficient paddling stroke. Other features include reflective deck safety lines and retractable carry handles. A rudder can be added after purchase. Larger paddlers, and those who want a slightly more advanced model, better for touring, should look at the longer Carolina 14.

Perception Carolina 12 – side profile

Reasons to buy

• Large cockpit
• Excellent primary stability
• Good tracking
• Versatile
• Good carry capacity
• Relatively easy to store

Reasons to avoid

• Slower for touring
• Poor secondary stability
• Less capable on open ocean

Buy the Carolina 12 now at Perception Kayaks

Dagger Stratos

Dagger Stratos L

A reliable plastic touring kayak offering solidly predictable performance levels and good primary stability.

Specs

• Guide price: £1,100
• Length: 442cm / 14ft 6in
• Width: 63.5cm / 25in
• Weight: 25kg / 56lb
• Cockpit dimensions (W x L): 49.5 x 91cm / 19.5 x 35.75in
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 143kg / 315lb (L)

Available in two sizes, the extremely robust, plastic-hulled Dagger Stratos is a versatile and stable sea kayak suitable for a variety of paddlers. For those fairly new to kayaking, the Stratos offers good primary stability, and reliable and predictable performance on the waves. However, this popular craft also offers plenty to more experienced paddlers who are looking to do some coastal exploring and touring without having to be too precious about their boat.

The Stratos has a TruTrak Adjustable Skeg System, which helps with tracking across open water. Although there’s no day hatch, dry storage for larger gear is supplied by hatches in the bow and stern, and there’s ample bungee deck rigging for storing a drink, cag, sun hat and so on. The Stratos has leg lifters and the footbrake is easily adjustable. Additional features include padded thigh braces, soft-touch handles and adjustable foot braces. The Stratos 14.5 S is the same boat as the L, but it’s designed for small to medium-sized paddlers and features a lower deck height (max carry weight 125kg / 275lb).

Dagger Stratos – side profile

Reasons to buy

• Reliable
• Robust
• Good primary stability
• Keg-supported tracking

Reasons to avoid

• No day hatch
• No rudder facility
• Less secondary stability than more advanced models

Buy the Stratos L now at Dagger Kayaks

Wave Sport Hydra

Wave Sport Hydra

A playful sea kayak with a bit of residual whitewater DNA from the brand’s wild youth – the Hydra is good for rock hopping and wave riding as well as touring

Specs

Guide price: £1,100
• Length: 452cm / 14ft 10in
• Width: 59.5cm / 23.5in
• Depth: 35cm / 14in
• Weight: 25kg / 55lb
• Cockpit dimensions (W x L): 52 x 93cm / 20.5 x 36.5in
• Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 140kg / 310lb

A relatively recent entry onto the saltwater scene, the new Hydra from Wave Sport is a good-looking touring sea kayak, available at a comparatively affordable price. Wave Sport began designing dynamic whitewater boats in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but after being brought into the Confluence group, production moved to the South Coast of England and diversified. The Hydra has various features that hark back to the wild whitewater history of the brand, however. The complex hull shape has a slight rocker profile, which makes it more maneuverable than many touring boats, the padded thigh braces are excellent, and it boasts innovative flip-over carry hip pads (which makes portaging the boat much more comfortable).

If you’re more into playing on the waves and rock hopping around short bits of coast than going on long expeditions, then this hardy plastic boat is a good option. But you can absolutely take this kayak touring too – it has good, adjustable pedal footrests, a skeg that can be lowered or raised (a rudder is an optional extra) and the boat glides nicely and tracks well across open water. It’s good for exploring estuaries, bays, calm rivers and coastlines. The Hydra has three dry storages areas: large hatches on the bow and stern, and a day hatch on the front, making it genuinely easy to access. In addition to that, you have bungee deck rigging just in front of the cockpit and accessory rails behind. Other features include retractable carry handles, a security bar and reflective deck safety line.

Wave Sport Hydra – side profile

Reasons to buy

• Robust
• Versatile
• Good fun
• Glides well

Reasons to avoid

• Heavier than fiberglass boats
• Less secondary stability than some

Buy the Hydra now at Wave Sport

The best high-performance sea kayaks

P&H Volan 158

P&H Volan 158

A high-end, top-performing sea kayak that will take experienced paddlers anywhere

Specs

  • Guide price: Performance Kevlar / Diolen: RRP £3,470; Expedition Diolen: RRP £3,760; Lightweight Kevlar / Carbon Infusion: RRP £4,495; Expedition Kevlar / Carbon Infusion: RRP £4,975
  • Length: 479cm / 15ft 8in
  • Width: 55cm / 22in
  • Weight: Performance Kevlar / Diolen: 23kg / 50.7lb; Expedition Diolen: 26k / 57.3lbg; Lightweight Kevlar / Carbon Infusion: 18.5k / 40.8lbg; Expedition Kevlar / Carbon Infusion: 22.5kg / 49.6lb
  • Maximum carry weight (including paddler): 110kg /242.5lb

One of the best sea kayaks on the market, the Volan 158 is a brilliant weapon of choice for more experienced paddlers who want to get out on the water all year round, no matter how exciting the conditions are. At 479cm, just under 16ft, it’s not the longest sea kayak out there, but it offers the perfect balance for those who enjoy a bit of everything, from touring and exploring to messing around in big waves.

Equipped with a skeg, the Volan 158 tracks straight as a die, and moves fast through the water, but the V-shaped hull and rocker make it highly responsive when you’re carving into turns or playing on the edge. For tourers, the storage capacity is good, with big bow and stern hatches, plus a day hatch just in front of the cockpit and an optional mini hatch to the front of the cockpit. The low rear deck is ideal for rolling, but in the event of a swim, re-entry is made easier by a paddle shaft recess positioned for bracing. Built to be expedition ready, you can choose between several advanced materials, including Kevlar, diolen and carbon infusion.

Reasons to buy

• Lightweight
• Extremely nimble
• Excellent secondary stability
• Comprehensively specced
• Choice of construction materials

Reasons to avoid

• Not suitable for less experienced paddlers
• Expensive

Buy the Stratos L Volan 158 now at Sea Kayaks UK

Romany Classic

Romany Classic

An brilliant sea kayak for more experienced paddlers tackling open water and doing day-long or weekend touring trips in all conditions

Specs

• Guide price: from £3,300
• Length: 485cm
• Width: 54cm
• Depth: 32.5cm
• Overall volume: 276.15 litres
• Cockpit volume: 140 litres
• Maximum paddler height: 183cm / 6ft

For more experienced paddlers, the Nigel Dennis-designed, British-made Romany Classic is high responsive, very maneuverable fibreglass sea kayak, brilliant for playing around in waves and tidal races, rock hopping around rugged coastlines and touring in all sorts of weather conditions, including high winds. The high-performance fibreglass seat tilts slightly forward, to encourage good posture and promote a positive and dynamic paddling position, and there are hip pads for comfort.

The Romany Classic has a keyhole-style cockpit, which gives the paddler superb control, and fantastic secondary stability for good handling in more technical water. For those with the appropriate skills, it’s easy to roll (with a low rear deck), but if you do end up going for a swim, the keyhole cockpit is easy to exit from and the boat drains well (the sloping bulkhead behind the seat means the kayak can be emptied by simply raising the bow, so you don’t have to perform an x-rescue). Built tough, but fast on the water and excellent in surf, it’s the boat of choice for a lot of kayaking coaches around the world. The Romany Classic has enough storage for lightweight camping trips and economical expeditions, offering three storage hatches, one in the front (with a capacity volume of 57.5 litres), one at the rear (41.6 litres) and a 37.5-litre day hatch for stashing essentials that you want to be able to access easily. The hull design and size of the Classic can be a bit tight for people over 183cm/6ft tall – larger paddlers might want to consider the Explorer HV, Romany Surf or Romany Excel.

Check out the Romany Classic in action here.

Reasons to buy

• Excellent in waves, surf and technical water
• Highly responsive
• Superb secondary stability
• Good storage

Reasons to avoid

• Not suitable for novice paddlers
• Less primary stability
• Not suitable for people much over 6ft tall

Buy the Romany Classic now at Sea Kayaking UK

What to look for when buying the best sea kayak

There are multiple considerations to take into account when purchasing any kayak, but it’s particularly important to get the right craft if you intend heading out to sea in it. The best sea kayak for you will depend on what kind of paddler you are, and the kind of conditions you most regularly venture out in. Before making a purchase, consider the following points.

Should I get a sit-on–top or a sit-inside sea kayak?

This, of course, comes down to personal preference, but you need to be aware of some pros and cons. Sit-on-top kayaks tend to offer excellent primary stability, so you won’t fall out of the boat very often, if at all, and if you do, it’s easy to remount the craft, without having to perform a complicated self rescue, get your lower body into a cockpit, or bailing any water out of the boat. These factors make them ideal for families, fishers and fairly new paddlers. All this stability comes at a big cost, however, in terms of paddling performance. Most sit-on-tops (ocean and surf skis aside) are much slower and less maneuverable than sit-inside kayaks, which are a far better option for people who want to do any real touring. Also, there’s no protection against the elements on a sit-on-top, so they tend to be used mostly in the summer. If your wear a spraydeck (spray skirt), sit-inside kayaks can be paddled all year round, in all kinds of conditions.

Should I choose a plastic or a fiberglass kayak?

Plastic is cheap and very tough. Plastic-hulled kayaks will survive all sorts of rough treatment along craggy coastlines and rocky beaches, with just a few scratches as a reminder of the adventures you’ve been on, but they are much heavier and less responsive than fibreglass (or Kevlar / Carbon) boats, which are built for top-end performance, and usually cost twice or even three times as much. You need to be far more careful with fibreglass / kevlar / carbon kayaks, because they can be irreparably damaged by rocks and rough treatment. As a gauge, it’s worth starting out with a cheaper, hardier plastic boat and moving up to a more expensive construction once you know what you’re doing.

Do I need a rudder or a keel?

You don’t necessarily need either, but it’s good to understand what they do. A skeg is a rigid fin that protrudes from the bottom of the kayak (often it can be lowered and drawn back up by the paddler, while on the water), which helps with tracking – meaning the kayak will behave itself and go in a straight line while you paddle and the stern won’t drift around (although conditions play a part in this, and in strong winds you might need to do some weather cocking). A rudder is a dynamic steering device mounted on the end of the stern, which is operated by the paddler, using their feet. Some experienced kayakers prefer to do all their maneuvering with paddle strokes and by using their body position to get an ‘edge’ and perform turns.

How much storage do I need?

This comes down entirely to the sort of paddling you do. Deck bungees are great for water bottles and extra layers, while proper hatches are excellent as ‘dry storage’ for larger gear that you don’t need access to while you’re on the water – so if you’re planning a day-long adventures with a lunch break, you might have warm clothes, picnic supplies and a stove stashed here (although hatches should keep water out, it’s best to store things in a dry bag if you really want to ensure they don’t get wet). For longer tours, you will need larger-volume hatches to accommodate camping kit. Smaller day hatches are often found on the best sea kayaks, close to the cockpit, for keeping things (phone/camera) dry and easily accessible. If you’re a yak angler, then you might want an open recess area with some bungees to store fishing kit (and, hopefully, your catch).

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated sailing page for more marine products.

 



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