The internet is amazing but it can sometimes be difficult to understand exactly what you are looking at and how it will act on the water which can be the difference between enjoying yourself and just being very wet.

There are a few basic concepts, when understood it should help make the first choice of boat much easier and hopefully less daunting. All boat design is a compromise and it’s about finding the right compromise for you.

Boat length

Generally the longer a boat is the faster it will be, a 17 foot kayak will be very fast boat but at the cost of manoeuvrability (essentially if the ends are further apart there’s more resistance to turning). The faster a boat is the easier it is to cover longer distances. A 6 foot kayak will be very slow but very easy to turn, sometimes so easily that paddling forward in a straight line is nearly impossible when starting out.

The picture on the left shows the P&H Virgo Touring Kayak. 15ft kayak with a straight keel, efficiently slicing through the water. For every stroke you put in, you get more output from the boat.  The boat in the middle is a Pyranha 9R white water kayak that is shorter and designed to be highly manoeuvrable. It’s shorter than the Virgo with no keel line and a raised bow to keep the boat above the water. The photo on the right is the Pyranha Surfjet which is a safe stable platform for beginners and less confident paddlers to get started. The primary function of the Surfjet – above all is stability.

Boat Width

The width of a kayak is one of the factors which will add stability but will also affect the speed of the kayak as there is more boat to push through the water.

Hull shape

A kayak with a completely round bottom won’t have any resistance to rolling left to right so won’t be stable if the same boat had a flat bottom with sharper edges (where the hull meets the side of the boat) it will have a greater resistance to rolling so will be more stable.


If the boat has a fairly flat keel (centreline on the hull) the ends of the kayak are going to more resistant to turning, if the boat has a fairly large rocker the ends of the boat are more likely to be “looser” with less resistant to turning. A boat with a bigger rocker profile is more likely to handle rougher water as the curvature allows more lifting of the ends over waves, a boat with less rocker is more likely to torpedo through rough water and provide a wetter journey.

Bow and stern shape

If the ends of the kayak are sharp the boat is more likely to cut easily through the water like a knife through butter, this style of bow and stern is more likely to be on a flat water boat or a sea kayak. WhiteWater Kayaks generally have a much more blunt bow and stern with much flatter keels which provide very little resistance to turning and cross currents but when paddling on flat water it will feel like you are pushing through the water which isn’t fun on a longer journey.


Boats generally work on displacement, you need a big enough boat to float your weight and anything you want to take with you, most reputable manufacturers have a sizing chart for their boats which will provide the Maximum paddler weight. If you are over weight for a boat the stability and speed will be affected, if you are underweight for a boat you will find it’s more stable but is also more likely to be affected by the wind and weather which may blow you off course if you don’t have enough boat in the water to grip and offer traction.

Sit on tops VS Sit Ins

A vast number of new paddlers choose a sit on top as opposed to a sit in kayak due to a number of factors, most enthusiasts end up in a sit in kayak.

Sit on pros;

  • Doesn’t feel like you can be trapped inside the kayak if you capsize and panic
  • Simple rescues, the boat can’t fill up with water if you fall off and you can simply flip it over and climb back on.
  • Generally designed to be very user friendly and stable.
  • You can get a better sun tan!

Sit in pros;

  • Warmer in bad weather as your sheltered from the wind
  • Easier to perform difficult techniques and manoeuvres which can allow for a broader range of paddling
  • More performance based design so it can take you to more places
  • Usually narrower (so more efficient)


Boats are all designed to do slightly different things, if you are looking to camp overnight you’ll need a kayak with some storage areas, skegs can help either tracking (going straight) or with the wind,


Are you looking to fish from your kayak some rod holders will complete the boat for you, do you want to sail your kayak? A kayak sail will be needed for that, do you want to make getting in and out easier, a ratchet upgrade will give you an adjustable backrest system.


How far will you need to carry the boat? Can you physically carry the boat? Can you lift the boat onto the roof of your car? These can be a barrier to getting out on the water, either a lighter model or accessory’s like a trolly or a Thule Hull-a-vator which lists that boat onto the roof of your car – might help you out.


Before you buy your first boat there are a few questions to ask yourself, with the answers and the information above will hopefully help you decide what style of boat to look for.

  • How far do you want to be paddling in a day?
  • What style of paddling are you looking to do, ie ww touring, sea
  • Where will you be using the boat? ie canals, gentle rivers, lakes

As ever, if you have any questions we’re all paddlers here and we’re happy to help you get it right.