What will you be using it for?
Choosing a sea kayak doesn’t have to be complicated, but it will take time. The best place to start is to consider what sort of sea kayaking you will do most of the time. You can use pretty much any sea kayak for most activities on the sea but some work better than others and have been designed to excel in certain areas. If you are going to vary your fun on the sea and want one boat that “does it all” then choose a good all-rounder. If you mainly like to play in surf and around rocks, a boat that is easy to turn and with good stability is likely to be best. Maybe you’re planning multi-day trips – in which case a faster boat with good space for equipment will be a good choice.
Choose a lighter construction if lifting is difficult. Think about hatch sizes and the volume of each compartment – what do you need to carry? What will you need to access whilst on the water? Does the boat have a day hatch that you can easily reach and that is big enough to contain all necessary equipment at sea. If you lose the hatch cover, will the boat still stay properly afloat and under control unassisted? If you plan to take BCU Star Awards you’ll need a boat that meets these standards.
Comfort and sizing
Probably the most important aspect is personal comfort – it’s usual for a paddler to spend several hours without a break in a sea kayak, and therefore you need to be sure it is right for you. It’s not normally necessary to be tightly fitted into a sea kayak all day long – provided you can “lock in” when needed, for example in agitated sea conditions such as surf or tidal races. Most of the time you need to move a little inside the boat and keep the blood flowing.
Size matters, and so does shape. Men and women have frames that are of different proportions, especially hips, leg lengths and waist to shoulder heights. With some experimentation you will find a boat in our range that is comfortable – take your time. Consider seat sizes, footrest positions, thigh brace positions. Be prepared to modify to get the boat you want, either by having the boat manufactured to a more precise fit, or by using closed-cell foam padding, or a combination of both.
Understand the technical specification – remember to check lengths (for storage) and weights (loading onto roof racks or carrying).
When I talk about manners, I’m referring to how the kayak reacts in wind and waves. Ideally, a sea kayak should turn into the wind unaided. Turning away from the wind should be easy to achieve by using your body position (lean back) and placing a paddle blade in the water a little behind your hips. Understanding the effect of moving your body weight forward or back in the boat makes it easier to understand why moving the seat forward or back can have a dramatic effect on how some sea kayaks behave. When you move the seat you are changing the static balance point (Centre of Lateral Resistance) and the effect may be dramatic – some designs are more sensitive than others.
Some manufacturers have designed and built sea kayaks that look modern and contemporary, but in action can behave unpredictably. Sea Kayaking UK haven’t allowed seaworthiness to be compromised by fashion. All the kayaks are designed to be well balanced in all conditions – not just for flat water and light winds. A well-mannered kayak will look after you.
Stability is another expression widely discussed – both primary and secondary. Primary stability is a way of describing how “wobbly” (or not) a sea kayak feels when it’s upright and in calm conditions. Secondary stability describes how the sea kayak feels when placed “on edge” by the paddler – for example during a turn, or in moving water. For most people, a progressive change in stability is the easiest to work with. In very rough water and in the hands of an expert paddler, it’s arguable that the “on-off” stability transition of a hard-chine boat provide greater control.
Make sure your boat is strong enough for the purpose you want to use it for. Check reviews on the web, in magazines and with ask other paddlers. Ensure the materials used and the construction method are conventional – repairs can become expensive if you are forced to use specialists if you damage it. If the boat develops a fault, can it be sent to the factory for repair and at what cost?
Think carefully about colours. It’s a great idea to choose a personal colour scheme but do consider the possibility that you may want to sell your boat one day – will your choices be desirable or an obstacle to sale? Sparkles look pretty but they do add weight (not much – a few hundred grammes) and don’t appeal to everyone. Dark hulls look fantastic but the scratches show when the boat is dry – will this matter to you? Also, darker coloured decks fade in the sun and the gelcoat is less resistant to UV light. This is less of a problem in the UK! Surprisingly, dark colours show up well on the sea – black is very easy to spot on a monochrome sea.
Finally, remember that you are spending a lot of money so you must get it right. If it isn’t, walk away and find the boat that is. Be honest with yourself and remember, the more suitable it is, the more likely you are to have fun. We’re confident that the perfect boat for you is somewhere in the Sea Kayaking UK range. Take a fresh look…