Many people who are new to kayaking wonder what the difference is between a traditional sit-in kayak and a sit on top kayak. Other than the obvious structural difference that is indicated by it’s name, sit on top kayaks are generally made with the beginner in mind. If you’re ready to give kayaking a try but you aren’t ready to fully invest in an expensive and heavy sit-in kayak, then checking out the best sit on top kayaks is a good place to start.

Our Best SOT Kayak

SOT KayakLengthRatingPrice
Sun Dolphin Journey SOT Fishing Kayak10'$$
Lifetime Youth 6 Feet Wave Kayak6'$
Useful UH-TK 181 SOT Tandem Fishing Kayak12'6"$$
Old Town Sit on Top Kayak11' 3"$$$
Lifetime Tamarack SOT Kayak10'$$

Sit on Top Kayak vs. Sit-in Kayak

Sit on top kayaks typically have the same hull shape and size of a traditional sit-in kayak, but instead of sitting inside the kayak, you sit on top of it. Some sit on top kayaks are made of the same fiberglass of traditional kayaks, but most are not. Most sit on top kayaks are made of tougher, cheaper, rotationally molded plastic. This makes sit on top kayaks usually much more affordable.

The most obvious benefit on sit on top kayaks is the ability to self-rescue. If your kayak rolls over you’re not at risk of being trapped in the boat. Experienced kayakers know how to escape from an overturned boat, but a beginner might not have the skills.

How to Choose a Sit on Top Kayak

While sit on top kayaks might be generally created with beginners in mind, this doesn’t mean that they are all the same. There are many different kinds of kayaking you can do from a sit on top kayak, and each kayak is designed to optimize a different experience.

  • Surf Kayaks are designed to handle ocean waves. They are typically shorter and they are much slower on flat water than other kayaks.
  • Fishing Kayaks are fitted with special storage, extra stability and rod holders. You might be able to add rod holders and such to another kayak but not having enough storage or stability could damper your experience.
  • Scuba Diving Kayaks have a special tank well built to house your air tank. Sometimes a large hatch can handle the air tank, but the balance of the kayak won’t be right.
  • Touring Kayaks are sleek and longer. They are built to cover ground as quickly as possible. Look for a kayak with enough storage for a day trip.
  • Recreational Kayaks are smaller and shorter than other kayaks. While all kayaks are technically considered for recreational use, kayaks that are classified as recreational kayaks have a very limited use and should only be used as indicated.
  • White Water Kayaks are designed to handle running water and rapid rivers. In general, sit on top kayaks aren’t the best for white water kayaking, but there are a few models that will serve that purpose.
  • Surf Kayaks are made for riding waves in the surf zone. They have a flatter planning hull and they sometimes have fins like a surfboard.
  • Surf Skis are technically still considered sit on top kayaks. They are sometimes called racing kayaks. They are very long and slender and they often very tippy. Surf Skis are the fastest of all kayaks and they are used in professional races. They are only available is certain “sizes” so they might not fit everyone.

Things to Consider

Solo or with friends?

It’s also important to consider whether or not you plan to kayak alone. If you just want enough room and space for yourself then go for the lightest and simplest option you can. But if you hope to sometimes paddle with a friend or bring a child or dog along, you will need to keep that in mind. All kayaks have different weight capacities and some are made specifically for tandem kayaking. If you plan to add another person to a kayak designed for one person, know that the weight distribution might change the stability of your kayak. Keep in mind that overloading a part of the kayak not designed for people might make your kayak more prone to tipping.

Transportation

Think about how you plan to transport your kayak. Some kayaks are lighter than others, but sometimes they can be quite heavy. You might been help loading up your kayak if you have a heavier model. Getting a roof rack for your car is a good way to ensure that your kayak is safe and secure for the journey from your home to the water. Some roof racks are cheap and simple, but some of them can be much more sophisticated and expensive. Whatever system you choose to buy, make sure that it will fit your car! It won’t do you much good if the roof rack doesn’t attach well to your vehicle. It’s also important to get good quality tie downs. The quality of your roof rack won’t matter if you don’t have strong, quality straps.

Extra Gear

The only piece of extra gear that is required by United States law is a life jacket or a personal flotation device. Make sure that whatever life jacket you have fits well and is either on you or within reach at all times. They make life jackets with special modifications for women and children. There are even life jackets that are made specifically for your dog! You’re not required by law to have a life jacket for your dog, but your pup would probably appreciate it! Other accessories you might consider are knee straps, paddle leash, back rest or dry bags. None of these things are necessary, but having the right gear might add comfort and ease to your trip on the water.

Best Sit on Top Kayaks

Sun Dolphin Journey SOT Fishing Kayak

The Sun dolphin is a SOT fishing kayak with two rod attachments, one swivel rod holder and a large seating well. The seat area is padded nicely and there is the option of attaching a P.A.C (portable accessory carrier) to tow behind which makes up for it’s lack of storage. The Sun Dolphin is only capable of handling smoother waters and only holds up to 250 lbs. For kayakers interested in fishing, it’s best to go with a kayak made for fishing.

Sun Dolphin Journey SOT Fishing Kayak

       Pros
  •  Comfortable seat
  • Stays dry
  • Doesn’t dent or scratch easily
       Cons
  • Lack of storage
  • Low weight capacity makes it less stable
  • Doesn’t handle wind or waves well at all

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Lifetime Youth 6 Feet Wave Kayak

It’s important to note that children will need specific kayaks made for their size. This specific child’s kayak is designed for children 5 and up and has a 130 lb weight capacity. There are multiple different footrest positions to accommodate varying heights. The Lifetime Youth Wave kayak is designed with easy re entry from the water so kids can get in and out of the kayak without assistance.

Lifetime Youth 6 Feet Wave Kayak

        Pros
  • Very stable
  • Comparatively cheap
  • Comes with a paddle
          Cons
  • Shorter design makes it relatively slow
  • Can’t handle open water or waves
  • Plastic seat is uncomfortable for younger riders

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Useful UH-TK 181 SOT Tandem Fishing Kayak

If you’re looking for a kayak that seats two people, then the Useful UH-TK 181 could be the right choice. It has two paddles included with separate paddle mounts. It has three adjustable rod holders, four carry handles, rear storage and two bungee ports. The entire kayak weighs 68 lbs so it’s heavier than most and it holds up to 450 lbs.

Useful UH-TK 181 SOT Tandem Fishing Kayak

        Pros
  • Seats are very comfortable
  • Good storage capacity
  • Steady in higher winds
        Cons
  • Comparatively heavy and hard to transport
  • Difficult to maneuver
  • Slower than some

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Old Town Sit on Top Kayak

This kayak has a simple long hull with a contoured backrest for convenience and comfort. This kayak is designed for simple, leisurely enjoyment of flat water. With built in cup holders and smartly placed hand holders this kayak is easy to carry, get in and out of and it’s comfortable on the water.

Old Town Sit on Top Kayak

        Pros
  • Slender and gets good speed
  • High back is very comfortable
  • Easy to steer
        Cons
  • Not as stable as some beginners might need
  • Lack of storage
  • Very wet ride

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Lifetime Tamarack SOT Kayak

This SOT kayak is made to be completely adjustable for different riders. The seat is adjustable and there are multiple different foot rest holds built in to accommodate riders of different heights. It is a little lacking in storage, with only two 6’’ storage holds. It does have two flush mount rod holders and one top mount adjustable holder. The Lifetime Tamarack has a 275 lbs weight limit so it might not be the driest ride for all adults.

Lifetime Tamarack SOT Kayak

        Pros
  • Seat adjusts easily to many different heights
  • Very stable
  • Seat padding offers good support
         Cons
  • Very wet ride
  • Lacking in storage
  • Doesn’t come with paddles

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There are many great models on the market. Do your research and make sure you get a good quality Kayak that will meet your individual needs. Good equipment can make all the difference. For me, having the right equipment made it easier for me to spend quality time outdoors, which is good for both my physical and my mental health. I didn’t want to put any barriers between me and a day on the water! Investing in the right kayak is a good way to get your family off the couch and outside.