Pros And Cons Of Sit In Vs Sit On Kayak: The Ultimate Breakdown

by Jason | Last Updated:   October 8th, 2022
Pros And Cons Of Sit In Vs Sit On Kayak: The Ultimate Breakdown

If you’ve ended up on this page, there’s a good chance you’re wondering if you should get a sit-in vs sit-on kayak. And it’s a common problem people go through when deciding which kayak style they should choose.

And I’m going to level with you:

There’s no one size fits all, so it’s impossible for me to tell you which one you should get.

But what I can do is break down the sit-inside and sit-on kayaks so you can make an informed decision about which one’s best for you.

This article will explain the differences between sit-inside and a sit-on kayak and what advantages and disadvantages they bring along with.

If this sounds like what you’ve been looking for, don’t go anywhere!

What Is The Difference Between A Sit-On-Top Vs Sit-In Kayak?

Sit inside kayak

sit-inside kayak

sit on top kayak

sit-on-top kayak

As I’m sure you’re aware, kayaks come in two primary styles: sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks, which are available in tandem or for a single person.

They can also both come in hard shells, or they can also come as inflatables. And that’s not the only similarities sit-inside and sit-on kayaks have: 

In both styles, you’ll find:

  • A deck
  • A hull
  • Footrests
  • Seats
  • Bow and stern
  • And much more

But you’ve come here for the differences, so let’s take a look:

The primary and most noticeable difference between them is that a sit-on-top kayak has no enclosure around the kayak’s cockpit. 

With a sit-inside kayak, the cockpit completely surrounds you and has a rim where you can attach a spray deck to it.

To increase the stability of sit-in kayaks, some of them also include airbags in the stern of the sit-inside kayak. 

There aren’t many other differences, but there are some advantages and disadvantages to each style. 

And this is what we’re about to cover now:

Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Sit-In Kayak

Different parts of Sit inside kayak explained

Sit-in kayaks have been around for centuries and still, today, are highly popular among the kayaking community. 

The great thing about sit-in kayaks is they are excellent no matter what skill level you’re at. And the wide range of sit-inside kayaks available means there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Let’s take a look at the types of kayaks you have available:

  • A touring kayak Great long paddling through the ocean or long river strips.
  • A river kayak – Perfect for paddling rough water like whitewater runs.
  • Surf kayaks – Great for playing in the ocean or the open water

One thing that can be considered a pro and a con is the lower center of gravity a sit-inside kayak provides. 

On the one hand, it provides better secondary stability, which helps you lean into corners for more enhanced turning. It also enables you to deal with waves by adjusting your hips to counteract the waves.

The downside is that it doesn’t feel stable for a beginner at all; in fact, quite the opposite. 

For a newcomer to kayaking, they’ll feel very unsteady because they’re not used to controlling their weight from a lower center of gravity. As you can see, it’s a bit of a trade-off.

As for another advantage, it has to be the closed cockpit design which helps protect you from rough/cold waters and even the sun.

To further the protection, you can also attach a spray deck to the cockpit. With the addition of the spray deck, you now get even more protection from the ocean rain, snow, or water running down your paddle.

The problem with this is many beginners will feel trapped inside of the kayak. Ideally, they should be trained on how to release the spray deck before they’re able to use one.

On the other hand, using a spray deck enables you to roll the kayak if you tip, which is a significant benefit.

To make all this information far easier to understand, check out these pros and cons:

Sit-In Kayak Pros
  • You have a lower center of gravity
  • You have protection against the elements
  • It tends to be lighter
  • Glides through the water with easy
  • You can roll the kayak if you tip
  • Easier to maneuver
  • Dry storage space
  • The narrow beam allows you to use shorter paddles
  • Better secondary stability
Sit-In Kayak Cons
  • Harder to get in and out of
  • Some will find the lower center of gravity hard at first
  • Harder to escape if you tip and even more challenging if you’re using a spray deck
  • Can fill with water when capsized
  • Limited storage options
  • Challenging to get to your equipment
  • Getting back in once it’s overturned is super hard
  • Harder to access your gear

Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Sit-On-Top Kayak

Anatomy of sit on top kayaks

Over the years, sit-on-top kayaks have gained a lot of traction for their ease of use.

Sit-on-top kayaks are super easy to recognize; they have an open cockpit, making it super easy to get on and off the kayak.

The other thing people might like is you don’t get the same enclosed feeling that you get with sit-in kayaks.

Not only are they easier to get in and out of, but they also offer more stability, which makes them loved by beginners.

This makes them a lot harder to capsize, and even if they do, you can easily tip them back over and hop back on. This makes self-rescues a doddle when compared to a sit-inside kayak.

Sit-on-top kayaks are also self-bailing. They have tiny holes (scupper holes) at the bottom of the kayak, which automatically drain any water out of the kayak.

The downside to this is if you haven’t got a seat that slightly raises off the ground, you’re going to have a wet butt.

Speaking of being wet:

The other downside to using a sit-on-top kayak is you’re not protected against the elements in the same way as a sit-in. You can get wet and cold super quickly, which, let’s face it, is a bit of a turn-off.

Sit-on-top kayaks have a higher center of gravity which can cause lower secondary stability; luckily, the kayaks themselves are very stable due to the wide beam.

The good thing about sit-on-top kayaks is the number of storage options you have. There’s a lot more space in sit-on-top kayaks, which equals more storage.

It’s also more customizable, which makes them great for activities like fishing. But there’s a slight issue:

They usually lack dry storage, which can get pretty annoying. If you’re lucky, you might have a tank well which can help keep things dry and cool. 

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of this type of kayak:

Sit-On Kayak Pros
  • They have more stability
  • You don’t feel squeezed in
  • They allow water to drain
  • A lot of storage options
  • It’s easier to get access to your gear
  • Easier to learn
  • Great for fishing
  • Easier to get in and out
  • Have the option of using padel power
  • Holds more weight
  • Safer if you capsize
  • You can add rod holders
Sit-On Kayak Cons
  • Harder to maneuver and paddle
  • The open design doesn’t protect you from bad weather
  • Harder to stay dry
  • Takes more energy
  • The high center of gravity gives you less secondary stability
  • The higher profile means it’s more affected by wind

Which Kayak Is Safer? Sit-In Vs Sit-On-Top?

Sit In Vs Sit On Kayak

If you’re going kayaking for the first time or with your family, the safety aspect will probably come into your mind.

And it’s understandable; you don’t want to put your loved ones at risk.

So in this section, I’m going to break down the safety aspect of a sit-inside kayak and sit-on-top kayak so you know what to expect. 

If you’re looking for safety, then a sit-on-top kayak should be your number one choice. It doesn’t matter whether you go for a solid plastic/inflatable kayak.

The main reason for the safety is if you capsize a sit-on-top kayak, you’ll just fall in the water and jump back on.

With a sit-inside kayak, things get a little tricker. You’re completely enclosed in the kayak. When you capsize, your legs are pretty tight inside the kayak’s cockpit; you must physically push yourself out of the kayak.

If you’re not trained to deal with the capsize, you can run yourself into trouble. When I was on my kayaking instructor course, the number of people I saw panic and try and swim out was scary.

It’s incredibly dangerous and can lead to death if not dealt with correctly.

Which Style Of Kayak Is Better For Beginners?

Sit In Vs Sit On Kayak

If you’re a first-time kayaker, and you’re trying to work out which one would be best for you, don’t worry; I’ve got you covered.

To be honest, there’s not much difference when it comes to the difficulty of learning. The main difference is that a sit-on-top kayak feels safer, while a sit-in kayak is easier to paddle.

The main thing we should be talking about is what safety equipment and precautions should a beginner take to stay safe:

How To Stay Safe As A Beginner Kayaker

Staying safe as a beginner should be your primary concern. As a newbie, it’s hard to understand the do’s and don’ts until you’re out there. So let me help point you in the right direction:

  • Adjust Your Kayak Before You Get In The Water: Before you get into the water, make sure your seat/footrests are correctly adjusted to fit you. This is especially important if you’re using a sit-in kayak. If you move around too much when you’re adjusting to the water, you could tip-in.
  • Never Go Kayaking Alone: It’s the most important thing on this list. No matter how experienced you are, never, ever go kayaking alone. If something happens, there will be no one there to help you.
  • Dress For The Water, Not The Weather:  If you’re kayaking in rivers, the chances are the water will be freezing. For cold weather, make sure you’re wearing a wet suit to keep warm. If the waters are a bit warmer, you should be okay with your swimsuit.
  • Make Sure You Understand The Paddling Styles: You should have a basic understanding of how the paddling styles work. Before you get into the water, try practicing some of the paddling strokes. Before you get in, you should know the four introductory paddles: forward, reverse, sweep, and draw stroke.
  • Learn The Safety Skills: Before getting started, you should understand all the safety skills required. This could be things like learning to escape the kayak if it tips over.
  • Make Sure You Learn On Calm Waters: The first time you go kayaking, it should always be on calm waters, no matter what style of kayak you’re using. Learning on calm waters is a good base and will help you know if you want to venture on rougher waters.

Make sure you keep these factors in mind before getting started on your kayaking adventure. Staying safe/keeping your family safe should be your top priority.

Sit-In Vs Sit-On-Top Kayak For Fishing

Sit In Vs Sit On Kayak

You can fish in both styles of kayak, and which one you’ll choose will depend on what you’re looking for. In this section, I want to explain what you can expect from each kayak fishing style.

Fishing From A Sit-In Kayak

Sit In Vs Sit On Kayak

If you’re planning to fish in cold waters or during the winter, a sit-inside kayak would be a great option. It will shelter you from the cold water and keep you insulated. 

Another good thing is you have dry storage between your legs, although it can be hard to get to at some points. 

The downside is you have to be pretty good in the sit-in kayak to control it while you’re fishing; it can get pretty tippy.

Fishing From A Sit-On-Top Kayak

Sit In Vs Sit On Kayak

The sit-on-top kayak is probably the best style for fishing because of the stability it offers. To make things even better:

Sit-on-top kayaks give you the chance to stand up to fish, which is the all-important feature needed to fish successfully for many people.

You also get a lot of space to store your gear, and it can carry more weight, and let’s face it, fisherman love their gear.

Which One Would I Use For Fishing?

I love sit-inside kayaks, but I have to side with sit-on-top kayaks when it comes to deciding which is better for fishing. They have a better comfort level, far more features, and they’re less tippy.

If you want to look at some of the top fishing kayaks, check out the link.

Which One Should I Go For Sit-On-Top Vs Sit-In?

As mentioned before, I can’t tell you which one you should go for; it’s a personal choice that only you can make.

But I can help you find the right one for you. To find out which style would suit you the best, you need to ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What’s your budget?
  2. How will you be using it?
  3. Where will you be using it?
  4. Who will be using it?
  5. How much gear will you need to take?
  6. What weather conditions will you be kayaking in?

Asking yourself these questions will help you decide which style of kayak fits your needs. But if you’re still struggling, let me help you out a little bit further:

What Kind Of Person Suits Sit-In Kayaks?

Sit-inside kayaks are more aimed at advanced paddlers, although beginners should have no problems picking it up. The main reason they are aimed at advanced paddlers is due to the adventure sports aspect. 

The spay deck on a sit-in kayak also adds a level of difficulty most beginners aren’t ready for. Finally, if you’re planning to take a lot of gear with you, it’s probably not the best option for you.

What Kind Of Person Suits Sit-On-Top Kayaks?

If you’re a casual paddler, have a family, or like to go fishing, a sit-on-top kayak will probably be the best solution for you.

The kayaks feel super stable, and if they do tip, it’s a lot easier to get back in. If you fancy going for a swim, just jump off and get back on when you’re ready.

Add this to all the extra space you have for gear, and you have a pretty unique kayak.

The trouble is they are harder to maneuver, so if you’re looking to do anything a bit more adventurous, it probably isn’t the kayak for you.

Key Insights & Takeaways

Paddling Kayak Fishermen

Before I leave you, I want to make sure you understand what each type of kayak offers and what kind of person they suit best.

A sit-in kayak is great, but for many people, the feeling of being locked into the kayak freaks them out too much. I’d recommend sit-inside kayaks for people that have a good basic knowledge of kayaking, have an understanding of rescues, and know how to exit a kayak. 

One of the best things about sit-inside kayaks is the number of different styles you have available. There’s something for pretty much any kayaking activity, which includes:

  • Whitewater
  • River
  • Surf 
  • Sea
  • And much more

Sit-on-tops definitely suit a different type of kayaker. A lot of people getting into kayaking will start to learn on a sit-on-top. It’s harder to get them to tip over, and even if they do, it’s unlikely you’ll be in danger.

Sit-on-top kayaks have a lot of room and can be slightly modified to your needs. They are also favored among fishermen due to the steadiness and the extra space they provide.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Kayaking Hard For Beginners?

Kayaking isn’t that hard to pick up, even if you’re a beginner. To get started, you just need to learn a few basic kayak paddle skills to get yourself going. With a good instructor, you can pick up all the basics in just a few hours.

What Do You Wear To Sit-On-Top Kayak?

Knowing what to wear while you’re on a sit-on-top kayak is very important. Most of the time, it depends where you are. For example, in cold climates, you’re best wearing a wetsuit and something to help break the wind.

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Hey, my name's Jason, and before I was a writer, I worked as an outdoor activity instructor where I took groups kayaking and camping. Now I use my personal experiences to share tips and tricks I've learned over the years. For as long as I can remember, I've been passionate about the outdoors, and now I want to share that passion with my readers.