Sit-on-Top vs Sit-Inside Kayaks: The Pros And Cons

Written by Ryan Moore

When choosing a kayak, it is important that you be aware that kayaks are divided into two separate categories consisting of sit-on-top kayaks and sit-inside kayaks and that each type of kayak is designed to a meet the needs of a specific set of paddlers. Consequently, sit-on-top kayaks feature open cockpits which makes them eminently well suited for novice and recreational paddlers as well as surfers and kayak fishermen while, sit-inside kayaks feature enclosed cockpits which makes them better suited for long range recreational paddling, kayak camping, and expeditions. So, how does a paddler determine which type of kayak best suites their individual needs and intended purpose? Well, in the following article we will examine the differences between these two kayak designs as well as the pros and cons of each of these two types of kayaks.

Sit-On-Top Kayaks: Pros And Cons

As the name implies, sit-on-top kayaks have an open cockpit which enables a paddler to easily enter and exit the kayak. Therefore, sit-on-top kayaks are by far the most popular design among novice paddlers and surfers due to their ease of reentry and their self draining bilges. In addition, they are by far the most popular design among kayak fishermen because they are far easier to outfit with paddle holders, rod holders, fish finders, etcetera. Plus the open cockpit and wide beam of a sit-on-top kayak enables fishermen to easily stand up in their kayaks while fishing.  So, in order to aid you in determining whether or not a sit-on-top kayak is best for your intended purpose, let’s examine their pros and cons more closely.

6 Advantages of a sit-on-top kayak design

  1. The single greatest advantage of a sit-on-top kayak is that it has an open cockpit. Consequently, not only are sit-on-top kayaks far easier to enter and exit, they don’t cause the paddler to feel as if they are trapped in the kayak’s cockpit in the event that they capsize. Plus, a sit-on-top kayaks open cockpit makes it far easier to reenter the kayak in the event that a paddler does capsize.
  2. Due to their much higher center of gravity, sit-on-top kayaks generally have a much wider beam (the width of the kayak at its widest point) than most sit-inside kayaks do. Therefore, sit-on-top kayaks generally have a much higher degree of initial stability (a kayak’s tendency to remain upright when paddling in calm seas).
  3. Because sit-on-top kayaks are made from molded plastic, they are extremely tough and, because they feature a sealed air space between the hull and the cockpit, they are virtually unsinkable due to their inherent buoyancy.
  4. In the event of rough seas or an accidental capsize, sit-on-top kayaks have self-bailing scupper holes in the bilge to allow the water drain out of the cockpit. Therefore, paddlers who choose sit-on-top kayaks do not need to carry a bilge pump.
  5. There are numerous different models of sit-on-top kayaks on the market that are designed for specific purposes such as surfing or fishing. In fact, the very large majority of kayak fishermen choose sit-on-top kayaks over sit-inside kayaks due to their open cockpits and their ease of outfitting.
  6. Comparable models of sit-on-top kayaks are often less expensive than comparable models of sit-inside kayaks. 

8 Disadvantages of a sit-on-top kayak design

  1. The main disadvantage of sit-on-top kayaks is that they have a significantly higher center of gravity than sit-inside kayaks do. Consequently, sit-on-top kayaks are designed with much wider beams than sit-inside kayaks in order to provide them with a high degree of initial stability. However, this feature also causes them to have a significantly lower degree of secondary stability (a kayak’s tendency to remain upright when paddling in rough seas).
  2. Due to their significantly wider beams, sit-on-top kayaks are generally much slower than sit-inside kayaks. Therefore, they require more effort from the paddler to propel them.
  3. Due to a sit-on-top kayak’s open cockpit, paddlers lack the ability to brace their knees against the underside of the deck which limits the paddler’s control of the kayak; thus making it more difficult for a paddler to maneuver the kayak.
  4. Due to their wide beam, open cockpit, and low degree of secondary stability, sit-on-top kayaks are very difficult to lean on their sides which makes them more difficult to maneuver and makes it nearly impossible to perform edged turns in as well as making them far more unstable in rough seas than sit-inside kayaks.
  5. The open cockpit of a sit-on-top kayak exposes the paddler to the elements and thus, it offers no protection from the sun, wind or, waves breaking over the bow or the gunwale.
  6. The significantly higher hull profile of a sit-on-top kayak causes them to be more exposed to the wind and thus, they are far more prone to weathercocking (the tendency of the kayak’s bow to swing into the wind) than a sit-inside kayak is. Therefore, sit-on-top kayaks require more effort from the paddler to keep them on course on windy days.
  7. While the self-draining scupper holes in sit-on-top kayak’s bilge do allow water to drain out of the cockpit in the event of a capsize, they also allow water to enter and sometimes collect in the bilge when paddling in rough seas which can become uncomfortable for some paddlers.
  8. Many sit-on-top kayaks lack enclosed holds which can be sealed with hatch covers. Thus, they also lack dry storage space for cargo.

Sit-Inside Kayaks: Pros And Cons

Also as the name implies, sit-inside kayaks have an enclosed cockpit which is designed to protect the paddler from the elements. In addition, sit-inside kayaks have a much lower center of gravity than sit-on-top kayaks do and thus, they also generally have much more narrow beams which makes them much faster than sit-on-top kayaks. Therefore, sit-inside kayaks are by far the most popular design among intermediate and advanced paddlers because sit-inside kayaks provide a significantly lower center of gravity than sit-on-top kayaks do and thus, they also provide a much higher degree of secondary stability (a kayak’s tendency to remain upright when the kayak is leaned on its edge for turning and when paddling in rough seas). So, as we did above, let’s more closely examine the pros and cons of sit-inside kayaks.

9 Advantages of a sit-inside kayak design

  1. The single greatest advantage of a sit-inside kayak is that it has an enclosed deck which serves to protect the paddler from the elements such as sun, wind, rain, and waves breaking over the bow or gunwale.
  2. Because sit-inside kayaks have a significantly lower profile than sit-on-top kayaks do, they are far less prone to weathercocking (the tendency of a kayak’s bow to turn into the wind) and thus, the require less energy from the paddler to keep them on course on windy days.
  3. Sit-inside kayaks also have a much lower center of gravity than sit-on-top kayaks do. Therefore, sit-inside kayaks have a much higher degree of secondary stability than sit-on-top kayaks do.
  4. Due to their significantly lower center of gravity, a sit-inside kayak can be designed with a far narrower beam than a sit-on-top kayak can and thus, sit-inside kayaks are generally much faster than sit-on-top kayaks. Therefore, sit-inside kayaks require less effort from the paddler to propel them.
  5. The enclosed cockpit of a sit-inside kayak provides the paddler with the ability to place their knees against the underside of the deck which greatly increases the paddler’s control of the kayak as well as its maneuverability.
  6. The enclosed cockpit of a sit-inside kayak combined with its lower center of gravity and higher degree of secondary stability enables a paddler to lean a sit-inside kayak on its side which makes it significantly easier to perform sweeps and carved turns and, it also aids the paddler in keeping the kayak upright when paddling in rough seas.
  7. The enclosed cockpit of a sit-inside kayak is designed with an integral cockpit coaming so that a paddler can attach a spray skirt to the coaming in order to prevent water from splashing or dripping into cockpit while also helping to protect the paddler from the elements.
  8. While the enclosed cockpit of a sit-inside kayak does not enable self-draining of the bilge, the lack of scupper holes does cause a sit-inside kayak to remain dry unless water is splashed into the cockpit by waves breaking over the bow or the gunwale.
  9. Many sit-inside kayaks have enclosed holds which can be sealed with hatch covers. Thus, not only do the sealed holds provide a high degree of inherent buoyancy, they also provide dry storage space for cargo.

6 Disadvantages of a sit-inside kayak design

  1. Many novice paddlers feel confined when sitting in a sit-inside kayak due their enclosed cockpit.
  2. Because sit-inside kayaks have a significantly lower center of gravity than sit-on-top kayaks do, they also have much more narrow beams. Consequently, they also have a much lower degree of initial stability (the tendency of a kayak to remain upright when paddling in calm seas) than sit-on-top kayaks do.
  3. Due to their enclosed cockpits, sit-inside kayaks are much more difficult to reenter if a paddler capsizes. Also, if a paddler does capsize, then they have to use either a hand operated, foot operated or, battery operated bilge pump to remove the water from the cockpit.
  4. Some sit-inside kayak designs lack sealed holds and thus, they also lack inherent buoyancy. Therefore, sit-inside kayaks without sealed holds can sink if the paddler capsizes and the cockpit fills with water.
  5. Due to their much smaller hatch covers and the lack of an open tank well in the stern, sit-inside kayaks are limited to carrying items that are small enough to fit through their hatches.
  6. Sit-inside kayaks are often more expensive than sit-on-top kayaks.

So, as you can see, both sit-on-top and sit-inside kayak designs have both advantages and disadvantages that make each type of kayak best suited for a particular purpose. For instance, due to their high degree of initial stability, slow speed, and open cockpits, sit-on-top kayaks are best suited for recreational paddlers who only paddle over short distances or for short periods of time as well as for scuba divers and surfers. In addition, sit-on-top kayaks are by far the most popular design among kayak fishermen because they are convenient to outfit with kayak fishing accessories and, their high degree of initial stability makes them very stable when fighting large fish as well as enabling a fisherman to stand up in their kayak.

On the other hand, due to their enclosed cockpits, high degree of secondary stability, and high speed, sit-inside kayaks are best suited for intermediate and advanced paddlers who frequently paddle in rough seas and/or over long distances or for long periods of time. In addition, their sealed holds provide plenty of dry storage space and thus, they are also well suited for paddlers who like to camp out of their kayaks as well as for extended expeditions.

Thus, when choosing a kayak, it is very important that you carefully consider your intended purpose for the kayak as well as the various the pros and cons of each type of kayak listed above in order to insure that you choose the type of kayak that is best suited to you.

About the author

Ryan Moore

I like to write about Kayaks.

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