There are two general types of kayaks – the sit-in kayak and the sit-on kayak. Sit-in vs sit-on kayaks – what is the difference? In this article, I’ll explain how they are different so you can choose the right one for you.
The main difference between a sit-in and a sit-on kayak is in the name – the sit-in kayak has a cockpit that you sit in, and the kayak covers your legs. The sit-on kayak is a fully open cockpit where your legs are exposed.
The sit-on-top kayak has many features that make it the better choice for new paddlers and warm environments. However, its open deck guarantees that you are going to get wet. This is the advantage of the sit-in kayak. Since its cockpit is enclosed, you have a better chance of staying dry while paddling.
Sit-on kayaks tend to be more rugged and harder to flip. Sit-in kayaks are easier to stay in and rollover if you tip over, whereas if a sit-on kayak tips over, you will be out of the kayak and in the water.
Read on to learn more about sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks, their differences, and their pros and cons.
Sit-In vs Sit-On Kayak
The sit-inside and the sit-on-top kayaks are water vessels with some foot support and seats. Their major difference is that the sit-in kayaks have enclosed cockpits, while the sit-on-top kayaks have open decks. The kayak cockpit is the place where you can sit while paddling.
There are many features of the sit-on-top kayaks that make them a good choice for new paddlers and warmer environments. But their biggest disadvantage is that you are prone to get wet. You are guaranteed to stay dry in a sit-in kayak because your lower body is inside the enclosed cockpit.
When it comes to paddling offshore, and in the ocean, the sit-on-top kayak fares better than the sit-in kayaks. If you capsize, the cockpit won’t be filled with water since it is open, and you can easily climb back onto it.
Although both the sit-on-tops and sit-insides have the same overall designs and shapes, they are very different from each other. In the matter of sit-on vs sit-in kayak issue, there is just one difference that you can see if you look at their appearance.
Main Difference between Sit-in vs Sit-on Kayaks
Below are the main differences between sit-in vs sit-on kayaks:
Their biggest difference is in the type of their cockpits. The cockpit is the section of a kayak where you can sit while paddling. In the case of the sit-in kayaks, their cockpits are fully enclosed. That means when you sit in the cockpit, the lower half part of your body will be completely enclosed by the deck of the kayak.
In the case of the sit-on-top kayaks, their cockpits are fully open. So, there is no covering in your seating area. That means you will be more prone to getting wet while paddling if you are aboard this type of kayak. But the cockpit of sit-on-tops gives more freedom of movement for your lower half body.
2. Water Level Position
The next big difference is their position about the water level. With a sit-on-top kayak that has an open cockpit, you will be sitting above the water surface. In contrast, you will be sitting at or below the water line in a sit-in kayak.
The sit-in kayak has a cockpit with its top edge lined with a cockpit rim. A spray skirt is usually attached to this rim to prevent water from coming in. Inside the cockpit is a seat and two-foot pedals adjustable to the leg length of the kayaker. All of these kayak parts are below the water surface.
Their basic structural design makes one more popular than the other. Being open and offering more freedom of movement, the sit-on-top kayak became more popular among recreational kayakers and beginners.
You don’t feel trapped inside the cockpit, especially if the kayak capsizes. If the kayak tips over, you can easily climb back onto the deck because it is open.
On the other hand, the sit-in kayak is more popular among intermediate and advanced kayakers. The reason is that it offers a considerably lower center of gravity. This improves the kayak’s secondary stability when it is used in more rigorous water sports.
4. Sit-On-Tops Are Safer
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced kayaker, you will find that sit-on-tops are much safer than a sit-in kayak. If the kayak you are using capsizes, you can easily reenter it and continue paddling.
Meanwhile, if your sit-inside kayak tips over and water fills its cockpit, it will be tough for you to turn it around, flush the water out and climb back inside it.
5. Sit-On-Tops Are Better for Fishing
Due to their basic structure, sit-on-tops are better for fishing. That is why most fishing kayaks are of this type. With an open deck, you have more mobility in casting your lines. You will also be able to fight and land fish in an open deck than a closed cockpit.
Some kayaks even have wider and more stable fishing decks fitted with standing platforms. While some even have pedal drives allowing more freedom for your hands in fishing. All these are not possible with a closed cockpit kayak.
Which Is Best for the Ocean?
Before going out into the ocean with a kayak, you need to prepare to know what you will do if the kayak tips over and there is no immediate help available. In terms of capability, both sit-on-tops and sit-insides can handle the calm seas.
With its open deck, you can easily climb back on the deck of a sit-on-top. It doesn’t mean that you can’t also do that with a sit-inside. But it will be a lot harder. So, if you want to go to the ocean with a sit-inside kayak, you need to know how to empty the boat and climb back inside it without anybody’s help.
Sit-In Kayaks Are Best for
- Intermediate and advanced kayakers who are after specific water activities
- Those who are going for long kayak trips
- People who need to keep their gears dry
- Adventurers who are going on winter or whitewater kayaking
Sit-On-Top Kayaks Are Best for
- Beginners who only goes kayaking for fun and just paddle casually
- Those who are looking for affordable kayaks
- People who are thinking of taking lots of gear with them while kayaking
- Those who are looking for a safer and more stable boat on the water
Sit-In Kayak Pros and Cons
The most obvious advantage of a sit-in kayak over the sit-on kayak is that your lower body parts won’t get wet. But in terms of the sit-on-top vs sit-in kayak tipping over, the former offers ease in coming back on deck than the other. But individually, these two types of kayaks have their own pros and cons:
Sit-In Kayak Pros
1. Lower Center of Gravity
This provides better secondary stability and allows you to stay upright in rough waters and lean on the edge for more efficient turning.
2. Less Affected by Wind
With a lower profile, this kayak is less affected by the wind.
Having a low center of gravity, this kayak can be made narrower. That means they can be easier to paddle and be a lot faster. This makes them suited for long trips.
4. You Can Use a Shorter Paddle
With a narrower beam, you can use a shorter paddle and obtain the same speed as a longer paddle.
5. Your Body Becomes One with the Kayak
When you sit inside this type of kayak, your legs touch the sides of the boat. So, you become one with the boat. This improves your boat control and makes it more maneuverable.
Sit-In Kayak Cons
1. Takes in Lots of Water When It Tips Over
Since it has a closed cockpit, it can take in a lot of water when it capsizes.
2. Flipping It Back Is Difficult
In case your boat tips over, flipping it back isn’t easy.
3. Flushing Out the Water Is Difficult
Getting the water out of a capsized sit-in kayak is next to impossible. It is tough to do.
4. Most Recreational Kayaks Don’t Have Bulkheads
A bulkhead traps air inside a boat. If it tips over, the bulkhead will serve as its buoyancy force to prevent the boat from completely sinking. Only the more expensive sit-inside kayaks are equipped with bulkheads. They are usually located behind the seat.
5. Less Primary Stability
With its lower profile, its primary stability is negatively affected.
6. Restricted Cargo Space
You can only carry items that can fit in its narrow and tight cockpit.
Again, what’s the difference between a sit-on kayak vs sit-in kayak? A sit-in kayak covers your legs when you ride it, while your legs are exposed when you use a sit-on kayak due to its open cockpit.
Sit-On Kayak Pros and Cons
The sit-on-top kayak has its share of advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of its most notable pros and cons:
Sit-On-Top Kayak Pros
1. Great Primary Stability
With its wider beam, the sit-on-top kayak offers better primary stability. This makes them more stable and easier to use.
Most sit-on-top kayaks are cheaper than their sit-in siblings.
3. Less Chances of Sinking
If it flips over, it won’t be swamped with water. You can flip it back up and climb onto the deck easily.
4. Gears Are More Accessible
Since the deck of this kayak is fully open, you have effortless and comfortable access to all the gears that you are carrying.
5. Easy to Get in and out
With an open deck, you can easily get in and out of the kayak.
6. Incoming Water Gets Easily Drained out
Most sit-on-tops have self-bailing drain holes, so there is no problem with water accumulating on top of the deck.
7. Ample Storage Space
Depending on the size and length of a SOT kayak, you have plenty of space to put in your gears.
8. Even Larger Persons Can Fit in
Since there is only the deck and not a cockpit, larger individuals can be accommodated.
9. Can Be Launched and Landed Conveniently
The design of a SOT allows for convenient launching and landing.
Sit-On-Top Kayak Cons
1. You Are Exposed to the Elements
The open nature of the SOT leaves you fully exposed to the water, sun, wind, rain, and cold.
2. You Will Get Wet
Being in an open decked boat with the deck close to the water surface, it is straightforward for you to get wet.
3. It Is Impossible to Be Dry
The deck of SOT kayaks, when they are launched into the water, will never get dry. There will always be waves splashing on deck. So be prepared to be wet when aboard a SOT kayak.
Best Sit-On-Top and Sit-In Kayaks
If you are encouraged to get a kayak and spend a day of fun in the water, you will need the best kayak.
Here are my recommendations for sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks that are available at Amazon:
Best Sit-On Kayaks
1. Pelican Sit-on-Top Kayak – Sentinel 100X
This SOT kayak has a multi-chine flat bottom hull that guarantees stability when casting lines and reeling in fish. In that regard, the Pelican Sit-On-Top Kayak – Sentinel 100X is good for fishing.
2. Lifetime Manta Tandem Sit on Top Kayak with Back Rests
Another SOT kayak you consider is the Lifetime Manta Tandem Sit on Top Kayak. Its flexible design allows for solo or tandem paddling. It also comes with a backrest.
3. Intex Excursion Pro Kayak, Professional Series
The Intex Excursion Pro Kayak, Professional Series is made of super-tough laminate PVC with polyester core. It is an inflatable sit-on-top kayak that is safe on the water since it is very rigid and stable.
Best Sit-In Kayaks
1. TERRAVENT Foldable Lightweight Kayak
This is a sit-inside kayak that is lightweight but durable. The TERRAVENT Foldable Lightweight Kayak is a folding kayak made of 5 mm double-layered, custom-extruded polypropylene.
2. Emotion Guster Sit-Inside Kayak
Another sit-inside kayak you may consider is the Emotion Guster Sit-Inside Kayak. This kayak comes with an adjustable padded seat back and seat pad for comfort. It has an ST performance hull for stability and tracking.
3. Intex Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set with Aluminum Oars
This sit-inside kayak is nimble and durable. It is made of strong welded material and comes with aluminum oars. The Intex Challenger Kayak Inflatable Set’s cockpit is designed to maximize space and comfort the user.
Conclusion: Sit-In vs Sit-On Kayak [Difference Between Sit-On-Top vs Sit-In Kayaks]
Both the sit-on-top kayak and the sit-inside kayak are fitted with seats and foot supports. The major difference between the two is that the sit-on-top kayak has an open deck, while the sit-in kayak has an enclosed cockpit. It is in the kayak’s cockpit, where you can sit while you are paddling.
Another big difference is their applicability. One is more adapted to the needs of a beginner, while the other is more adapted for advanced users. The sit-on-tops are best for newbies, while experienced kayakers prefer the sit-insides.