by Staff Writer
When buying a kayak, keep in mind two things: your level of expertise and the type of paddling you expect to do. Many kayaks are designed for a specific type of paddling and will perform best under those circumstances. Recreational kayaks, for example, are intended mostly for leisurely paddles outdoors, as a small boat might be, and will not be suitable for long-distance ocean trips. As you shop for a kayak, look at several different models before choosing the one that is right for you.
Purpose: The most important consideration when buying a kayak is the type of paddling you will be doing. Be realistic. If you live 10 hours from an ocean, how often will you use a 17-foot sea kayak? Consider the type of water nearest your residence. Many kayakers enjoy paddling on rivers, lakes, ponds or oceans. Will you be paddling for recreation in the evenings or are you planning multi-day sport trips? In general, longer boats are designed for speed and long-distance, open-water travel; shorter, wider boats are more suitable for shorter, more recreational paddles.
Skill Level: As you search for a kayak, evaluate your skill level. Beginning paddlers often prefer boats that have good initial stability -- in other words, kayaks that feel like they will not tip when you first get in. Experienced paddlers should look for kayaks that have good secondary stability, which refers to boats that will not tip during paddling; these types of boats perform well in waves and rough water. Look also at the size of the cockpit. Smaller cockpits are harder to get into, and beginning paddlers might prefer larger openings for ease of exit and entry.
Control: When buying a kayak, look at the features that will affect your ability to control the boat while paddling. The two main aspects of kayak control are the ability to turn easily and tracking -- the ability of the boat to move in a straight line. Boats with rounded hulls turn smoothly but might not track well. Kayaks with less-curved hulls will track well, but they will not turn as easily. In addition, shorter boats tend to turn easily, but longer boats tend to track well. If you are not sure which is right for you, choose a boat with a medium length and a hull with a medium angle. Many kayakers like to use a rudder, which helps control the boat in high winds.
Transport and Storage: Two major aspects of buying and owning a kayak are transportation and storage. If you live in a tiny apartment, a long kayak might present a storage problem. Likewise, if you live in an area where your kayak cannot be secured safely on your own property, it might be necessary to store your kayak indoors or at a boating facility. When purchasing a kayak, take storage concerns into serious consideration and find a boat that will fit in your house, car or storage space. Think also about how you plan to move your kayak from place to place: You might consider purchasing a car-top rack or a simple foam carrier system. If you will paddle alone, note the weight of each kayak and buy one that you will be able to carry easily and lift onto your vehicle.
Price: Price is a major factor in buying a kayak. If you have never kayaked before or are new to the sport, buy a kayak that fits easily within your budget; it will allow you to get to know the sport without breaking the bank. If you are an experienced paddler, it pays to spend more money on higher-end kayaks. The boats with higher prices tend to be designed and built for quality and speed, and you will likely see the difference in your paddling.