Sit-on-top kayaks are some of the most user-friendly kayaks around and have become incredibly popular. But finding the right sit-on-top isn’t quite as easy, unless you know what to look for.

This buyers guide will outline some of the key points to consider and round up some of the best sit-on-top kayaks currently available on the market.

best sit on top kayak

Advantages of Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Top 5 Reasons to Choose a Sit-on-Top Kayak

One of the key reasons sit-on-top kayaks have become so popular is due to being so user-friendly. Here’s why.

  1. Easy to get on and off – Because there’s no cockpit to squeeze into, sit-on-tops are especially easy to get on and off of. You can even slide on and off of them while you’re in the water, which is fairly complicated in a traditional sit-in kayak.
  2. Self bailing – Sit-on-tops have ‘scupper holes’ in the bottom of the kayak that allow water to drain out. You won’t have to pump out the water manually like you would with a sit-in kayak.
  3. More Stable – While a kayak’s stability is ultimately determined by its width and hull design, sit-on-tops are generally more stable than sit-in kayaks.
  4. Easy capsize recovery – If you do manage to tip in a sit-on-top, all you have to do is flip the kayak over and scramble back on. This is significantly easier than the special techniques used to recover from a capsize in a traditional kayak.
  5. Quick access to gear – Sit-on-top kayaks are totally open, so it’s really easy to quickly access your gear. This is one reason they’re so popular among anglers.

Downsides of Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Despite their advantages, sit-on-tops aren’t perfect for everybody.

  • Guaranteed to get wet – Due to the scupper holes and the lack of a cockpit, you’re almost certain to get wet in a sit-on-top. This isn’t an issue if the water is warm or if you’re wearing waterproof clothing, but it’s an important point to consider.
  • Less efficient – Sit-on-tops are typically wider, so they don’t cut through the water as well as a sit-in kayak. There’s also no cockpit to brace your knees against, so paddling won’t be quite as efficient. However, there are a few performance sit-on-tops that will paddle more efficiently than basic sit-in kayaks.

Depending on the kind of paddling you’re doing, these may not be a big deal for you. All the same, they’re worth to keeping in mind.

Best Uses for Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Ideal Uses for Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-tops have a unique set of advantages that make them particularly suited to certain paddling conditions and types of paddlers.

Where to paddle

Because you’re almost certainly going to get wet, sit-on-tops are very popular in warm water and tropical environments.

Having said that, it’s possible to use them in colder conditions by using scupper plugs or wearing a wetsuit or drysuit. Anglers in particular are more likely to deal with colder conditions due to the other advantages a sit-on-top offers them.

Most sit-on-top kayaks are ideally suited to paddling on lakes, ponds, and slow moving rivers. However, there are some that are designed to do well in calm coastal waters as well.

Who are sit-on-tops best for?

Due to their user-friendly nature, sit-on-tops are best suited for:

  • Swimming & diving
  • Playing in light surf
  • Fishing
  • Paddlers worried about capsizing
  • Families
  • Dogs
Key Features

Features to Look for

Here are some of the key features to keep in mind when choosing a sit-on-top kayak.

Seat

If you plan to spend more than an hour or two at a time in your kayak, look for one with a quality seat. A good seat is a seriously underrated feature in a kayak that will help make sure you’re enjoying your time on the water rather than thinking about your back.

Look for good padding and multiple adjustment points so you can get the right fit for your body; your body will thank you.

Dry Storage

There’s usually plenty of room to place gear on the deck of a sit-on-top, but it’s nice to have dry storage hatches for items that are water-sensitive or if you’re worried about them falling off the side of the kayak. Just keep in mind that if you really want to make sure something stays dry, keep it in a dry bag as you can still splash water into a storage hatch.

Footrests

Most sit-on-top kayaks have footrests that are molded into the plastic of the boat. These are really convenient and don’t require any adjustment, but they usually don’t offer the best fit.

Footrests that are adjustable along a track offer the most comfort and support while you’re paddling.

Weight Capacity

While you can load a kayak down to its maximum weight capacity, it doesn’t always mean that you should.

Kayaks loaded to their limit will sit lower in the water and won’t perform as well. As a general rule, give yourself about 50% more capacity than what you think you’ll need.

For example, if you and all your gear weigh 200 pounds, aim for a kayak that has a weight capacity of roughly 300 pounds.

Sit-on-Top Kayak Reviews

Best Sit-on-Top Kayak Reviews

Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120

Overall Score: (4.6/5)

Wilderness Systems 9750215142 Tarpon 120 Kayaks, Galaxy, 12'

Specifications:

Length: 12’ 3″

Width: 30”

Weight: 63 lbs

Weight capacity: 350 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Fully adjustable seat, multiple storage hatches, rear tank well with adjustable bungee tie downs, adjustable footrests, accessory track

Ideal for: Paddlers that want exceptional comfort and performance from their kayak.

 from $800.00

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 00:48 – Details)

Review

The Tarpon 120 is a versatile sit-on-top kayak that offers solid all around performance, comfort, and stability. Unlike some sit-on-tops that can be a bit bare-bones, the Tarpon has a number of features that’ll ensure you don’t outgrow it too quickly.

One of the Tarpon’s key features is its exceptionally comfortable seat. It’s well padded with lots of adjustment points, which is great for longer days on the water or if you’re concerned about lower back comfort.

The track-adjustable footrests are an uncommon but welcomed addition for a sit-on-top kayak and, when combined with it’s high quality seat, make the Tarpon one of the most comfortable sit on top kayaks you’ll find in its price range.

If you’ll be on the water for an extended period, there’s plenty of onboard storage space for your gear. The Tarpon has two separate sealed storage hatches as well as a large rear tank well with adjustable bungee tie downs.

The Tarpon also does well as a fishing rig and has a built-in accessory track so you can customize it with rod holders and other fishing gear if you want to try your luck.

If you want versatile kayak that has the features to ensure you won’t outgrow it for many years, the Tarpon 120 could be a great fit. 

 

Perception Tribe 11.5

Overall Score: (4.5/5)

Perception Kayak Tribe Sit On Top for Recreation

Specifications:

Length: 11’ 6”

Width: 30.25”

Weight: 52 lbs

Weight capacity: 350 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable seat, molded footrests, small storage hatch, front and rear tank wells with bungees, cup holder

Ideal for: Paddlers that want a sit-on-top with good performance but without all the bells and whistles.

 from $407.20

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 01:29 – Details)

Review

If you don’t need all the features the Tarpon 120 offers but still want something that performs well on the water, the Tribe 11.5 could be right up your alley.

Like the Tarpon, it has a relatively narrow hull for a sit-on-top, which helps it cut through the water. And its over 11-foot hull helps it track straighter through the water even in light chop.

While it does have quite a bit of storage space, it’s primarily all open storage with large front and rear tank wells. Having said that, it does have one small dry storage hatch located between your legs where you can stash your phone and other essentials for easy access.

The seat that seat that comes with the Tribe 11.5 is nicely padded and gives you some basic adjustment options but isn’t quite up to the same level as the seat in the Tarpon 120. The Tarpon sets a pretty high bar, though, and is significantly more expensive than the Tribe 11.5. Compared to most other sit-on-top kayak seats, the Tribe offers great support and comfort for longer days on the water.

All in all, the Tribe 11.5 is a solid package that’ll perform well in a variety of paddling conditions. It’s well suited to paddlers that don’t need the bells and whistles of higher end models but also don’t want to sacrifice too much comfort or performance.

Ocean Kayak Frenzy

Overall Score: (4.1/5)

Ocean Kayak Frenzy One-Person Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak, Sunrise, 9 Feet

Specifications:

Length: 9’

Width: 31”

Weight: 44 lbs

Weight capacity: 275-325 lbs

 

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable seat, rear tank well, deck bungees, cup holder, molded footrests

Ideal for: Paddlers that want a nimble but stable platform for playing in the water.

  from $499.00

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 01:29 – Details)

Review

The Frenzy is a fairly simple sit on top kayak from Ocean Kayak. But don’t mistake it for being boring just because it doesn’t have the cutting edge features like some of the higher end models.

Its shorter 9-foot hull means it’s very maneuverable and playful on the water. It’s also significantly easier to transport. Though it’s short, the Frenzy’s width and Tri-Form hull make it nice and stable while paddling around lakes and rivers or light surf.

It does have two separate storage areas but neither of them is sealed so make sure to use a dry bag if anything is water-sensitive.

The Frenzy is built with stability and dependability in mind. Its playful handling makes it right at home poking around lagoons or playing in the surf on a warm day.

Lifetime Lotus 80

Overall Score: (4.1/5)

Lifetime Lotus Sit-On-Top Kayak with Paddle, Blue, 8'

Specifications:

Length: 8’

Width: 30”

Weight: 38 lbs

Weight capacity: 250 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable back rest, molded footrests, included paddle, rear tank well with bungee, cup holder

Ideal for: Paddlers on a budget.

 from $377.37

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 00:48 – Details)

Review

If you’re working with a budget or you’re not quite ready to invest in a higher end model, the Lotus 80 might be just the ticket.

It’s definitely a bare-bones option – the ‘seat’ is really just an adjustable backrest. You’re essentially sitting on the contoured plastic of the kayak without any padding. This isn’t a major issue for short trips or if you plan on doing a lot of swimming and diving from the kayak, but can be a bit of a drag during longer paddling sessions.

The short 8-foot hull also means that the Lotus favors maneuverability over tracking and isn’t very efficient over long distances.

One of the nice things about having s short kayak is how lightweight it is. The Lotus is lightest of our top picks and compact size means it’s particularly easy to take it out for a quick paddle and store it away again with minimal hassle.

Its compact size and simple features make the Lotus 80 best suited for shorter paddling session and paddlers on a budget.

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two

Overall Score: (4.4/5)

Ocean Kayak Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak, Envy, 12 Feet

Specifications:

Length: 12’

Width: 34”

Weight: 57 lbs

Weight capacity: 375-425 lbs

Performance:

Stability:

Features:

Value:

Features: Adjustable seats, convertible, gear tie down straps, molded footrests

Ideal for: Paddlers that want a simple and reliable kayak with the flexibility to paddle solo, tandem, or with a small child.

 from $699.00

Buy on Amazon

(price updated as of 2019-03-25 at 01:29 – Details)

Review

The Malibu Two is on the short side for a tandem kayak but its wider hull means it’s nice and stable on the water. It actually has a third seating position between the two main seats, so there’s room for a small child to squeeze in as well. Its great stability and third seating position make the Malibu Two a popular choice for families.

The third seating position also means the Malibu Two is convertible; you can reposition the seats and paddle solo from the center seating position if your partner isn’t available.

Its compact size means there’s not a lot of extra space for gear if you’re paddling with two or three people, so the Malibu Two isn’t really ideal for longer day trips. The exception to this is if you’re paddling solo, which leaves plenty of uncovered space for your gear.

The Malibu Two doesn’t have a ton of extra features but it’s simple to use, dependable, and gives you the flexibility to paddle with up to three people on board.

Wrapping Up

The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 is our top pick for best sit-on-top kayak. It offers a great overall balance between performance, comfort, and stability and some nice added features like track adjustable footrests and multiple storage hatches that make it well suited to a variety of different types of paddling.

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