Sit-On vs Sit-In Kayaks

When debating a sit-on vs sit-in kayak, you’re discussing simplicity of use (sit-on) versus versatility (sit-in) and overall price points. The sit-on-top kayak is an excellent option for beginning kayakers or those who just want recreational use; they can even make nice fishing kayaks!

By contrast, the enclosed cockpit of a sit-in kayak works best for those who want a versatile, robust, and adaptable kayak that meets many different needs. Understanding more about these options will make your purchase much easier.

Picking a sit-in or sit-on kayak can dictate the safety of your kayaking journey and requires you to understand the benefits and drawbacks of each and how they operate. Just as importantly, you need to pick a model that meets your overall financial needs.

Here’s what you need to know when deciding between a sit-in and sit-on-top kayak purchase.

Sit-On Vs Sit-In Kayaks: The Deciding Factors

We will break down the various differences between these two types of recreational kayaks, including their features, advantages, and disadvantages. We’ll also take a look at the price differences between these models. 

Examining the Sit-On Kayak

A sit-on kayak (sometimes called SOT kayaks) is precisely what its name implies: a kayak without a closed cockpit or interior hull. Instead, there is a seat on top of the kayak deck with various safety elements that keep you from falling off. 

Most SOT kayaks come with self-draining scupper holes that help to remove any water that splashes into the boat as you paddle. These self-bailing drain holes keep the amount of water in your boat to a minimum.

This type of wider kayak is designed to be easy to get on and off with minimal issues. Sit-on-top models are suitable for people with larger bodies (such as tall kayakers) or people who have longer legs that aren’t comfortable inside a kayak’s cockpit.

They’re typically a good option for recreational paddling because you can take them out with kids. Children usually find the sit-on-top design easier to maneuver.

Many kayakers also enjoy sit-on-tops because they can jump off for a swim and get back on top more quickly than you can with a sit-inside kayak. That same freedom convinces some that sit-on kayaks are the best fishing kayaks because of their ample deck space and comfort. 

If you’re planning to take your SOT kayak fishing, you’ll need to have straps and tie-downs to keep your fishing gear steady on your board as you paddle.

They are fun boats for warm weather because they allow you to soak up the sun! Let’s take a deeper dive into all these features to learn more.

Features

  • Self-Bailing Design That Minimizes the Risk of Sinking
  • Easy to Operate With Minimal Issues
  • Straps and Various Safety Gear That Minimizes Dangers
  • Kid-Friendly Design That Works Well For Many Different Kayakers
  • Easy-to-Handle Paddles That Keep the Kayak Moving

Sit-On-Top Kayak Pros

The advantages of a sit-on-top kayak include:

  • Open deck design makes them easy to enter without a high risk of capsizing
  • A higher degree of initial stability makes them easier for first-time users
  • May be used for fishing and many other kayaking situations with relative ease
  • Extremely durable and hard to flip due to the air-sealed interior design
  • A more reasonable price range for the first-time user

Sit-On-Top Kayak Cons

A few of the downsides of sit-on-top kayaks include:

  • It may be tougher to keep upright in busy water due to a higher center of gravity
  • Less maneuverable than sit-in kayaks
  • Not as capable of performing sharp turns in difficult racing situations
  • Expose users to more weather conditions due to the open cockpit
  • Often lack dry space where you can store your gear while you’re out on the water

Examining the Sit-In Kayak

Recreational sit-inside kayaks integrate a simple interior cockpit right into the hull; most people probably think of this design when they think of a typical kayak. Inside the cockpit of touring kayaks you will find foot support and room for cargo.

Another difference between sit-on-top vs sit-in kayaks is that sit-ins sometimes come with a built-in bilge pump, which is a safety feature that will bail water out of your boat if you start to sink. 

You can also purchase a spray skirt to fit onto your kayak, which fits snugly around your waist and prevents any water from getting into the cockpit. A spray skirt is a good idea if you are purchasing an ocean kayak. 

The deck lines sit pretty close to the water’s surface, which may be concerning for beginners. However, advanced users typically prefer this type of close-water capability because the lower center of gravity makes it easier to reach high speeds with minimal difficulties.

That said, most intermediate and advanced paddlers often find that they are more adaptable, durable, and reliable than sit-on-top kayaks. They are suitable for more severe boaters, or those who want to race or go out on choppy waters. 

Many looking for a fishing kayak prefer the sit-inside design because it allows more storage area for kayak fishing accessories, with some even having built-in rod holders. 

If you’re looking for an ocean kayak, you’ll find it interesting to note that most sea kayaks made for coastal paddling are sit-insides because they offer more safety in rough waters.

While a sit-inside touring kayak may not be an excellent choice for beginners, many people find themselves working up to these models to get a unique boating experience.

Features

  • A Large Cockpit Where You Can Sit Out of the Water
  • Bulkheads That Keep Water From Swamping the Boat
  • Better Protection From Cold Weather Due to Interior Cockpit
  • Pump-Based Bailing Minimizes Risk of Capsizing
  • Built-In Storage Areas to Minimize the Danger of Wet Gear

Sit-Inside Kayak Pros

Reasons why you might love a sit-inside kayak include:

  • Significantly lower center of gravity that minimizes the risk of capsizing dangers
  • The lighter weight makes them easier to haul between trips
  • Dry storage area minimizes potential loss of gear and personal items
  • More efficient turning and faster than most sit-on models
  • It lets you use shorter paddles for minimal strain and difficulty

Sit-Inside Kayak Cons

Negative concerns to understand when buying a sit-inside kayak include:

  • Some may find them hard to get in and out of while boating
  • Produce a higher danger of getting trapped if they do tip over
  • It may fill with water when tipped over or capsized
  • Often harder to turn back over after they flip over
  • Typically cost more than a sit-on kayak model

Price Differences

We examined a few different sites that sell both sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks. As you might expect, sit-on kayaks are less expensive than sit-in kayaks. 

But by how much? That all depends on the site you work with and the kayaks you purchase. 

We examined sit-on-top vs. sit-inside recreational kayaks at Home Depot, as they provide both options. However, you can expect different prices at different shops, of course.

Sit-on-top kayaks have a price range of between $100-600, though you may discover higher-end models for as much as $800-1,000. 

For comparison, sit-in kayaks usually cost between $400-800 and can be up to $2,000 for the highest-quality models. 

As you can see, this price difference is significant, though the higher-end sit-on kayaks do compete with the sit-in options in overall cost. It’s also important to note that sit-in and sit-on inflatable kayaks are available at a slightly lower price point. 

So, if you’re concerned about your spending limit and don’t have a lot of extra cash, a sit-on model may be the right kayak for you. You can get a surprisingly great model for the price of a low-end sit-in touring kayak. 

However, those with more money would probably be best suited for a sit-inside model. Their most significant advantage is definitely their maneuverability and stability, making them a more substantial choice for serious kayak enthusiasts.

FAQs

Are There Kid-Friendly Sit-In Kayaks?

While sit-on-top kayaks are often better for younger kayakers, kid-friendly sit-inside kayaks are available. These models are smaller, more manageable for children to manipulate, and very safe.

Tandem sit-in kayaks are also a good option for those wanting to kayak with their kids. This provides space for the child while still pairing them with an adult for added safety. 

Should I Buy Both Types?

Most people can probably do well with just one kayak for their needs. However, sit-in touring kayaks may suit your more intense boating, while a sit-on-top may work best for everyday needs.

Do Higher Prices Indicate Better Value?

Most recreational kayaks that are higher-priced have more robust materials, more features, and a safer overall design. That said, you don’t have to buy the most expensive model to have fun on recreational boats.

What Type Do Professionals Prefer?

Professionals typically prefer sit-inside kayaks vs. sit-on-top designs because they provide a maximum amount of stability and maneuverability. Some may use sit-on-top kayaks for casual use, however.

Can I Use Both for Whitewater Rafting?

Sit-on-top kayaks are not suitable for whitewater rafting. There’s too much risk that you’ll fall off in this rough water and end up in a problematic and even dangerous situation.

What Materials Do These Kayaks Use?

Typically, most kayaks (both sit-on and sit-in models) use a strong PVC material that is quite durable. However, you may also find inflatable options that use solid and durable rubber materials.

Making a Wise Decision

Now that you understand the various differences between sit-on-top kayaks and their sit-in counterparts, you can make a wise decision. Our basic suggestion is to go with your gut and buy a model that feels right to you. 

Try to avoid spending money until you’re absolutely sure what you want from your kayaking experience. In this way, you cut back on the potential risk of having to return your kayak and buy a replacement.

But, just as importantly, you can protect yourself and your family by choosing a kayak that makes the most sense for your abilities and your safety needs.