Sea Kayaks, Navigating Open Waters
Long and Sleek Kevlar Shells
Sea kayaks are specially designed for ocean conditions and were originally used for hunting whales by the native peoples of Greenland and Alaska.
Today’s sea kayaks are closely related to these traditional designs but have important modifications for modern adventurers looking to play in the surf zone or take off on long distance expeditions. What type of sea kayak you should buy depends very much on the type of paddling you’re planning to do.
Sea kayakers can choose to paddle protected waters or leave the safety zone and head for the open ocean. Sea Kayaks are designed and modified to cater specifically for these different environments and sea kayaks can differ enormously in shape and contour. However, all sea kayaks have some common features.
Sea kayaks are generally much longer and sleeker than river kayaks. This is because sea kayaks are made to cover greater distances over wider stretches of water and so speed and good tracking ability are a priority over manoeuvrability and initial stability. Sea kayaks generally need good secondary stability though in order to survive in rough sea conditions.
The other major consideration in a sea kayak is storage space – if you’re planning a long distance tour you’re going to have to bring supplies and so sea kayaks typically have large hatches and storage wells.
A standard sea kayak, if such a thing exists, is about 17 feet long and has a 24 inch beam (width). The lighter the boat and more rigid the material the faster it will go and this is why experienced paddlers favour fibreglass or Kevlar sea kayaks over cheaper plastic models.
If you’re planning to begin your adventures with a kayaking school. Learning good techniques can save your life. Rescue techniques are particularly important to learn: if you tip your boat in open water you’ll need to know how to get back into it.
Kayaking with a club also helps you to improve your technique – and this will have a huge bearing on your kayaking experiences. Efficient paddling means that you will be less tired and will move faster. Without good technique you’ll be exhausted after a paddling just a couple of miles.
What’s it going to cost me?
Sea kayaks come in a variety of models, styles and price ranges. A plastic touring boat should cost between $1000 and $1200. Buying used equipment is another option though. A used plastic sea kayak with all the gear you’ll need such as a paddle, personal floatation device, and padded kayak seat should only cost about $1000. Ask at kayak clubs if there are any boats for sale and you’ll usually turn up the best bargains.
A good fibreglass boat is more expensive and will cost more like $2000 to $2500. Kevlar sea kayaks are the most expensive option and cost at least $3000 new. They hold their value well and even a used Kevlar boat will cost you about $2000.
The best way to choose your own sea kayak is to paddle as many boats as you can – again joining a kayaking club can help here as it will give you access to a variety of boats. Hull design, length and storage capacity are great indicators of a boat’s ability but you really need to get into the boat to feel how design differences can affect performance. Try as many designs as you can and find out which one feels right for you.