August 08, 2022 10 min read

Sit-On VS Sit-In Kayaks

One of the biggest questions in the kayaking world is which is better, a sit-in or a sit-on kayak? Well, the answer to that question really comes down to personal preference, but in this article, we’re going to highlight the benefits of both a sit-in and a sit-on kayak, along with which type of kayak is better suited to your style of paddling. 

What Is a Sit-In Kayak?

Man on a red sit-on kayak

A sit-inside kayak allows the paddler to climb inside the hull of the kayak and place their legs under the deck. This position inside the boat puts the paddler below the water’s surface and gives the boat a lower center of gravity which ultimately improves the kayak’s secondary stability. 

The inside position also means you’re able to brace your knees off the kayak’s walls to deliver more strength and efficiency in each paddle stroke. 

What Is a Sit-On Kayak?

A sit-on-top kayak, on the other hand, has an open deck which means the paddler is sat directly on top of the boat with their entire body exposed. Rather than being positioned inside the kayak at water level, the paddler is instead positioned above the water’s surface.

Sit-In Kayak Advantages

Man kayaking on a lake

So, now that we’ve covered the difference between a sit-in and a sit-on kayak, let’s get into their advantages and disadvantages, starting with sit-inside kayaks. 

  • Lower center of gravity - As a sit-inside kayak puts you below the water’s surface, you actually have a lower center of gravity, as we mentioned earlier. This lower center of gravity then plays a vital role in the kayak’s secondary stability. Secondary stability is the kayak’s ability to remain stable when tipped on its side. By having a great level of secondary stability, the paddler is able to remain upright when paddling on rough or choppy waters.
  • Increased control and power - Enclosed cockpits mean your knees are placed against the wall of the kayak. This position helps the paddler drive power into their strokes through their knees while also having more control over the kayak as a whole.
  • Less susceptible to the wind - The lower profile of a sit-inside kayak means the kayak is less affected by wind than a sit-on-top kayak. 
  • Protection from the elements - As the lower part of the paddler's body is inside the kayak, they’re more protected from the sun and splashes of water. If the paddler also chooses to add a spray skirt, then their entire lower half will be completely protected from the elements.
  • Narrower and faster - Thanks to a sit-inside kayak’s lower center of gravity, they’re able to be made narrower than most typical sit-on-top recreational kayaks. This narrower design then means the kayak can travel at faster speeds and would require less energy from the paddler to propel it through the water. 
  • A narrow deck means a shorter paddle - As sitting inside kayaks, especially sit-inside touring kayaks, are narrow, it means that the paddler would require a shorter paddle. Paddling with a shorter paddle is far less effort as they’re more lightweight and easier to move through the water.
  • The cockpit remains dry- As the cockpit is enclosed, it also means that it will stay relatively dry unless you’re paddling through some serious waves or torrential rain (spray skirt to the rescue). If the cockpit is dry, then so are your feet, legs, and personal belongings, which is something you don’t get on a sit-on-top kayak.

Sit-In Kayak Disadvantages

As with all things, sit-in kayaks do also have their disadvantages which may sway your decision before purchasing.

  • Claustrophobic- Many people, especially those who don’t like small spaces, may feel confined in a sit-inside kayak.
  • Hard to exit and reenter - Along with feeling claustrophobic, sitting inside kayaks also are more difficult to exit and reenter. With a sit-on-top kayak, the paddler can easily get on and off the open deck. But with a sit-inside kayak, that procedure is a little bit more complicated.
  • Sinkable - If both the hatch covers of a sit-inside kayak come loose, then water can enter the cockpit and potentially sink the boat. 
  • Low initial stability - Sit-inside kayaks have incredible secondary stability, but their narrower design means that their initial stability (the ability for the kayak to remain upright on flat waters) is compromised. 
  • Requires a bilge pump - If the paddler does happen to capsize (don’t worry, it happens to everyone), then a sit-inside kayak requires the use of a bilge pump to remove any water from the cockpit. 
  • Limited storage space - Sit-inside kayaks have very limited storage space, with some only able to carry items that fit through the cockpit's hatches. 

Sit-On Kayak Advantages

Orange sit on top kayak with a fishing gear

Sit-on kayaks also have their fair share of advantages, which we’ll get into now. 

  • Freedom while paddling - One of the biggest advantages of sit-on-top models is the fact that they have an open cockpit. Not only does the open cockpit make it easier to enter and exit the kayak, but it also gives the paddler more freedom to move around when paddling
  • Suited to larger paddlers - Following on from a sit-on-top kayak giving you more freedom while paddling, we’d also like to separately mention that they’re better suited for larger paddlers. Many sit inside cockpits have very small cockpit openings, which could cause issues for taller or bigger kayakers.
  • Better initial stability - The center of gravity in a sit-on-top kayak is higher than a sit-inside kayak, meaning that the kayak's initial stability on flat water is far better. This is why many kayak anglers prefer to sit-on top kayaks, as they provide a more stable deck for casting and reeling. 
  • Unsinkable design - A sit-on-top kayak is considered unsinkable as it has no cockpit for water to get trapped into. 
  • Ample amounts of storage - The large open decks of a sit-on-top kayak mean paddlers can carry vast amounts of gear and belongings without having to worry about storage space. 
  • Self-bailing scupper holes - If the paddler does happen to capsize, then all the water will drain off the deck through self-bailing scupper holes. 

Sit-On Kayak Disadvantages

And finally, the disadvantages of a sit-on-top kayak include: 

  • Lower secondary stability - Although a sit-on kayak's initial stability is better than a sit-inside kayak’s, its secondary stability is lower because of the boat's higher center of gravity. This means that paddling in rough waters may cause the paddler to capsize easier than if they were paddling in a sit-in variety. 
  • Exposed to the elements - The open design of the cockpit means that the paddler's entire body is exposed to the elements. If it starts raining or if the waves are breaking all around the boat, then the paddler's whole body is going to know about it. 
  • More susceptible to the wind - The higher profile of a sit-on kayak means that the boat could be pushed around on particularly windy days. 
  • Slower than some sit-inside kayaks - As sit-on tops are more often than not wider than sit-inside kayaks, they’re slower on the water and require more energy over longer distances. 
  • Limited control- A sit-in kayak has the advantage of the paddler’s knees firmly placed against the walls of the cockpit for increased power and control. Sit-on kayaks don’t have this perk which lessens their overall maneuverability.
  • A wider deck means a longer paddle - As a sit-on kayak is wider and slightly higher up off the water, it requires the paddler to use a longer paddle. The longer the paddle, the more effort is needed to propel the kayak through the water. 

Sit-On Kayak vs Sit-In Kayak Comparisons

Sit on Kayaks

Now that we’ve covered the main advantages and disadvantages of both a sit-on and a sit-in kayak, it’s time for the ultimate showdown of a sit-on-top vs a sit-inside kayak. 

Stability

Both types of kayaks are stable in their own ways, and as a boat's stability is determined by a few different factors, it’s hard to pinpoint whether a sit-in or sit-on kayak would be the most stable.

One of the biggest factors that play a role in the kayak's stability is its width. Now, I know we said that sit-inside kayaks are typically narrower than sit-on kayaks, but this doesn’t mean that you cant find a wide sit-inside kayak on the market. Most recreational kayaks, whether they sit-inside or sit-on, will be stable enough for even the newest paddlers.

Another factor is the height of the seat. If you have a seat that is higher than the waterline, it is going to decrease the boat's overall stability. But, if the seat is closer to the waterline, then the stability will increase. 

Many fishing kayaks, for example, have seats that are mounted above the waterline, to give anglers a better view of their potential catch. As the seat is going to decrease the stability of the kayak, companies enhance the width of the boat to make up for it. 

The shape and fullness of the bow and stern are also other factors that can impact the boat’s stability. Boxy-shaped kayaks with fuller ends will be more stable than kayaks with narrower ends.

So, If you’re comparing a narrow sit-inside touring kayak to a wide heavy-duty fishing kayak, then the fishing kayak is going to come out on top. But, if you’re comparing sit-ins vs sit-ons of a similar shape and size, then stability will come down to the water the kayak is being paddled on. Sit-on top kayaks will perform better on flat waters, and sitting inside kayaks will excel in choppy waters. 

Performance

Performance in kayak terms usually refers to the speed at which a kayak can go and the speed of the ‘yak is largely determined by the boat’s width and length. The longer and narrower a kayak are, the faster it can travel through the water, regardless of whether it's a sit-in or sit-on variety. 

Many touring kayaks, however, will be a sit-inside design as the paddler can use their knees to deliver power into their strokes.

Storage Space

Storage can sometimes be the biggest deciding factor when it comes to a sit-inside or a sit-on kayak. Sit-inside kayaks are fairly limited regarding storage space, but some have the advantage of water-tight hatches in the rear bulkhead. For more basic designs, however, you’ll have to pack your drybags into the cockpit with you. 

Sit-on-top kayaks, on the other hand, have ample amounts of storage on the front and rear ends of the deck. There are usually bungee areas or at least tie-down points so that you can securely fasten all your overnight camping gear or tackle boxes in place.

Comfort

The answer to which kayak type of kayak is more comfortable is a no-brainer. Sit-on-top kayaks give the paddler more freedom to move around and adjust their seating position, which can make a huge difference during a long day of paddling. 

Which Kayak Type for Beginners?

Man and a woman on a green sit on tandem kayak

If you’re a beginner paddler, then the main thing you should be looking for is a recreational kayak that offers great stability. Sitting inside recreational kayaks and sitting on top of recreational kayaks can both be stable, so you should instead consider what you’ll be using your kayak for and the waters in which you’ll be paddling.

Beginner paddlers who want to paddle over calm lakes or float down slow-moving rivers would probably be better suited to a sit-in top kayak, whereas paddlers who want to paddle through the ocean or choppy waters may prefer the benefits of a sit-inside kayak. 

Which Kayak Type for Ocean Paddling?

If you plan on recreational ocean paddling far from shore, then a sit-on-top kayak would be the better choice. Their open deck makes them easy to climb back onto if you happen to capsize, and they also won’t fill with large amounts of water. 

But, if you want to travel vast distances in the ocean, then touring kayaks are one of the best sea kayaks out there. Touring kayaks have bulkheads that prevent the cockpit from flooding if you capsize and these bulkheads also create flotation chambers which will keep the kayak afloat even if water does get inside.

If you do choose to go with a sit-inside touring kayak for ocean paddling, however, it is recommended to learn the best ways to get in and out of the kayak if the boat decides to tip. 

Which Kayak Type for Fishing?

Man fishing on sit on top kayak

The vast majority of fishing kayaks sit-on-top kayaks, as the open deck of a sit-on-top gives anglers more room to cast their lines and reel in fish. They’re typically far wider than most other kayaks, and some even feature pedal drives to allow the angler to be hands-free at all times. 

With that being said, however, you can go kayak fishing in a sit-inside kayak. The enclosed cockpit does make a sit-inside a better choice when paddling in cold climates or on overcast days where rain may or may not make an appearance. 

FAQ’S

🏆 Which is better, a sit-in or a sit-on kayak?

The answer to this question will come down to personal preference and the type of paddling you wish to participate in. 

  • Touring or racing - Sit-inside a kayak
  • Recreational - Sit-on-top kayak
  • Fishing - Sit-on-top kayak
  • Ocean recreational - Sit-on-top kayak
  • Ocean touring - Sit-inside a kayak

👍 Is a sit-in kayak more stable than a sit-on kayak?

It’s hard to determine which kayak is more stable as a lot of elements factor into the answer. But, if everything to do with the kayaks is equal, such as their length and width, then a sit-inside kayak would be more stable as your center of gravity is closer to the water. 


🏝️ Are sit-on or sit-in kayaks faster?

If the length and width of both a sit-inside and sit-on kayak are equal, then a sit-inside kayak would be able to travel at faster speeds because of its lower center of gravity. An additional point is that sit-inside kayaks can be made narrower than sitting on kayaks which only enhances their speed even further. 


❓ Why are sit-on-top kayaks better?

There are a few reasons why some people declare sit-on-top of kayaks better than sit-inside kayaks, and these reasons include:

  • More space and freedom to move around
  • More comfortable for larger paddlers
  • More comfortable in general
  • They don’t make people feel claustrophobic
  • They have better initial stability, meaning they are more stable on flat waters
  • Water drains from the deck thanks to self-bailing scupper holes
  • More storage areas
Megan Bryant
Megan Bryant

Based in Bali, her favorite SUP spot is the GILI Islands themselves. Travel is another passion of hers - she dreams to see the entire world one day.


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