Imagine floating in shallow, sunlit waters above a coral reef or the swaying grass of a riverbed. The water is crystal-clear, colorful fish dart beneath your hull, and you have a window to the underwater world. It seems like a paddler’s dream, and yet it in fact exists.
Clear kayaks are one of the most unique types of kayaks available. Outfitters in exotic locales use these see through kayaks to peer at tropical fish or observe bioluminescence, but clear bottom kayaks have yet to take off in mainstream use. Perhaps it’s the higher cost of materials, or the limited number of designs available. Whatever the reason, if you’re the first in your area to buy a clear kayak, your paddling buddies are definitely going to be asking if they can try it out.
Clear kayaks are usually made of polycarbonate, the high-strength thermoplastic used to produce items such as safety glasses and “bulletproof” glass. If this doesn’t say something about a material’s durability, we’re not sure what will. These see through kayaks may look fragile, but they’re far from it.
Another option are inflatable clear kayaks, which resemble small rafts with stable pontoons and a clear floor. Because these clear bottom kayaks lack the rigidity of higher end inflatables, and the durability of hard plastics, they are best suited to leisurely floats in gentle conditions. What these inflatable clear kayaks lack in speed and performance, they make up for in easy portability.
Nearly all clear kayaks are of a recreational sit-on-top design. Recreational kayaks are intended for casual use on calm and slow-moving waterways like smaller lakes, sheltered bays and gentle rivers. These kayaks favor stability over speed, making them ideal for beginners, families, photographers and other casual paddlers.
Sit-on-top kayaks are those where the paddler is not enclosed within the kayak at all. In the case of clear kayaks, the kayak is most often a dugout shape, similar to a canoe, with seats attached inside. Many seat two paddlers, but can also be easily managed by a solo kayaker.
Some manufacturers, such as Riot Kayaks, offer a more traditional sit-inside recreational kayak with a transparent window inset into the hull just in front of the seat. This style of clear bottom kayak is a good choice if you’re shopping for a more versatile kayak and don’t mind a narrower view into the water. You can even find clear bottom fishing kayaks that allow you to view the underwater action while stalking or fighting fish.
In this article, we’ll share the best clear kayaks available today, as well as reviews and recommendations if you’re looking to buy clear kayaks new or used.
Our picks: Best clear kayaks for 2022
We’ve compiled our picks for the best clear kayaks. This list is a great place to start browsing top-rated see-through kayaks.
Shop clear kayaks
If you’re ready to start shopping, you’ll find nearly every clear kayak on the market in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide, including specs, prices, reviews and where to buy. We’ve filtered clear-bottom kayaks by type, brand and popular places to purchase so you can compare options and find the best clear kayak for your next paddling trip.
Shopping for a used clear kayak?
Clear kayaks aren’t cheap to buy new. They also aren’t common to see on the water outside of tropical tour groups and rentals. This makes finding a clear kayak used a challenge, but with a bit of hunting you may get lucky. When buying a used clear kayak, there are a few unique things to keep in mind.
First, find out the brand. Most clear kayaks are not produced by mainstream manufacturers; ask the seller to identify the brand so you can look into them. Like any consumer product, some clear kayaks are well-made and this will be reflected in positive user reviews, while others may be poor quality knock-offs.
The standard material for hard-plastic clear bottom kayaks is polycarbonate, also used in the making of “bulletproof glass”. Polycarbonate is thermoformed, meaning a single sheet of the material is heated and molded to the shape of the kayak. This creates a strong, impact-resistant kayak hull. You’ll want to be sure this is what you are purchasing, and not a backyard engineering project made from sheets of plexi-glass caulked to the general shape of a kayak.
As with any used kayak, inspect for damage before committing to a purchase. Polycarbonate is tough, but it can scratch, which may affect the view quality through the transparent hull. Check for cracks in the hull or around screws used to install seats and other outfitting.
The best way to check for this sort of structural damage—and to ensure the kayak offers the fit, comfort and performance you’re looking for—is to ask the seller to meet at a location where you can take the kayak for a test paddle. If there is a significant crack, you should be able to spot the leak.
Along with seats, which may be removable, ask if bow and stern airbags are included with the sale. Clear kayaks made from a single layer of polycarbonate are not very buoyant, so it’s important to have flotation bags in place. This way, in the event of capsizing or swamping, the kayak will not sink. If the airbags are missing or damaged, you can purchase these separately at a paddlesports shop.
Clear bottom kayaks designed to withstand heavy outfitter use—like those made by Kiwi Clear Kayaks (formerly Innovex Kayak)—may have a modular design that allows the clear bottom to be removed and replaced if damaged. Keep in mind a replacement clear hull panel for these sturdy sit-on-top kayaks costs nearly half the price of the kayak, or around $800.
Finally, if you’re looking at a used inflatable clear bottom kayak, be sure to fully inflate and assemble the kayak. Clear inflatable kayaks are often not made from the most durable materials, so be diligent in listening and feeling for air leaks at seams and valves. Once again, the best way to know for sure is to take the inflatable for a test paddle. If it’s leaking, you should see bubbles escaping from the leak.
For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used kayak, read our article How To Buy A Used Kayak.
Clear kayak buying guide
Looking to buy a clear kayak? Here’s what you should consider as you decide on the best clear kayak for your paddling aspirations.
Nearly all clear kayaks are of a recreational sit-on-top design. Recreational kayaks are intended for casual use on calm and slow-moving waterways like smaller lakes, sheltered bays and gentle rivers. These kayaks favor stability over speed, making them ideal for beginners, families, photographers and other casual paddlers. Most clear kayaks are shaped similar to a canoe, with low sides and seats attached inside. Many seat two paddlers, but can also be easily managed by a solo kayaker.
The most common clear kayak design is the completely transparent kayak. This is an all-polycarbonate kayak produced in a single layer, with shallow sides and an open top like a canoe. Because polycarbonate lacks buoyancy, these clear kayaks require the use of airbags in the bow and stern to ensure flotation should the kayak swamp or capsize. This style of clear kayak is best suited to warm environments, since paddlers are totally exposed to the elements. They also offer the best see-through experience for totally unrestricted underwater views.
Another option is the clear bottom kayak, which is most often a non-transparent polyethylene sit-on-top or sit-inside recreational kayak with a window of clear polycarbonate placed in the hull between the paddler’s legs. The advantage of these kayaks is that they provide a more seaworthy or versatile design, while including a less expansive underwater view.
Clear bottom sit-on-top fishing kayaks are an exciting option for anglers. A clear bottom sit-inside kayak, such as the Riot Intrigue, combines below-the-boat viewing with all the features of a competent rec touring kayak—including rear hatch for dry storage and bulkhead for flotation.
If portability and easy storage are a priority, an inflatable clear kayak might be your top choice. The blow-up boats resemble small rafts with stable pontoons and a clear floor. Because these clear bottom kayaks lack the rigidity of higher end inflatables, and the durability of hard plastics, they are best suited to leisurely floats in gentle conditions.
Much more expensive than its inflatable counterparts, a clear folding kayak offers a sit-inside style where the paddler slides into an enclosed cockpit within the kayak. This style allows for a narrower, sleeker shape that will be faster (but much less stable) than an inflatable. Folding kayaks offer similar portability to inflatables, but are more complex to assemble. Like polycarbonate kayaks, folding kayaks require the use of airbags in the bow and stern to ensure flotation should the kayak swamp or capsize.
Performance isn’t the overall goal of most clear kayaks; instead, these unique kayaks offer paddlers the chance to enjoy a new perspective by peering beneath the water’s surface. Think snorkeling—without having to leave your kayak.
Tour operators in tropical locales are some of the most common users of clear kayaks. Try reaching out to an outfitter experienced with these kayaks prior to purchasing, or better yet, test one for yourself on your next family vacation. Trying a kayak out on the water is always the best way to know if it will be the right fit for your paddling goals.
Want to know more? Here are answers to some common questions about clear kayaks.
What are clear kayaks made of?
Clear kayaks are made of polycarbonate, which is also used for “bulletproof glass” and safety glasses. Polycarbonate is a thermoplastic which can be molded to complex shapes using high heat. Thermoforming is a common way to produce polycarbonate products including clear kayaks.
Clear kayak weight limit
The maximum capacity of a clear kayak will vary depending on the model. Check the manufacturer’s specifications to find the weight limit for a specific clear kayak. Many clear kayaks are tandem kayaks, and have a weight limit suitable for two adults.
Clear kayak cost
The cost of a clear kayak varies, with around $1,500 being the starting point for a new polycarbonate clear kayak. Inflatable clear bottom kayaks offer a cheaper price point.
Where to buy a clear kayak
Buy clear kayaks through specialized online retailers or direct from the manufacturer, with some models available on Amazon. Clear kayaks are also available from a limited number of brick-and-mortar retailers; check the dealer locator for a specific clear kayak brand to find a location near you.
Clear kayak manufacturers
Popular clear kayak manufacturers include Driftsun, Crystal Kayak, Kiwi Clear Kayaks (formerly Innovex Kayak), Markab Sports and Clear Blue Hawaii. Riot Kayaks offers a versatile clear bottom recreational kayak, the Intrigue.
Clear kayak reviews
Reviews are an excellent way to learn more about how a kayak paddles, key design element, the background of the brand, specs and more. Read our expert reviews on clear kayaks below.