Best Sit-On-Top Kayaks For 2024

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

Sit-on-top kayaks are perfect for many paddlers’ needs. Sit-on-top kayaks have open decks that make them ideal for warm weather and warm water locations, as well as pursuits like kayak fishing that require a lot of space to store and access gear. A sit-on-top kayak is self-bailing so any water that splashes on board drains away quickly through one-way valves known as scuppers.

Most importantly—and attractive to beginner paddlers who may be intimidated by entering and exiting the confined cockpit area of a sit-inside kayak—sit-on-top kayaks are the easiest type of kayak to launch, land and scramble back aboard after a capsize or upset. The open deck makes it simple to hop on or off, and these designs are also usually more stable than their sit-inside counterparts. You also don’t need to bother with a sprayskirt, which is an optional accessory for sit-inside kayaks and makes some people feel even more claustrophobic.

Sit-on-top is the dominant style of fishing kayak. The great stability of these models makes it safe and easy to cast, rig lines and land fish. Sit-on-top kayaks also have extremely shallow draft, making it possible to access “skinny” water and other places that are off-limits to larger boats.

Sit-on-top recreational kayaks include models for use at the cottage or beach, kids’ kayaks that double as swim rafts, and more capable sit-on-top kayaks that can be used in mild surf. A niche subset of sit-on-top kayaks are known as surf skis, which are long, narrow and capable of catching and riding large swells in open ocean conditions; surf skis are popular in certain regions for fitness paddling.

Whatever style of paddling you wish to do, this article is your gateway to discovering the best sit-on-top kayak for your needs.

Top picks: Best sit-on-top kayaks for 2024

The following sit-on-top kayaks have received the highest star ratings by reviewers in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. See and review all sit-on-top kayaks here.

Shop sit-on-top kayaks

Are you in the market for a sit-on-top kayak? Or still determining if this is the right type of kayak for you? The links in this section will take you to our comprehensive Paddling Buyer’s Guide, where you’ll find all the best sit-on-top kayaks on the market, including reviews, ratings and where to buy.

You can choose to filter kayaks by type and application, such as fishing or recreational or specialty uses like racing and surf skis, as well as by capacity (one-person or tandem), and those with accessories like rudders, types of water, and so much more. Detailed reviews of specific models include specs, prices, and where to buy.

We’ve also narrowed down the best kayaks at the most popular retailers including sporting goods stores, outdoors stores and big box department and hardware stores, and further by brand and price. You simply will not find a more comprehensive kayak buyer’s guide resource on the web.

Best sit-on-top kayaks

The best sit-on-top kayaks come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, and are manufactured by a range of brands. Below you’ll find our articles about these more specific types and brands of sit-on-top of kayaks. Each goes over what to consider when purchasing this type of kayak as well as a roundup of our selection of top models.

Shopping for a used sit-on-top kayak?

Maybe you’ve come across what seems to be a great deal on a used sit-on-top kayak on Craigslist? That’s no surprise, given that sit-on kayaks are wildly popular and durable and therefore extremely abundant on buy-and-sell websites like Craigslist, Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace. This can be both a blessing and a curse: you’ll find plenty to choose from—both good and bad.

Wondering how to make a good investment in a used kayak? Your first step is to research the specific attributes of the used sit-on-top kayak you are considering. Our Paddling Buyer’s Guide provides an exhaustive database of every kayak on the market, making this the ideal place to start.

If you decide your Craigslist sit-on-top kayak is a solid candidate to meet your needs, consider the following advice to make a good used kayak purchase:

  • Buy the right used sit-on-top kayak for your paddling preferences by researching the particular model in advance. Your goal is to determine whether or not it truly meets your needs. Consider the type of water you’ll be paddling; remember, depending on where you plan to paddle certain sit-on-top kayaks will be better than others. Be aware that most sit-on-top kayaks are only safe to use on calm, sheltered water. If you want something more seaworthy, consider a sit-inside touring kayak.
  • Take the time for a detailed visual inspection. Give the used kayak a once-over, looking for obvious damage to the hull (bottom), deck (top) and outfitting (seat, back rest, foot pegs, etc). Scratches aren’t a problem on most sit-on-top kayaks (they’re usually constructed of super-durable rotomolded polyethylene), but watch out for deep gouges that extend more than ⅛th of an inch (3 mm) into the plastic. Obvious warping in the hull is a problem to avoid, too, since it will negatively impact glide and maneuverability on the water.
  • Try to determine how the kayak was stored. A sit-on-top kayak that was stored outdoors and exposed to the sun for long periods of time will undoubtedly be subject to fading due to UV radiation (which also weakens the kayak’s structure) and damage due to excessive snow loading or precipitation.
  • Taking the kayak for a test paddle is the best way to find if the sit-on-top kayak works for you, in terms of performance, handling, comfort and fit.
  • Remember, sit-on-top kayaks are extremely popular, so perhaps the best advice is to be patient and know that there’s no harm in waiting to find a perfect match.

For more tips on what to look for when selecting a used kayak, read our article How To Buy A Used Kayak.

Sit-on-top kayak buying guide

A bewildering array of sit-on-top kayaks are available across North America at big box stores, outdoors stores, paddlesports specialty retailers and online outlets. Sit-on-top kayaks come in designs to meet a vast range of paddling needs, including recreational paddling, fishing and fitness, single and tandem, for paddlers of all sizes.

Recreational sit-on-top kayaks offer supreme versatility, with a good balance of rock-solid stability and easy handling and the benefit of being suitable for both casual family use and more specialized fishing applications, when desired. With such selection comes a huge range of prices, quality of construction and performance characteristics. You should have no problem finding many models that meet your needs from a variety of manufacturers.

Such a wide selection may seem intimidating. Start by determining what type of sit-on-top kayak best aligns with your paddling goals. Kayaks are divided into categories based on type of use. These include recreational kayaks designed for casual use on sheltered water; day touring kayaks, which feature additional volume and better glide for longer journeys; fishing kayaks for angling in a variety of conditions; and fitness kayaks (also known as surf skis) designed for open water use and athletic paddlers.

Many of these types of kayaks are available as single (one-person) and tandem (two-person) models. Here’s a more detailed rundown of some of the more popular types of sit-on-top kayaks:

Recreational kayaks are ideal for paddlers who spend most of their time on lakes and slow-moving rivers. Sit-on-top kayaks are very common for this type of boat. They typically have a flatter hull and are wider than most touring kayaks, giving them greater stability. However, the extra width also means they will drag more in the water and wind, making them slower than some other types of kayaks. Most recreational kayaks are great multi-purpose boats, also serving as capable fishing kayaks for casual anglers.

Touring and sea kayaks are typically 14 to 18 feet in length, making them longer than most other types of kayaks; a few are available in the sit-on-top style, though most are sit-inside. These boats are designed to track straight though the water; however, they can be more difficult to turn. Touring kayaks provide storage space for overnight or multi-day trips. This type of kayak tends to be narrower and sit lower in the water, features that allow for greater speed and efficiency as the kayak cuts easily through wind and water.

Fishing kayaks are built for stability and durability, and usually not speed; most fishing kayaks are of the sit-on-top style. They generally have lots of storage space for fishing tackle and gear, in addition to specialized features such as rod holders, mounting brackets, bottle holders and anchor lines, among others. Some have pedal-drive systems or trolling motor mounts so anglers can reach the fishing grounds faster.

Fitness sit-on-top kayaks are often called surf skis. They have little in common with recreational sit-on-top kayaks except for having an open deck. Surf skis are fast and tippy, designed for athletic paddlers and meant for use in open ocean conditions. They’re a good option for racers and performance paddlers who don’t want to bother with a sprayskirt.

Inflatable sit-on-top kayaks are lighter in weight than rigid or hard-shell sit-on-top kayaks. More importantly, they’re easy to store and transport. Portability and ease of storage comes at the expense of some paddling efficiency on the water.

Use these broad categories as a starting point, and remember that online research will only get you so far in choosing the best sit-on-top kayak for your needs. The best advice we can offer is to always test paddle before buying any boat. Most paddlesports specialty stores offer the opportunity to take new boats for a quick spin; but that’s not possible at big box stores.

You can also try to borrow friends’ sit-on-top kayaks for test paddling in real-world conditions. The more time you can spend on the water in a similar style of kayak, the better the purchasing decision you will make.

Here are answers to some of the most common online questions about sit-on-top kayaks.

  • What are sit-on-top kayaks?

    Sit-on-top kayaks are open-top kayaks that are somewhat reminiscent of surfboards or standup paddleboards. They’re self-draining and easy to scramble back aboard after a capsize or upset. The open deck makes it simple to hop on or off (and exit in case of capsize), and these designs are also usually more stable than sit-inside kayaks.

  • What are sit-on-top kayaks used for?

    Sit-on-top kayaks are used for recreational paddling, kayak fishing and fitness paddling. Great stability is a hallmark of recreational and fishing sit-on-top kayaks, while fitness sit-on-tops (A.K.A. surf skis) are fast, tippy and seaworthy for open water use.

  • Sit-in vs sit-on kayak

    In short, a sit-in kayak has a deck and closed cockpit, while a sit-on-top kayak has an open deck. Sit-in kayaks are warmer and provide shelter from spray and waves, especially when equipped with a sprayskirt. Sit-on-top kayaks, on the other hand, are ideal for warm water and paddlers who are nervous about being confined within a sit-inside cockpit.

    Check out our article, Sit-On-Top Vs Sit-Inside Kayaks: Which Is Best For You?, for a comprehensive overview of these two types of kayak.

  • Sit-on-top kayak vs traditional

    Sit-on-top kayaks have open decks while traditional, sit-in kayaks have decks and cockpits that offer shelter from spray and waves, especially when equipped with a sprayskirt. Sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for warm water and paddlers who are nervous about being confined within a sit-inside cockpit.

    Check out our article, Sit-On-Top Vs Sit-Inside Kayaks: Which Is Best For You?, for a comprehensive overview of these two types of kayak.

  • Sit-on-top vs recreational kayak

    Sit-on-top kayaks and recreational kayaks are often one and the same. The main difference, sometimes, is whether or not the recreational kayak has a deck. Check out our article, Sit-On-Top Vs Sit-Inside Kayaks: Which Is Best For You?, for a comprehensive overview of these basic forms of recreational kayak.

  • Sit-on-top vs hybrid kayak

    Hybrid kayaks are often defined as a cross between a canoe and a kayak, which is a close description of a sit-on-top kayak. The main difference is in the hull design; sleeker sit-on-top kayaks (especially surf skis) are far more efficient to paddle (though tippier), while wider hybrid kayaks are slower, more stable and closer to canoes in performance.

  • Inflatable kayak vs sit-on-top

    Inflatable kayaks and sit-on-top kayaks share many characteristics, including outstanding stability and ease of entry and exit. In fact, many inflatable kayaks are open-deck, sit-on-top designs. The main difference relates to construction: inflatable kayaks are slower and less efficient in the water than rigid, hard-shell sit-on-top kayaks.

  • Canoe vs sit-on-top kayak

    A canoe offers more space to move around than the typical sit-on-top kayak. Canoes feature seats for sitting (or kneeling) in a higher position, which may be more comfortable for some paddlers. The lower seating position of a sit-on-top kayak, however, is more stable.

    Canoes are meant to be used with single-bladed paddles while the seating arrangement of a sit-on-top kayak is best for a double-bladed paddle. Sit-on-top kayaks tend to be sleeker and somewhat faster than most canoes.

  • Paddleboard vs sit-on-top kayak

    Paddleboards and sit-on-top kayaks have somewhat similar designs, with open decks for standing (paddleboards) or sitting (kayaks). Paddleboards offer a better workout, challenging a paddler’s core muscles and balance. Sit-on-top kayaks are more stable and better for casual paddling. They also have more room on deck for storing gear and accessories.

  • Which is more stable sit-in or sit-on kayak?

    Stability is a function of hull design. A flat-bottom hull, whether it’s used in a sit-in or sit-on-top kayak, offers the greatest stability. However, many sit-on-top kayaks feel more stable than sit-in kayaks because the boat’s buoyancy is located entirely below the paddler’s center of balance.

  • How stable are sit-on-top kayaks?

    In general, sit-on-top kayaks are exceptionally stable. Look for designs with wide, flat bottoms for the greatest stability.

  • Pros and cons of sit-on-top kayak

    Sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for beginner paddlers: they’re easy to enter and exit and, in most cases, offer outstanding stability. Sit-on-top kayaks are cooler and more comfortable in hot weather. On the other hand, they’re cold in the rain and wind.

    While an open deck makes it easy to climb on and off, it also limits performance: you cannot use your thighs to brace and maneuver the kayak with most sit-on-top designs, making these kayaks best suited to beginners and casual users only. Choose a sit-inside kayak if you’re looking to develop your paddling skills, including edging and bracing.

  • Do sit-on-top kayaks need plugs?

    Most sit-on-top kayaks are hollow for buoyancy and may require plugs to remain watertight. Research the specific model and look for a screw-in plug near the stern of the kayak.

  • Why do sit-on-top kayaks have holes?

    The holes in some sit-on-top kayaks are known as scuppers. These one-way valves allow water that splashes or washes over the deck to drain quickly from the seating area.

  • Scupper holes sit-on-top kayak

    Scupper holes are commonly found on sit-on-top kayaks. These one-way valves allow water that splashes or washes over the deck to drain quickly from the seating area.

  • Sit-on-top kayak speed

    Most sit-on-top kayaks are relatively slow. Recreational and fishing sit-on-top kayaks are meant for stability and ease of entry and exit, not speed. The exception are surf skis, a specialized type of sit-on-top kayak meant for racing and fitness paddling in open water. These kayaks have remarkable top speeds but minimal stability and are best for athletic and experienced paddlers.

  • Sit-on-top kayak weight limit

    Sit-on-top kayak weight limit varies by design. In general, the larger the kayak, the greater the weight capacity. Most sit-on-top kayaks have a weight limit of approximately 300 pounds, give or take 100 pounds.

  • Sit-on kayak weight

    Sit-on-top kayaks tend to weigh more than comparable sit-inside kayaks. A typical plastic sit-on-top kayak weighs 40 to 70 pounds, depending on its size and accessories (fishing kayaks tend to be at the heavier end of this range). Choose an inflatable sit-on-top kayak if you’re looking for something that’s lightweight and portable—at the expense of some paddling efficiency.

  • Sit-on-top kayak dimensions

    Sit-on-top kayak dimensions vary a great deal. In general, 8 to 12 feet is a typical length for recreational and fishing sit-on-top kayaks and 28 to 32 inches is a normal width. Choose a longer kayak if you want more speed and glide or a shorter one if you want stability and easier handling. More width generally means greater stability and carrying capacity.

  • Sit-on-top kayak length

    Sit-on-top kayak length is a key indicator of glide and maneuverability. Eight to 12 feet is the normal length range for recreational and fishing sit-on-top kayaks. Choose a longer kayak if you want more speed and glide or a shorter one if you want stability and easier handling.

  • Sit-on-top kayak prices

    Sit-on-top kayak prices are amongst the cheapest you will find (with some exceptions). Sit-on-top kayaks at big box stores like Walmart and Costco start at approximately $100 for kids’ models, with basic beginner sit-on-top kayaks for casual use starting at around $150 to $200.

    Remember, you get what you pay for; if you’re looking for a better design in a beginner sit-on-top kayak consider investing $500 to $1,000 in a recreational kayak from an established brand such as Ocean Kayak, which sells at outdoors stores like REI.

    High-end sit-on-top surf skis are meant for performance paddling in open water conditions and constructed in space-age composite laminates that are stiff, efficient to paddle and ultra light, and cost upwards of $3,000 or more.

  • Sit-on-top kayak brands

    Some common sit-on-top kayak brands include Pelican, Lifetime and Sun Dolphin for cheap recreational boats. If you’re looking for something with greater comfort and performance consider a sit-on-top boat from Ocean Kayak, the brand that originated this style of kayak in the 1980s.

    Eddyline, Dagger, Wilderness Systems and Perception also produce higher quality sit-on-top kayaks. Just about every kayak manufacturer makes sit-on-top models, including kayak fishing brands like Jackson Kayak, Hobie and Old Town. For high-performance sit-on-top surf skis, consider brands like Epic and Stellar.

  • Sit-on-top kayak camping

    Sit-on-top kayak camping is possible if you pack your gear properly and choose a large enough kayak to carry your load. In terms of packing, be sure to load your gear and provisions in waterproof drybags to protect critical items from getting wet. Choose a larger sit-on-top kayak with a large enough capacity to haul your gear—and to paddle more efficiently over longer distances.

    Some sit-on-top kayaks are specifically designed for camping and include watertight hatches within the hull to pack your gear (use drybags to be sure your stuff stays dry). Expect to pay more for a sit-on-top kayak that’s sized and designed for camping trips than a typical recreational model.

  • Parts of a sit-on-top kayak

    The main parts of a sit-on-top kayak are the hull (bottom) and deck (top). Sit-on-top kayaks are defined as having an open deck, with a cockpit (that is, where the paddler sits), exposed to the elements for easy entry and exit. The front and back of the kayak are known as the bow and stern, respectively.

    Look for a sleek, knife-like bow (or entry) for better glide. You may find a rudder, which provides directional control and is operated with the feet, at the stern of the kayak.

    Check out our Parts Of A Kayak for a complete overview of kayak parts and nomenclature.

  • Sit-on-top kayak modifications

    Kayak anglers love to make sit-on-top kayak modifications to make their boats more customized for fishing. Easy upgrades include rod holders and tackle holders. Searching YouTube will identify plenty of options for you to consider.

    Before making any sit-on-top kayak modifications consider how the changes will affect your paddling posture in the boat, including your ability to reach the water. Also think about how modifications will affect stability, such as load capacity, and how well you are able to exit the kayak in case of a capsize.

  • Are sit-on-top kayaks good for rivers?

    Sit-on-top kayaks are good for easy rivers with slow current. Some sit-on-top kayaks are meant for beginner, Class I-II whitewater. Look for designs with some rocker (upturn at the bow and stern) for better maneuverability and handling in current and on twisting, turning waterways.

  • Are sit-on-top kayaks safer?

    Sit-on-top kayaks feel safer for beginners because their open decks are far less confining and offer easy entry and exit. However, it’s important to remember that beginner sit-on-top kayaks are meant for use in calm, sheltered water. Beginner sit-on-top kayaks are not seaworthy for open water use.

  • Are sit-on-top kayaks more stable?

    In general, sit-on-top kayaks are exceptionally stable. Look for designs with wide, flat bottoms for the greatest stability.

  • Can sit-on-top kayaks sink?

    Some sit-on-top kayaks can sink if they are not equipped with a properly fitting drain plug. Be sure to check the integrity of this key item before you launch on the water. Replacement drain plugs are available for most models of sit-on-top kayaks.

  • Can you stand up on a sit-on-top kayak?

    Whether or not you can stand up on a sit-on-top kayak depends on the model. Designs with wide, flat bottoms are exceptionally stable. In fact, some sit-on-top fishing kayaks are meant for stand-up casting.

  • How to store sit-on-top kayak

    You should store your sit-on-top kayak covered and out of the elements. Ideally, this means keeping your kayak in a garage or shed, but a tarp will also work. Consider an inflatable sit-on-top kayak, which packs down to the size of a large gym bag, if you lack storage space.

  • How to transport sit-on-top kayak

    Smaller sit-on-top kayaks may fit in the bed of large pickup trucks. But in general, rooftop carrying is the usual way to transport a sit-on-top kayak. For this you require ropes and straps and a properly designed kayak rack system for your vehicle. Kayak foam blocks work for short road trips, but if you plan to cartop your sit-on-top kayak regularly you should invest in a dedicated roof rack system.

    Not only do roof racks provide secure transport at highway speeds, they also protect your car’s finish from dings and dents. Be sure to secure your kayak at four points, with two straps (or ropes) over the mid-section of the kayak (at the roof racks) and with bow and stern ropes on either end.

    You may want to consider an inflatable sit-on-top kayak if you do not own a car or would prefer not to invest in a roof rack.

  • Fastest sit-on-top kayak

    The fastest sit-on-top kayaks are surf skis, which are extremely narrow (and tippy) and designed for fitness paddling in open water conditions, for experienced paddlers. If you’re looking for more speed in a typical recreational sit-on-top kayak look for a model that’s relatively long and narrow for the best glide.

  • Lightest sit-on-top kayak

    There are two good options if you’re looking for the lightest sit-on-top kayak. The first, if you’re a recreational paddler with a tight budget, is to consider an inflatable sit-on-top kayak, some of which weigh well under 25 pounds.

    The second option, applicable only to athletic and skilled paddlers with plenty of money to spend, is to invest in a composite sit-on-top surf ski from a brand like Epic or Stellar. Constructed of (pricey) Kevlar and carbon fiber, these high-performance boats are meant for paddling on open water and weigh less than 30 pounds.

Sit-on-top kayak reviews

Turn to our expertly written kayak reviews for reliable, authoritative advice in selecting the best sit-on-top kayak for your paddling dreams


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