Best Sun Dolphin Kayaks For 2024

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

Built in the “The Great Lakes State,” Sun Dolphin kayaks are some of the most affordable on the market. Sun Dolphin began making pedal boats on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1982. Today, they’ve expanded their offerings to include bargain-priced recreational and fishing kayaks, paddleboards and other watercraft.

You’ll find both sit-on-top and sit-inside Sun Dolphin kayaks. No matter the style, they are characterized by their durability, user-friendly stability and low cost. Sun Dolphin recreational and fishing kayaks are best suited for short outings in calm conditions, such as small lakes, slow-moving rivers or sheltered coves. The plastic construction is built rugged to handle impacts, and requires very little maintenance. All Sun Dolphin kayaks feature a wide, flat bottom so the paddler feels stable, and sit-inside designs have an open cockpit for easy entry and exit.

For new paddlers, Sun Dolphin kayaks are a great starter boat—you can try kayaking without needing to invest in a high-end boat right out of the gate. Sun Dolphin kayaks fall into the “recreational kayak” category, and within that category they are some of the least expensive on the market.

They are also widely available; you’ll find Sun Dolphin kayaks at big-box department and outdoor stores across North America, as well as online at Amazon. Consider a Sun Dolphin if you are looking for a simple, stable kayak for casual excursions, without additional features driving the price up.

Top picks: Best Sun Dolphin kayaks for 2024

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

Shop for Sun Dolphin kayaks

Our Paddling Buyer’s Guide features every Sun Dolphin kayak on the market. Filter the results by kayak type, size or where to buy. Retail outlets across North America carry Sun Dolphin kayaks. There’s a good chance that one is available at a big-box store near you.

Click on specific models to see specs, prices, reviews and more. These reviews help illustrate what kind of paddler uses each kayak, and what are its strengths or limitations.

Shopping for a used Sun Dolphin kayak?

Sun Dolphin kayaks are affordable to begin with, and finding them used will really be a score. If you want to save some money, or you are unsure whether kayaking is something you’ll stick with, consider buying used. There are some things to consider when you’re shopping for a used Sun Dolphin kayak.

All Sun Dolphin kayaks are made from high density polyethylene (HDPE). HDPE is a plastic that is strong and impact-resistant, since it flexes rather than cracking. Even with frequent use, it’s unlikely that the kayak will be damaged to the point that it’s unusable. The exception is if there are cracks or holes right through the hull of the boat.

For a sit-inside kayak, these are pretty obvious to see. On sit-on-top kayaks, pick the kayak up and listen for water sloshing around inside. This is a good indicator that there is a hole in the hull. Repairs may be possible; Sun Dolphin provides a polyethylene repair kit for small holes.

One thing that may damage the kayak is using ratchet-style straps to secure the kayak to a rack. This can happen when loading the kayak on a car or trailer; it’s easy to over-tighten ratchet straps. The plastic may bend under the pressure, which can cause warping or distortion of the kayak hull. Look for damage from ratchet straps along the sides of the kayak, bending and warping will be obvious.

Sun damage may be another potential issue with a used Sun Dolphin. Although the plastic has a UV-resistant coating, it will eventually degrade with continuous exposure. If the kayak was stored in direct sunlight, there’s a good chance the plastic will be weakened by UV damage.

Inspect the hull for speed-sapping warping or excessive fading, checking to see if one side of the kayak is paler than the other. It doesn’t mean that the kayak is unusable, but it may wear out more quickly than a kayak that was stored indoors.

Thoroughly inspect the foot pegs, hatch, seat and any other outfitting. It’s more likely to find wear on these components than the kayak hull itself. Make sure that seat buckles clip, and that adjustable foot pegs (if they are present) slide forward and backwards. Broken or missing parts may not be a deal-breaker; Sun Dolphin’s customer service team can help source replacement parts.

Buying used may also give you the option to try out a Sun Dolphin before you buy it—something that isn’t possible at Walmart or Costco. If the seller agrees, take the boat onto the water and see if you feel stable. Wear the clothes and PFD you intend to paddle in, and make sure it fits comfortably when you are seated in the kayak. Ultimately, trying the kayak before you buy it is the best way to know if it’s a good match for you.

Wear A Life Jacket
  • Everyone, even strong swimmers, needs to wear a life jacket at all times when on the water. It is extremely difficult to put a life jacket on once you fall into the water. Even a light wind can blow any paddlecraft away from you, faster than you can swim.
  • Always wear a USCG-approved Level 70 or Type III life jacket designed for paddling.

Paddlesports participation skyrocketed during pandemic lockdowns, and cheap boats like Sun Dolphin kayaks sold out rapidly. As restrictions lift, expect to see more of these kayaks on the market as some people either upgrade or lose interest in kayaking. So what’s a fair price to pay for a used recreational kayak? As a general rule, a kayak in working condition will be at least half its original price, no matter how old it is.

Beware of price-gougers who try to take advantage of product shortages, marking-up used kayaks to higher than their new retail price. Before you make a deal, cross-reference prices you see with the ones listed in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide.

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

Sun Dolphin kayak buying guide

Is a Sun Dolphin the right kayak for you? And if so, which one should you choose?

Recreational kayaks are designed to be stable and easy to use, and that’s what you will get with a Sun Dolphin kayak. These beginner-friendly boats are best suited to short outings on sheltered waters. If you’re comparing Sun Dolphin with other recreational kayak brands, the price is likely a deciding factor. Sun Dolphin kayaks are some of the cheapest on the market. They keep the costs down by producing basic kayaks with simplistic features and outfitting.

Other, more expensive recreational kayaks will boast more refined designs and more comfortable, adjustable seating. Sun Dolphins are stripped down and reliable. If you just want something inexpensive to get out on the water and enjoy nature, Sun Dolphin is an excellent choice.

If that sounds like you, your next decision will be to choose a sit-on-top or sit-inside kayak. Both have their merits and drawbacks.

Sit-on-top kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks have an open deck and seating area that makes them very easy to enter and exit. They are extremely stable, and can accommodate a range of body sizes. The open deck eliminates claustrophobic feelings that new, nervous paddlers sometimes experience. If the kayak capsizes, the paddler slides off. They can then hoist themselves back on or just bring the kayak ashore.

Sun Dolphin has six sit-on-top models in their recreational kayak lineup, including the Bali 6 youth kayak, the Camino 8, Capri 10 and Bali SS in three different sizes. The Bali 13.5 is a tandem sit-on-top, which can be paddled solo or with a partner. Sun Dolphin also offers three sit-on-top options for anglers: 10- and 12-foot versions of the Journey SS, and the pontoon-hulled Boss 12 SS for stand-up fishability.

Sit-inside kayaks

Sit-inside kayaks offer a more secure connection between paddler and kayak, allowing for more control with the lower body. The closed decks also provide better protection from splashes, rain, baking sun or paddle drips, as opposed to the exposure of a sit-on-top. While recreational sit-inside kayaks resemble short, wide sea kayaks, there are some major differences that limit recreational sit-inside kayaks to calm water use only.

Recreational kayaks are exceptionally stable, but in rough conditions they can flip like any other kayak. Without a watertight bulkhead (interior wall separating the cockpit from the rest of the kayak) for flotation, the kayak can sink or become impossible to paddle to shore. If you plan on paddling offshore or in rough conditions, a touring kayak and proper re-entry techniques are essential.

Sun Dolphin makes four sit-inside recreational kayaks: the Aruba 8 SS, 10 and 12 SS, and the Fiji 10 SS. They also offer two sizes of the Excursion sit-inside fishing kayak, a 10- and a 12-foot. When comparing kayaks, consider the width and length. Wider boats are generally more stable, while longer boats are typically faster. As the kayaks get longer, they also increase in price.

The width and length also influence the weight capacity, as well as the overall weight of the boat. Longer/wider boats will have a higher weight capacity, and also weigh more themselves. If you are planning to paddle with a group of friends, look at the lengths of their boats. You will have a hard time keeping up with a bunch of 12-foot kayaks if yours is only eight feet.

Outfitting, or the features included on a kayak, are also different between models. Some Sun Dolphin kayaks have the Portable Accessory Carrier, a removable storage unit that can be towed behind the kayak to bring extra gear along. When deciding between kayaks, length, comfort and price should be your biggest considerations. Use this guide as a start, and remember that online research will only get you so far. The best advice we can offer is to always test paddle before buying any boat.

Still have questions? Here are answers to some of the most common online questions about Sun Dolphin kayaks.

  • Are Sun Dolphin kayaks any good?

    Sun Dolphin kayaks are great budget recreational kayaks. For paddlers who just want to get out in calm water for short periods, they are more than adequate. Kayakers who want to take overnight trips or venture into more exposed waters will want to look elsewhere. Without bulkheads (interior walls that ensure the kayak won’t sink if swamped), Sun Dolphin kayaks shouldn’t be taken out in rough conditions.

  • Who makes Sun Dolphin kayaks?

    Sun Dolphin kayaks are made by KL Outdoors. KL Outdoors merged with the Canadian company, Hemisphere Design, in 2019.

  • What happened to Sun Dolphin kayaks?

    Sun Dolphin kayaks paused manufacturing briefly in 2019, but after the parent company, KLO, merged with Hemisphere Design, production resumed under the banner KL Outdoors. They are still made in Muskegon, Michigan.

  • Is Future Beach and Sun Dolphin the same?

    Future Beach kayaks were made by GSC Design. They merged with KL Outdoors, manufacturer of Sun Dolphin kayaks, and ceased production under the Future Beach name. Aspects of Future Beach kayak design were incorporated into Sun Dolphin kayaks.

  • Where are Sun Dolphin kayaks made?

    Sun Dolphin kayaks are made in facilities in Muskegon, Michigan.

  • Where to buy Sun Dolphin kayaks

    Find Sun Dolphin kayaks at big-box department stores like Walmart, Home Depot, Tractor Supply Company and Canadian Tire. They are also stocked at outdoor box stores like Cabela’s, Bass Pro, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy Sports. Finally, you can buy Sun Dolphin kayaks online at Amazon.

  • Weight limit on Sun Dolphin kayak

    The weight limit on Sun Dolphin kayaks varies from 140 pounds for a youth kayak to 500 pounds for a tandem or sit-on-top fishing kayak; the information for a specific model can be found in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. All kayaks have fairly high weight capacities, with sit-on-tops generally having higher capacities because of their inherent buoyancy.

Dress For Immersion, Not Air Temperature
  • Your body loses heat much faster when immersed in cold water than it does when dry.
  • Avoid cotton clothing like t-shirts and jeans; they retain water and accelerate cooling when wet. Synthetic fabrics, or wool, are generally a better choice. If the water is very cold (60° fahrenheit or less), you should wear a wetsuit or drysuit.
  • How much does a Sun Dolphin kayak weigh?

    Sun Dolphin kayaks’ weights vary depending on the size and model, ranging from 40 to 80 pounds. All Sun Dolphin kayaks are made with high density polyethylene, which is one of the heavier (and most durable) kayak materials. Compared to composite or thermoformed plastic kayaks, Sun Dolphins may feel very heavy. Compared to other rotomolded plastic kayaks, Sun Dolphins are average.

  • Sun Dolphin kayak dimensions

    Find dimensions for individual Sun Dolphin kayaks in our Paddling Buyer’s Guide. Key dimensions to look for are the length, width, weight and weight limit.

  • How much is a Sun Dolphin kayak?

    Sun Dolphin makes affordable, budget-friendly kayaks. Prices vary depending on the retailer, but most Sun Dolphin kayaks are sold for $250–$400 USD. Check our Paddling Buyer’s Guide to view the prices of each model.

  • Sun Dolphin kayak warranty

    Sun Dolphin kayak hulls are covered by a limited lifetime warranty. Parts like the seat, straps and buckles are under a one-year limited warranty. To qualify for the warranty, Sun Dolphin owners must register their kayak within 30 days of purchase.

  • Sun Dolphin kayak holes in bottom

    If your Sun Dolphin kayak came with holes in the bottom, don’t worry—they are supposed to be there! These are called scupper holes, and they are common on sit-on-top kayaks. These are self-bailing holes, which remove water that ends up on the deck. When you are sitting still, water can splash up from below through the scupper holes.

    It isn’t a safety concern, but it may be uncomfortable if you find yourself sitting in a puddle. To prevent water from coming up through the holes, scupper plugs for your Sun Dolphin kayak can be purchased from the sister company, Extent gear.

  • Sun Dolphin kayak for duck hunting

    The stable platforms and shallow draft of Sun Dolphin sit-on-top fishing kayaks make them appropriate for creeping into a marsh when duck hunting. Kayaks are quieter and smaller than powerboats, meaning you can get into areas most other hunters can’t access. The neutral tones of Sun Dolphin’s fishing kayaks also blend into the natural environment for even greater stealth. Look at the Sun Dolphin Boss 12 SS fishing kayak for the ultimate in stand-up stability.

  • Styrofoam Sun Dolphin kayak

    All Sun Dolphin sit-inside kayaks come with some styrofoam behind the seat to act as flotation. While this is better than nothing, some pieces of styrofoam do not replace a bulkhead (rigid wall inside the hull) and the flotation it provides. For this reason, Sun Dolphin kayaks are best used in calm, sheltered waters where a paddler could readily swim a swamped kayak to shore.

  • Most durable Sun Dolphin kayak

    All Sun Dolphin kayaks are made from their durable, proprietary blend of high density polyethylene (HDPE). The most durable Sun Dolphin kayaks are the sit-on-top models. They have less additional parts than the sit-inside kayaks, so there are less pieces to break.

Sun Dolphin comparison

  • Sun Dolphin or Pelican kayak

    Pelican kayaks are a behemoth manufacturer, producing over 100 different kayak models. Like Sun Dolphin, they focus on recreational kayaks of the sit-inside and sit-on-top variety. Pelican kayaks have a much greater range to choose from, with some models at comparably low prices. Other Pelican kayaks are much more expensive, with more refined outfitting for greater comfort, or more features for anglers.

    Many Pelican kayaks are made with twin-sheet thermoforming—a process that results in a much lighter kayak than Sun Dolphin’s rotomolded polyethylene boats. If you are fine spending a bit of extra money for a lighter kayak, go for a Pelican. If you want to keep costs down with a basic boat, choose a Sun Dolphin.

  • Sun Dolphin vs Viper kayak

    Following KL Outdoors’ merger with GSC Design, the Viper brand was absorbed by KL Outdoors. Viper kayaks are no longer made, although some may still be available. The kayaks are extremely similar to Sun Dolphin. If you find a Viper kayak for a discounted price, it may be a cheaper option, but buying a Sun Dolphin over a Viper means you have access to the warranty and replacement parts should you need them.

  • Sun Dolphin vs Perception kayaks

    Perception is another American kayak manufacturer with a wide range of recreational, day touring and fishing kayak models. Their kayaks are entry- to mid-level in terms of pricing and performance. In general, Perception kayaks are more comfortable and perform better than Sun Dolphin—but they’re also more expensive.

    Choose a Perception kayak over a Sun Dolphin if you’re looking to develop your skills with a boat you won’t quickly outgrow. Perception kayaks have more refined designs (leading to greater speed and glide and better handling in wind and waves) and more ergonomic seats and back supports. If budget is the sole motivator in your kayak purchase, Sun Dolphin offers cheaper kayaks.

  • Lifetime kayak vs Sun Dolphin

    Sun Dolphin and Lifetime produce similar discount-priced kayaks for casual paddlers. You will find both in big box stores across North America. Both brands make sit-inside, sit-on-top, fishing and youth kayaks. There is little difference in kayak design from the two brands since both cater to beginners looking for a cheap introduction to paddling on calm, sheltered water.

    Head-to-head, Sun Dolphin’s kayaks weigh an average 5–10 pounds less than Lifetime’s equivalent; while Lifetime kayaks tend to be a little cheaper. Both will be durable and reliable.

Stay Clear Of All Other Vessels
  • Know the “Rules of the Road” Navigation Rules that govern all boat traffic and stay out of the way of all other vessels.
  • Never assume that power boaters can see you. Avoid high-traffic areas whenever possible. Proceed with caution when you can’t avoid paddling near boats. Dress for visibility.

Sun Dolphin kayak reviews

Reviews are a valuable place to turn to help you narrow down your choices when shopping for a kayak. Find out expert reviews on Sun Dolphin’s line up of boats below.