9 Mistakes To Avoid When Buying A Kayak On Craigslist

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

Whether you are new to paddling and curious, or experienced and ready to get just the right deal, there’s a lot to be said for buying a used kayak. Purchasing a used Craigslist kayak is a great way to get started with paddling, especially if you want a low-cost trial period to make sure you like kayaking before making a larger investment in a new boat. Searching Craigslist for kayaks for sale is also a great option for experienced paddlers who want to try out a new style of paddling or type of boat for cheap.

However, it’s important to be a smart buyer when you’re considering kayaks for sale on Craigslist. While you may find many good deals, you’ll find an equal number of kayaks that aren’t worth buying. Just because you aren’t paying for a new kayak doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach the search as a well-informed consumer; someone who is ready to analyze what is for sale.

We’ve outlined the common mistakes to avoid when buying a used kayak on Craigslist.

9 mistakes to avoid when buying a kayak on Craigslist

1 Buying the wrong kayak for the job

Kayaks fall into a variety of styles depending on their primary intended use. Each category has its own performance characteristics. Buying the wrong style of kayak for your desired paddling experience will certainly spoil your time on the water. The best Craigslist kayak shopper is an informed one. Our comprehensive Paddling Buyer’s Guide is a great place to start your research.

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.

Recreational kayaks

Recreational kayaks are short (less than 12 feet long), wide, stable and great for beginners, casual paddlers, children and those nervous about being on the water. While many have a sit-inside cockpit with a seat, backrest and foot supports, some recreational kayaks (known as sit-on-tops) have more basic open cockpits, which are great in hot weather.

Sit-on-tops are also the norm for fishing kayaks, a sub-genre of recreational kayaks that is distinguished by standard angler-specific accessories like rod holders and tackle storage areas.

Recreational kayaks are by far the most popular type of kayak on the market. They’re great for flatwater paddling and short trips in benign conditions, such as those found on small lakes, quiet rivers and sheltered coves. Don’t expect to enjoy impressive glide, speed or paddling efficiency from these boats.

Recreational kayaks are safe to use on calm, protected water but they can be dangerous in exposed, open-water conditions because they lack safety features like floatation, bulkheads and deck lines.

Popular manufacturers of used recreational kayaks on Craigslist include Pelican, Sun Dolphin, Old Town, Ocean Kayak and more.


Touring kayaks

Touring kayaks are longer (14 to 18 feet), narrower and have more storage than recreational kayaks. They are designed for longer trips and come equipped with storage and hatches with lids that can be removed.

Most touring kayaks are sit-inside designs. They are designed to move straight and efficiently in the water and some will have a skeg or a rudder for directional control. Typical brands of used kayaks on Craigslist include Wilderness Systems and Current Designs.


Whitewater kayaks

Whitewater kayaks are very short (6 to 8 feet) and have pronounced rocker, meaning that they’re shaped like a banana with upturned ends to maximize maneuverability in currents. Consequently, they are slow and inefficient to paddle on flatwater. Popular brands on Craigslist include Jackson Kayak and Wavesport.


Knowing the characteristics of these broad categories of kayaks—and which one best aligns with your objectives—is the first step toward making an informed decision.

2 Missing out on critical safety features

Along with choosing the right kayak for your desired pursuit, it’s essential to purchase a used kayak that matches the environment you’ll be paddling. Recreational kayaks are by far the most common type of kayak for sale on Craigslist. They’re great for sheltered conditions, but they’re dangerous for use on open water.

If you want to paddle in open water, cold water or any environment with the potential for wind and waves, it’s critical that you choose a kayak that’s meant to be seaworthy in more advanced conditions. For example, most recreational kayaks lack bulkheads (walls in the kayak interior that create watertight chambers for floatation). As a result, when a cheap recreational kayak floods with water, it’s likely to sink.

In contrast, touring kayaks are designed to float even when swamped to facilitate open-water rescues (an important skill you will want to learn in a kayaking course).

Carry A Waterproof VHF Radio, Use Your Phone Only As A Backup
  • A handheld VHF marine band radio allows you to communicate with the Coast Guard and other boat traffic. Use Channel 16 only for hailing and emergencies. The radio should be waterproof, because it is virtually certain to get wet.
  • A cell phone, even if in a waterproof case or sealable bag, might not work, so don’t rely on it as the primary means of emergency communication.

3 Not giving a kayak the once-over

Regardless of the material the Craigslist kayak is made of, you should give it a detailed inspection. Examine the deck and hull for damage including deep gouges more than 3 mm or 1/8th of an inch deep; obvious abrasion, especially if the worn areas are a different color from the rest of the kayak; and deformities, which will make the kayak paddle less efficiently.

Recreational kayaks and some touring models are often made of durable plastic that’s meant to withstand plenty of abuse; some damage is fine, so long as the shape of the kayak remains intact. Cracks in a composite, namely fiberglass or Kevlar, kayak often reveal that the kayak is old or received rough treatment.

The best way to check the integrity of outfitting components—including seat, backrest, thigh pads and foot supports—is to take a seat in the cockpit and make sure the outfitting works properly. For example, if the kayak has ratchet straps, crank and loosen them. Next, use a flashlight to take a look inside the kayak. Take hatches on and off and see if they seal.

Flip over the kayak and see if there is any warping in the hull; any waves or lumps in the bottom of the kayak will impact paddling efficiency and may be the sign of an old, worn kayak. Bulkheads are critical in ensuring a kayak remains watertight when the cockpit is flooded; make sure they’re sound and well-sealed in the hull.

There is a difference between a well-used boat, and an abused boat. Sometimes these differences can be hard to spot. Broken items are a giveaway that a kayak didn’t receive proper treatment.

4 Buying a sun-damaged kayak

Color is more than just an aesthetic concern when buying a used kayak on Craigslist. Faded color on the hull or deck is a good indicator that the kayak was stored outside for extended periods of time. Short-term outdoor storage is fine, but, over the long haul, UV radiation will compromise the strength of fiberglass kayaks and make the hull of a plastic kayak softer and less efficient to paddle. It’s also a hint that the kayak could have been abused in other ways, too.

5 Not trying the kayak before you buy

The only way to fully assess the comfort and performance of a kayak is to try it before committing to a purchase. Arrange a meeting place with the seller that allows you to take a few moments on the water. Bring your usual paddle and dress in what you plan to wear while paddling. With a sit-inside kayak, be sure to assess how easy the boat is to enter and exit.

6 Missing out on usual damage

The moving parts on a kayak suffer a lot of wear and tear, so it’s worth inspecting things like the rudder or skeg, which are features on touring kayaks that offer directional control; adjustable foot supports, which can become jammed and broken by sand and grit; and fasteners to attach hatch covers. All these items can be replaced at a reasonable cost and with modest DIY skills, but they may offer a discerning buyer the opportunity to haggle on price.

Other things to watch out for are sun-damaged hatch covers, which may feel dry or brittle, and missing parts like scupper plugs, which are one-way valves that allow water to drain off the deck of sit-on-top kayaks.

7 Not buying the right gear to go with your kayak

The mistake of buying your kayak on Craigslist but not looking into what else you need to be safe on the water could have grave consequences. Safety on the water starts with a properly-fitted, Coast Guard-approved personal floatation device (PFD). A paddling PFD offers both floatation and enough mobility to move your arms and rotate your torso to paddle efficiently. If you’re offered a PFD as part of a used kayak sale make sure it’s in good shape, fits properly and is Coast Guard-approved for the location you’ll be paddling.

Sit-inside kayaks of the recreational, touring and whitewater variety are meant to be used with a sprayskirt, which seals the paddler in the kayak and keeps spray out. It’s recommended that you take a paddling course before using a sprayskirt to learn the proper technique for exiting the kayak should you capsize.

Another key factor in paddling safely is dressing appropriately for the water temperature, which may involve investing in gear like a wetsuit or drysuit if you paddle in cold water conditions. A bilge pump is another important safety accessory for sit-inside kayaks, allowing you to empty water from the cockpit. Similarly, a 15-meter (50-foot) buoyant heaving line may be invaluable during a rescue.

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.

8 Paying too much

In general—that is, before Covid-19 put a premium on outdoor equipment—the typical starting point for a used Craigslist kayak in moderate condition was about half its retail price. All that’s changed in the wake of boat shortages brought on by the pandemic, but you can use it as a starting point in haggling for a price.

9 Rushing a decision

Possibly the biggest mistake when shopping for a used kayak on Craigslist is to rush into buying something that isn’t right for you. As with any purchase, only act on something that feels right. There are plenty of used kayaks on Craigslist, with new ones being posted all the time; take your time, do your due diligence and, with patience, you will find the right boat for you.


This content was made possible with the support of Ontario Creates.

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