Kayaking on the ocean is a very different experience than paddling on flatwater on a lake or protected bay. You’re more likely to get wet from ocean spray and you’ll have to be content with more winds and stronger currents. Fortunately, the best sea kayaks are specifically designed to keep you dry and help you navigate the conditions you’ll find when paddling on the ocean.
Heavy winds and strong currents are two of the most significant challenges for sea kayakers. This is why the best sea kayaks offer a rudder and/or skeg system that gives you extra control over the direction of your vessel. In this article, we’ll explore ten of the best sea kayaks at a variety of price points, as well as the most important features to consider when buying a new sea kayak.
For more of our top kayaking gear recommendations, check out these popular articles:
Lake Kayaks | Touring Kayaks | Kayaks for Beginners | Sit In Kayaks | Kayaks Under $500
Kayaks for Kids | Kayaks for Dogs | Sit-On-Top Kayaks | River Kayaks
Kayaks for Women | Canoes | Tandem Kayaks | Lightweight Kayaks
Quick Answer –The Best Sea Kayaks
Old Town Vapor 12XTView at BackcountryPerception Joyride 10View at REIOcean Kayak Malibu TwoView at BackcountrySTAR Paragon XLView at AmazonPerception Hi FiveView at REI
Comparison Table– Best Sea Kayak
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Old Town Vapor 12XT
Perception Joyride 10
Ocean Kayak Malibu Two
STAR Paragon XL
Perception Hi Five
Want to learn more about a technical term? Check out our Features Explained section below.
Need buying advice? Take a look at these Things to Consider.
Adjustable, Comfort Flex seat with back paddingAdjustable foot brace boosts stabilityThigh braceClick-Seal stern hatch
TOP OVERALL SEA KAYAK CHOICE
If you’re looking for an ideal combination of stability and comfort when gliding out on ocean waters, the Vapor is a solid vessel worth considering.
This hard shell-style sit-inside kayak comes equipped with a super comfy seat decked out with extra padding and complimented by a support track foot brace system. The cockpit tray includes a cup holder and paddle rest. Thigh pads, a drain plug, and skid plate round off the included accessories, making the Vapor a solid choice for spending time out on the sea.
What I like most about this kayak is how spacious the cockpit is and how much legroom you have for stretching out.
Front and rear carry handles2 Solo Mount recessesSelfie Slot™ to stage your smartphoneHinged hatchcover
BEST BUDGET SEA KAYAK
You’d be hard pressed to find a higher quality sea kayak than the Joyride for the affordable $600 price.
The Perception Joyride features everything you need without the extras, making for an awesome starter kayak for your foray into ocean adventures because there’s room to customize down the line. One example of this? The Joyride comes equipped with 2 solo mount recesses so you can add aftermarket accessories as needed without having to drill any extra holes. Storage options include an easy-to-open hinged hatch cover, room for gear in the bulkhead, and bungee cord lashes.
What I like most about this kayak is how stable and lightweight it is for the price.
Compact & lightweightTwo Comfort Plus seatsOverlapping foot wellsDurable skid plateGear straps for storage
BEST TANDEM SEA KAYAK
If you’re looking for a lightweight kayak you can paddle solo or tandem that is made for the sea, look no further.
Ocean Kayak’s Malibu Two is a hard shell sit-on-top style kayak with enough space for two adults and one child or pet. This compact, lightweight boat features two comfortable seats, overlapping footwells that allow for space for a third kayaker or extra gear, a drain plug, and skid plate for extra durability.
What I like most about this kayak is how stable it feels out on the water, even when tackling choppy seas and how easy it is to climb in and out of.
High-pressure drop-stitch floor insertRigid keel insertsAdjustable, highback seat and foot bracesBungee deck rigging
BEST INFLATABLE-STYLE SEA KAYAK
When you need a boat you can deflate and stow away easily but rivals the performance of hard shell alternatives, take a gander at the Paragon XL — it might be exactly what you’re looking for.
The STAR Paragon XL features a high-pressure drop-stitch construction which provides for added rigidity, in addition to the solid keel inserts at the bow and stern. The high-back seat and footrests are both adjustable, allowing for you to customize a comfortable ride out on the water. Gear storage options abound — including in the bow and stern regions as well as bungee deck rigging.
What I like most about the Paragon XL is how well it tracks for an inflatable style kayak. It glides smoothly across calm waters and maneuvers impressively well.
Includes a durable, kid-size paddleSwim-up rear deck, ample standing surfaceHitch and tether systemTwo Solo Mount accessory recesses
BEST SEA KAYAK FOR KIDS
If you’re looking reliable for your kids to paddle out on the ocean, the Perception Hi Five is a solid choice.
This six-foot kayak is an ideal length for smaller paddlers — namely, kids between the ages of 5 and 14. The Hi Five features a hitch and tether system for attaching to an adult’s kayak and making for a tow-behind option. The rear swim-up deck platform makes it easy for kids to enter and exit the vessel while the molded-in paddle rest will keep paddles secure during lunch breaks or swims.
What I like most about this kayak are the two included solo mount accessory recesses, which allow for you to add accessories — like deck pads and leashes — without having to drill additional holes.
View at REI
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN BUYING A SEA KAYAK
Sea kayaking provides some of the most amazing opportunities for viewing ocean wildlife all over the world. But different bays, sounds, and coastlines come with different variables that you need to take into account when choosing a sea kayak. Some examples of those variables include prevailing wind direction and strength, prevailing currents, boat traffic, types of wildlife you might encounter, and opportunities for shore access once you launch.
These are just a few examples of the considerations to keep in mind when selecting a sea kayak. Fewer opportunities to shore access, for example, means you’ll need a kayak that can store all the gear you need for the duration of your trip. It may also mean that you might not have a convenient place to pull your kayak up if you need to bail it out. So, something like an integrated rescue system to help you right and re-enter your kayak might prove imperative.
After the location where you’ll primarily be paddling, the comfort of the kayak should be your next consideration. Believe it or not, there is a proper way to sit in a kayak. If you don’t know how to get yourself comfortably into your kayak, it won’t matter how adjustable the seating system or backrest are – you’ll still be sore after paddling.
That being said, an adjustable seating system is really important for your comfort over the lifetime of your boat. Our bodies naturally adapt and change through the years, so you’ll want a kayak seating system that can adapt right along with you. Furthermore, you’ll want to make sure the seating system in your kayak can be adjusted to fit your height. The best place to learn this information is to consult the recommendations of the individual manufacturer for the specific kayaks you’re looking at.
The deck volume of your kayak should be ample enough for your legs to fit comfortably and still have some space to move around. When you’re paddling on a longer trip, you’ll often find yourself changing up the position of your legs to stay comfortable. If you feel too squeezed into your kayak, you won’t be able to do this. So, make sure the deck volume is ample to provide you with the type of leg room you need. A little extra on this front can’t hurt either, because it will give you additional space to store some of the gear that you’ll want quick access to while you’re on the water.
The weight of the sea kayak you choose will mainly come into play when you’re transporting it to and from the water. But it will also play a role in your ability to maneuver the kayak once you’re on the water. The more the kayak weighs, in general, the deeper it will sit in the water. In some cases, this can actually help the kayak track straighter. But it will generally make your overall paddling speed slower.
On the other hand, a lighter kayak that sits higher up out of the water will glide over the water’s surface more effortlessly. Therefore, you’ll be able to accelerate faster and maintain greater speed over a longer distance. The main drawback here, though, is that a kayak that sits higher up out of the water also becomes less stable in rough-water conditions.
Maneuverability is mainly going to be determined by the length of your kayak and the design of the hull (bottom). In general, a longer kayak is going to be more difficult to maneuver quickly. Longer kayaks are designed to track straighter and offer more straight-line speed. Shorter kayaks, on the other hand, will make it easier to make tight turns and maneuver around rocks or other obstacles.
The design of the hull also plays a role in the maneuverability of the kayak. Generally speaking, a hull design that is closer to a V-shape (and therefore makes the kayak sit deeper in the water) will make the boat track straighter but maneuver less tightly. On the other hand, a shallower hull design will make the kayak easier to maneuver and more able to make quick, tight turns.
The hatches of a kayak are actually the lids or covers that seal the kayak’s storage compartments from water or other debris entering them. The locking system of a kayak’s hatches are generally what is responsible for the compartments truly being watertight (or not!).
The hull is the bottom of the kayak. As we mentioned in the previous section, the kayak’s hull design is largely responsible for its performance. In other words, the bottom of the kayak will determine how well it tracks, how quickly it can accelerate, and how easy it is to maneuver the kayak.
DECK (AND BACK DECK)
The deck is the front of the kayak that’s exposed to the air. In many boats, there is a storage compartment built into the deck and also bungee rigging on top of the deck to provide additional space for attaching and storing gear.
The back deck of a sea kayak also typically includes a built-in storage compartment and bungee rigging for added gear storage. The height of the back deck of a sea kayak also plays a role in how easy it is to roll a kayak. In general, a lower back deck makes it easier to roll and right your sea kayak in the event of a capsize.
The cockpit is the area where you’ll sit in order to steer and maneuver your kayak. The cockpit of a sea kayak can include a number of features, such as bottle holders, tracks to attach gear, thigh braces, foot pads, and more.
Thigh braces are located inside the cockpit of your sea kayak. They give you a comfortable place to rest the tops of your thighs against without them rubbing directly on the plastic or composite material of the kayak itself. They also allow you to gain much-needed stability in your kayak.
FOOT BRACES (OR PEDALS/PADS)
The foot braces (sometimes called pedals or pads too) of a kayak gives you a place to secure your feet while paddling. By bending your knees, securing your feet against the foot braces and your thighs against the thigh braces, you’re able to maintain a more ergonomic paddle position. This position encourages you to engage your core muscles when paddling so that you experience less fatigue in your arms and shoulders.
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