Sit In Vs Sit On Top Kayaks - Which is best?

Canoes and Kayaks

Which Are Better? Sit In vs Sit On Top Kayaks?

Whether you love the adrenaline rush of high-speed white water kayaking or simply enjoy paddling in calm waters whilst contemplating nature, kayaking can be fun. However, a large chunk of this fun will depend on how well-acquainted and comfortable you are with your watercraft. 

So how do you decide which kayak suits you best?

For starters, you’ll need to learn more about the sit in ands sit on top kayaks. We’ll go through the details of both here so you can decide which one fits the bill for you.

sit on top vs sit in kayak

Sit On Top Kayak Vs Sit In: What Is The Difference?

As their names suggest, the main distinction between these kayaks lies in their structures.

A sit-in kayak has a cockpit where the kayaker typically sits within the hull. 

A sit-on-top kayak has a shape similar to that of a sit-in kayak but does not have the “hole” or the cockpit that is typical of a regular kayak. A sit on top kayak has slight depressions in the top of the hull where the kayakers feet, legs and bottom are situated. 

While both boats differ in their structures, it does not signify one’s superiority over the other. They both have their purposes. Let us see how.

Sit In Kayaks

Sit-In kayaks have been around for a long time, dating back as far as 7,600 BC and have traditionally been used for hunting and fishing. 

As mentioned before, they feature the closed cockpit design where the kayaker sits inside the hull. This makes them better suited for kayaking out in cold waters or for those who would prefer not to get wet. 

Sit-in kayaks keep you protected from the elements such as the sun, wind and rain. With undercover storage areas front and rear to keep your gear dry, they are an excellent choice for practical purposes. They are well suited for intermediates and expert kayakers.

sit in vs sit on top kayak

Advantages Of Sit In Kayaks.

  • Sit-insides provide a shield against water and wind, making them suitable for practical purposes such as fishing and hunting, or search and rescue.
  • The structure of Sit-in kayaks enables the use of a sprayskirt: a protective cloth that prevents water from coming into the hull or onto the paddler’s legs. It comes in handy when shielding against cold weather.
  • There are no scupper holes in the hull of sit-in kayaks, which means it stays dry and warm.
  • In the cockpit, the legs of the paddler are in the hull. The placement gives them greater control over the boat with easier maneuverability. 
  • A narrower hull means these kayaks are faster, require less effort, and are much easier to control.
  • The lower center of gravity assist with stability in choppy waters and when making turns.

Drawbacks Of Sit-In Kayaks?

  • Sit-in kayaks have a non-adjustable seat. It may get uncomfortable when in use for long periods. 
  • The cockpit makes it difficult for the paddler to get in and out of the boat.
  • In the event of the boat getting capsized, if it gets filled with water it can only be forced out with bilge pumps and a sponge or by removing the kayak from the water.
  • Getting back into a capsized kayak can be difficult.
  • Capsizing with a cover (skirt) requires the paddler to either remove themselves from the cockpit (wet exit) or perform a more difficult Eskimo Roll technique to upright the kayak. 

Sit On Top Kayaks

A sit-on-top kayak features a shallow depression for sitting and an area to rest your feet. It lacks the enclosed space that is typical of a sit-in kayak, as well as a deck. This translates to no protection from the environmental elements for the paddler. 

Water from waves and from the paddle usually splash onto the body and legs of a sit on top paddlers . This is why sit-on-top kayaks are very popular in hotter weather and regions. Sit-on-tops are better suited for those who have just begun kayaking.

sit on top kayak vs sit in

Advantages Of Sit On Top Kayaks?

  • Sit-on-tops are beginner-friendly kayaks.
  • It is much easier for the paddler to get on a sit-on-top kayaks since there is no enclosed space.
  • The structure also makes it easier for paddlers to go for a swim and re-enter the kayak with ease making. them ideal for warmer weather.
  • There is little chance of sit-on-top kayaks sinking because of their structure.
  • As they do not fill with water, it eliminates the need to carry a bilge pump.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are wider and have a higher center of gravity.
  • The ease of landing and launching sit-on-top kayaks makes them a sound option for those who have just started kayaking. They are also ideal for those who cannot move freely, perhaps because of medical conditions.

 Drawbacks Of Sit On Top Kayaks?

  • It is next to impossible to avoid being splashed with water when paddling on a sit-on-top kayak, which is not so great in winter.
  • If you do decide to opt for a sit-on-top kayak in cold weather, you will need the appropriate dressing, and gear to keep yourself protected from the many danger of Hypothermia. 
  • They are more difficult to manoeuvre and slower than sit in kayaks.
  • May need a longer and thus heavier paddle due to the width of the kayak. 
  • The scupper holes, though useful, always allow a bit of water in the bilge, causing it to be a bit wet at all times.
  • Very limited options for dry space storage.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are generally heavier and difficult to move and carry on the shore.

Sit In Vs Sit On Top Kayaks: Comparison

  • Boat length: Sit-in kayaks are longer and narrower allowing them to travel faster.
  • Capacity: sit-on-top kayaks usually have a higher loading capacity than sit-in kayaks.
  • Stability: Sit-on-top kayaks have higher primary stability (boat’s ability to stay upright). On the contrary, sit-in kayaks have higher secondary stability ( the boat’s ability to handle turns at large angles).
  • Accommodation: Sit-in kayaks have limited leg space and may get uncomfortable if you’ve been paddling for long. Sit-on-tops allow room for mobility and moving around, with plenty of leg space.
  • Intended use: If you are going out into rough waters, you need to protect yourself from the elements. In this a case, a sit-in kayak would be a better choice. If however, you intend to have a little summer sightseeing fun in the river and don’t mind a few drops, a sit-on-top would be be an excellent choice.
  • Price: Both types of kayaks have similar price ranges.


The long running debate over which is best, sit in vs sit on top kayaks, is an unnecessary one. The value and uses of both these styles of kayak depends on the needs of the paddler.  

Both have their pros and cons that require evaluation before you choose one over the other. The best way to choose which kayak is by determining where, when and what you will use the kayak for.  Your expertise and the experience you are seeking are also important factors to take into consideration.

Choose wisely and happy kayaking!

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