Sit on Top and Recreational Kayak Charecteristics

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Family Adventure Store

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We tend to group Kayaks into several general categories:

Recreational kayaks (including Sit on Tops) 

Touring kayaks

Whitewater kayaks

Racing & special purpose kayaks

We have posted this basic guide to shed some light for the new comer on some general kayak charecteristics in the hope it will help you make your choice of kayak, at the Family Adventure Store we specialise in Recreational Kayaks and Sit on Top Kayaks though the following info can broadly be applied to all kayaks. 

Recreational kayaks are user-friendly boats for people who just want to get out on the water. Stable and easy to maneuver, these kayaks are ideal for quiet water paddling on lakes, and grade 1 (calm) rivers. Some will come with a very generous cockpit which addresses many people fear of being trapped upside down, and if further assurance in this area were needed Sit on Tops provide the ultimate in feeling untrapped and you will find models tailored for many uses from surfing to fishing or a solo jaunt to a family trip.      

Length Longer kayaks have a number of advantages: they are usually easier to paddle, more stable, and capable of carrying heavier loads with less loss of performance. They also track better, move faster, and glide farther with each stroke than shorter boats, allowing greater efficiency with less effort.
Shorter kayaks, on the other hand, are no doubt lighter, less expensive (depending on material choice) of course, less cumbersome, and easier to transport. But their most important virtue is quicker turns. A short hull is also preferable for paddling on narrow streams, and for smaller individuals and children.

Width The width of a kayak has a definite influence on the boat's handling characteristics. The primary function of width is stability. But handling is sacrificed for that extra width, though a narrow kayak does not work very well in strong currents.
Additional width does add to a boat's carrying capacity though not as much as length, but kayaks that are really wide require a lot of effort to paddle, because the hull has to push aside a lot more water.

The general principles of kayak design are really quite simple. Hulls with flat bottoms, hard chines, (sharp, nearly right-angle edges where bottom and sides meet) and greater flare (curvature of the sides outward) have greater stability. Conversely, round hulls with soft chines (gradual curve where bottom and sides meet), and less flare have less stability, but are more nimble and easier to roll if they should tip over.

A long, skinny kayak with a bow shaped like a narrow V will be fast, because the bow slices through the water rather than piling it up in front of the boat. If instead you make a kayak that is broad in the beam and carry that fullness forward and aft, you have a freighter, not a racer. That kayak might be great for carrying big loads and riding waves, but it will not be quick or very nimble.

Symmetry Kayaks are either symmetrical, which means that the front half and the back half of the kayak have the same shape, or asymmetrical, which means that they don't.

Symmetry affects not only the efficiency of the boat as it moves through water, but also its ability to turn. Symmetrical boats are better for quick maneuvering, as in negotiating small streams or whitewater. Asymmetrical boat designs usually lengthen and streamline the bow for more efficient and faster passage through the water. Directional control is increased, but turning ability is decreased.

There are two types of asymmetrical shapes: fishform and Swedeform. Fishform boats have more volume fore ie ahead of the midpoint, and Swedeform have more volume aft ie behind the midpoint.

Rocker The upturn of the kayak's hull from one end to the other as viewed from the side of the kayak is called rocker. Kayaks with a lot of rocker pivot easily because their ends sit higher in the water and offer less resistance to waves. However, they do not track well. Kayaks with little rocker track much better because they resist the turning forces of waves, current, wind, and inefficient paddling strokes. As a result, they do not turn as easily when the paddler applies a proper turning stroke or leans.

Bottom Shapes The bottom of a kayak as viewed from its ends ranges from flat to V shaped. Flat bottomed kayaks seem very stable at first. Rounded hulls are initially less stable than flat bottoms, but they have greater secondary stability when the boat is leaned. The more pronounced the V shape on the bottom, the better the boat's directional control, but the worse its initial stability. Flat planing hulls are common on whitewater boats, while more rounded bottoms are favored by touring kayak designers.

Chines The transition between the bottom of the kayak and its sides is called the chine. An abrupt, nearly right-angle transition is called a hard chine, and a smoother, more rounded one is a soft chine.

Flare is defined as the angle of a kayak's sides outward from the hull. Kayaks with flared sides have greater stability, but are more difficult to roll.

Volume You'll commonly hear kayakers refer to the volume of a boat. This is literally the amount of space inside the boat, which is expressed in terms of gallons or liters.

These days, there are more kayak designs from which to choose than ever before. Try to paddle as many different models as you possibly can, and look for the one that fits your most frequent style of paddling. And don't forget: there's no law that says you can't have more than one kayak.

Finally should you go ahead and decide to buy we would always advise you to take some kind of basic instruction & join the BCU (British Canoe Union) as they are the greatest single source of help and advice. These guys have information about access rights & licences, competitions, training, youth activities, local canoe clubs and much much more.

Please remember where safety is concerned don't take chances, there are pleanty of people to ask. 

We stock a range of great recreational and sit on top kayaks from manufacturers such as Heritage, Old Town, Ocean Kayak and Emotion Kayaks and we can often arrange a trial paddle if needed, we hope this helps give some general pointers, see you on the water!.    

Terry and Jenny at The Family Adventure Store in Wiltshire


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