The right kayak can elevate fishing from a pleasant day at the lake to an outright adventure. These small boats can not only take you beyond the dock but beyond a motorboat. Their slim profile and shallow draft can take you into tight spots that other fishers couldn’t dream of accessing.
However, there are two main kinds of kayaks for fishing: sit in and sit on. When it comes to a sit on vs sit in kayak for fishing, which one is best for you? In this article, we’ll go over all the pros and cons so you can make your choice with confidence.
How to Choose the Right Kayak Option
To answer the question of a sit on vs sit in kayak for fishing, the best option for you boils down to your priorities, what situations you plan to use it in, and what your level of paddling skill is.
Here are just a few things to keep in mind when choosing a kayak:
- In what seasons or weather conditions will you be using it? For example, do you want to take some trips in early spring, or will you mostly be using it in summer?
- How much gear do you need to carry, and does it matter if it gets wet?
- What kind of water will you use it in: lakes, oceans, or rivers with rapids?
- How comfortable are you righting a boat that has tipped over?
Regardless of which kayak you choose, it’s vital that you become properly trained to handle it. Just because it doesn’t have a motor doesn’t mean that this type of vessel isn’t incredibly dangerous.
Flipping over the kayak in hazardous waters, while a common occurrence, is a recipe for disaster. Data from 2017 indicates that 15% of all boating-related deaths occurred with kayaks, the second-highest of all watercraft surveyed. Of those deaths, the most common contributing factor was operator error.
Pros and Cons of Sit On Kayaks
Sit on kayaks, also known as sit-on-top kayaks, are wide, flat boats that carry the rider above the water. Unlike a sit in kayak, there are no enclosures around the cockpit area.
These kayaks are popular choices for fishing enthusiasts because of their many convenient features. You can find many models that are designed with rod holders, saving you the hassle of having to install your favorite accessories.
Flipping over your kayak or taking on water is bound to happen. With a sit on kayak, fixing the situation is easier than with a sit in kayak.
Sit on kayaks are difficult to flip in the first place. They have a wide, heavy construction meant to counteract the otherwise high center of gravity that comes with having the rider sit above the water. You can tilt the boat quite a bit before it flips over completely, an essential feature for when you jostle the boat while reeling in a catch.
If the kayak does flip over, it’s relatively easy to flip it right-side-up again. For starters, the flatter shape gives you great leverage. There are also no enclosed spaces for water to get trapped in, which would otherwise drag the kayak down and make it more difficult to recover.
The other handy feature is that sit on kayaks are self-bailing. Small holes around the cockpit area allow water to drain out on its own, so when a wave hits, you can keep fishing and not have to worry about bailing out your boat.
Great in warm weather
Enclosed spaces can trap heat and create uncomfortable mugginess. With a sit on kayak, you have full access to cooling breezes and the occasional water spray. This is a lifesaver on long fishing days during the summer.
Full range of movement
With no walls or enclosures in the way, it’s easy to hop off the kayak whenever you want. This is ideal in situations when you want to wade into shallow waters to cast your line.
Another benefit of having a full range of movement is that it’s easy to get off and move the kayak around obstacles, such as river rapids, rocks, or downed trees.
Finally, if the kayak tips over, you don’t have to worry about struggling to free yourself from the cockpit. It’s easy to swim away and keep your head above water.
Easily accessed storage
Any gear you need to bring sits directly on top of the kayak, making it quick and easy to access. This is especially convenient when fishing because you can strap a cooler or tank next to the cockpit that can hold your catches.
Sit on kayaks are typically heavier than sit in kayaks. This makes them difficult to drag or carry around obstacles. A piece of equipment called a kayak cart makes them easier to transport.
Sit on kayaks are wider to help compensate for their high center of gravity, but this also makes them slower and less agile. If your favorite fishing spot requires navigating a river with some rapids or covering long distances, then a sit on kayak probably isn’t your best choice.
No protection from elements
With no enclosed cockpit, you’re completely exposed to the weather and environment around you. On windy, rainy, or cold days, this can be uncomfortable. The right clothing helps mitigate some of these factors.
No dry storage
If you want to paddle out on a multi-day fishing trip with your friends, a sit on kayak allows for ample storage of gear. However, none of it is guaranteed to keep your stuff dry, especially if the kayak tips over.
Dry bags from your local sporting goods store can fix this problem, but that’s another layer of gear you need to worry about.
Pros and Cons of Sit In Kayaks
Sit in kayaks have an opening that allows the rider to sit inside the vessel, partially covering their legs. The rider sits at or slightly below the water line, which contributes to their low center of gravity. You can even use one in whitewater situations, although you need advanced training.
Sit in kayaks are the go-to choice for paddlers who want to navigate river rapids. Their slim, short profile makes it easier to turn quickly, which is critical in fast-moving waters that require quick reaction times.
Thanks to their low center of gravity, sit in kayaks are much faster than their sit on cousins. If you need to cover long distances with minimal effort, then this type of kayak has the advantage.
Great in cold weather
Sit in kayaks are ideal for paddlers who want to use their boat in the spring or autumn because of the extra warmth it provides.
Having an enclosed cockpit keeps you warm in two ways. First, it shields you from wind and rain, especially if you’re wearing a spray skirt. Secondly, it traps your body heat within the enclosed space, giving you an added layer of warmth.
Stable in windy conditions
Less of your body is exposed with a sit in kayak, meaning there’s less of a surface area for the wind to push like a sail. As a result, sit in kayaks are more stable in windy conditions that sit on kayaks.
Ample dry storage
If you want to slip your fishing gear into the cockpit without worrying about having to tie it down, then a sit in kayak is a great choice.
Many sit in kayaks also have extra holds in the bow and stern which provide storage space for gear you don’t need to get to right away. These holds are typically covered with a hatch, protecting the contents from water.
Overall, sit in kayaks are the better choice for long or overnight trips when you want to keep your gear as dry as possible.
Unlike a sit on kayak, you can’t get out and walk around whenever you want to wade, stretch your legs, or even go for a swim. It’s difficult to get out of the kayak without tipping it over, and even more challenging to get back in.
Tipping over in a sit in kayak can be a sticky situation, especially if you haven’t been properly trained in how to recover the boat.
For one thing, having your legs partially enclosed in a sit in kayak makes it tricky to swim away from a capsized vessel. Sit in kayaks also take on water when flipped, so they’re more difficult to right and bail out than sit on kayaks.
Mastering a maneuver known as an Eskimo roll is the quickest way to recover a tipped sit in kayak. An Eskimo roll is when you don’t eject yourself from the vessel after it flips, but instead attempt to right it while you’re still inside the cockpit. It’s essential to practice this maneuver in a controlled environment with a more experienced paddler before trying it on your own.
Poor in warm weather
While the enclosure keeps you warm on chilly spring or autumn days, it can steam things up in summer. Poor air circulation inside the cockpit can make things uncomfortable, and it’s even worse if you’re wearing a spray skirt, an accessory that seals off the cockpit entirely.
Water gets trapped inside
Sit in kayaks don’t have the same self-bailing holes that sit on versions do. Water can get inside cockpit, which while easy enough to bail out with a hand pump, is the last thing you want to think about doing in certain situations.
For example, if you want to do some ocean fishing, you might need to enter from the beach. As the kayak goes over breaking waves, you’ll likely take on water. Stopping to pump it out is not ideal when you’re trying to paddle out to calmer waters.
Difficult to access storage
There are few options for storing fish with a sit in kayak. You can tie them to a string that hangs off the side of the boat, but this can create draft and even attract predators such as sharks when in the ocean or alligators in some freshwater environments.
Sit On vs Sit In Kayak for Fishing: Which is Best?
Overall, sit on kayaks offer features that make it a solid choice in a variety of fishing situations. They’re difficult to tip, easy to right, are self-bailing, and have plenty of space for tying down your equipment and holding tank. You can also get on and off a sit on kayak easily, and it doesn’t trap heat around your body on warm, sunny days.
Sit in kayaks, on the other hand, are better suited for tackling whitewater, can protect you from the elements, and will keep you warm on chilly spring and fall days. However, you need training and practice to use one safely.
Our final verdict? The sit on kayak is the better all-purpose choice for a novice paddler, while the sit in kayak is better for expert paddlers who want to navigate rapids or go fishing during colder times of the year.