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Sit Inside vs Sit on Top Kayaks: The Winner is?

Shopping for a kayak can feel overwhelming, especially when you're new to kayak fishing. To cut back confusion and make your search a little easier, it's a good idea to narrow down your search field. The first major decision you'll need to make is: do you want a sit inside kayak? 

Both sit inside and sit on top kayaks have their strengths and weaknesses. The key is to look at how you'll be using the vessel to decide which style is right for you. Let's look at the pros and cons of each type of kayak to help you decide where to start your search.

No matter what you choose, PLEASE don't just buy a kayak and head out without being prepared and understanding that you are a boater.  After 19 years of running search and rescue cases for the Coast Guard, I can tell you that inexperienced kayakers are my worst nightmare.  I have seen many tragic circumstances with people who were over confident in their abilities.  

Take a class or ask some experienced friends to accompany you if you are a beginner.  And always wear a lifejacket when you are kayaking.  I cannot emphasize this enough.

One last safety item:  if you don't know how to get back on your kayak if/when you've been ejected, then you don't belong on a kayak.  Save your money.  This is best practiced in a safe environment (like a pool or shallow lake with minimal weather) in the KAYAK THAT YOU WILL BE USING.  Don't think that because you are an expert with a river kayak means that those skills are automatically transferable.  

Getting started in kayaking is super easy and fun, but many people don't understand the weather where they're operating and are not adequately conditioned to withstand longer distances -- especially if they get blown around or encounter and waves or surf conditions.

Locate your local Power Squadron or Coast Guard Auxiliary if you're a newbie, and you'll get squared away with what you need for safety and compliance.

Also, a great reference for all things fishing kayak is yakangler.com.

Okay -- Officer Safety will now stand down!

Sit Inside or Sit on Top Kayak

Sit Inside Fishing Kayaks

A sit inside kayak is the most traditional style and is what most people think of when they hear the word "kayak." Sit inside kayaks have a cockpit or hull that you actually sit inside, with your legs under the front deck. While not as popular as sit on top kayaks, sit inside kayaks can be used for fishing and are great for certain conditions.

I've found that in colder weather or if you're interested in multi-use kayaking (like camping or touring, for instance), then a sit inside may be a better option.  Plus, a lot of people like the idea of being more insulated from the water.  I used a heavy fiberglass touring kayak for years in the Puget Sound where a sit on top wasn't a great option when the water temperature hovered around 50+ degrees year round.

A great option for this type of fishing kayak is the Old Town Vapor 10 fishing kayak.

Pros

  • Protection against the wind. Since you're sitting inside the kayak, the sides of the hull guard you against the wind. If you fish in areas with heavy winds, you may find more relief from the wind inside the cockpit of a sit inside. You'll also be sitting much lower and closer to the surface of the water, reducing the chance of getting blown around in the wind, making it easier to paddle in windy conditions.
  • Warmer in cold conditions. Inside the hull of a sit inside kayak, you're relatively insulated against the outside air, and your body heat is trapped, keeping you warmer in cold conditions. If you like to fish in the winter, the warmer ride of a sit inside kayak may be what you need.
  • Lighter weight and easy to carry and transport. On average, sit inside kayaks weigh less than their rivals. You can also use the cockpit to carry the kayak on your shoulder.

Cons

  • Water gets trapped inside. Unless you plan on using a skirt like white water kayakers do, water will enter the cockpit and have nowhere to go. You'll have to manually remove the water using either a sponge or a hand-held bilge pump.  This is easy enough, but it does take an extra layer of consideration.
  • Lack of room for gear. Sit insides often have less room for your fishing gear that sit on top kayaks. The space for gear they do have can be difficult to access.  Unless you've got a touring type kayak that has a hatch, then you'll have to get creative with deckspace.  Don't overload it!  This can cause stability problems down the road.  When considering a kayak exclusively for fishing, you need to make sure you have ample storage.
  • Difficult to enter and re-enter. If you fish the flats there may be times when you want to get out of your kayak and wade. Sit inside kayaks are more challenging to get in and out of than sit on top kayaks. They can also be incredibly difficult to right if you happen to flip over.
  • Can get very hot in warm weather. For the same reason that sit inside kayaks can be great in cold weather, they can get very stuffy in warm weather. The heat from your legs and feet gets trapped under the deck and things can get sweaty quickly.

Sit On Top Kayaks

While there are times when a sit inside kayak is preferred for fishing, sit on top kayaks have become the go-to choice for fisherman.  Normally they provide a layer of convenience and the modern versions have been designed specifically for fishermen and/or hunters in mind.

Most of them come standard with many extra fishing accessories, allowing you to not only save money, but also save you the frustrations of having to install them.  This, added with an overall dropping price has made this style of kayak easier to start using immediately.

Pros

  • Very stable. These types of kayaks are designed to stay upright, even in rough conditions. Many models have a wider hull that makes it very difficult to flip and even allows you to stand up while fishing.
  • Self-bailing. You'll spend more time fishing and less time pumping water.. Sit on tops are basically a hollow tube, formed into the shape of the kayak. They have vertical holes, called scupper holes, that go from the top to the bottom of the kayak, allowing any water on deck to drain.
  • More space for gear with better access. They have plenty of room to bring any gear you might need for a full day on the water. Most models have a dedicated spot behind the seat to store your cooler or fish bag, and they also have water-tight hatches for dry storage. You'll be at the same level as your gear, which makes it easy to turn around or reach forward to get anything you might need.
  • Easy to get in and out. If you want to get in the water and wade fish, hopping off a sit on top is easy, and getting back on is easy too.

Cons

  • Can be a wet ride. Unlike a sit inside kayak where you're slightly protected from the elements, with a sit on top, you're out in the open. If it rains or waves crash over the bow, you can expect to get wet.  Again, there are a lot of things that come along with upping your fishing game with a kayak, so don't think that once you buy the boat that you're ready to go.  You need a minimum of gear and training in order to not kill yourself out there!
  • Heavier and more difficult to transport. The stability of sit on top fishing kayaks comes at a price: weight. On average they are heavier than their rivals and are more cumbersome to move around on land. Many fishermen that need to haul their kayak over land to get to the water use what are called “kayak carts” to make it a little easier.
  • More affected by the wind. Since you're sitting up off the water, there is more mass for the wind to hit. You may find that you get blown around a bit more with a sit on top kayak, but this can be remedied with the addition of an anchor or anchor stake. Also, using a rudder on the back of the kayak will help you track better in the water.

Final Thoughts

There are many cases for both sit inside and sit on top fishing kayaks, but most kayak fisherman would agree that sit on top is the way to go. These kayaks feature durable material plus a ton of purpose-built design features for fishermen.  If you fish a lot in the winter, a sit inside may be better, but since most anglers do the majority of their kayak fishing in the warmer months, sit on top kayaks prove to be a more comfortable ride plus great stability.

Know your limits.  Kayaking is fun and more accessible than ever.  That said, don't underestimate the water -- ever.  Like I've said, I have worked many kayak cases for the Coast Guard and seen the full range of tragedy -- even with very experienced paddlers.  Know the water temperature and get the proper safety equipment and training.  Many people think that because the air temperature is 75 degrees (for example), then they're good to go.

Not true.  You can have a warm air temp with a very cold water temp that won't allow you to function more than a few hours to minutes.  If you are somehow ejected from your kayak, you need to be strong enough to get yourself back in then get yourself back to shore. 

I recommend trying a variety of brands and types of kayaks prior to committing, and this will help you get a great deal.  Since these personal watercraft have become so popular, there are a lot of places that will rent you a kayak for a few hours or all day.  Take advantage of what you like prior to committing to a major purchase.

Most of all --  ENJOY!  Your fishing will expand greatly once you have more access to certain reefs, holes, wrecks, or ledges.  

Let me know what you think in the comments section.

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