Kayaks are commonly associated with still lakes or rushing rivers, but not many know they're a great addition to your beach gear. Strap one of these ocean skimmers to the roof of your car, and you'll realize the variety of activities available to you.
Whether you’re a deep sea fisher, a wave crusher, a scuba diver, or just looking to paddle alongside the pier for a good afternoon workout under the sun, having the right ocean kayak can make the difference between a good day and a great one.
That’s why we’ve curated a list of the best ocean kayaks and separated them into three different categories:
- Sit-In Ocean Kayaks: These kayaks have a dedicated space for your tush. There is a cockpit that is an enclosed area where you can feel snug in the kayak.
- Sit-On-Top Ocean Kayaks: Like sit-ins, these kayaks have a seat and a footrest, however, nothing straps you in. (So if you fall out, you're free from the kayak to swim up and around it.) They generally have an open inside where your legs are free to sprawl.
- Tandem Ocean Kayaks: These are two-person kayaks. Twice the fun! Great for sharing with a friend or loved one (just make sure you want to go the same direction).
Whichever kayak sounds right to you, look no further than this list of ocean kayaks.
The Top 9 Best Ocean Kayaks
Best Sit-In Ocean Kayaks
#1 Best Sit-In Ocean Kayak: Sun Dolphin Aruba SS 12-Foot
As far as sit-in kayaks go, you can't go wrong with a Sun Dolphin. This 12-foot board is one of the lightest boards on the list (coming in at 47lb) making it ideal for beginners experiencing their first time, or a kayaking veteran looking for easy maneuverability. The ability to carry it from one location to another makes this a great kayak for the ocean where often times there's a hike just to get from the car to the waves. In these cases, the weight of the kayak seems like the only factor between getting out there in the water or just saying forget it.
Made with high-density polyethylene, this kayak has a number of key features for the ocean. With two waterproof storage units built in (one on the front and one on the back), this kayak becomes extremely versatile for all activities. Whether you want to store a camera, your keys, fishing gear, scuba equipment, or anything else, you can be sure this kayak has room for it.
A stark contrast between lake kayaking and ocean kayaking is the choppiness of the water. With one you’re guaranteed a smooth glassy face, with the other you’re subject to the whim of mother nature. That’s why in this kayak there are padded surfaces and adjustable seating which helps you fit perfectly. For anyone who’s sat in a kayak not fit for them, they know the kind of rough ride that can ensue.
If there’s any negative point to comment on, it lies in its greatest strength: it’s size and weight. While great for carrying, the law of physics demands this kayak is more easily flippable and will rock easier than other larger, heavier kayaks.
#2 Perception Kayak Conduit 13-Foot
Growing a bit in size, we come to the 13-footer Conduit. This kayak is a little bit heavier as well 54.5 lb, and has less primary stability, upgrading it from a beginner board. Not that it is significantly harder to ride in this kayak, but the primary stability (what makes a beginner's board feel so easy to stay upright and straight) takes some getting used to. The secondary stability works great, so there's no need to worry there.
With the size and weight of this kayak, you’ll feel yourself building a tremendous amount of speed with good tracking. Tracking is what keeps the kayak moving straight along its course under no external force. Compared to the Sun Dolphin, it’s going to be harder to turn for the same reason, but not unreasonably so. Great for fishing, as the longer and heavier kayak will provide a good base, and great for paddling around as you’ll be speeding past others before they have time to say hello.
Note: Many online DIY fans have recommended this kayak for a rudder addition. (A rudder is a small tail in the back that hangs in the water and is controlled at the feet; it allows better stability in choppier conditions and better turning.)
#3 Riot Kayaks Edge 14.5-Foot
If size and weight aren't an issue for you, we recommend this Riot Edge kayak as your go-to kayak. Coming in at 14.5 feet, it's in the group of the larger sit-in kayaks on the market. It also has a built-in rudder with foot-adjustments right in the kayak (which means no scouring YouTube for how to install it yourself!) With this in mind, the kayak comes with a great new plethora of features with its own advantages and disadvantages, so let's dive into them.
The advantages become most starkly seen when you're in a group paddling situation with an excursion crew or with your friends. This kayak is probably the one you see out in front leading the charge. With its sleek design, this kayak is built for speed. In fact, it's marketed toward day trips, traversing many nautical miles, or for overnight paddling adventures.
The rudder installed on this sit-in kayak plays a huge part in that. Having an extra piece in the water to help negate ocean currents and to assist in turning is a great addition to a kayak this size. Once you get used to the foot controls located below the seat, you’ll be cruising like the kayak was a few feet shorter.
Coming in at 60 lb, this is the heaviest of the sit-in kayaks we recommend. If you ever want to just casually head out to the beach and do a little kayaking around, there are much better options on the market. This kayak is designed with specific intentions and purposes, meaning for the casual goer who wants to try their hand in a little bit of everything, this one is not for them. Also, dealing with the rudder increases the complexity and requires a bit of practice.
Best Sit-On-Top Ocean Kayaks
#1 BEST SIT-ON-TOP OCEAN KAYAK: SUN DOLPHIN BALI SS 12-FOOT
Talk about your quality made kayaks, Sun Dolphin has captured our hearts once again. This time they've made the best sit-on-top kayak for the ocean. There are often complaints about sit-on-top kayaks being less comfortable, but oftentimes that's due to the fixed positioning within the kayak itself. With the Bali SS, there are adjustable foot braces and paddle holders to ensure you can get into the most comfortable spot possible. And of course, there are the all-so-necessary thigh pads, so your legs aren't rubbing up against the heavy plastic.
As for the ride, this kayak is lightweight, much like the other Sun Dolphin featured above. This means great maneuverability and ease of access. Weighing only 48lb, this kayak is an ideal candidate for a family of beginners or a seasoned kayaking pro who wants a classic feel. There is a carrier on the kayak for added storage, shock cord rigging on the deck, and the kayak itself can float up to 395 lb.
Once again, due to its size and weight, if there’s any downside to bringing this kayak out into the ocean, it’s the performance in choppier waters. However, because this is a great beginner board, most of the time it wouldn’t be taken out if there was a stormy swell anyways.
Note: The containers that are up front is perfect for small pets to come along for the ride!
#2 Ocean Kayak Prowler 13-Foot
It was a tough choice which ocean kayak was the best because the Prowler comes with great commodities and is truly workable in any condition. Due to its stability in rough waters, this is probably the best kayak for ocean waves altogether.
The storage features on this kayak are pretty impressive and definitely worth noting. The front hatch has a press-to-open compartment with bow-to-stern storage that can accommodate multiple pairs of rowing rods below the seating compartment. Speaking of the seating, this plush, extra padded seat that has four different ways to be adjusted is guaranteed for all-day comfort. Also, we have to mention the dual cup holders for those early morning coffee drinkers who need their second cup out in the ocean.
Great for rough waters, great for fishing, this Prowler might only have a deficit in its weight capacity. Despite being a larger 13-footer, its maximum capacity is a hold of 325 lb. It is advertised for the adventurer who wants everything out of their kayak including fishing and snorkeling; however, this could be problematic for heavy equipment loads.
#3 Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11-Foot
The smallest kayak that we have recommended on this list goes to the Scrambler. Its unique design allows for a different sort of kayaking experience. From personal use, this kayak is usually geared toward kayakers who have been around the block before. The thing is, with its smaller frame, the wind will be a noticeable influence and keeping it straight will be harder
Despite having both primary and secondary stabilizers, one benefit this kayak offers is its ease with which you can tip it back over when you capsize. Every kayaker will tell you that capsizing is all part of a day’s fun, so some just want it to be over and done with as soon as possible.
It weighs about 47 lb so it's ideal for out-of-water maneuverability and can handle 350 lb of load. Perfect for camping trips with its weight, a good amount of storage, and a smaller frame.
Best Tandem Ocean Kayaks
Note: When determining whether you want a single or a tandem ocean kayak, be sure to check the section below labeled “Single vs. Tandem Kayak.”
#1 Best Tandem Ocean Kayak: Advanced Elements Advanced Frame 15-Foot
This advanced frame kayak comes with some incredible features. Not only does it offer three (yes, count’em three!) seat locations, but it also allows for adjustments to be made to become single person or dual paddlers. The bow and stern are made from aluminum ribbing which greatly increases tracking.
Probably the most dynamic of the kayaks offered in this section, this kayak comes packed up in a small duffel bag of 52 lb. All you have to do is unpack it and inflate it. The inflating section of the kayak is triple-layered, so there's no worrying about popping it. Of all the kayaks for a fun trip with a large group or a family, this kayak takes the cake.
If inflating and deflating a kayak sounds tedious, then just leave it inflated and give it a small pump before each usage. It’s just like pumping tires into a bike before riding it. This kayak is practical for travelers whose car can’t afford the kayak on top of it.
#2 Ocean Kayak Malibu 12-Foot
The Malibu 12-foot kayak is what we in the business call "The Standard Model." Roughly speaking it affords all the features you want in a tandem kayak. Four-way adjustable seating and multiple footholds allow users to maximize their comfortability. The weight comes in at about 57 lb and can sustain 425 lb.
Often times tandem kayaks are designed longer and heavier than solo kayaks. This kayak rejects that notion and offers you a classic design at the same height and weight of your average single-person kayak.
When it comes to this kayak, what you see is what you get. The storage is what you can fit with you on the kayak. This means if you want to bring along all your valuables like your phone and camera, this might not be the kayak for you. Also with any additional equipment, some tie-ons might be necessary.
#3 Vibe Skipjack 120T 12-Foot
While the other tandem kayaks listed above are adjustable to fit one-person, two-person, even three-person parties, the Vibe Skipjack is specifically designed for a two-person excursion. As advertised, it is great for a fishing duo who want a sturdy boat to rely on while they're out casting lines.
With paddle carrying handles, this kayak ensures none of your oars are going overboard. And with four carrying handles located around the kayak, getting it to and from the water is a breeze. Heavier than most kayaks, this one comes in at 86 lb. This means two things. One, this kayak definitely needs a partner to assist in carrying it around. And two, this kayak is made durable and heavy. This is the kind of kayak that will last a lifetime and provide support the whole time. The added weight helps when fishing because reeling in fish will oftentimes drag fishermen miles out to sea. With the extra weight, this becomes harder for the fish to do.
How To Ocean Kayak
We’re going to break this step-by-step guide down to a few different categories.
- Preparation - The first step is preparing all your gear: Kayak, oars, life jackets, extra fresh water, etc. Make sure you’re all set to go before getting in the water.
- Safety - Understand your swimming strength and physicality before heading out into the waves. Be sure to ask your local lifeguards for wave conditions and tips on escaping a current.
- Testing - If there are calm waters nearby, we recommend testing out your kayak there first. Understand that capsizing is a natural part of the learning process. So in about 4-6 feet deep water try tipping over and resurfacing. It won’t be as scary as you think! If you want to ride waves on the kayak, try the smaller whitewash waves that come into shore before heading out on a big swell.
- Having Fun - Now go out and have fun! When you understand the conditions, you're undertaking and have prepared yourself mentally and physically. The last key component is to have fun. Go out there, ride waves, grab a fish, capsize, and at the end of the day laugh it all off. That's what the most experienced kayakers do.
Single Vs. Tandem Kayak
Alright, that's enough of Bobby. Seriously though, the question often comes up. Should we buy two individual single kayaks or buy one tandem kayak? It's a good question and has a host of different answers and truly depends on the person/people buying.
Tandem takes some getting used to. It's all about good communication and coordination. It's easy to tell when you're not in sync. You may notice the world spins around you… Or maybe it's just you spinning in circles.
With two people paddling oftentimes there's less room for storage, but it is easier to travel twice the distance — just a couple things to keep in mind when looking at a single or tandem kayak.
Things To Consider When Buying a Fishing Kayak
When heading out into the water to do some fishing, it's important to have all the right gear. Choosing the right kayak to fit everything depends on everything from its storage to its size. Here is where we'll get into all the nitty-gritty details, to ensure you're well versed to pick out the perfect kayak for you.
- Length & Width: The size of the kayak is the initial component to look at when checking out kayaks. Larger kayaks will, in general, be able to carry larger loads (think of all the gear you might need to bring) and they generally have a higher top speed. However, they’re harder to maneuver.
- Tracking: A kayak's tracking is a core element to the rideability of these kayaks. Tracking specifically refers to the extent to which a kayak will continue on its path despite undercurrents. The better the tracking, the more stable the ride.
Materials & Storage: Are you going fishing? Are you bringing your pet out to sea with you and you want to take adorable ocean selfies with it? Well, all this depends on the materials and storage. Most kayaks are made from heavy, durable polyethylene plastic and come with at least one storage space. However, if you plan on spending a long time out in the ocean, you may also need to think about food, fresh water, and extra dry storage. Be sure to check which storage spaces are waterproof when looking for the right kayak.
Add-ons: There are any number of do it yourself projects to boost your kayak game. The main one is known as the rudder. This helps boost the tracking of the kayak and aid in the steering by having controls at your feet. They're tough to get used to but can enhance your kayaking experience greatly.
From single, to tandem, to fishing, and beyond, we recommend that you view our guide on the best kayaks on the market!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is kayaking safe for non-swimmers?
The quick answer is: With any water-related activity where the water may get deeper than 4-6ft, being a swimmer greatly reduces the chance of danger. On this note, we advocate taking the most precautions possibles when deciding to kayak. That includes wearing a life jacket. Even for advanced swimmers, a life jacket is a key feature of proper attire. And while sure, you've probably seen plenty of kayakers out there with just swim trunks and paddles, but you've probably ALSO seen motorcyclists not wearing a helmet.
The key is to think ahead. If you’re confident, the water is at a reasonable height, then go for it and have a blast! However, if there’s any uncertainty, we recommend passing on kayaking until you take those swimming lessons. But hey, just think, when you’re done learning how to swim there’s a whole other world waiting for you out there. The earth is 71% covered in water after all.
What Is An Ocean Kayak?
You don’t know what an ocean kayak is? Well then… WELCOME! It’s a wonderful tool for exploring the ocean’s surface. Faster than a paddle board and more stable, this versatile tool is a fantastic addition to your beach life.
Basically, it’s a skinny, personalized boat that can be used for fishing, paddling around, deep sea diving (the kayak stays on the surface; it’s very buoyant!), or even dropping in on some small waves. It’s generally about 40-70 pounds and comes in single-person or dual seating.
One quick note: if you do decide to use it to surf some waves, be prepared to wipe out!
Final Thoughts - Which Should You Get?
At the end of the day, kayak-buying comes down to more art than science. What ensures a good purchase is an honest look inward. What's more important, the versatility of action or the fact that you can pick it up with one hand and carry it on a mile hike to the beach? Are you a beginner, an intermediate, or a pro? And how are your swimming skills?
Once you’ve taken a gander at all the aspects of buying a kayak and have narrowed it down to a few different choices… my advice? Pick your favorite color! At the end of the day, it’s about getting out into the water and experiencing life, not sitting behind a screen doing calculations on which kayak is best (although a little of that doesn’t hurt).