The best sit on top kayak reviews guide for 2020

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Why is a sit on top kayak a good choice?

The sit-on-top kayak, or SOT, is the most popular, widely-known kayak design today. Although some models may resemble traditional sit-in kayaks in terms of hull shape, the two types of kayaks are quite different. With a traditional kayak, the paddler’s legs and lower body are enclosed within the boat’s hull. Often, a spray skirt covers the cockpit opening and wraps around paddler’s waist, creating a seal that keeps water out of the hull. This is common in traditional white water and ocean kayaks. In contrast, the paddler of an SOT sits in a molded depression on top of the hull, with the legs and lower body exposed.

Malibu Kayaks X-13 Fish and Dive Package Sit on Top Kayak
Our favorite for 2016
Riot Kayks Escape 12 Sit-On-Top Flatwater Recreational Kayak (White/Blue
A great value option
Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak
A great entry-level SOT kayak

SOT kayaks offer many benefits, particularly to inexperienced and recreational users. They are stable, easy to enter and exit, and usually made out of durable rotationally-molded plastic, which is far tougher and less expensive than the fiberglass used in traditional kayaks. The open form of an SOT makes for a versatile boat, making SOT’s the top choice for fishing, diving and snorkeling, exploring streams, lakes, and coastal waters, or just playing around. Most importantly, SOT’s are user-friendly. There is no danger of being trapped in the boat should it roll over, and no need to learn Eskimo rolls, underwater exits, or other self-rescue and recovery techniques associated with traditional kayaking. Some types of SOT’s are made for specialty use, but most work well for multiple uses, and the biggest selling models are recreational SOT’s. Let’s look at a few of the best.


Riot Kayks Escape 12 Sit-On-Top Flatwater Recreational Kayak (White/Blue, 12-Feet)Riot Kayaks Escape 12 Sit-On-Top Flatwater Recreational Kayak – The Riot Escape 12 earns best value for the money of the 5 boats in this review. A very stable boat that tracks well for its length and width, it comes with a removable rudder. The open front deck design and ample rear cargo well make this a very versatile recreational kayak. The hull lines are clean, clear and snag-free. A large bow storage well and two smaller sealed storage compartments offer plenty of room for gear. Two built-in rod holders and a high-back seat make longer fishing runs possible, and at 55 pounds, the boat is easy to handle.

Hobie Quest 13 Kayak 2013 13ft Ivory DuneHobie Quest 13 Kayak 2013 – The Hobie Quest 13 combines recreational paddling fun with the features of a high-quality sit on top fishing kayak. Sleek lines and a flat bottom give the boat speed and stability. A large covered bow hatch and a seat-front twist and seal gear bucket provide plenty of storage, and the large, open rear cargo area can carry anything from a milk crate to a cooler or live well. An adjustable high-back padded seat makes long paddles comfortable. Molded in fishing rod holders, a built-in paddle rest, and an optional removable rudder are just a few of this boat’s features.

Malibu Kayaks X-13 Fish and Dive Package Sit on Top Kayak, WhiteMalibu Kayaks X-13 Fish and Dive Package Sit on Top Kayak – Many useful features and versatile capabilities earn the Malibu Kayaks 13’ 10” cross-performance kayak its place as best boat in this review. Speed and stability combine with load carrying capacity, fishing accessories, and family-friendly features including a child seat and snag-free surfaces to make this a high-performance recreational kayak.  The large Gator hatch in the bow, center hatch cockpit storage, and open rear bay provide plenty of load capacity. The rear bay is shaped to easily take a milk crate, scuba tank, or cooler. Four rear-mounted rod holders show that this boat is serious about fishing as well as fun.

Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak, YellowOcean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two Tandem Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak – Exceptionally light for a tandem kayak at 58 pounds, the Malibu 12-footer is the world’s most popular SOT boat and a great all-around family recreation kayak. Super-stable and simple in design, the Malibu can be paddled solo or tandem, and can carry two adults and a child with ease. A molded-in center seat and overlapping foot wells provide for a solo paddling position, and there is plenty of leg room for taller paddlers. Molded-in side handles make the boat easy to launch, and the hull and deck molding are made to allow for stacking of boats for ease of storage.

Ocean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak, EnvyOcean Kayak Frenzy Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak – The Ocean Frenzy makes a great entry-level SOT kayak. Only 9 feet long and 43 pounds in weight, this is a boat that is easy to store and transport. A 31-inch width at center combined with the tri-hull design makes it an exceptionally stable kayak. It is maneuverable and fun in small surf or mild whitewater, yet tracks well on flat water. The simple design includes bow and stern carry toggles, molded-in side handles and removable bow and stern bungees. Scupper holes and drain plugs keep the boat dry, and a replaceable rear skid plate adds to the kayak’s durability.

Buyers guide – how to find the best sit on top kayaks

The SOT design extends to include many types of kayaks suited to a wide variety of purposes. When evaluating kayaks, inexperienced paddlers should first make an honest analysis of their kayaking situation as a whole. Of course, storage and transport concerns are often primary. Look for a boat that you can handle off as well as on the water. Recreational paddling, exercise, fishing and diving, camping – what is your main purpose for having a kayak? Lakes, rivers, coastlines and bays – what kind of water will you frequent? How often will you be able to get out kayaking?

kayak sit on topThis last question is actually foundational, because a common mistake new kayakers make is choosing a boat with very high initial stability just because it feels safe and easy to get in and out of. If you take the kayak out frequently, you will soon be getting in and out as well as standing up effortlessly. Then, the wider, slower hull may not be satisfying when you want to go fast.

Fortunately, there are some very versatile multi-use kayaks on the market in the medium price range. Remember that a long, narrow hull line with a sharp stern and bow will be a fast boat, good for distance over flat water. A more rounded profile, with a waist over 30 inches or so and a broad blunt stern will sacrifice speed for stability and maneuverability, good for a fishing or diving platform or for the family to pile on and play around.