Choosing a Canoe, Kayak or Sit on top

Not sure which boat to buy? We have a range of information to help you make a decision and find equipment that suits your needs.

Choose Boat by Type

Choosing a Boat for Flatwater

Flatwater areas are areas such as lakes, dams, slow moving rivers, etc.

The areas to consider in a flatwater craft are water that are sheltered and calm with minimal wind and easy access to shore. There should also be minimal flow of water.

An area which has any of the following is not defined as flatwater and may not be suitable for flatwater boats:

  • rapids of any grade
  • surf (of any size) entry or exit
  • if the area is in the entrance structure to an estuary or embayment
  • an area affected by swell
  • documented tidal rips (see chart)
  • documented tidal current greater than 1 knot (see chart)
  • any area where the tide (rise or fall) removes a landing area or makes it unsuitable
  • distances greater than 400 metres from shore
  • fetch greater than 1 nautical mile.

The transition from flatwater to sea will often occur in the area of the following features:

  • major river bend
  • barrier sand bar structure
  • constriction in river.

Choosing a Boat for Sea Paddling

The sea (estuaries, bays, the coastal environment and the open sea) has special requirements.

NOTE: Sea Kayaks are a specific type of kayak (length, hull shape, setup, etc.) and may be used in sea or flatwater environments. They are not suitable for white water / running water environments.

Something to consider in a craft for the sea environment:

  • Buoyancy; the craft should have either enclosed areas of the hull, buoyancy bags or foam or be a sit on top craft where there is enough floatation that the vessel is able to be paddled after capsize.

Choosing a ski (Surf Life Saving or Ocean Racing)

Surf Life Saving Specification Skis (known as Spec Skis)

  • Built to specific weight, length and fitting specifications for racing within the surf life saving competition

Ocean racing skis

  • Initially designed for the Molokai race.
  • Gaining a large following for races
  • Popular for short hop ocean crusing

Outrigger canoes are popular in many areas

  • The club side of outrigger canoeing tends to be team focussed (OC6s)
  • Relatively easy to paddle competently in the ocean
  • If racing is your focus, their is a great depth of talent

Choosing a Sit-on-top

Sit on top craft cover the full range of kayaks including flatwater, whitewater, sea, surf and competition

The differences to consider between sit in and sit on top craft

  • Sit in craft have an enclosed cockpit area you sit in, sit on tops have a formed seat that is part of the deck that you sit on
    • Exposure; the lower half of your body is more exposed in a sit on top
    • Flooding; the cockpit on a sit in craft can flood (sit on tops do not have a cockpit)
  • Seating position; the ideal position to look after your lower back is one where your bottom is above your feet. This can be best achieved whilst maintaining stability in a sit in design.
  • Capsize; if you capsize a sit on top you need only turn it over and climb back aboard. If you capsize a sit in kayak you will need to know how to roll or conduct another self or assisted rescue.
  • For an identical boat a sit on top would be heavier due to the hull/deck shape

Choosing a boat for whitewater use

A very wide range of whitewater kayak designs are available to meet different uses within the whitewater environment. Some whitewater kayaks are suitable for beginner and general use, whereas other designs require specialist skills to be paddled safely.

Factors to consider:

Use – different overall kayak designs will suit various uses. The range of uses may include general use on flat and easy whitewater, big volume rivers, steep creeks, freestyle play boating, surfing, extreme racing

Level of experience of the paddler – less experienced paddlers are more stable in higher volume craft with rounded sides rather than lower volume craft with sharp edges that require a higher level of skill to use safely

Size of the paddler – many designs are now available in different sizes to suit different weight ranges. In general, the heavier a person, the larger volume craft they should paddle.

Safety features – all craft should have sufficient secure buoyancy foam to keep the craft afloat if it capsizes, a footbar and handholds. Better craft will have adjustable thigh braces and seats, easily adjustable footbars, back rests and straps for securing throwbags and other gear inside the craft.

Design features


Shorter kayaks are more maneuverable, but slower. Short kayaks are used in surf, on steep creeks and for play boating.

Longer kayaks are slightly less maneuverable, but faster. Longer kayaks are used for whitewater touring, higher volume rivers and general use.


Rounded edges provide the kayak with greater stability because the kayak is still supported when it is tipped onto its edge. Also, the greater volume at the sides helps to prevent the ends of the boat submerging and affecting stability.

Sharp edges enable the kayak to be turned with finer control, allowing the paddler to carve turns and assisting with surfing and performing play moves.


Whitewater kayaks vary widely in volume, with higher volume kayaks being suited to more difficult whitewater, general usage and larger paddlers. Higher volume kayaks are less likely to capsize in moving water because their volume keeps them on top of the water and provides the paddlers with a greater margin for error in edging (leaning the kayak). Higher volume kayaks can suit larger paddlers and also any paddlers wanting boats for high volume and steep, difficult rivers. They are also excellent for less experienced paddlers and general use, including camping trips.

Some models of kayak are available in a range of volumes for paddlers within certain weight ranges. Lower volume versions of models may suit smaller paddlers.

Low volume kayaks include kayaks designed for specific purposes, such as play boats, surf kayaks and slalom kayaks. These kayaks require specialist skills to be paddled safely, however they broaden the enjoyable whitewater paddling opportunities for paddlers as they become more experienced.


In making kayaks harder to capsize, some designers have made kayaks that are more difficult to roll. Most manufacturers provide a rating on the rollability of each kayak design.

Sit on Top Advantages

  • Unsinkable so can be used anywhere making them great for kids and the surf. Also means they do not require knowledge of a roll or deep water rescue in case of capsize.
  • Good for fishing due to lack of restrictions because there is no cockpit in the way.
  • No feeling of enclosure, which some paddlers prefer. However, bear in mind this also means you get wetter!

Sit in Advantages

  • Lower center of gravity in a sit-in means kayaks can be more stable. Also, the boat sits lower in the water so often tracks much better than a sit-on-top.
  • Usually lighter than a comparable length sit-on top because of design and manufacture methods.
  • The ideal position to look after your lower back is one where your bottom is above your feet. This can be best achieved whilst maintaining stability in a sit in design.

Specific Uses

Choosing a Boat for Fishing

Many paddlers fish from their kayak, however there is a major difference between using a kayak for the odd fishing trip or to trail a lure, as opposed to having a dedicated fishing craft.

The areas to consider in a dedicated fishing craft are

  • Ability to store equipment within reach
  • Ability to store catch
  • Safe area for use and storage of knives, hooks and other sharps etc.

Choosing a Boat for Coastal Use (Estuary, Sea, Ocean)

Coastal water (ocean) environments are effected by swell, larger sea sizes, tides and tidal currents and a lack of shelter from wind.

Craft suitable for this area include;

  • Sea kayaks
  • Ocean racing and surf skis
  • Ocean suitable sit on top craft

Choosing a Boat for Bay Use

Open or exposed areas of water can become quite dangerous in stronger winds. Though they do not form swell, they do form sea which can be quite short (crests close together) with steep sided waves that may be over topping (breaking or whitecaps). This is a hazard for capsizing and can make kayaks hard to control.

Always check the weather forecast before heading out onto open or exposed water, wear a PFD and have a bailing device for any water that may come aboard

Craft suitable for this area include;

  • Sea kayaks
  • Ocean racing and surf skis
  • Sit on top craft

Choosing a Boat for Flat Sheltered Water Use

These are areas such as small dams, quiet creeks and rivers

Due to a small fetch waves do not become large even in strong wind

Craft suitable for this area include;

  • Flatwater Kayaks and Canoes
  • Sit on tops

Choosing a Paddle

Things to consider

  • Design – different paddles suit different uses on flatwater, sea and whitewater
  • Construction – materials used for making the paddle determine paddling comfort, weight, cost and durability
  • Length – the paddle length should suit the paddler’s height, strength and the use. A paddle of suitable length will be comfortable to use.

Blade Shapes

There are a variety of options available when choosing a blade shape. These include:

  • Touring, wide blade – most suitable for short distances
  • Touring, narrow blade – most suitable for long distances

Keep in mind their are specialist blade shapes for canoe polo, various disciplines of whitewater paddling and competition.


Shaft material

  • Aluminium – strong,
  • Fiberglass – lighter, slightly flexible
  • Kevlar – very strong, some flex
  • Carbon/Kevlar – similar strength to carbon, slightly stiffer
  • Carbon – very stiff, very light

Blade material

  • Plastic – impact resisitant, flexible, heaviest
  • Fiberglass – lighter, slightly flexible
  • Carbon/Kevlar – similar strength to carbon, slightly stiffer
  • Carbon – very stiff, very light