If you live anywhere near the coast, the ocean is going to be your obvious go-to for your kayaking adventures. And if you don’t already have a kayak, getting to know the best sea kayak brands is a great place to start your search.
One thing that all beginners should know is that different brands can label their kayaks a little differently. As you browse, you’ll find models that are categorized as ‘ocean kayaks’, ‘sea kayaks’, ‘touring kayaks’, and even ‘recreational performance kayaks’.
While these labels might be a little confusing at first, the good news is that all of these kayaks are designed for use on either the open ocean or on coastal waterways. Designs, of course, will differ, but these categories separate ocean-specific kayaks from whitewater kayaks, fishing kayaks, and those made for more casual, recreational paddling.
To help you find the perfect kayak for your sea kayaking needs, we’ve compiled a list of the 10 best sea kayak brands on the market today. We’ve also put together a brief Sea Kayak Buying Guide that will help you compare and contrast different kayak models as you continue your search.
So, without further adieu, let’s put our kayak PFDs on and find those paddles!
- Sea Kayak Buying Guide
- Sea Kayak Brand Reviews
- Our Pick – Eddyline
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Sea Kayak Buying Guide
Selecting a sea kayak requires some different considerations than you’d use to choose a quality kayak for fishing or running rivers. These features and specifications will help you narrow down your choices so that you can find a kayak that’s ideally suited for your body type and the kind of paddling you intend to do.
Sit On Top Versus Sit Inside
Most sea kayaks are of the sit inside variety because of the importance of keeping you warm and dry when paddling on the ocean. But, there are certainly some sit on top kayaks out there that are made for ocean use.
The primary kayaker that uses a sit on top kayak when paddling out in the ocean is the kayak angler. A sit on top kayak can be more useful when you’re fishing because the open cockpit makes it easier to access all of the items in your essential kayak fishing accessories kit.
Sit on top kayaks are also easier to right and re-enter if you do happen to capsize. When you’re kayak fishing, you’ll not only be battling wind and waves, but you also have the added risk of your catch throwing you off-balance and sending you in the water.
However, if you’re looking for a sea kayak for any other purpose besides fishing, you’ll probably want a sit inside kayak. These kayaks will keep you warmer and drier when paddling on the ocean, and they’re also compatible with spray skirts for further weather protection.
Sit inside sea kayaks also tend to have more sealed storage space than their sit on top counterparts. This makes them better for long-distance or overnight kayaking trips where you’ll need to store clothes and other items that absolutely can’t get wet while you’re paddling.
Size (Length, Width, and Cockpit Dimensions)
Once you settle on a sit on top or sit inside kayak, you’ll then need to hone in on the appropriate size depending on your personal body type. As you might imagine, smaller paddlers will have an easier time handling a smaller kayak.
On the other hand, larger paddlers might need to choose a longer and wider kayak so that they feel more comfortable in the cockpit. If you’re choosing a sit-inside kayak, you’ll need to look at the specific length and width of the kayak’s cockpit.
Most sea kayaks are much longer than your typical recreational or whitewater kayak because they are built for better straight-line efficiency. This also means that they tend to be more narrow than many other kayak designs.
The hard part about recommending a specific size is that it will also depend on your personal preferences (such as the amount of storage space you need and how often you paddle) in addition to your body type and size.
What we can say definitively, however, is that you can use your waist measurement to help you find a kayak with a cockpit that you’ll feel comfortable in. By measuring across your body (from iliac crest to iliac crest), you can get a basic sense of how wide your kayak’s cockpit needs to be.
From there, we recommend adding at least six inches to your measurement to allow for the extra bulk of your kayak life vest. This will still give you a little extra wiggle room so that you don’t feel constricted when you’re sitting in your kayak.
To get a better sense of the length and width measurements you should be looking for, we recommend researching kayak rental companies in your area. Then you can head on over there and try a few different sea kayaks out before you decide on which one you’re going to buy for ongoing use.
Weight (and Weight Capacity)
The weight of a sea kayak is mainly going to come into play when you’re transporting it to and from your preferred launching locations. If the kayak you’re interested in winds up being on the heavier side, you’ll probably need to invest in a kayak cart, wheels, or trolley to help you move it from your vehicle to the water’s edge.
You’ll also need to consider how you plan to transport your new sea kayak on your vehicle. If you plan to install a roof-mounted kayak rack, for example, you’ll need to make sure you’re comfortable lifting the dry weight of your kayak from the ground up onto your roof when you’re loading and unloading.
Of course, you may also be able to get away with having a heavier kayak if you transport it on a kayak trailer. This will simply mean you won’t have to lift your kayak quite as high to secure it before you drive home.
In addition, you should pay close attention to the weight capacity of the sea kayaks you’re interested in. You should make sure you add the combined weight of all your kayaking gear to your body weight when making sure that your kayak will support the weight of you and your stuff.
As a general rule, it’s recommended that you try to keep the total combined weight of your body and your gear below about 70% of a kayak’s posted weight capacity. This will keep your kayak floating higher in the water and allow it to perform to the best of your ability.
Loading a kayak down too close to its weight capacity can make it slow, sluggish, and unresponsive once you’re on the water. This can not only become a nuisance, but it can also lead to fatigue and make it dangerous if you need to execute a quick maneuver to avoid obstacles.
Fortunately, most sea kayaks are equipped with some sort of rudder or skeg system that will help you track straighter when you’re battling heavy winds or ocean currents. If the kayak you’re looking at doesn’t come with a rudder or skeg, we’d recommend thinking twice before buying it.
Because sea kayaks are much longer than most other types of kayaks, they are a little more difficult to turn on a dime. They are built for straight-line speed and efficiency, which is why a rudder is so crucial to their overall performance.
These rudder steering systems allow you to make minor adjustments to correct the course of your kayak without having to expend energy to paddle more on one side of your kayak or the other. Most of them are also controlled with foot pedals so that you can keep your hands working to propel your kayak forward.
If you’ve never had any experience paddling a kayak with a rudder or skeg at the stern, trust us when we say it’s a game-changer. So, even if you’re just interested in recreational sea kayaking, we’d highly recommend choosing a kayak with a foot-controlled rudder or skeg steering system.
Sea Kayak Brand Reviews
Eddyline has been manufacturing premier touring kayaks since 1971 and, to this day, they are still a family-owned business. The company was founded by legendary kayak designer Tom Derrer and they are based in Burlington, Washington.
One reason that Eddyline has such a sterling reputation is that they’ve remained small over the years. The smaller-size of their company allows them to maintain healthier connections to their community and provide a higher quality of customer service.
They proudly employ American workers to help craft and construct their many different kayak models and they are guided by this impactful quote from their owner: “If we cannot make it better than what we already know, then we are not improving and neither is the sport we love.”
Some of Eddyline’s best sea kayaks include their Sitka LT, ST, and XT models, as well as their Fathom model. If you asked us to choose just one that we prefer over the others, we’d go for the Sitka LT because it has a higher weight capacity so that you can pack it for overnight camping trips!
Dagger is another well-known and trusted sea kayak brand that actually produces a wide variety of kayak types. They also employ expert paddlers that put each one of their kayak designs through extensive testing before they go to market.
While more seasoned paddlers may know Dagger because of their extensive line of whitewater kayaks, they also manufacture several models that are perfect for sea kayaking. These models provide options for kayak surfing, open water paddling, or recreational outings on coastal waterways.
Some of Dagger’s best sea kayak models include the Stratos 12.5L, 12.5S, 14.5L, and 14.5S designs. But if you asked us to recommend just one, we’d say the Stratos 14.5L is a great blend of stability and maneuverability.
3. Old Town
Old Town Canoe and Kayak is another excellent brand that manufactures several high-performing sea kayaks. This company is actually owned by Johnson Outdoors and some more experienced kayakers may recognize their kayak designs under the company’s previous name – Necky Kayaks.
True to their name, this kayak brand is based in Old Town, Maine and many of their employees are long-time members of that fine community. They’ve been on the pioneering edge of the kayak manufacturing industry since the company’s inception all the way back in 1898.
Today, you’ll find kayaks manufactured by Old Town spread from the rivers of Maine all the way to the coastal waters around Australia. Despite their worldwide recognition, they remain dedicated to producing high-quality craftsmanship with every kayak that comes off their line.
Their main sea kayak models include the Castine, Looksha T, and Looksha 17 designs. The Castine 140 is a great option for medium-to-large size paddlers and it includes a convenient slide-away day hatch that gives you accessible storage space for smaller items like snacks, sunscreen, and your phone!
4. Oru Kayak
To be honest, Oru Kayak is a bit of an outlier on this list because it’s the only kayak brand that produces a folding sea kayak design. While you might be skeptical of a folding kayak at first, these kayaks actually perform very well on coastal waterways.
The major benefit of Oru Kayaks is that they can be stored in a much more compact space than any other kayak on this list. This makes them better options for those of you with smaller sedans or SUVs without a kayak rack mounted on the roof.
It also makes Oru Kayaks one of the few sea kayaks that can handle international travel. Because these kayaks fold up into a small, square carrying case, they can easily fit underneath your plane if you’re heading overseas to explore new waters (literally!).
If you’re looking for a sea kayak from Oru, we recommend choosing the Coast XT model. This design is 16-feet long with a cockpit that measures 16” by 30” inches and a total product weight of (wait for it…) just 36 pounds!
The proprietary technology used by Pelican Sport to manufacture all of their kayaks allows them to continuously produce some of the lightest rigid kayaks on the market, but their designs also don’t sacrifice durability either.
Pelican Sport is based in Canada and they’ve been producing quality kayaks for many paddling purposes for over 50 years. Their unique mastery of the art of thermoforming is what makes their kayaks different from the competition.
This twin-sheet thermoforming (TST) technology allows them to produce material that’s lighter, stiffer, and stronger than the fiberglass and other materials used by many other kayak manufacturers. This also makes Pelican Sport’s kayaks able to be dented and regain their original shape without the kayak’s overall performance suffering.
While they’re technically labeled as ‘recreational performance’ kayaks, Pelican’s two sea kayak designs are the Sprint 140DT and the Sprint 120DT, but we’d recommend the 140DT because of its extra length and larger storage areas.
6. Delta Kayaks
Delta Kayaks produces one of the largest lines of sea kayaks of any brand out there, and their designs are categorized into more specific uses than just ‘sea kayaking’ or ‘touring’. In fact, they make kayaks designed for ‘adventure recreation’, ‘light touring’, ‘touring’, and ‘performance touring’.
Delta’s manufacturing facility is based in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, and the finishing touches of each Delta Kayak are completed by hand to ensure adherence to the company’s strict quality-control standards.
They’ve been producing quality sea kayaks for more than 35 years and they also utilize a thermoforming process to craft some of North America’s lightest and strongest sea kayaks for touring coastal waterways.
They have many sea kayak models, but some of their most popular designs include the Delta Traverse 17.5T, the Delta 15.5GT, and the Delta 15S. If you’re looking for an exceptional kayak for long-distance sea kayaking with a partner, the Traverse 15.5T is a tandem kayak with a high weight capacity of 560 pounds and an abundance of bulkhead storage space.
7. Ocean Kayak
Why not trust your sea kayaking needs to a company called Ocean Kayak? The kayaks that can be identified by this brand name are widely used by beginner kayakers everywhere because of their excellent stability and forgiveness.
Ocean Kayaks also offers many of their designs at a more affordable price point than you’ll find from many other sea kayak brands. And while they don’t produce any sit-inside kayak varieties, they have many sit on tops to choose from.
Some of their best kayaks designed for ocean use include the Tetra 12, Banzai, and Malibu 11.5 models. But if you’re looking for something a little more high-performing, they also offer the Malibu Pedal Drive kayak, which allows you to propel your kayak forward with your legs instead of your arms!
P&H Sea Kayaks’ manufacturing process has been refined over more than 50 years and their kayaks do more than just perform exceptionally on the water. They’re also visually striking and extremely safe.
The lowered back section of these sea kayaks makes them easier to roll if you do happen to capsize in rough waters and the inclusion of the stern-mounted rudder steering system is a must for any sea kayak in our mind.
Some of this brand’s best sea kayaks include their Valkyrie, Cetus, LV, and Scorpio II MV models but they actually produce a total of 14 different kayak designs for fast sea kayaking, expedition kayaking, ocean play, and weekend excursions.
9. Point 65° N
Point 65 N is another awesome kayak manufacturer and they are unique in that they are one of the few brands online these days that also produce modular kayaks. These are kayaks that break down into two or three pieces to make storing them easier and more convenient.
Their sea kayaks are also known as some of the most reliable models on the market and the company is actually based in Sweden. They’ve been in business since 1996 and they produce a total of six different sea kayak models, including their popular Bourbon 17 and SeaCruiser GTE designs.
10. Seaward Kayaks
The final brand we want to mention is Seaward Kayaks, which is well known for its fiberglass and kevlar kayaks. The company got its start in 1986 and it remains a small, family-owned business with a total of about 25 employees.
They produce one of the largest lines of sea kayaks of any brand out there these days, with a total of 24 different kayaks to choose from. For our money, though, the Mantra kayak would be a stable and responsive kayak to get started with if you’re relatively new to sea kayaking.
Our Pick – Eddyline
Our pick for the best sea kayak brand is Eddyline and we’ve chosen them primarily because of their emphasis on lean manufacturing.
To us, this means that they focus on making just a handful of kayak designs better, instead of compromising quality by spreading themselves too thin.
It also means that they actively work to reduce their waste footprint and they are constantly evaluating new ways to improve their business, give back to their community, and contribute positively to the entire sport of kayaking.
In addition to their touring kayaks for ocean use, they also design fishing kayaks, tandem kayaks, sit on top kayaks, and recreational kayaks. They also dedicate efforts to educating their customers on their manufacturing process as well as the rich tradition and history behind the sport of kayaking.
To give you an example, check out this video on the birth of a kayak!