10 Best Sit On Top Kayaks For Beginners

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As a beginner, the best type of kayak to learn on is a sit on top kayak. There are many reasons why this is the case, but the most important one is that they are the most forgiving type of kayak to help you overcome your beginner mistakes.

Because of their specific design, this type of kayak is really easy to flip over and climb back into. This is super important because the likelihood that you’re going to accidentally capsize is going to be very high.

The good news is that it’s okay (and actually recommended!) to capsize a few times when you’re a beginner, and it can even be good to do it on purpose. This will help you feel comfortable with what you need to do to get back into your kayak if you capsize accidentally later down the line.

But choosing from the best sit on top kayaks for beginners can be a little daunting if you don’t know what to look for. So we’ve researched the market to bring you the 10 best sit on top kayaks for beginners.

We’ve also highlighted the most important factors to consider when choosing a sit on top kayak in our Buying Guide. We’ve also defined some key kayaking terminology in our Jargon Buster section.

So we’re going to touch on a lot in this article. Let’s get started!

Jargon Buster

If you’re new to the world of kayaking, there are some terms that might be unfamiliar to you as you move through this article. So let’s take a moment here to get clearer on what those terms mean so that you understand them as you read on.

Bow and Stern

These terms refer to the front and back of a kayak, respectively. You can remember that we typically bow FORWARD and a stern face is the one your friend or family member gives you when you might want to take something BACK.


The term gunwales refers to the sides of your kayak. You may also hear the term ‘rails’ used to describe the same area on some kayaks, but this term is more common to sit on top kayaks.


A kayak’s hull is the bottom area that will be underwater while you’re paddling. The design of the hull determines how fast a kayak can go, how easy it is to maneuver, and how stable it is in windy or wavy conditions.


The cockpit of a kayak is where you sit while you’re paddling. In sit on top kayaks, the cockpit is a large open area that makes it easier for individuals of all sizes to find a comfortable paddling position.

Buying Guide

Sit on top kayaks have a lot of similar design elements, but this guide is all about decoding their differences so that you can pick the kayak that’s best for you. So let’s look deeper into the various features and specifications of sit on top kayaks.

Length and Width

The combination of length and width play a major role in a kayak’s stability. Generally speaking, narrower kayaks are going to be less stable than kayaks with a larger width measurement.

This is why you’ll see that some of the kayaks on our list are made for fishing applications. Kayak fishing requires a vessel that’s stable enough to withstand unexpected motion caused by a large fish taking your line, and that extra stability is also great for beginners.

In terms of length, longer kayaks generally track straighter and can achieve higher top speeds over distance. On the other hand, shorter kayaks are more stable and maneuverable along narrow creeks or channels.

You should also make sure to consider your height and weight in relation to the kayak you’re interested in. In general, the kayak you choose should be rated for 50 to 100 pounds more weight capacity than the weight of the person(s) who will be paddling it.

This gives you additional room for gear, a small child, or a furry companion to come on your kayak with you. Taller individuals should always go for a longer kayak so that your knees don’t wind up tucked up into your chest while you’re paddling.

Hull Design

There are four basic designs used in kayak hull manufacturing. They are the flat hull, V-shaped hull, rounded hull, and pontoon hull.

The V-shaped hull is what you’ll see on many touring kayaks that are meant for long distances because this hull type allows for the greatest straight-line efficiency. Flat hulls, on the other hand, are common to whitewater kayaks because they make them super maneuverable in fast-moving water.

Commonly, the best sit on top kayaks for beginners are going to boast either a rounded or a pontoon hull. These hull types provide the best stability, even if they require a bit of a sacrifice in terms of long-distance performance.

Seat: Fixed or Not Fixed?

When you examine the seats in a sit on top kayak, you’ll either find designs where the seat is fixed in place or it is 100% removable. There are pros and cons to each, so let’s discuss them briefly here.

Fixed seats are the quickest and easiest to set up once you’re at the beach because the seatback simply folds up (or down) depending on whether you’re paddling or storing your kayak. The only drawback of this is that critters can sometimes eat the foam in your seat if you don’t cover it with one of the best kayak storage bags.

Having a seat that’s 100% removable makes it easier to eliminate the possibility of a critter chewing up the foam while it’s in storage. But these seats take more time to set up at the beach and also open you up to the possibility of forgetting the seat entirely when you’re packing up.

Storage Capacity

Finally, don’t forget about the need to bring supplies along on the water. If you simply plan to use your paddle for an hour here or there, storage capacity obviously won’t be as important to you as if you one day hope to spend full days out on the water!

Best Sit On Top Kayaks For Beginners

1. Pelican Sentinel 100X

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The Pelican Sentinel 100X is actually designed primarily for fishing purposes. However, this means that the kayak is wider than many other designs so that it will provide greater stability for beginners.

It’s designed to be used on calm, flat waters like you’ll find on nearby lakes, protected bays, or slow-moving rivers. The kayak measures 9’6” long, 30” wide, and weighs a total of just 44 pounds.

This lighter weight makes it easier to transport to and from the water and it also includes a total of four handles (two on the bow and stern and two more on the gunwales) to make carrying it with a partner a breeze.

The Sentinel 100X boasts a multi-chine flat bottom hull that provides excellent stability. The large, open cockpit also makes this kayak easy for paddlers of all sizes to be comfortable and the footrests can be adjusted to fit tall and short paddlers alike.

2. Emotion Spitfire

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The Emotion Spitfire is a shorter kayak that’s best-suited for smaller paddlers. It performs best on flatwater lakes and ponds, slow-moving rivers, and protected coastal bays, but may also perform admirably on very gentle whitewater.

The open storage area at the stern gives you plenty of space for a cooler or dry bag, and there’s also a small beverage holder located just in front of the seat. The seat can be adjusted for a more upright or leaned-back seated position and multiple footrests help you find a comfortable position with your knees slightly bent.

The Spitfire measures 8’ long, 31.5” wide, and it weighs just over 40 pounds. It boasts a maximum weight capacity of 240 pounds and it includes a total of four handles (bow, stern, and on either gunwale) for easy transportation.

This kayak doesn’t boast a whole lot of ‘extra’ features, but it does offer one of the more stable designs on the market. Its size and weight also make it easier to transport than some of the other designs on this list.

3. Lifetime Tamarack Angler

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The Lifetime Tamarack Angler is another beginner’s kayak that’s designed primarily for on-the-water fishing. But, like the Pelican Sentinel, this makes it extra stable for first-time kayakers that are just learning how to paddle.

This sit on top kayak offers a maximum weight capacity of 275 pounds and it actually features two six-inch storage hatches in the stern and center. These give you extra space for storing dry gear or fishing tackle.

The kayak measures 10” long, 31” wide, and weighs a total of 52 pounds. It has two flush-mounted fishing rod holders that are located on the gunwales just behind the seat, as well as an additional top-mounted rod holder located on the right gunwale.

The Tamarack Angler has a padded seat bottom with an adjustable seat back to help you dial in your most comfortable position as you start to spend more and more time out on the water. It also has multiple footrest positions so that it can accommodate short and tall paddlers comfortably.

4. Riot Kayaks Escape 12

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The Riot Kayaks Escape 12 is made for flatwater fishing applications, but it provides a number of useful features that beginners will love. For one, this is the only kayak on our list that includes a stern rudder.

This rudder will help you track straighter in windy conditions or heavy currents (if you eventually graduate to mild ocean paddling). But it can be flipped up while you’re still learning the basics of maneuvering a sit on top kayak.

The seat on this kayak is completely removable for storage purposes, but it can easily be hooked into place and adjusted to your preference when you’re ready to get on the water. There are also multiple fishing rod holders on this kayak if you get into kayak fishing once you gain experience.

The Escape kayak measures 12’ long, 30” wide, and weighs a total of 72 pounds. There’s also an integrated console with a bottle holder in the center of this kayak, as well as a sealed hatch at the stern for dry storage.

5. Lifetime Kokanee

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The Lifetime Kokanee is the one-and-only tandem sit on top kayak for beginners on our list. It measures 10’6” long, 36 inches wide, and offers a maximum weight capacity of 425 pounds.

The kayak itself weighs just 76 pounds, which is actually on the lighter side when you compare it to other tandem kayaks. Each paddler will have access to their own closed storage hatch at the bow or stern of the kayak.

There are also small open storage areas in the bow and stern for securing extra gear. These areas include bungee cords to help you make sure you don’t lose your essentials if you go for an accidental (or planned!) swim.

The Kokanee also offers an optional third jump seat in the center-most section of the kayak. This gives you a place to store more gear or bring a child (or a furry friend!) along on your paddle adventures.

6. Malibu Kayaks X-13

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The Malibu Kayaks X-13 offers exceptional stability and arguably more storage capacity than any other sit on top kayak on our list. It has a large open storage area in the stern that is secured with bungee cords.

There’s also a large central hatch and an even larger bow hatch for dry storage. On top of the stern hatch, more bungee cord gives you the ability to attach another kayak deck bag or other gear items.

Multiple footrest positions make this kayak suitable for individuals of different heights and weights. Speaking of weight, the X-13 offers a maximum weight capacity of 450 pounds.

The kayak itself measures 13.8’ long, 30” wide, and weighs a total of 86 pounds. It also features a more V-shaped hull than most beginner kayaks, which means it can achieve higher top speeds as you start to cover more distance on your paddle trips.

7. Lifetime Daylite 80

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The Lifetime Daylite 80 is a sit on top kayak that’s best suited for shorter paddlers. The kayak itself measures 8’ long, 29” wide, and weighs a total of just 36.5 pounds.

This weight makes it one of the lighter sit on top kayaks on our list, so it’ll also be easier for smaller individuals to transport it to and from the water. There are a total of four carry handles (on the bow, stern, and each gunwale) to make transportation simple.

The fixed seat on this kayak folds up and down depending whether you’re storing it or about to hop in for a paddle. This design feature makes it quick to set up so you’re not wasting a bunch of time fidgeting with the seat on the beach.

The seat can be adjusted, however, to suit your preferred seating style and multiple footrest positions will help you lock into a more ergonomic paddle position. The large open storage area on the stern of this kayak also gives you a place to store a dry bag or cooler and you can strap it in with the included bungee cords.

8. Perception Pescador Pilot 12

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The Perception Pescador Pilot 12 is another great option for beginners that know the value of investing in a high-quality kayak the first time around. This is a 12’5” kayak that’s outfitted for fishing applications, which makes it stable and forgiving for beginners.

The Pilot 12 offers a raised aluminum seat frame with a mesh back. This seat provides an elevated vantage point while you’re on the water and the mesh back helps to keep you cool on hot days.

The kayak measures 33.5” wide and offers a maximum weight capacity of 475 pounds. It also has a pedal drive system that allows you to power it using your legs instead of your arms if you desire.

While it does have a higher weight of 95 pounds, this kayak has the kinds of bells and whistles that you’ll grow to cherish if you want to fish or pedal with your legs instead of your arms. We do, however, recommend researching the best kayak carts, wheels, and trolleys for 2020 if you choose this design.

9. Perception Tribe 11.5

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The Tribe 11.5 is Perception’s best-selling kayak for paddlers of beginner and intermediate skill levels. It measures 11’6” long, 30.25” wide, and boasts a total weight of 52 pounds.

This kayak can hold a maximum weight capacity of 350 pounds and it includes an aluminum-framed seat back for greater comfort on the water. It’s best suited for paddling on flat lakes and ponds, slow-moving rivers, and even protected coastal waterways with minimal wave action.

The seat on this kayak can be adjusted to suit your personal preference and multiple footrest positions make it suitable for paddlers of varying heights. You can also enjoy large open storage areas in the bow and stern with bungee cords to secure your essential kayaking gear.

It also has a small central storage hatch that’s designed to store small essentials that you don’t want to get wet while you’re paddling. But if you plan on bringing your cell phone along, we highly recommend looking into the best kayak deck bags.

10. Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. 120

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The Wilderness Systems A.T.A.K. 120 is a great option for beginners that want to make a larger investment into a kayak that’s going to last. This is a super comfortable and exceptionally durable option that will give you the versatility to explore different forms of kayak recreation as you gain experience.

The A.T.A.K. 120 measures 12’ long, 35” wide, and it weighs a total of 86 pounds when empty. This extra weight does make it a little harder to transport to and from the water, but it also means extra stability once you’re paddling.

This kayak has a maximum weight capacity of 400 pounds, so it has the ability to hold you and a wide assortment of your favorite kayaking gear. A large, closed storage hatch in the bow also provides dry storage if you start to get into overnight kayaking adventures.

Another great feature of this kayak is its raised aluminum seat frame. This seat gives you a higher vantage point for observing obstacles on the water or spotting fish if you get into the sport of tactical kayak angling down the road!

Our Pick – Pelican Sentinel 100X

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The Pelican Sentinel 100X is our pick for the absolute best sit on top kayak for beginners because of its size, stability, and lightweight design. As a beginner, one of the hardest parts of kayaking is simply lugging your boat to and from the water.

But that won’t be an issue with this kayak because it weighs only 44 pounds. And even if that’s still a little too heavy for your liking, you can easily set it on a wheeled kayak cart without straining yourself before you even get on the water.

The multi-chine flat bottom hull on this kayak keeps you extra stable on the water, even if you end up out there when some light winds and wave action kicks up. This hull design is similar to the pontoon hull that we mentioned in our Buying Guide.

A unique feature of the Sentinel 100X is the removable storage compartment behind the seat. This compartment gives you a dry place to store food, extra clothing, or anything else that you don’t want getting wet while you’re paddling.

But if you want to remove it so you have more open storage space in the stern, that’s possible! This makes it adaptable to fishing applications, where you’ll often want to store a cooler or tackle box behind your seat.

And finally, the Sentinel offers fully adjustable foot braces, rather than simply multiple footrest positions. This makes it suitable for a wider variety of paddlers and allows you to fully customize your seated position!


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