Sit-on-top kayaks are stable, easy to use, and cheap, making them ideal for beginner and recreational paddlers. There are many models out there, making it hard to figure out which kayak best suits your needs.
In this round-up guide, we summarize our top kayak reviews to help you find the best sit-on-top kayak for you.
My top pick is the Perception Pescador 10. It’s one of the best performing sit-on-top kayaks and offers exceptional value for money. As it has a high weight capacity for its size, it’s suitable for paddlers of all shapes and sizes.
The Pescador 10 has tons of storage options, plus a pair of fishing rod holders if you fancy trying your hand at kayak fishing. Most importantly, the comfortable seat means you’ll be happy spending all day on the water.
While the Pescador 10 will be the best sit-on-top kayak for most people, it’s not the only great sit-on-top. Whether you want to tackle the surf, go kayak fishing, or fit your whole family on board, we’ve got the best kayak for you.
Keep reading to find out more.
Best Kayak for Tall People – Ocean Kayak Scrambler
If you’re tall or heavier than average, you may be worried about the stability of a sit-on-top kayak. Some of the most popular sit-on-tops are short, with limited legroom and a low weight capacity.
If you buy the Ocean Kayak Scrambler, you have nothing to worry about. It measures 11 feet 6 inches, which not only gives more room inside, it’ll also help you track straight when paddling. The 350-pound weight capacity means there’s plenty of space for you and your gear.
When it comes to stability, you’ll struggle to rock this boat. It’s as stable as they come.
The Scrambler also has plenty of storage space, making it a great option for touring, camping, or carrying dogs.
Best Sit-On-Top Tandem Kayak – Ocean Kayak Malibu Two
Tandem kayaks are great for couples wanting to paddle together or adults wanting to take a child or less-confident paddler out on the water. There’s an optional third seat in the center of the Malibu Two which can be used for a child or well-trained dog.
The removable seats let you change the seating configuration to use it as a single-person kayak, and overlapping footrests ensure that everyone has somewhere to place their feet.
The Malibu Two is much lighter than most other tandems. There are also four handles to help you transport it to and from the water. This makes it a great choice if you’re likely to be paddling solo or if you have to lift the kayak on top of your vehicle.
Sit-On-Top Kayaks Compared
Best Sit-On-Top Kayaks For (2023)
1. Perception Pescador 10 – Best Sit-On-Top Kayak
The Perception Pescador 10 is my top pick for both beginner and more experienced paddlers. It’s a popular, versatile kayak that you can use for recreational paddling and fishing on lakes, rivers, and calm seas. It’s reasonably priced and offers an excellent balance between price and performance.
The Pescador 10 is designed for calm waters and can hold its own against more expensive models when paddling on ponds and slow-moving rivers. It’s stable, easy to maneuver, and tracks straight as an arrow.
For a compact kayak, the Pescador 10 feels spacious. Larger users can have a tough time finding a short kayak that’s comfortable and will accommodate their weight. The 325-pound capacity of the Pescador 10 means this isn’t an issue. The padded seat and adjustable backrest ensure all-day comfort for paddlers of all shapes and sizes.
There’s a lot of storage (including dry storage) and a pair of gear tracks to mount accessories. Two fishing rod holders are located behind the seat. However, to hold rods securely, you really need to extend these using the Rod-X Pro rod holders. Also read our review of the Perception Pescador 10′ sit on top kayak.
2. Ocean Kayak Tetra 10 – Best For Experienced Kayakers
When you buy a sit-on-top kayak, you often sacrifice speed for stability. It can sometimes feel as if you’re pushing a truck through the water. If you want a sit-on-top kayak but also want to be able to keep up with your mates, you should check out the Ocean Kayak Tetra 10.
If you’ve tried other sit-on-tops, you’ll immediately notice the difference with the Tetra 10. It’s agile and nimble, and takes a lot less effort to propel through the water.
It is less stable than other sit-on-top kayaks, but if you’re not afraid to get wet, the payoff in terms of performance will be worth it.
The ease of paddling also makes this a great sit-on-top kayak for camping or touring. The seat is comfortable, and the adjustable foot braces allow you to position your feet precisely. There’s also a generous amount of storage, with a large tank well in the stern and a click-seal bow hatch.
3. Sun Dolphin Bali 10 SS
If you’re looking for a budget kayak for messing around on local ponds and streams, then you should check out the Sun Dolphin Bali SS. It’s a lightweight kayak that’s popular with beginners and people wanting a cheap boat for occasional use.
Although it’s marketed as a 10-foot kayak, it actually measures 9.5 feet in length. This makes it a great kayak for kids, as it’s easy to maneuver and durable enough to cope with being dragged over rocky beaches.
It also comes in some fun colors, including lime green, hot pink, and tangerine orange. As well as looking great, bright colors also make you more visible on the water – an important consideration if there are other boats around. Also read our Sun Dolphin Bali 10′ ss review.
4. Old Town Twister
The Old Town Twister is a simple, stable kayak for beginner and intermediate paddlers. At first sight, the design may appear overly basic, but this does mean that there’s less to go wrong.
Like most sit-on-top kayaks, it’s very stable, but the extra length of the Twister means it tracks better than shorter kayaks. It’s pretty maneuverable and fun to paddle.
There’s a molded-in seat with plenty of legroom for taller kayakers. While larger users may prefer the additional support offered by the molded backrest, the lack of padding makes this kayak more suited to short excursions than long outings.
Old Town has been making canoes for over a century. The Twister may not have the bells and whistles of other models, but it’s a fun, affordable kayak from a trusted manufacturer.
5. Ocean Kayak Scrambler – Best Kayak for Tall People
At 11 feet 6 inches, the Ocean Kayak Scrambler is longer than most of the solo sit-on-top kayaks in this review. Not only does this make it more suitable for large paddlers, but it also improves its tracking in the water.
The Scrambler is super stable on lakes, rivers, and the ocean. It’s a great kayak for both beginner and more experienced paddlers who want a versatile boat for different types of water.
Another thing that sets the Scrambler apart from other models is the generous gear storage. There are large, open storage areas in the bow and stern, with bungee cords to hold items in place. In addition, a cam lock storage hatch gives access to a small compartment in front of the seat. There’s also a cup holder for your morning coffee!
The flexible storage and excellent performance on the water make the Ocean Kayak Scrambler a great touring kayak, though I’d recommend adding a bit more padding to the seat if you’re paddling for long periods.
6. Sun Dolphin Journey 10 SS – Best Fishing Kayak
The Sun Dolphin Journey 10 SS is a sit-on-top kayak that’s designed for kayak fishing on a budget. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of more expensive boats, but it’s a great introductory kayak if you want to give fishing a go.
The Journey 10 has two flush-mount rod holders, plus a swivel rod holder in front of the seat. There’s tons of storage, including a portable accessory carrier, which can be removed and towed behind the kayak. This frees up space in the stern for a cooler or backpack.
If you paddle solo, then you shouldn’t have any problems getting the Journey 10 in and out of the water. It weighs just 44 pounds – a lot less than most fishing kayaks.
Unfortunately, the Journey SS is not a great kayak for tall people and the 250-pound weight capacity may be an issue if you need to carry a lot of gear. I’d also recommend adding a padded seat and carrying a set of scupper plugs for comfort.
7. Ocean Kayak Malibu 9.5 – Best Sea Kayak
If you want to play in the surf then Ocean Kayak should be your first port of call. The Malibu 9.5 is a popular sea kayak with lots of features for your money.
Even for a sit-on-top kayak, the Malibu is wide. With a 33-inch platform to keep you stable, it’ll take a lot of effort to capsize this boat. It doesn’t track too badly, given it’s short and wide, but it’s more suited to playtime than a long day paddling on flat water.
The molded-in seat comes with a seat pad and adjustable backrest. The seat is higher than on a lot of sit-on-top kayaks, meaning you have a better chance of keeping your butt dry.
There are two large tank wells (equipped with bungee cords), plus a dry storage hatch. With three cup holders, there’s no excuse not to stay hydrated on the water.
8. Lifetime Lotus – Best Budget Sit-On-Top Kayak
The Lifetime Lotus is a super-affordable introductory kayak that’s perfect for beginners.
At 8 feet, it’s one of the shortest sit-on-top kayaks on the market. This means it’s best suited to kids and smaller adults. It’s easy to paddle, but slow – you won’t be winning any races with this boat.
On the flip side, it’s light enough to carry in one hand and small enough to fit in the back of most trucks and SUVs. It’s also great for maneuvering around tight spaces, such as paddling around shorelines or down small rivers.
Although it’s a stable kayak, I’d recommend sticking to calm waters in the Lotus. It shouldn’t capsize in choppy water, but it won’t be a fun paddling experience! If you’re spending more than an hour or so in it at a time, I’d also suggest investing in a padded seat, as the molded seat isn’t particularly comfortable.
The Lotus is sturdy, easy to transport, and very budget-friendly. Unlike most kayaks, it comes with a paddle, so you can head to the water straight away.
9. Lifetime Spitfire 9
You may also see this kayak advertised as the Emotion Spitfire 9 (Lifetime took over the Emotion brand). This 9-foot sit-on-top kayak has a padded seat and backrest, paddle holders, and open storage areas at the bow and stern.
The hatch in front of the seat gives access to storage space in the hull of the boat. However, as there are no bulkheads in the kayak, anything you put down the hatch could slide out of reach.
For this reason, I’d suggest securing a dry bag to the hatch, to make it easy to access your gear when you’re on the water. It’s worth noting that this issue applies to a lot of sit-on-tops with storage hatches, not just the Spitfire.
The Spitfire 9 is a great sit-on-top kayak for paddling on rivers, where you can let the current guide you downriver. Its high weight capacity also makes it a good option for heavier paddlers. On lakes or when paddling upriver, you may struggle to keep it tracking straight.
10. Lifetime Tioga 100
The Lifetime Tioga 100 is a wide 10-foot sit-on-top kayak. At first glance, it looks very similar to the Spitfire 9. While the additional length helps with tracking, it offers fewer features for your money than the Spitfire.
The Tioga has an adjustable plastic backrest and no padding on the seat. At this price point, I’d have expected a more comfortable seat. It’s also pretty heavy, although the thicker plastic is likely to make it more durable than other kayaks.
One thing I love about the Tioga 100 is the storage. There are tank wells at the bow and stern with bungee cords to secure your gear, plus a six-inch storage hatch, a cup holder, and a shallow cut-out that you could use to store a water bottle.
Although it wouldn’t be my top pick, the Tioga 100 is a solid kayak for beginner and intermediate paddlers.
11. Ocean Kayak Malibu Two – Best Tandem Sit-On-Top Kayak
The Ocean Kayak Malibu Two is my top pick for a tandem sit-on-top kayak. Although it’s primarily designed for two people, the removable seats and molded foot placements make it suitable for two adults and a child (or dog!), or a solo paddler.
In the water, it’s easy to handle and tracks straight. It’s exceptionally stable, even in choppy conditions, and can be used on large lakes and the sea as well as smaller bodies of water.
The basic model doesn’t come with much storage – just two small open areas at the bow and stern with straps for securing items. If you need more storage space, you can fit up to three Gaspachi storage hatches, giving you access to the hull void.
The Malibu Two weighs just 57 pounds, making it very lightweight for a tandem kayak. Overall, this is a great family kayak that’s versatile, robust, and easy to transport and store.
12. Lifetime Manta 100
The Lifetime Manta 100 is a basic 10-foot tandem kayak. With seating for two adults plus a small child and a whopping 500-pound maximum capacity, you can take the whole family paddling.
It’s a wide kayak, even for a tandem, and those extra inches make the Manta 100 very stable in the water. If your kids love jumping into the water (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?), then you don’t have to worry about them capsizing the kayak when getting back on board.
There isn’t much storage to speak of – just a couple of ditty trays and a small bungee cord. The seats are also pretty basic, so it won’t be comfortable for long periods.
As it’s a short, wide kayak, it’s slow to paddle. It’s also cramped when you have three people on board and tough for the person at the rear to paddle without hitting the middle passenger.
For these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend it for paddling long distances. However, it’s a great family kayak for messing around on calm lakes or bays. The compact size makes it easy to transport on (or in) a range of vehicles.
13. Sun Dolphin Bali 13.5 SS – Best Budget Tandem Kayak
Although the Sun Dolphin Bali 13.5 sits at the cheaper end of the market, it has lots of great features. As with other tandems, you can configure the seating to accommodate up to three people.
It’s the longest of the tandem kayaks in this review, making it roomier than other models. This will suit taller paddlers or those who will regularly have a third person on board. The extra length also helps with tracking when in the water.
Compared to other tandems, the Bali 13.5 SS has decent storage options. There’s a small tank well at the stern that’s equipped with bungee cords, two large storage hatches, a smaller compartment in the center, and three cup holders.
As it’s the longest kayak we’ve reviewed, it’ll come as no surprise that it’s one of the heaviest. The Bali 13.5 weighs 70 pounds, meaning it’s a two-person job to lift it onto the roof rack. The seats are also pretty uncomfortable, but you can upgrade these if you’ll be spending a lot of time in the boat.
14. Lifetime Kokanee 106
The Lifetime Kokanee 106 is a fun tandem kayak for paddling around ponds and lakes. It has a basic design that you can customize depending on your intended use.
For a ten-and-a-half-foot kayak, it’s surprisingly spacious, with plenty of room for two adults. The molded seats aren’t particularly comfortable, and if I was spending a lot of time on the water, I’d definitely upgrade these.
There’s shock cord deck rigging at the bow and stern, plus a hatch that gives access to the hull of the kayak.
At 76 pounds, the Kokanee is the heaviest kayak in this review. As there are no carry handles on the sides of the kayak, this can make it tricky to load onto roof racks. If you paddle solo, then you’ll want a kayak trolley to help you get it to the water’s edge.
Buying Guide: How to Choose the Best Sit-On-Top Kayak
Take a look at this in-depth guide, which will tell you everything you need to know when considering a sit-on-top kayak.
Why Choose a Sit-On-Top Kayak Over a Sit-In Kayak?
As the name suggests, sit-on-top kayaks don’t have an enclosed cockpit. Instead, you sit on top of the kayak when paddling. Sit-on-top kayaks aren’t better or worse than sit-in kayaks – they’re just different.
Advantages of a Sit-on-top Kayak
Here’s why you might choose a sit-on-top kayak over a sit-in kayak:
- You are much less likely to capsize a sit-on-top kayak as they’re so stable. If you do manage to capsize, then the open cockpit means there’s no risk of you getting trapped in the boat.
- Sit-on-top kayaks are literally unsinkable. Unlike sit-in kayaks, which can fill with water if you capsize, sit-on-top kayaks have a sealed hull that traps air and prevents them from sinking.
- Because they’re wide and stable, they’re a great choice for fishing, scuba diving, or diving off.
- Many sit-on-top kayaks have a tank well in the stern that’s large enough for a cool box or other bulky items.
- Sit-on-top kayaks have scupper holes that allow any water that splashes into the cockpit to drain out.
Disadvantages of a Sit-on-top Kayak
Of course, there are some downsides to using a sit-on-top kayak:
- They are slower and require more effort to paddle than sit-in kayaks. Many budget models struggle with tracking (moving in a straight line) and are harder to handle in windy or choppy conditions. This makes them best suited to short trips on calm waters and activities such as fishing and diving.
- Your body is exposed to the elements. You’ll need to slap on the sunscreen in summer and wrap up warm if you’re using the kayak in winter. If you’ll be doing a lot of paddling in cold water, it may be worth investing in a dry suit.
- It’s common for sit-on-top kayaks to have a small amount of water in the cockpit. If you’re heavy, the water can come up through the scupper holes, leaving you with a wet butt. You can buy scupper plugs to prevent this.
- Because of the open cockpit, you can’t brace your legs against the side of the kayak as you would in an enclosed cockpit. This gives you less control and maneuverability.
In summary, sit-on-top kayaks are a great option for beginner and recreational kayakers who prioritize fun over performance.
ALSO READ: How To Stay Dry in a Sit-on-Top Kayak
What to Think About When Buying a Sit-On-Top Kayak
What Do You Plan to Use It For?
Sit-on-top kayaks are generally designed for recreational use on flat water. They’re ideal for small lakes, ponds, and smooth-flowing rivers. Most models can be used on calm coastal inlets, and some, such as the Ocean Kayak Malibu 9.5, are specifically designed for surf.
The best kayak for you will depend on what you plan to use it for. If you’ll mainly be messing around in the shallows for a couple of hours on weekends and vacations, then a stable, low-cost kayak will do the job.
If you want to kayak for longer periods, then a comfortable seat is a must. You’ll want space to stretch your legs out and accessible storage for snacks, drinks, and spare clothes.
For kayak fishing, you’ll want a stable platform with fishing rod holders, somewhere to stash your paddle, and plenty of storage.
As a general rule, shorter kayaks are more maneuverable, whereas longer kayaks tend to track better and be more efficient over long distances.
What Size Kayak Do You Need?
Choosing the right size kayak for you will depend on various factors, including:
- Your height and build
- How much space you need for gear storage
- Where you’re going to store your kayak
- How you’ll transport your kayak to the water
The length and width of a kayak also affect its performance. Long, thin kayaks glide through the water more easily, whereas wide kayaks tend to be more stable.
Do You Need a Single or Tandem Kayak?
If you’ll always be paddling solo, then it makes sense to buy a single kayak. Single kayaks are easier to transport and typically have more storage than the equivalent sized tandem.
However, there are several advantages to buying a tandem. The most obvious is that they can carry multiple people (or dogs!). They’re particularly useful if you have a young child, as you can sit them safely between two paddlers.
You can also change the layout of a tandem, which makes it more versatile if you want a boat that you can paddle on your own as well as with your family.
Although tandem kayaks are typically more expensive, buying one tandem is likely to work out cheaper than buying a pair of single kayaks.
Of course, the deciding factor might be your relationship with your partner. Can you cope with arguments over who gets to be the backseat driver?!
What’s Your Budget?
Sit-on-top kayaks are pretty budget-friendly. You can pick up a basic kayak for under $300, but if you want something that’s comfortable and efficient to paddle in the water, expect to pay upwards of $500.
Features to Look For In a Sit-On-Top Kayak
Durable Materials and a Stable Design
Most sit-on-top kayaks are made from high-density polyethylene – a hard, durable plastic. This makes them long-lasting and easy to maintain.
Lighter kayaks are easier to transport, but will typically have thinner plastic, which could affect their long-term durability.
As you sit on top of the kayak, your center of gravity is higher than in a sit-in kayak. This is why choosing a kayak with sufficient weight capacity is important. Larger paddlers will find a wider kayak with a greater weight capacity more stable and comfortable to paddle.
When calculating the capacity you need, don’t forget to account for the gear you’ll be carrying with you.
Scupper Holes and Drainage
Most sit-on-top kayaks come equipped with scupper holes in the cockpit. These operate as a self-bailing system, meaning you don’t have to carry a bilge pump.
Although they’re effective at preventing water from building up in the cockpit, water can splash up through the holes in choppy conditions. If there are scupper holes in the seat, this means you could end up with a wet butt.
A Comfortable Seat
A padded seat is a must if you’ll be spending more than an hour in your kayak. Look for a padded seat cushion and an adjustable backrest for maximum comfort. You can add a seat cushion or stadium seat to most kayaks, so this may not be a deal-breaker.
Sit-on-top kayaks typically come with either molded footrests or adjustable foot braces. Molded footrests are not quite as adjustable, but there are no moving parts to break!
Different Storage Options
Sit-on-top kayaks most often have open storage areas with shock cord deck rigging to hold gear in place. This makes your kit easy to access but it’s more likely to get wet, so dry bags are a must for clothing and other items you don’t want to get wet.
Some kayaks have sealed storage compartments for keys, phones, and other small items. These shouldn’t be confused with storage hatches, which open into the main hull of the kayak. Drop your keys in there and you’ll be fishing around for a while to find them!
Fishing Features Such as Flush Mount Rod Holders
Some sit-on-top kayaks have specific features for fishing. Flush mount rod holders are usually mounted behind the seat. There may also be a mount point for a swivel rod holder in front of the seat.
Gear tracks are rails fitted to the side of the kayak that allow you to attach accessories such as a fish finder screen or camera.
You’ll also want a kayak that has plenty of space to store your tackle and catch.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the Best Sit-On-Top Recreational Kayak?
My recommendation for the best sit-on-top recreational kayak is Perception Pescador 10. It’s comfortable, performs well in the water, and is one of the best value-for-money kayaks you can buy.
What’s the Best Sit-On-Top Kayak for Beginners?
The Perception Pescador 10 is an ideal kayak for beginners, however, if you’re looking for something a bit cheaper, then I’d recommend the Lifetime Lotus. It’s sturdy, easy to transport, and a great option for paddling on small lakes and rivers.
Which Sit-On-Top Kayak Tracks the Best?
The Ocean Kayak Tetra 10 is the best kayak for speed and tracking. Its slim hull design means it’s less stable than many sit-on-top kayaks, but it’s a great kayak for intermediate and experienced paddlers.
Are Sit-On-Top Kayaks More Stable?
Sit-on-top kayaks are wider than sit-inside kayaks, giving them a higher degree of initial stability. This makes them hard to capsize and if you do end up in the water, it’s easy to get back on board.
What Are the Advantages of Tandem Kayaks?
Tandem kayaks offer more flexibility than single-person kayaks. Most can accommodate up to three people, meaning you only have to buy and store one kayak for your family. You can also paddle a tandem solo, which gives you plenty of space to stash your gear.
The Perception Pescador 10 is top of my list of best sit-on-top kayaks. As well as offering an affordable introduction to kayaking for beginner paddlers, it has the performance and features to keep experienced paddlers happy.
If you’re tall or want a longer kayak, then the Ocean Kayak Scrambler is a stable boat with plenty of storage. Or if you’re someone who enjoys company while they paddle the Ocean Kayak Malibu Two tops my list of tandem kayaks, due to its easy handling in the water and ease of transport.
There are plenty of sit-on-top kayaks out there, but hopefully, this guide has helped you decide which one is best for you.
Now, get paddling!