Buying a Kayak- Cost Versus Safety Considerations
So, you’ve become interested in getting your own kayak. The idea of paddling around on the water is so appealing, whether just for sightseeing, relaxing, fishing, exercise–the benefits are plenty! And, it looks like you can get into the sport really cheaply too! $300-400 and you’ll be ready to paddle in no time!
As experienced guides and American Canoe Association pro instructors, we’d like you to consider a couple of important facts first before you purchase your first kayak.
- All kayaks are not constructed the same. Variables like thickness and type of plastic, how the kayak was actually made (some low cost kayaks literally just snap the bottom and top together). Whether sit on top or sit inside, the old saying of getting what you pay for is applicable here. Just remember, you want to have fun and be in a safe kayak as well.
- Bulkheads. For those of you who opt for a sit inside kayak, you should look for kayaks having at least one of these if not two. Bulkheads are walls that are positioned just behind the cockpit and in front of your feet to separate your kayak into 2 or 3 sections. Why does this matter? Besides making one or two dry areas for you to stow your gear, the biggest reason for having a kayak with bulkheads is safety. In dividing the inside of a kayak off, the amount of water that would get inside your kayak, if you fall out is dramatically decreased. At roughly 8 pounds per gallon, a kayak without any bulkheads could have 40+ gallons of water in it after a capsize-320 pounds! Trying to right a kayak with that much water in it is practically impossible. That same scenario with a kayak with bulkheads? Because the kayak is divided up into sections, your front and back bulkheads keep water out of those areas and you’d end up with maybe 5-10 gallons in the center of the boat. MUCH easier to flip back over and get back into. Combine that with a bilge pump and you’d have the boat empty and ready to go in minutes.
There is a cost differential. Most kayaks with at least one bulkhead will cost $500-600. Two bulkheads $600 and up. In our beginner kayaking classes we always encourage students to bring their own kayak to learn in and find the strengths and weaknesses of the kayak. So many of our students quickly realize that the low-cost kayak without any bulkheads they just bought is not a safe kayak and a capsize is going to be problematic. Many after our classes put them up for sale opting for a safer kayak with bulkheads. And for those who would say they’ll just get a sit on top because they’ll never fill with water during a capsize, we have seen them take on so much water inside them (inside the molded plastic itself) that the boats became unmanageable.
The overriding factor to consider first is your safety on the water. Water is the most dynamic force on the planet. Conditions on the water can change quickly, that’s why spending a little bit more on a safe, well constructed kayak is crucial. Life is precious. Couple a safe kayak with some American Canoe Association courses taught by their certified pro instructors, you’ll be on your way to being a safe and skilled paddler who will enjoy the sport for decades!
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