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So you're into the big time! You want a mean machine with heaps of storage that can take you to places that only a sea kayak can get to.
Just to clarify ... If you have been told that you MUST have a sea kayak to paddle on closed waters then you have been misinformed. A sea kayak will certainly handle these waters in any weather, but then so will a decent touring kayak. If you are certain that you will not be venturing out into the big blue sea then you DO NOT NEED A SEA KAYAK (although you may still decide to get one just because they look really cool and all your mates have one :)
Definition of a Sea Kayak
Just to avoid any confusion, when we refer to sea kayaks we are talking about sit-in kayaks. Some people mistakenly refer to sit-on-top kayaks as sea kayaks. While most sit-on-top kayaks can handle the waves by nature of their buoyant unsinkable design, they can be found under Touring Kayaks and Recreational Kayaks.
To qualify as a sea kayak the kayak should have:
- All round deck lining (grab ropes)
- Upturned bow for lifting the kayak over oncoming swell
- Rudder or skeg
- Front and rear bulkheads
- One of the true tests of a sea kayak, and an important safety feature, is that you should be able to paddle it while the cockpit is full of water.
When venturing out into the sea you need to take more caution than flatwater paddling. This means that you should be more stringent about checking the weather and tides, tell someone on the land where you plan to go and when you plan to be back . Invest in some additional safety gear and equipment such as an Australian Standards Approved PFD, flares, a spare paddle, a good spray deck, a paddle float and a bilge pump, just to name a few. We suggest that you visit one of our stores should you require more information on how to better prepare yourself for the sea.
Sea kayaks will vary in length, width, storage capacity and performance and the ideal craft for you will depend on your precise needs and budget.
Comfort is also one of the most important factors as poor comfort can lead to fatigue, which can become a danger to your health and well being. Make a point of at least sitting in a few kayaks before making your decision to purchase.
We divide Sea Kayaks into three categories based on the materials from which they are constructed:
Composite vs Polyethylene vs Thermoformed
Traditionally most kayaks were made of fibreglass (in modern times) but more recently plastic has become more and more popular. Many of the traditional old fibreglass kayaks and canoes were very heavy and not all that efficient, but now-days the fibreglass kayaks are usually lighter than their plastic counterparts.
Kayak design will play a large role in determining the speed, weight, stability and strength of a kayak, these features cannot be determined based on construction materials alone. For the purpose of comparison let's assume two kayaks of identical design, one made of plastic and one made of fibreglass. The difference between these two kayaks can then be summarised as follows:
- The plastic kayak will usually be cheaper
- The plastic is more durable
- The fibreglass is usually lighter
- The fibreglass kayak will have a gloss finish and be slightly more efficient through the water (faster)
- The fibreglass is marginally more rigid in surf and swell, giving slightly better performance.
Most fibreglass models are also available in carbon and or carbon / kevlar, which are lighter and stronger than fibreglass but more expensive. If you can afford it and believe that you know how to look after your kayak then a carbon / kevlar kayak will make you the envy of your paddling mates. Remember though that even carbon / kevlar have nothing compared to plastic when it comes to durability. I learned the hard way when one of my plastic kayaks fell off it's vertical stand onto a carbon / kevlar sea kayak. Well, you can guess the result ... the plastic was unscratched while the carbon / kevlar kayak was fractured in four places and had to be repaired.
At the end of the day you need to decide what you want, there is no wrong or right. The majority of people these days choose plastic as it is cheaper, carefree and robust. You can slam into rocks laden with oysters, drop it while trying to load it onto your car, pull up alongside other kayakers, pontoons and even rocks without fear of 'hurting' it.
To put it another way, if you buy plastic you can rest assured that you will most likely NEVER have to repair your kayak whereas, if you buy composite (fibreglass or carbon / kevlar) you need to accept the fact that you WILL need to undergo repairs at some stage or other.
If you are the competitive type, wanting to enter it into races or are somewhat fanatical and want every ounce of efficiency you can get out of their kayak AND know how to be extra careful and mindful that a composite kayak is elatively fragile, then perhaps composite is the choice for you.
UPDATE - with the recent introduction of THERMOFORMED PLASTIC KAYAKS many of the above arguments in favour of composite kayaks have fallen away. THERMOFORMED KAYAKS now offer the weight and visual appeal of a carbon kayak combined with the durability of plastic. Also...some Polyethylene kayaks are now constructed in 3 layers - this allows the kayak to have much thicker walls without adding weight, resulting in an overall stiffer, more rigid shell.
Some people still prefer the composites though as they are hand made and the quality finish (assuming that it is a good brand) and stiffness are unparalleled even against the thermoformed kayaks. I for example paddle a Prijon Proteus (composite).