What's a Sit on Top Kayak & Should I Get One?

Cassidy Kelly-Thomas | How To

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What's a Sit on Top Kayak & Should I Get One?

In this article we take a look at Sit on Top Kayaks (also known as SOT kayaks for shorthand), specifically what they are, advantages over other kayaks, details about 'hybrid' versions and some techniques to help you get started. Whether you're a seasoned paddler or a beginner, our hybrid inflatable sit-on-top kayaks offer an exciting and convenient way to explore protected waterways. All of our inflatable sit-on-top kayaks are "hybrids", meaning they can be set up as sit-on-top kayaks or paddle boards.

It's important to first understand what a sit on top kayak is and how it's different from other kayaks.  Compared to a "sit-inside" kayak, sit-on-tops do not have a cockpit that you literally sit inside.  Instead you sit directly on the deck, usually above the water line, and have some sort of system for seating and placing your feet. 

Advantages of Sit-On-Top Kayaks vs Sit-Inside Kayaks:

  • Since you sit "on top", you won't feel "trapped" inside the cockpit as can happen in a sit-inside kayak.  This is great for anyone who may feel claustrophobic in closed spaces, or who is nervous about exiting the kayak should it flip over. 
  • SOT kayaks cannot "swamp" with water, meaning they won't fill up with water and either sink or become completely waterlogged.  In particular ISLE's hybrid Switch and Pro Series models have no indentions on the deck where water can become trapped, so water rolls off the board quickly and easily, even in choppy water.  This also allows them to dry super quick.
  • Kayaks featuring a cockpit require a spray skirt, or spray deck to prevent water intrusion.  You won't have to purchase this extra gear with a SOT kayak!
  • Hybrid SOT kayaks like the Switch and Pro Series models allow you to change from a SOT kayak to paddle board in just a few minutes.  This offers a ton of versatility, essentially providing two products in one. 
  • Tandem, or 2 person sit on top kayaks, are great for partnering up and doubling your paddling power
  • Solo, or 1 person sit on top kayaks are designed for single person use. For maximum versatility you can choose a sit on top kayak that can 'switch' between 1 person and 2 person set-up.  The award-winning 11'6 Switch is a perfect example of this style, and also happens to be a 'hybrid' so it can be used as a paddle board. The Pro Series also features several models that are hybrids and can be set up for solo or tandem use.

Hybrid Kayak-Paddle Boards make great sit-on-top kayaks!

Now that you have some information on the advantages of SOT kayaks, lets take a look at some techniques to help you get started on the water. 


How to Get on a Sit-on-Top Kayak: Smooth Entry for Seamless Adventures - Getting on a sit-on-top kayak is easy and requires a few simple steps:

    • Find a stable launch point: Look for a calm and steady entry point, such as a sandy shoreline or a dock. Avoid rough terrain both in and around the water.
    • Position your kayak: To account for the skeg, or fin, at the stern (or back) of the kayak,  you'll need to make sure you're in deeper water than the skeg is long.  
    • Approach from the side: Lay our paddle across the deck of the kayak, with one blade on shore and the other resting on the kayak deck.  Press down on the kayak paddle to help steady yourself while you climb onto the kayak and sit down in the seat. 
    • Proper Trim: The ideal position for your body will vary from person to person depending on size.  The key is to make sure you aren't too far back (stern heavy) or too far forward (bow heavy).  The kayak should be flat on the water when you are sitting down - this is considered "properly trimmed". 
    • Find your footing: Adjust your position and sit with your back straight, knees bent at about a 45 degree angle (so you can still use your kayak paddle over your knees) and your feet resting on the footrests or the kayak's floor. You'll need good contact with the foot brace and seat so that you can engage your core muscles for efficient paddling.


How to Stay Dry in a Sit-on-Top Kayak: While sit-on-top kayaks offer a more open design, you can still stay relatively dry during your adventures. Here's how:

    • Avoid rough water: It's very unlikely you'll get wet if you stay in calm, protected waterways - check the weather and conditions before venturing out.
    • Dress appropriately: Wear quick-drying and moisture-wicking clothing suitable for the weather conditions. Consider layering to adjust to changing temperatures.
    • Mind your paddling technique: Maintain a smooth and controlled paddling stroke to minimize splashing and water entry into the kayak. Drip guards on your paddle will help prevent water from sliding down the paddle shaft onto you and your kayak.
    • Embrace the spray: Accept that some water may splash onto you during your paddling session. Embrace the refreshing nature of being on the water and enjoy the experience!


How to Paddle a Sit-on-Top Kayak: The Art of Paddling a sit-on-top kayak is a unique experience and a great workout. Follow these fundamental techniques to maximize your efficiency and enjoyment:

      • Hold the paddle correctly: Hold the paddle with both hands, keeping them shoulder-width apart, equal distance between paddle blades. The concave side of the paddle blade should be facing you. Maintain a loose grip, using your thumb and pointer finger to make the "OK" sign around the paddle shaft, and loosely hold with the other fingers.  Gripping the paddle too hard results in forearm fatigue and prevents full extension of the paddle blades.
      • Sit with proper posture: Maintain an upright seated position with your back straight and your core engaged. A high-quality, supportive kayak seat makes a big difference and can make or break a day on the water! Ideally you will have a foot brace to press your feet onto as this helps to engage your core muscles and also reduces tension on your back. Relax your shoulders and avoid hunching.
      • Use a rhythmic paddling motion: Submerge the paddle fully into the water, then pull it back, using your core muscles to generate power. Alternate sides for a smooth and balanced stroke.
      • Adjust your stroke: Experiment with different paddle angles and stroke lengths to find a technique that feels comfortable and effective for you.
      • Practice turning: There are several methods that will change the course you're on. While moving, use the paddle as a rudder by inserting the blade fully in the water towards the tail of the kayak and pressing away from the kayak.  This will turn the kayak in the direction you are pressing. You can also "sweep" the paddle blade out away from the bow on your stroke (in a rainbow type arc) to adjust your course.  This is called a sweep stroke.  You can also use a reverse sweep stroke, starting at the stern and pressing forward - this will slow/stop the kayak, but will turn the kayak more quickly.


How to Carry a Sit-on-Top Kayak by Yourself: Effortless Portability Carrying your sit-on-top kayak by yourself is a straightforward process that can be easily mastered. Follow these steps for hassle-free portability:

    • Position the kayak: Place your kayak on a stable surface with the deck facing up.
    • Approach from the side: Stand beside the kayak, positioning yourself towards the center of its length.
    • Bend your knees: Maintain a stable and balanced posture by slightly bending your knees.
    • Grip the carry handles: Reach down and firmly grip the center carry handle located in the middle of the deck. This handle is designed for easy lifting and carrying.
    • Lift with your legs: Engage your leg muscles and use them to lift the kayak off the ground. Keep your back straight and avoid straining your back muscles.
    • Carry with balance: Once you have lifted the kayak, ensure it is balanced and centered in your grip. This will help distribute the weight evenly and make it easier to carry.
    • Walk with caution: As you move with the kayak, take small, careful steps, and be mindful of your surroundings. Pay attention to any obstacles or uneven terrain to avoid accidents.
    • Lowering the kayak: When you reach your desired location, carefully lower the kayak back to the ground. Again, remember to use your leg muscles to control the descent and protect your back.
    • Pack the kayak: Once the kayak is in a place where you are ready to deflate it, open the value and press down on the value stem until its in a locked position to deflate the board. Start to roll up the board from the nose to tail. Once the board is fully deflated and rolled up you, unlock the value stem and screw back on the value cap. Then put your board into the board back pack along with the other accessories. Zip up the back pack and you are on your way. 


Congratulations! You now have a solid foundation for enjoying inflatable sit-on-top kayaks.

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