The Ultimate Guide to Sit-On-Top Kayaking

Colette Goh | How To

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The Ultimate Guide to Sit-On-Top Kayaking

The Ultimate Guide to Sit-On-Top Kayaking

If your idea of a dream weekend is escaping the city, getting out into nature, and exploring new lakes, rivers or coastal waters, then look no further than inflatable sit-on-top kayaks. These lightweight and portable vessels are an amazing way to see the best of what nature has to offer, whether you’re just getting into paddle sports or you’re a seasoned veteran who values versatility.

First, what is a sit-on-top kayak? Sit-on-top kayaks do not have a cockpit that you sit inside. Instead you sit directly on the “top”, above the water line, and have a system for seating and placing your feet. 

The biggest benefits that sit-on-top kayaks have over sit-inside kayaks are their ease of entry and self-rescue functionality. Sit-on-top kayaks are completely sealed from top to bottom, so if you flip, all you need to do is flip it back and climb back on. It’s also easier to get into a sit-on-top kayak as it’s more stable while floating on the water. Finally, it can’t fill up with water and sink like sit-inside kayaks that have large, open cockpits.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll walk you through the essentials of sit-on-top kayaks, including how to choose, set up, and get into your kayak, kayak technique, and kayak care & maintenance. So, let's dive right in!

How to Choose Your Sit-On-Top Kayak

At ISLE Surf & SUP, we believe in providing you with the best equipment for your adventures. We offer 3 SUP-Kayak Hybrids which are the perfect choice if you’re looking for a versatile watercraft where you can alternate between paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, yoga, and lounging.

The Switch is our most lightweight option, great for recreational kayakers looking for a portable, durable, and stable board that can serve multiple activities. Because of its full-coverage soft and grippy traction pad, it’s great for stand up paddle boarding and solo or tandem kayaking. Plus the entire deck can be used for yoga, pets, kids, and lounging.  

Our Pro Series hybrids, the Pioneer Pro, and Explorer Pro, are our newest SUP kayaks which are fantastic all-purpose recreational and fitness boards. They are “Inflatable Hardboards”, a new class of inflatables thanks to our innovative new InfinityFiber material. These are the most rigid inflatables available on the market which allows them to support larger riders, more gear and perform more like epoxy hardboards, but in a portable package.

The Pioneer Pro is the best all-around inflatable hybrid optimized for rigid board glide and durability in a more lightweight package. It’s stable, easy to maneuver, and is a multi-purpose board for SUP, kayaking, yoga, and fishing. The 11’6 Pioneer Pro is our most stable, highest capacity model, which we recommend for anyone looking for added capacity and stability. It’s also our recommended model for fishing.

The Explorer Pro is for adventurous kayakers who want to go the distance with our award-winning touring and fitness board. The narrower, longer profile makes it faster on the water. It’s great for longer distances, and the incredible rigidity gives it a high weight capacity means it’s great for carrying gear while solo and tandem kayaking and SUP. It won’t “taco” under load like other narrow touring boards can.

The Pros are sold a la carte or as a complete package. The Pioneer Pro SUP-Kayak Complete Package contains all the kayak accessories you need (seat, foot brace, pump, etc) to get on the water right away. Same with the Explorer Pro SUP-Kayak Complete Package. However, if you want to customize your accessories, we recommend getting either the Pioneer Pro or the Explorer Pro and then adding your preferred gear.

If you’re looking for more information on deciding between our models, we recommend checking out our guide on How to Choose the Right SUP-Kayak Hybrid

How to Set up and Get Into Your Sit on Top Kayak

Before you embark on your first kayaking journey, it's crucial to properly set up your inflatable sit-on-top kayak. Here's how you can ensure a stable vessel for your adventure:

  1. Gather your equipment: Start by gathering your kayak and air pump. 
  2. Attach the pump to the valve: Locate the inflation valve on the tail of your kayak. Ensure the valve pin is in the “up” position so air cannot rush back in after inflation. Securely attach the pump's nozzle to the valve, making sure it forms a tight seal.
  3. Begin inflation: Start pumping air into your kayak using smooth and consistent strokes. Take breaks if needed, as overexertion may cause unnecessary strain on the pump. To avoid pumping, use ISLE's electric pump
  4. Monitor the pressure: Regularly check the pressure with a gauge to ensure proper inflation. Consult your kayak's manual or manufacturer's instructions for the recommended pressure level, as it may vary based on the model.
  5. Achieve optimal inflation: Once the kayak reaches the recommended pressure, remove the hose from the valve. Note - if you didn’t have the valve pin in the “up” position, air may rush out.  To avoid this, ensure the valve pin is in the “up” position before re-inflating.
  6. Close the valve cap to prevent dirt and debris from getting into the valve. 
  7. Attach your kayak seat and foot brace and strap in any additional gear.
  8. Install your fin prior to heading onto the water. We offer multiple fin types to optimize performance for your adventure.
  9. Ensure that your kayak is properly trimmed. If it is out of trim, your bow may be out of the water when your seat is too far back, or your stern may be out of the water if the seat is too far forward.

Trimming your kayak ensures that it is level and in balance when you’re on the water. The stern or bow is not sticking out of water. It’s critical to maximize your efficiency and speed through the water. For more details, check out our video on How to Trim Your Paddle Board Kayak Hybrid.

If you have additional questions on how to set up your kayak, check out our How to Set Up Your SUP-Kayak Hybrid guide or watch our Switch Kayak Set Up Video

How to Get In Your Sit-On-Top Kayak

Getting into your inflatable sit-on-top kayak is a breeze with a few simple steps:

  1. Find a calm and stable area: look for a gentle shoreline or a dock that provides easy access to the water.
  2. Position your kayak: orient the kayak perpendicular to the waterline, ensuring the stern and bow are evenly balanced and that the fin is in deep enough water so it doesn’t get hung up.
  3. Approach from the side: Lay your paddle across the deck of the kayak, with one blade on the 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 kayak seat.  
  4. Get Into the Right position: Once you're comfortably seated, extend your legs forward and press the ball of your foot into the footrest with your heel resting on the board.  You will want to feel “locked” onto the kayak from the contact at your feet and your lower back in the seat. Ensure that you’re seated upright for maximum efficiency

The 3 Bs To Maximize Speed On the Water: Sit On Top Kayak Technique

If you’re curious about the correct sit-on-top kayak technique, remember the 3 Bs - Body, Blade, and Boat.

Correct technique is important to maximize efficiency and comfort, whether you’re standing up paddle boarding, or sitting down kayaking. 


Ensure you’re in an upright posture (sitting or standing). 

Brace your feet on the footrest and press your lower back into the kayak seat. This activates your core, so you can use it to power your movement, instead of stressing just your arms and shoulders. 

You can adjust the seat back and lounge to paddle leisurely but this will be exhausting if you’re touring or trying to reach a destination.


Grab your paddle and bend both elbows at 90 degrees. This is the width between your hands when paddleboarding and kayaking. 

Before you take a stroke, plant your blade fully in the water before applying force. That way you can use the blade for maximum potential. It also provides more stability and power.


Ensure your kayak is trimmed correctly so that you can move efficiently through the water. Make sure it’s not stern-heavy (seat is too far back) or too bow-heavy (seat is too far forward). 

If you want to see this technique in action, watch our Kayak Paddle Board Technique video. 

Sit On Top Kayak Care and Maintenance

Regular cleaning and proper drying are essential to maintain the longevity and performance of your inflatable sit-on-top kayak.

Cleaning and Drying Your Kayak: 

  • Rinse off after each use: After your kayaking adventure, rinse the kayak with fresh water to remove any saltwater, sand, or debris that could potentially damage the material.
  • Use mild detergent: For a deeper clean, use a gentle, non-abrasive soap or kayak-specific cleaner. Avoid harsh chemicals that can deteriorate the kayak's material.
  • Scrub gently: Use a soft brush or sponge to remove any stubborn dirt or stains. Be mindful not to apply excessive force that could scratch or damage the surface. 
  • Thoroughly dry your kayak: After cleaning, ensure your kayak is completely dry before storing it. Wipe off any excess moisture with a clean cloth or towel, paying particular attention to crevices, seams, and the kayak's underside.

And even the most durable kayaks can sometimes encounter mishaps. Here's how you can handle common repairs:

Repairing Your Kayak:

  • Identify the damage: Carefully inspect your kayak for any punctures, tears, or leaks. Look for visible signs of damage or listen for hissing sounds, indicating air leakage. If you suspect a slow leak, use soapy water over the surface of the kayak - bubbles will appear if there is a leak (somtimes very small bubbles if it is a slow leak, so look closely!).
  • Prepare the repair kit: Keep a repair kit handy, including a patch, adhesive, and a cleaning solution. Adhesive is not included in the repair kit that comes with ISLE inflatables due to hazmat shipping restrictions. We recommend HH-66 PVC Cement or similar. Ensure the patch is appropriate for the material of your kayak, typically PVC.
  • Deflate your inflatable - the repair should be done without any pressure inside, and the repair area should be laid flat for best results.
  • Clean and dry the affected area: Thoroughly clean the damaged area using the cleaning solution provided in your repair kit. Ensure it's dry before proceeding.
  • Apply the patch: Cut the patch to an appropriate size, leaving at least 1” around the damaged area, and round the corners to prevent peeling. Apply adhesive to the patch and the kayak 2-3 times, allowing to dry between applications, then firmly press it over the damaged area. Use a spatula or roller to ensure there are no air bubbles trapped underneath.
  • Allow it to cure: Follow the instructions provided with the repair kit regarding curing time. Generally, it's best to let the adhesive cure for at least 24 hours before using the kayak.

Congratulations! You've mastered the essentials of inflatable sit-on-top kayaks, from getting into your kayak with finesse to repairing any unforeseen damages and keeping it clean and dry for longevity. Remember, ISLE Surf & SUP is here to equip you with top-notch inflatable kayaks that cater to your adventurous spirit.

As you explore the serene waters and embrace the thrills that kayaking offers, always prioritize safety and follow local regulations. With proper care and maintenance, your inflatable sit-on-top kayak will be a steadfast companion on countless unforgettable journeys.

So, gear up, paddle on, and let the wonders of nature unfold before you as you embark on your next kayaking adventure!

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