Kayaks are an ancient form of water transportation originally made of natural materials such as wood and seal skins. Today kayaks are made of either fiberglass or plastic and are specially designed to fit neoprene spray skirt and covers. Though kayaks are built to run straight, many are equipped with skegs or rudders to help in awkward waters. In any type of water whether, the ocean, river or whitewater the perfect design will combine a wide enough hull for stability but a narrow enough hull for speed.
Sea kayaks are long, sleek boats that can have a round hull, U-shaped hull or a V-shaped hull. The V-shaped hull was traditionally used by many Eskimo and Pacific Northwest natives. Today these are made out of plastic or fiberglass and have a sit-in cockpit where the paddler is protected from the water. It could be said that one doesn't sit in a sea kayak but wears a sea kayak. These are longer than river or whitewater boats, ranging from 16 to 19 feet. Long kayaks are faster but can be more difficult to turn. Sea kayaks are also made with different volumes.
For those who plan on taking their kayak on long trips and carrying lots of equipment there are large-volume kayaks (which are generally also quite long) but day touring boats are built with medium volume. A modern sea kayak is equipped with end toggles for easy carrying, a front and back hatch, fore and rear deck elastics, a tow line and deck lines, rudder or skeg and lines and seat in the cockpit. There are also two-person sea kayaks for day touring purposes.
Whitewater and Creek Boats
The shorter the kayak, the easier it is to maneuver. This is why whitewater kayaks or playboats are sometimes so short you wonder how their paddlers are sitting in them. These boats are for those that like to charge rapids, drop over falls and play around in a hole, vee wave or other river tricks. The length of these plastic boats runs as short as 6 feet or as long as 9 feet. Freestyle or river play are generally from 6 to 7 feet long and creek boats or river running boats are 7 ½ to 9 feet long. The cockpit is built wide to accommodate the bent legs and knees of the paddler which press against knee braces on the side of the cockpit for extra support. These rounded boats have a tiny deck compared to sea kayaks and no hatches though some can fit a small amount of gear in the stern.
Open Top or Recreational Kayaks
Open top boats are similar in length to sea kayaks, though not as long as expedition boats and are wider for better stability. These have an open sit-on-top style for the paddler and are used on lakes or warm oceans only. Since the paddler does not fit in to the boat it is not possible to roll with these kayaks, the paddler will fall right out if it tips, which may be safer for some beginners. These plastic kayaks are made in one or two-person designs and are not as expensive as regular sea kayaks. There are also open-top inflatable kayaks which can be even cheaper, but these are not as solid or maneuverable on the water. Inflatable kayaks can be fun if you only want to bring your kayak out twice a year or so.
Article Written By Naomi Judd
Naomi M. Judd is a naturalist, artist and writer. Her work has been published in various literary journals, newspapers and websites. Judd holds a self-designed Bachelor of Arts in adventure writing from Plymouth State University and is earning a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine.