Sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks are great bring-along water toys. The most important consideration is defining their primary use — exploring, exercising, fishing or just plain fun. Here’s what to look for.
Most SOT kayaks are made from roto-molded polyethylene. Single-layer or linear poly is tough and offers good performance. Super-linear or high-density poly is more costly but tougher, lighter and more UV-resistant.
The longer they are, the faster. The shorter ones are easier to maneuver and easier to stow aboard, but slower. For any given material, a shorter model typically weighs less and, therefore, is easier to carry and launch.
The wider they are, the more stable. Wider ones are easier to board and harder to capsize. Greater beam allows for a larger seating area to accommodate larger body size. Wider is a little slower.
Not all SOTs come with seats. Some offer them as an accessory item. Tall seat backs give more support but restrict effective paddling by limiting the ability to twist your torso. Shorter backs are better for paddlers who expect to cover distance, rather than just cruise the cove.
Most SOT kayaks have molded-in footwells set at prescribed distances. Sit on a model before purchasing to be sure it provides a comfortable paddle position for you and others in your family or group. If it doesn't, look for an adjustable foot-brace option.
Covered, watertight storage compartments are available on some models and can often be added as a dealer or DIY option. They are convenient for stowing cameras, water or sunscreen. On-deck bungee straps are functional but less secure.
A rudder allows for a more efficient stroke because course change isn't achieved with the paddle. If your SOT is a lounge-about water toy, a rudder is not necessary. If you plan to do some exploring, a rudder is worthwhile.
Body size and shape are major factors in choosing the correct SOT. Try out various cockpit configurations to be sure that you or the primary paddler is comfortable.
You don't want to be up the creek without one. Choice is affected by the hull width (a wider hull needs a longer paddle), your height (a taller paddler needs a longer paddle) and paddle weight (lighter is better, causing less fatigue).
Although always an issue, cost should not be the prime purchasing consideration. Some SOT kayaks are invitingly inexpensive; however, they may not hold up, paddle well or encourage use. Choice should be based on intended usage and paddler comfort.