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It’s an important decision of Choosing the right boat for your paddling style. Just like bikes, boats are carefully designed to work in certain environments for particular weight ranges.

When choosing a boat it is important to select one that suits you.  The major point to consider is what are you going to use the boat for, by asking yourself a few questions;

  • Where are you going to use it?
  • What’s the element of kayaking you really enjoy?
  • What conditions does it need to cope with?
  • What will you take with you?
  • What will you do in the future? (Will you need to change your boat to continue to develop?)

In this article we will be explaining how each discipline within paddle sports demands a different design on a basic theme. You can follow links to discover more information and by answering the questions above you’ll be able to focus on a particular area.


A very popular choice, sit-on-tops are named after the position you paddle them from. Excellent for people to get into the sport, they allow you to feel safe without a cockpit, as well as being able to perform self rescues easily.  Sit on tops are stable, durable and easy to use. They are ideal on slow moving rivers or estuaries, lakes, harbours and exploring the coast on very calm days. Some have storage built in, and others have straps to secure equipment on top. They are becoming popular to fish from with rod stands and bait boxes built in, even fish finder attachments to get the big bite!

See some sit-on-tops in action

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks could be considered as a bridge between sea kayaks and white water kayaks, often described as all rounders. With an average length of around 10-12 foot, they are great for exploring and undertaking short journeys on rivers, lakes, canals, estuaries, harbours and on the sea. When we do venture onto the sea in a touring kayak, it’s important to remember the boat will not handle well in the wind or waves. They have hatches for storage, and sometimes have fixed rudders or skegs to help with control. Usually quite wide with the focus being on comfort and stability. Touring boats offer a wide choice for different sizes of paddler and different budgets.

See some touring boats in action

Sea Kayaks

A long narrow boat around 15 to 18 foot long, these boats are perfect for longer journeys on open water. The design has been developed over hundreds of years for travel and expeditions at sea. In a sea kayak we travel quickly and as we develop our sense of balance the boat will handle the waves and wind. They have lots of useful hatches with bulk heads to keep kit dry and deck lines to secure equipment or grab when we fall in. Some have a rudder fitted that you control with your feet inside the boat, all should have a skeg which is used to help control the boat in wind. With a V shaped bottom (hull) they are great at tracking in a straight line, but do require a bit of extra skill to turn.

See some sea kayaks in action

White Water Kayaks

These boats are great at running rapids, plopping over waterfalls and are very manoeuvrable to dodge the next rock. The flat hull (bottom / underside) allows you to skid and turn easily, although going in a straight line can be tricky for the beginner. All white water boats are designed to be sturdy so bashing into a few rocks should not damage the boat. They should all have strong foot blocks, grab handles, attachment points for ropes, integral buoyancy and a positive seating position. It’s a good idea to make sure that we include our kit when thinking about how heavy we will be paddling the boat and to possibly add some extra air bags for ease of rescue. Within white water kayaking there is a massive range of boats to choose from.

See some white water kayaks in action.

Traditional Canoes

Canoes or Canadian Canoes originate from the Native American Indians. They would use these boats to hunt and travel, moving with their whole families and belongings up and down rivers and lakes. They are now popular to paddle in a wide range of locations similar to touring kayaks, canals, rivers, lakes and estuaries.
Unlike the kayak, Canadian canoes have an open top and are paddled with a single ended paddle in a kneeling position for maximise control. The average length is about 14 to 16 foot and they can be difficult to handle in the wind. With such a big boat it is possible to fit up to three seats in them, and they are a great way to get very young children into the sport as they are really stable and kids can move around in them.

See some canoes in action.

White Water Canoes

Like the Canadian canoe these boats are paddled with a single blade, but are shorter and more manoeuvrable. Designed to be paddled solo (one person) they can be very tippy for a beginner. Like a white water kayak, these are ideal for turning quickly, running rapids and avoiding obstacles. They have a raised front and back (bow and stern) to crash though waves and rapids. It is really important that these boats are fitted with air bags, as it is very likely they will end up with water splashing over the sides and swamping the boat. Some have a saddle style seat with straps, to increase the control and fit for the paddler.

See some in action

Racing & Sprint Kayaks or Canoes

Racing and sprint kayaks can comprise of 1 paddler (K1) up to 4 paddlers (K4) or C1 for single person canoe etc. Races take place on flat water over distances of 200 meters, 500 meters and 1000 meters on a straight course. The boats are specifically designed to go in a straight line as quickly as possible and as a consequence are very thin and not very good at turning. The seating position allows you to have your knees rise out of the cockpit so that you can paddle in a cycling motion. All of these elements make the boat excellent at tracking and moving fast through the water, but once you stop they are very tippy and support strokes are need to stay upright! If your into you’re fitness these boats provide a great incentive to training and compete..

Play/Freestyle Kayaks

Very short boats, designed to skid and slide over the water. Once we have developed the skills we can bounce, flip, jump and cartwheel our way down the rivers. Being so small it will give us lots of control over the boat, but they do move very slowly and get thrown around by the water. These boats are often used on standing waves or holes, features we find on many rivers and weirs around the UK. A roll is a vital skill in a play boat as we seem to spend lots of time the wrong way up.

See some of the action.

Surf Kayaks

Originating from surf boards, these boats have been designed to plane and go as quickly as possible on a wave. They are narrow and have fins for grip with a very high bow to reduce it catching as you fly down a wave. They will carve from left to right, and in the hands of the expert can perform most of the tricks you’d do on a surf board. These boats are designed to use on waves and it’s very uncomfortable to paddle these on the flat as the boat won’t feel as if it has enough buoyancy to float.

See some action from the South Coast.


In a Slalom competition the aim is to paddle down a set course through the slalom poles (gates) in the shortest time possible. Points are deducted as time penalties for missing or touching the gates. There are events around the UK ranging from gentle rivers too raging torrents. Slalom boats are designed to accelerate quickly and carve turns to keep the speed throughout the course. Both ends of the boat are slicy so they can cut through the water during a tight turn.


Kayak polo is a five aside ball game with each team aiming to score as many goals as possible. Each goal is suspended above the water and teams constantly make substitutions. Any player in possession can be tackled by being pushed over on the shoulder or back, players may only have the ball in their possession for a maximum of five seconds. As a result of this the boats are extremely manoeuvrable and fast. The bottoms are rounded and have scooped front and back (bow and stern) to dive under the water. They are considered to be ‘tippyer’ than white water boats, so are easier to roll. And most importantly, they have big bumpers made of foam at either end to reduce injuries as collisions are extremely frequent.

Top Tip

Match the boat to what you’re keen to do. Will you paddle in rough or flat water? Short or long distances? Will you be in a rush or relaxing? It’s great to try lots of different boats to help you decide which bits you really enjoy. Clubs, centres, friends and events are great ways of getting access to all the boats.

Perception do a huge range of kayaks to suit most paddling needs. Take a look.