Fishing Kayaks: Sit-On-Top Kayaks vs Sit-Ins


Paddling / Sunday, March 8th, 2020

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In the market for a fishing kayak? The choices can be daunting!

The first major decision you’ll make when picking your kayak is to deciding on a sit-on-top fishing kayak or a sit-in kayak. If you don’t know which style is best, we’ll help you narrow things down by looking at the pros and cons of each style and a few other key factors.

Want to cut to the chase and skip some of the details?

Sit-on-top kayaks are the top choice of kayak among fishermen. They are extremely stable boats with a lower learning curve in proficiency and safety than sit-in fishing kayaks. They even make models stable enough to stand on while fishing.

If you’ve never paddled in both a sit-in kayak or sit-on-top kayak, I’d recommend renting from a local outfitter and trying out each style of kayak first. Granted an outfitter may not have fishing kayaks available but you can get a good idea of each style kayak before shelling out the big bucks.

Similarities of Sit-On-Top vs Sit-In Kayaks

The design of a kayak’s hull along with length and width are the primary factors that affect their tracking and speed. When analyzing these factors, there is little difference between a sit-on-top and a sit-in kayak if you’re comparing kayaks of the same type with the same hull shape, length, and width.

Primary Factors When Picking a Fishing Kayak

There are a few factors to consider when picking a sit-on-top fishing kayak vs a sit-in…

  1. Your type of fishing
  2. Your style of fishing
  3. Your kayaking skill level
  4. The type of water you’ll be fishing on
  5. The location such as open water or tighter confines
  6. Water temperature
  7. Air temperature
  8. Wind speeds
  9. Type of kayak which may be dictated by the water you’ll be on. (i.e. river, ocean, or lake)
  10. Will you want a fishing kayak that you can stand up in?
  11. Manufacturer
  12. Price

These and other factors will help guide you toward the right kayak. Some will dictate whether a sit-on-top kayak or sit-in kayak is best. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these boats.

Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayaks

Though sit-in kayaks may offer certain advantages for fishermen, sit-on-top kayaks have become the top choice. Sit-on-top kayaks provide ease of use that’s hard to beat.

Sit-on-top kayaks have a wide, open deck that you sit on top of. Your legs aren’t enclosed inside the kayak like a sit-in kayak. Everything is on top of the kayak, including the foot braces.

Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayaks Pros

Warm-weather kayak: Sit-on-top kayaks are great warm-weather paddling boats that allow the paddler to get wet without filling up the kayak with water. Water often splashes up over the deck or casts on you from the use of your paddle. You may also get a little splashing from the scupper holes as well.

Self-bailing: Sit-on-top kayaks have scupper holes that allow water to drain off the deck. If you want to block the splashing that comes up through the scupper holes, they do make scupper plugs and scupper valves but they’re generally left open in warmer weather.

To learn when you might block the scupper holes, check out The Ins And Outs Of Sit-On-Top Kayak Scupper Plugs.

Skill level: Sit-on-top kayaks have a lower learning curve in proficiency and safety.

Easy to get in and out: Whether you’re getting in and out of your kayak in open water to cool off, avoid obstacles, or to wade fish, sit-on-top kayaks are far easier to get in and out of than sit-in kayaks.

Stability: The trend in fishing kayaks is toward wider, bigger, more stable boats specifically designed for fishing.

Ability to stand up while fishing: A wider kayak gives you the ability to stand up while fishing, however, these kayaks are slower than their narrower counterparts. If you’re not going to stand in your kayak to fish or if you value the ability to get to the fish faster or to cover more water in a day you may not want a wide, slow boat.

Variety: There’s a great variety of types and styles to accommodate your fishing style.

Fishing accessories and savings: Most sit-on-top fishing kayaks come standard with many extra fishing accessories that will save you money over having to buy kayak fishing accessories separately an install them. If you, however, want to customize your own kayak with specific fishing accessories you have this ability to do so.

More space and easier access to your gear: Sit-on-top kayaks have plenty of room for your fishing, kayaking gear, electronics, and other items you’ll be bringing on your kayak fishing trip. Watertight hatches, tiedown areas on the hull and a dedicated area behind the seat are a few storage features you’ll want to look for when purchasing your kayak.

Far more kayaks and options to choose from: The demand for sit-on-top fishing kayaks have driven the market. There are many more options available to fishermen when looking for a sit-on-top.

Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayaks Cons

Wet: Sit-on-top kayaks can be a wet ride. Being wet in warmer temperatures isn’t always bad, but being wet in cold weather and/or water conditions can lead to hypothermia. A drysuit may be needed for warmth.

Exposure to weather conditions and water temperatures: If the temperatures of the air or water are cold, you’ll be cold if you aren’t wearing a drysuit. Rain, heat, snow, wind… Sit-on-top kayaks leave you exposed to the elements more than a sit-in kayak.

Challenging in windy conditions: Sit-on-top kayaks are harder to control in windy conditions. An anchor or anchor stake will come in handy in windy conditions.

Higher center of gravity: The center of balance in a sit-on-top kayak is higher than the same width sit-in kayak making it easier to flip, however, wider kayaks compensate for this. But wider means heavier.

Heavier: The weight of sit-on-top kayaks often outweighs their sit-in counterparts. If you’re hauling a heavier kayak any distance overland you may need a kayak cart like this one from Sea to Summit.

Sit-In Fishing Kayaks

Sit-in kayaks are the more traditional kayak that most people think of when picturing a kayak. It has a cockpit that you get inside.

Sit-in kayaks are most popular in cold-weather areas of the country. These kayaks provide the ability to add a kayak skirt that goes around the kayaker and over the cockpit opening to close off the cockpit and keep water out.

Sit-In Fishing Kayaks Pros

Agility and speed: Sit-in kayaks provide you with greater speed, control, and maneuverability.

Lower physical demand on the paddler: Their design makes them easier to paddle, especially on long fishing excursions.

Lighter weight: Sit-in kayaks weigh less than sit-on-top kayaks making them easier to secure to your vehicle’s kayak carrier and easier to carry to the put-in point.

Easier to carry: The cockpit of a sit-in can be used for carrying the kayak on your shoulder.

Lower wind exposure: Sit in kayaks don’t get blown around as much as sit-on-top kayaks. There’s less surface area exposed to the wind.

Reduced exposure to weather conditions and water temperatures: Being down in the cockpit of a sit-in kayak reduces your exposure to adverse air and water temperature. The use of a kayak skirt will further reduce exposure to the element to keep you comfortable.

Warmer rides: Sit-in kayaks are warmer rides which makes them great if you like to fish in cooler weather and using a kayak skirt will help trap your body heat inside your kayak’s cockpit, keeping you even warmer while reducing the odds of using your bilge pump. If you are looking for a fishing kayak with greater seasonal versatility, a sit-in may be right for you.

More waterproof storage: There is more waterproof storage in a sit-in kayak than that of a sit-on-top.

Sit-In Fishing Kayaks Cons

You’re lower to the water’s surface: With a sit-in kayak, you’re lower than in a sit-on-top. This can be a disadvantage for many fishermen.

Greater skill levels required: Greater skill levels must be learned with sit-in kayaks such as water exiting and reentry in case of tip over.

Hard to exit and reenter from the water: Sit-in kayaks are hard to exit and reenter without swamping the kayak.

Need for a bilge pump: If you’re not using a kayak skirt, you will have water entering the cockpit. You’ll probably need a bilge pump or sponge to remove the water.

Can get hot and stuffy in warm weather: There is little to no ventilation for your lower half in a sit-in kayak, none if you’re using a kayak skirt.

Less room for fishing gear: Sit-in kayaks have less room for gear and what’s available can be difficult to access while on the water.

Far fewer kayaks and options to choose from: The lower demand for sit-in fishing kayaks have reduced the availability of prebuilt sit-in models for fishermen.

Size, Weight, and Load Capacity of Fishing Kayaks

The size, weight, and maximum load capacity of your kayak are of great importance.

The average weight of a polyethylene sit-on-top fishing kayak is 77lbs and the average weight of a polyethylene sit-in fishing kayak is 52lbs.*

You have to be able to get your kayak to the water and your fishing kayak needs to be able to support your weight and the weight of your gear. If hardshell fishing kayaks are too heavy for you, inflatable fishing kayak or a fishing float tube may be a great option.

Consider the size of your fishing kayak…

  • Size and shape affect your kayak’s tracking and speed.
  • Size is also a huge issue when storing and transporting your kayak.

You’ll be able to easily narrow down your search for a fishing kayak by browsing over the tables below. As you’ll notice, the manufacturers and outfitters have far more options for sit-on-top fishing kayaks than sit-in kayaks. This is due to the popularity and demand for sit-on-tops. It’s typically the go-to fishing kayak.

There are a few sit-in kayaks that are outfitted by manufacturers or outfitters for fishing. Most of these have limited accessories. If you’re looking for more than a couple fishing rod holders, building out your own sit-in fishing kayak is often necessary.

Need a tandem kayak? They have those too and having a buddy to help haul your kayak and gear to the put-in can be a great help.

( * The average weight figures listed are based on the fish kayaks we have listed below.)

Extra Weight of Fishing Kayak Accessories

Weigh your options when it comes to kayak fishing accessories. The added weight can increase quickly.

Fins, rudders, pedal drive, motor drive propulsion… Their weight adds up. But at the same time, many of these features add ease and convenience to kayak fishing.

They even have fishing kayaks for two if you’re looking to go with a buddy or family member.

I have included inflatable fishing kayaks with the sit-on-top kayaks. If you’re looking for a sit-on-top fishing kayak but having issues with their additional weight over that of a sit-in, inflatable fishing kayaks make for a great alternative.

Related Content: Design Features To Look For In An Inflatable Kayak

Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak: Size, Weight, and Maximum Load Capacity

There are two types of sit-on-top kayaks in the lists below the standard hardshell and the lower weight inflatable kayak. If you’re looking for a sit-on-top fishing kayak but have concerns about the additional weight over that of a sit-in, inflatable fishing kayaks make a great alternative.

Advanced Elements (Inflatable Fishing Kayaks)

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
StraitEdge Angler PRO10ft 6in38.5in400lb45lb

Aquaglide (Inflatable Fishing Kayaks)

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Chinook 909ft35in250lb19lb
Blackfoot Angler 110 HB10ft 6in37in400lb32lb
Chinook 12012ft41in500lb29lb
Blackfoot Angler 125 HB12ft 8in39in600lb38lb

Hobie

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Mirage Passport10ft 6in34in325lb65lb
Mirage Passport 1212ft34in400lb73lb
Mirage Compass12ft34in400lb68lb
Quest 1313ft28.5in350lb71lb
Mirage Compass Duo13ft 5in35in475lb92lb

Jackson Kayak

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Coosa 1211ft 2in32in350lb65lb
Bite Angler 1111ft 6in36in400lb84lb
Cruise FD11ft 10in33in400lb85lb
Liska 1212ft 1in34in400lb84lb
Yupik 1212ft 2in34in425lb84lb
Kilroy12ft 4in31in375lb72lb
Coosa HD 1212ft 6in34in425lb78lb
Mayfly 1212ft 8in35in450lb89lb
Kilroy HD 1312ft 10in36in450lb93lb
Cuda HD12ft 10in33in425lb85lb
Kraken 1313ft 3in30.5in350lb72lb
Big Tuna 1314ft 2in35in500lb92lb

Ocean Kayak

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Trident 1111ft 6in30.5in305lb71lb
Malibu PDL12ft34.5in450lb100lb
Prowler Big Game II12ft 9in34in550lb70lb
Malibu II XL Angler  Tandem13ft 4in34in450lb74lb
Prowler 1313ft 4in28in325lb56lb
Trident 1515ft 6in28.5in455lb91lb

Old Town

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Topwater 10610ft 6in34.5in440lb73lb
Topwater PDL10ft 6in36in450lb76.5lb
Topwater 12012ft33.5in500lb82lb
Topwater 120 PDL12ft33.5in500lb83.3lb
Predator 1313ft 2in33.5in425lb86lb
Predator PDL13ft 2in36in500lb117lb

Pelican

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Catch 10010ft34in350lb54lb
Catch 110 Hydryve10ft 6in34in350lb67lb
Catch 130 Hydryve12ft 6in34in425lb78lb

Perception

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Crank 10.010ft35in350lb75lb
Pescador 10.010ft 6in32in325lb57lb
Pescador Pro 1010ft 6in32in325lb57lb
Outlaw 11.511ft 6in35in425lb77lb
Pescador 1212ft32.5in375lb64lb
Pescador Pro 1212ft32.5in375lb64lb
Pescador 12.0 Pilot12ft 5in33.75in525lb85lb
Pescador 13.0 Tandem13ft34in500lb69lb

Riot

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Escape 1212ft30.3in300lb66lb

Star (Inflatable Fishing Kayaks)

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Challenger10ft 8in38inn/a27lb
Rival12ft 6in38inn/a31lb
Pike12ft 8in38inn/a45lb

Wilderness Systems

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Radar 11511ft 6in36in500lb85lb
A.T.A.K. 12012ft 3in35in400lb86lb
Tarpon 13013ft32in375lb72lb
Radar 13513ft 6in34in475lb90lb
Tarpon 14014ft28in375lb68lb

* Manufacturer claimed kayak weight may exclude features like the seat and pedal drive.

Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayak: Size, Weight, and Maximum Load Capacity

Ascend

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
FS1010ft30in325lb57lb

Old Town

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Loon 10610ft 6in31in325lb54lb
Loon 12612ft 6in31in450lb60lb

Perception

ModelLengthWidthMax LoadWeight*
Sound 9.59ft 6in28in300lb38lb

* Manufacturer claimed kayak weight may exclude features like the seat and pedal drive.

Final Thoughts on Sit-On-Top Fishing Kayaks vs Sit-In Fishing Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks offer ease and convenience for fishermen that sit-in kayaks don’t have but each style fishing kayak has its advantage. There is no real right or wrong. It’s best to make a decision after trying out different styles and brands to determine which type might be best for your fishing style.

If you’re looking to save money on the purchase of a fishing kayak, look for those specifically sold as fishing kayaks or angler kayaks. Purchasing a kayak already outfitted will be less expensive than building out a custom fishing kayak.

Have fun out there and stay safe. Always remember to carry the necessary kayak safety equipment.

Fisherman on paddling a sit-on-top fishing kayak on the ocean into the sunset.