Buying Your First Boat

So you want to pick up kayaking and you are asking yourself what boat to buy? This is a question I see a lot on social media and figured I would share my take on the subject.

Getting your first boat can be a very exciting process. But at the same time it can be very overwhelming and confusing. There are a lot of things to consider when choosing a boat. There are many different types and brands out there, ranging from very cheap inflatables to triple digits expedition kayaks.

Since there are so many different boats, and types of boats out there, you will have to narrow down your choices first. And as with many things; to make the right choice you first have to ask the right questions. That's why in this guide I am going to help you answer 3 simple questions to find the boat for you; Where, Why and How much.

First Things First

But first this; If you are a first time paddler I would advice you not to start with buying a boat but to start with.... kayaking. Take some classes. Follow a course. Go on a few guided trips and get out there paddling. Especially if you want to get into more technical kayaking like whitewater or sea kayaking, never go out alone and don’t go without proper training!

The best advice I could give is to go online and look for a local paddling club. Most areas will have multiple clubs focusing on different types of paddling. Send them all an email and drop by to mingle and talk. Most clubs will offer a beginner or introduction course and will almost always have a wide variety of gear for you to try and borrow.

Talking and interacting with different experienced paddlers will also give you a much better understanding of what would be best for you. Trust me, before you buy a boat, try as many as you can get your hands on.

Now that is out of the way on to the Where!

Question #1: Where

What type of boat is best for you will greatly depend on the type of water you will be paddling. To give you an idea the main types of water you could paddle are;

  1. Lakes, Streams and Rivers (slow moving water)

  2. Rapids (whitewater)

  3. Canals

  4. Seas and Oceans

  5. Tracks (like a slalom courses)

Every type of water will need a different type of boat. Though there are combi-boats, I will argue there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution for all the different types of water. And I think you will most likely end up with a boat that is never quite right if you want to really technically advance yourself.

Think about where you want to be paddling, but be realistic. Some people will have the luxury of being surrounded by all different types of water. While others don't.

Really ask yourself if you want to drive 4 to 5 hours every time you want to go whitewater kayaking, or if you would rather paddle the lake behind your house every single day?

Take a real good look around you. What type of water is there? Talk to your local paddling community and find out where your area is best known for. What makes it special. Maybe you live near a great spot for kayak surfing, or maybe you live near some of the best rivers or lakes of the country? Let it guide you in making your choice.

Now you know where you will be paddling you are ready to buy a boat right? Not yet! Because there still are a lot, and I mean a lot, of different types of boats you can use on each type of water.

Question #2: Why

There still are multiple types of boats suited for each type of water. For instance, you can go kayak surfing and never really venture out or you could make a week long coastal expedition. It’s the same type of water, seas or oceans, but it asks for a completely different type of boat.

After answering the where, you can narrow your choice down even more by asking “why” you want to go kayaking.

The why question is all about what you want to accomplish with kayaking. What do you want to get out of it. Do you simply want to relax a couple of hours a week or do you want to get fit? Do you want to develop skills, and become an instructor or do you just want to go fishing? The why question will help you get the boat that fits your needs.

After you have answered the where and why-questions you should have enough information to narrow down your choice of boats.

In the matrix below you will find some common where and why situations and the type of boat that would be best suited for that situation.

Please note this matrix shows only types of boats and contains my suggestions.

For each type of boat there are still many different brands and models. Ask around and browse the different manufacturers websites for strengths and weaknesses of the different brands and models.

Using your answers for the where and why-questions, you should be able to make a good decision between the different brands and the many outfitting options.

Question #3: How Much

Ultimately every paddler will become a boat collector and have a boat for every occasion, but before that happens let’s talk about the how much-question.

Whichever type of boat you decide to get know there is always a cheap alternative. But you don’t want to get stuck with a toy inflatable out at sea do you? More often than not you get what you pay for.

In the end how much you are willing to spend will determine which boat you can buy. But saving up a little longer for a better quality boat will always be the better choice.

That is why I would highly suggest looking at second hand boats before getting a brand new one. Getting a used one will help keep costs down but bring the overall quality up.

Never forget while budgeting you will also need at least a good paddle and PFD (Personal Flotation Device). A good paddle is almost just as important as a well fitted boat. If you plan on sea or whitewater kayaking you will also need at least a spray deck, helmet and extra safety gear.

Kayaking is not a cheap hobby but if you take good care of your boat and gear it can last you for years and years. And they will pay themselves back in experiences and great moments out on the water!

Where and How to buy?

After you have done your online research get some expert advice and properly try the boat (and paddle!) before you buy it. Either from your local paddling community or a specialized kayaking store. To test a boat properly you should at least paddle for 30 minutes.

Support your local stores and try to buy from a specialized kayaking store. The advise you will get will be priceless and getting a proper fitting boat and paddle will increase your enjoyment of kayaking tenfold. If you however wish to order online, still try and test the boat. Find someone with the same model. Maybe a friend, someone at a local paddling club or at a store.

When buying a kayak, new or second hand keep in mind you might need to transport your new kayak home. Prepare your car or vehicle accordingly. Some kayaks might fit in the trunk or car bed, so get the measurements beforehand. If your kayak is longer, get one of many specialized systems to strap a kayak to the roof of your car.

Paddle On!

Never forget the boat for you is out there! And once you hit the water there isn't a greater feeling of freedom in the world!

Thanks for reading! If you found this article helpful please share it, and help out someone else!

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