Sit-in Kayaks vs Sit-on Kayaks – The Differences


You may have heard the terms sit-on top kayak and sit-in kayak. The names are pretty self-explanatory, but if you are wondering what each name means it’s put simply below.

Sit-on kayaks: Sit-on kayaks have an open top in which the kayaker sits “on-top” with paddle in hand to navigate. These kayaks are easy to mount and provide a way to get out on the water without concealing yourself into the vessel’s body.

Sit-in kayaks: Sit-in kayaks are the more traditional type of kayak. You may be more familiar with this design. A small hole in the body allows you to sit inside the kayak so your lower body is protected. Your upper body is exposed so you can navigate the water using a paddle.

There is much more to it than that though.

Neither the sit-in kayak nor the sit-on kayak is better than the other. They both provide you with a way to navigate the water, and in much the same way.

Each type has their pros and cons. There are situations where a sit-on kayak is more effective than a sit-in kayak and vice versa.

In this article, we will be looking at what each design entails, their strengths and weaknesses, and the situations they are suited too. Finally, we’ll be assessing which kayak is best for your needs, so you can figure out which vessel you’ll benefit the most from. Enjoy!

What are Sit-in Kayaks?

Sit-in kayaks are (as the name suggests) a kayak that you sit inside of.

Sit-in kayaks have a cockpit with a seat inside. The kayaker sits here with the legs extended out in front under the cover of the kayak’s body. These kayaks are the traditional design that is more familiar when you think of the word kayak.

They offer protection from the elements and the water around you, making them ideal for long expeditions, rough water, and coastal paddling. The sit-in kayak is a little harder to get in and out of and it is generally more difficult to adjust position, access storage ports, and get into luggage while on the move.

There are plenty of beginner options available, but a bit more experience will be needed before you feel 100% confident on the water.

What are Sit-in Kayaks Good for?

Sit-in kayaks are perfect for a range of kayaking situations. With a recreational sit-in kayak, you will be able to tackle a range of waters. Lakes, rivers, whitewaters (within reason), and salt water are all accessible in these boats.

Once you’ve developed a skillset in a sit-in kayak you will have immense manoeuvrability on the water. Navigating difficult sections of river, rough coastlines, and intricate creeks is much easier and safer in a sit-in kayak (providing you know what you’re doing).

With better manoeuvrability on the water brings less manoeuvrability in the vessel. It’s harder to readjust positioning and access the gear you have stowed on and in the boat. This makes them a bit of a burden if you’re the kayaking angler or wildlife photographer.

You do get a lot more protection from the elements in a sit-in kayak though. With a spray skirt, you can prevent your lower body getting wet from splash back and harsh weather. You’ll also find sit-in kayaks in a range of designs that are tailored to specific uses. From short and nimble whitewater kayaks to tourers fit for month-long exhibitions, there is something for everyone in this category. If you want to find out more about the specific kayak types and their uses, check out this article.

What can Sit-in Kayaks be Used for?

  • Lakes
  • Streams
  • Rivers
  • Whitewater
  • Coastal paddling
  • Touring
  • Kayak camping
  • Cold water and foul weather

What are Sit-on Kayaks?

Sit-on kayaks are an open top kayak that have no sealed cockpit. The kayaker sits on a seat with his or her legs extended out in front in the same way they would with a sit-in kayak. The difference is your legs are exposed to the elements and have a bit more freedom to move.

This design makes it easier to access the storage ports near the bow and stern while out on the water. They also enable you to keep gear close to hand which is ideal for the kayaking angler or wildlife photographer.

As a beginner kayak sit-ons are great. There are many other benefits though…

What are Sit-on Kayaks Good for?

Sit-on kayaks are perfect for a variety of reasons. Unlike the sit-in kayak, you won’t be tackling whitewater, but they come into a world of their own if you need manoeuvrability onboard the boat.

They are ideal for beginners because they have no cockpit to climb in and out of. Sit-on kayaks are also safer for beginners to use. During a capsize, they are much easier to correct and remount in open water than their sit-in cousins.

They’re also great for casual use on calm waters in the summertime where a splash or two from the cold water is refreshing rather than breath-taking. Using a sit-on kayak is possible during the colder autumn and winter months but you will need to dress accordingly for the weather. You’re more exposed to the elements in a sit-on kayak so this is something to consider if you love heading out in all weathers.

Anglers benefit the most from a sit-on kayak. They give the fisherman a way to get to those spots that are inaccessible from the bank in a user-friendly way. With a sit-on kayak specifically designed for fishing you can keep all your tackle to hand and holster your rods with conveniently placed rod holders. Sit-ons are really the only option for the keen angler because they give you essential manoeuvrability when playing and landing fish.

What can Sit-in Kayaks be Used for?

  • Lakes
  • Rivers (Calm)
  • Streams (Calm)
  • Light Coastal Paddling
  • Casual Paddling
  • Beginner Use & Learning
  • Angling (Fishing)
  • Wildlife Photography and Bird Watching
  • Warm Weather and Summer Use

How to Choose the Best Kayak for You

Choosing the best kayak design for you ultimately comes down to what you want to use the boat for. If you’re planning on using your kayak to reach those sought-after fishing locations that aren’t accessible from the bank, then a sit-on kayak is the best option for you. If you’re planning on jumping into the world of whitewater, then there is no other option but the sit-in kayak.

When choosing the right kayak, you must consider your end goal, even if you’re the beginner. Sit-on kayaks are excellent for the beginner, but there is no point in shelling out the money for a sit-on if your end goal is whitewater kayaking.

If you’re planning on using your kayak on a wide variety of waterways all-year-round, then we suggest a sit-in kayak. A recreational sit-in will provide you with a vessel that can cope in both fresh and salt water in some pretty rough conditions. The nature of the sit-in will also keep you drier and warmer in the winter months when the temperature plummets and the weather takes a turn for the worse.

If you’re planning on primarily using your kayak for weekend excursions to the local lake in the spring and summer, then we suggest a sit-on kayak. During the summer you will appreciate having more of your body exposed to the sun and the easy mounting will make it more enjoyable to get on and off the boat regularly throughout the day. If you’re planning on kayak fishing, this is the only option.

Get a Sit-in Kayak if:

  • You want to head out on the water all-year-round
  • You want to tackle a variety of waters from calm lakes to whitewater
  • You plan on touring long distances through varied conditions
  • You plan on getting into whitewater kayaking
  • You want to head out on the coast regularly

Get a Sit-on Kayak if:

  • You want to use your kayak for fishing
  • You want to head out photographing nature
  • You want a hassle free way to causal navigate your local waters
  • You don’t expect to head out in unfavourable conditions
  • You are prepared to get a bit wet
  • You’re okay with dressing accordingly in the colder months
  • You’re a beginner that lacks confidence on the water
The decisions don’t end once you’ve figured out whether you want a sit-in or ait-on kayak.

There are many different designs in both styles. Which design you choose will also depend on your needs. If you’ve made a decision on which style of kayak is better for you, we recommend checking out our article “The Different Kayak Types and Their Uses”. In this article you will be find out more about the different sit-on and sit-in kayak types a


  • Mary Barrett

    I was talking to you about purchasing a kayak last week. Thank you for getting back to me. I have decided to go with sit on. My only question is how good is the back support?. I will give you a ring on m
    Monday afternoon.
    thank you
    Mary Barrett

  • Ascinta Kilroy

    Thinking of ordering the double sit on Kayak, just read your article. Just want it for fun as I live by the sea. A

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