The Differences Between Ocean Kayak VS. River Kayak

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: December 5, 2022
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River kayak yaks are designed for dodging boulders and quick maneuvering in a tight spots due to fast currents and waterfalls. Normally they are the sit-inside type with rounded bottoms for easy maneuvering. The ocean is specialized sit-inside yaks that are long and lean, built for quick long-distance paddling. They offer lots of space in the bulkhead, and they are narrow to allow a roll.

Key Takeaways

  • Ocean kayaks are also known as touring or sea kayaks and this type of kayak is best for advanced-level paddlers
  • Usually, the length of ocean kayaks are twelve feet plus, and they have narrow width and smaller cockpits
  • River kayaks are shorter typically not more than twelve feet and have flatter hulls for quick and responsive maneuvering
  • River kayak’s shorter design makes it maneuverable, meaning you can easily turn them in a different direction

What Are The Main Differences Between River Kayaking And Ocean Kayaking?

Main Differences Between River Kayaking And Ocean Kayaking

For those who have had the chance to experience river and ocean kayaks, they can tell you there is more to it rather than just the physical appearance. Apart from the design and handling, energy, turning, scenery, Adrenaline, and distance from the land are the key difference between ocean and river kayaking.

Picking a river kayak is not an easy task; simply because not all rivers are the same. So it will depend on the river you are going to paddle, whether it is wider, calm, moving water, or winding style one. For oceans, it can be a big body of water known as touring flat water or rough water surf zones with huge currents.

Here We Expound More:

Design And Handling

Ocean yaks are normally long, and often, the design is meant to go straight away faster, even though at the mercy of the wind and waves. The biggest challenge is that they are a bit tippy to handle in rough water but far less prone to capsizing. For shaky water bodies, ensure the ocean kayaks have a rudder or skeg. Rudder or skeg helps you maintain a straight line, especially during the high winds period, and help correct your course.

On the other hand, river kayaks are shorter typically not more than twelve feet, and have flatter hulls for quick and responsive maneuvering. Turning your kayak in a different direction is straightforward though highly determined by your weight distribution. Many kayakers agree that the edging maneuver is very easy in a riverboat since one simply leans into a certain direction, and the yak will follow suit. Learn the basics of how to paddle kayak effectively before you head out to any of them, to have an easy time.


When kayaking downstream the river, the current will provide you with much energy required to move your boat down the stream, which means that you will be concerned more with steering and maneuverability. Even though there is energy within the wave on the ocean and yes, they can be stronger, there is a high probability they will not be heading in the same direction you want to go! While the waves on the rivers lead straight forward as kayakers follow its flow.

So ocean kayaking requires the kayaker to provide most of the energy to move the yak. Meaning you will be subjected to more endurance and greater stamina. Additionally, ocean paddling involves long distances, which take longer periods. And that is why you see ocean kayakers being fit and in better shape than river kayakers as the kind of sport that requires endurance from the word go.


River kayaks’ shorter design makes them maneuverable, meaning you can easily turn them in a different direction. While on the other end, ocean kayaks are designed to go in a straight line, making them difficult to turn. It means, therefore, beginners can find it challenging to maneuver ocean boats as it requires more experience.


Both kayaking is surrounded by abundant natural beauty, no matter your location. The truth is kayaking in the river often doesn’t allow you to focus much on your surroundings since you have to look for stroke and rapids. Even though it offers wide diversity and sounds, you have to ensure your necessary survival skills.

On the other hand, kayaking in the ocean allows you to focus on wildlife like dolphins, seals, whales, birds, etc. while taking in the landscape. You can also take an opportunity to stop for a break to have lunch on remote beaches while relaxing a bit. As for River kayakers, their fulfillment comes with the chance to see incredible waterfalls and gorgeous sites. Kayakers discuss it literally as if they surround nature as they flow with the river.


When it comes to the ocean, it’s about energy conservation, slow and sure paddle all day long. To move forward, you will have to use your energy to paddle, which makes it a more endurance sport than Adrenaline. Not to mention the long distances and more extended periods, you will need to paddle in the open ocean. Though this is not to say you can’t feel Adrenaline on the sea during a storm and large waves, they come more as a chance rather than by design.

On the other hand, kayaking in the river is provided with much more adrenaline sport where one braves the rapids on what always seems to be a wet roller coaster. Here you will even get to challenge yourself to bigger rapids on different rivers. There is also much to learn every day. For instance, when you try to maneuver your boat through rapids and holes or around rocks and obstacles that come your way. In short, everything seems fast and furious while kayaking.

Can You Use An Ocean Kayak On A River?

Yes, it’s possible. Ocean kayaks are long and narrow, designed for speed and long distances. You can use them on rivers with flatwater and lightly moving currents. Remember, apart from currents, rivers also have rocks, holes, obstacles, and eddies. Thus, you will need to be more cautious about your survival as it is somewhat of a risky adventure.

You will also need to study more about river kayaking to anticipate transitions in current so that you can pick the right line. Note that ocean yaks are designed to offer less maneuverability hence challenging to turn and impossible to dodge holes and rocks in rough white water. They work well in straight lines downstream or upstream. But don’t attempt using it on flood levels and deep water unless you are an expert with more experience in safety precautions.

Can You Use Ocean Kayak In The Whitewater?

Ocean Kayak In The Whitewater

No, it’s not advisable to use an ocean kayak in whitewater unless you are an expert paddler and know your way in and out like the palm of your hand. As you know, white waters, i.e., classes II, III, and above are full of obstacles such as trees and rocks. That long and narrow design, which makes ocean boats outstanding on flatwater, makes them difficult to turn and maneuver faster in whitewater.

Ocean boats are light, and their features don’t meet the demands of whitewater yaks. And if by bad luck pinned between rocks, your kayak can easily snap into two-part. Even if traditional racer and river yaks are designed to be sturdy and longer, they are limited only to river running.

Flooded water might become big and look similar to an ocean. Be warned! It’s not the same, and if you want to go boating in high river water levels, you have to take extreme precautions.  You need to be an expert kayaker with sufficient gear for safety. The limited ability to quickly maneuver when using ocean boats is what makes them not suitable enough for whitewater kayaking.

Will It Be Dangerous To Kayak In The Ocean?

Before you fall in love with ocean kayaking, just know it can be anywhere from peaceful to nerve-racking and dangerous activity.  As much as it’s beautiful and adventurous to kayak on oceans, it does come with risks to your life.   The major dangers you might be faced include sharks, hypothermia, lighting, tide currents, ships, and waves.

One of the basic safety measures, while you are kayaking in oceans, is going as a group. Do not go alone or alert someone, and kayak close to one another, ensure you have all the safety gear, and practice elsewhere before you hit these waters.

What Type Of Kayak Is Best For The Ocean?

If you plan to venture into open water, you need a kayak suitable for this purpose to boost your experience. The best ocean boat will make your paddling time safer and more comfortable while you enjoy off-shore exploring. To choose the right kayak, check kayak length, tracking (skeg and rudders), hull width, position in the water, cockpit size, strength, and durability, and finally, the intended use. Here are the top six best ocean kayaks you can consider:

1. Perception Pescador Pilot 12.0

2. Perception Sit-on top13.0 Tandem

3. Sea Eagle SE370 Inflatable Ocean Kayak

4. Pelican Premium Sprint 14ODT Ocean Kayak

5. Perception Rambler 13.5 Sit-On-Top Ocean Kayak

6. Dagger Stratos 14.5 Ocean Kayak

What Is The Right Size For A Yak For Ocean Fishing?

First, you need to understand fishing kayak puts their efforts into stability rather than speed. So, you will find most of the ocean kayaks for fishing have fewer or more primary dimensions. The suitable size will be 10 to 12 feet long, with a width between 30 to 35 inches.

What Is The Best Kayak For Rivers?

If you want the best kayak for rivers, look for something shorter and more maneuverable. This allows you can turn your way when faced with obstacles, river bends, or rocks. It should be between ten to twelve feet to help you get negotiate corners with ease. For great stability and comfort, especially on moving waters, get a twenty-eight inches wide boat. Here are the top 6 best that can work best:

1. Vibe Kayak Skipjack 12OT

2. Sun Dolphin Aruba 10 Kayak

3. Oru Kayak Beach LT

4. Old Town Canoes & Kayak Heron 9XT

5. Point 65N Tequila  GTX Solo Modular Kayak

6. Ocean Kayak Frenzy


The bottom line is; the kayak you choose will depend on whether you want to go for river or ocean kayaking based on your needs and personal preference. But with all these said and done, we urge you to try both styles, i.e., river and ocean kayaking, to know which one fits you better. It’s possible to fall in love with both, as each one of them offers unique experience and skill. The scenery on the river and ocean differ totally, and so is the adventure!

To start with, try simple recreational kayaks to one on the top of line river or sea kayaks for more experience and adventures. Remember, a kayak is designed based on its intended use. Therefore, it’s a good idea and practice to always use the boat for the intended purpose, not unless you are an expert with sufficient safety gear, just in case of an emergency.

It will be much better for you to purchase or rent the used boat meant for a specific purpose rather than trying your yak on different water not tailored for you. Feel truly alive by kayaking when you get a chance to escape your everyday life stress while working out. Remember to thank us later or leave a comment.



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