Open Kayak Vs. Closed: What You Need To Know Before Buying

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: August 26, 2020
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A kayak comes in two styles, i.e., open kayak, commonly known as the sit-on-top or open cockpit, and closed yak, also known as a sit-inside kayak or closed cockpit. Both of them come as singles or doubles, and you can either pick the hard shell or inflatable one. However, you need to understand this! With either option, you can have an enjoyable and memorable kayaking adventure worth your time.

Yes, the two yaks differ from one another, but at the same time, they share many similar parts. Their top of the yak is known as a deck, and the bottom is the hull. The front side is called the bow, while the back is known as the stern. Usually, there are bungees or deck lines on the top of the deck. Some of the models have rudders and skegs for maneuvering around the waters. Besides, both types of yaks have seats, but their seat placements are what cause significant differences.

We know it can be hard to pick one among the two. Some factors will come in handy while making up your mind. These are things like; where you are planning to paddle, budget, size, needs, and personal preference. But before that, you need to understand more about these yaks in terms of features, advantages, and disadvantages. Here we help answer questions on the two types of kayaks to help you make an informed decision.

Keep reading!

Are sit-on or sit-in kayaks better?

Both of them offer fantastic services to different individuals who like kayaking sport. There are some occasions where sit-on yaks are more appropriate than sit-in and vice versa.  If you want to know which one among the two suit your needs, be aware of the location you are going to paddle and the water bodies, the time you will be taking, other extra activities like fishing or whitewater sport, etc. On top of that, consider your personal preference and your budget.

Yes, many seek to know which between the two is better. However, you will need to understand the advantage and disadvantages of each before making a purchase. Each is designed differently to serve a specific purpose. For instance, sit-on-top is flexible enough for fishing, while sit-in is excellent in rough waters.

Below we discuss in detail each one of them to help you make an informed decision.

Sit –on-top /open yak

The main differentiating thing about sit-on-top yak is the lack of cockpit and the seat position that places a paddler on top of the yak above the water surface. This type of boat is considered user-friendly, and it’s very safe and highly recommended for kids who are starting to learn kayaking. It is also the most popular model for entry-level kayakers and yak fishers. The sit-on-top does not make kayakers feel trapped inside, especially in emergency cases where the boat capsizes. Moreover, they are pocket friendly, and they are nearly unsinkable. 

If you don’t mind getting wet and like jumping in and out of the water, open kayaks is your ideal option. The boat is suitable for calm rivers, lakes, or enjoying yourself at the beach during the day. Many people have described this yak as an incredible one that serves its purpose well. Now let’s look at its advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of sit-on-top/open yaks

  • As mentioned earlier, the sit-on-top open cockpit is the most beneficial thing that makes kayakers feel they are not trapped inside their yak, especially in capsizing. Reentering after the boat overturns also is much far more natural than in the other type.
  • The availability of self-bailing scupper holes usually drains water out of the cockpit in accidental cases like capsize. It makes them an excellent choice for solo beginners who want to master kayaking skills.
  • Sit-on-top yak has a spacious room to store items like a cooler, food, and gears thanks to its open tank in the stern.
  • This yak’s completely enclosed design makes them unsinkable, thus making it great for learners and kids.
  • They are ordinarily affordable than their sit-inside counterparts, making it ideal for entry-level paddlers.
  • They are fine yaks for kayakers who like recreational paddling on the water, protected beaches, or slow-moving water.
  • Sit-on-top kayak gives anglers an option of standing while fishing and numerous functionalities design for fishing, which is not easy for sit-inside yak.
  • Sit–on–top has a high degree of initial stability provided by its more extensive surface area and high gravity center. The balance has made the yak very popular to beginners as this is the number one thing they look for in a boat. Kayak fishing also requires stability, and that is the reason most of this yak is popular with fishers.

Disadvantages of sit-on-top/open yaks

  • Since they are meant for Calm River, lake, and protected water near shore, it makes them unsuitable for rough seas or long-distance kayaking.
  • Generally, sit-on-top yaks are slower compared to sit-inside ones due to its wide beam. Meaning the paddler need to put more effort to propel them forward. It is the reason as to why it’s not suitable for long-distance kayaking as this will exhaust your body.
  • They have a lower degree of secondary stability due to its full beam width plus its higher center of gravity, which typically provides its initial stability.
  • The sit-on-top open cockpit doesn’t allow kayakers to place their knees hostile to the underside deck. Meaning it will limit the control and maneuverability over the yak.
  • Its self-draining scupper holes on the sit-on-top bottom are beneficial, but it’s also one of the yak disadvantages as this keeps the amount of water in the bilge.
  • Open yaks are affected mostly by the wind while kayaking than the sit-inside boats due to its design.
  • Sit-on-top yaks don’t offer protection to paddlers over the sun, cold or from waves breaking over.
  • Much more effort is required to propel the yak forward, which is tiresome in the long run, thus not suitable for long-distance kayaking.
  • Due to its less versatility and limited use, skilled and advanced kayakers avoid this kind of yak, leaving it to beginners and seasoned users.
  • You are one hundred percent guaranteed to get wet while paddling.

Sit-inside/closed kayak

Just as the name suggests, they are the kind of yak that you sit inside. They are considered to be a more traditional kayak that has developed over several decades. Usually, they have encased the cockpit, which positions a kayaker below the water surface. The models cost a little higher than their counterpart’s yaks solely due to their overall performance and versatility.  They are also very popular among the advanced and intermediate paddlers. Its high secondary degree of stability is something which makes them excellent thanks to its essential lower center of gravity.

Closed yaks are designed to suit a different style of kayaking and bodies of water. It’s imperative for any kayaker always to practice the wet exits and reentering their boat while kayaking. This is especially sit-inside kayakers who feel like they are trapped in emergency cases like during capsize or an individual who panics easily.  

Let’s check some of its advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages of Sit-inside/closed yak

  • What people cherished most in these types of yaks is the higher degree of secondary stability courtesy to its lower center of gravity. Stability allows the kayaker to lean on its side for perfect turning and to remain upright, especially when kayaking in rough waters.
  • Sit-inside is much faster than sit-on-top kayaks. This is possible due to its lower center of gravity and the narrow design. Meaning paddlers require less effort to propel the boat forward. If you are going to spend more time in water or expedition paddling, consider this type as it will not disappoint you.
  • They are far less affected by winds because of their lower profile, unlike the sit-on-top yaks.
  • Sit-inside kayak cockpit is usually dry, not unless water splashes into your yak by waves breaking over the bow. It is possible due to the unavailability of self-draining scupper holes, which are typically found in open kayaks.
  • These boats protect paddlers from the sun, freezing weather, and any waves breaking over the gunwale or bow. Some of the yaks have spray skirts to protect kayakers from all sorts of elements out there.
  • The enclosed cockpit gives kayakers the freedom to place their knee averse to deck underside, increasing the angler’s ability to control the yak and maneuver around.
  • Sit-inside narrow beam allows kayakers to use a shorter paddle, unlike the full open kayak design. It means less effort is required to propel the yak forward due to its shorter boat paddle, which translates to shorter arm moments.
  • As compared to sit-on-top yaks, sit-inside kayaks are more comfortable to transport and even load on the car since the model is lighter in terms of weight.
  • There is the availability of more storage room in the hull, where you can store some of your equipment.

Disadvantages of sit-inside/closed yaks

  • It’s no doubt that closed yak open cockpit makes many kayakers feel like they are trapped inside their yak in case of capsizing eventualities.
  • Difficult to reenter in case of accidental capsize as compared to the sit-on-top boat. In order to remove the water from the cockpit after it overturns, a kayaker will have to use the hand, foot, or battery to operate.
  • Sit-inside yak can be sunk quickly in heavy seas if both hatch covers come off and permit the stern, and the bow holds to be filled with water.
  • Lack of an open tank well in the kayak stern and its smaller hatch limits kayakers from carrying large items instead keep the little enough things that fit well in the traps.
  • Sit-inside kayak skirt separately for someone who wants to remain dry all day long
  • These yaks tend to be more expensive, and they are a little more advanced than sit-on-top boats. Meaning one needs to be more skilled if they want to use them.
  • Self-rescue is complicated, especially for a learner than in the case of sit-on-top yaks.

Are sit on top kayaks good for Rivers?

Yes, it is, but it depends on the water bodies of that river. Normally sit-on-top kayak is best suitable for calm and slow-flowing rivers. You can also go for the afternoon kayaking on the beach or calm lake with your loved ones to get fresh air and see our beautiful mother nature.

 It will be a bad idea and risky to go whitewater kayaking with your sit-on-top yak, not even a skilled or advanced kayaker will do such a thing. Why would you risk your life with such activities while you know the number one rule for choosing a kayak is safety?

Are sit on top kayaks more stable?

One of the sit-on-top disadvantages is its lower degree of secondary stability, unlike sit-inside yaks, that even enable kayakers to remain upright while kayaking. The lower degree of secondary stability is caused by yak more full beam width plus its significant-high center of gravity. All these make it hard for your yak to stay upright all through.

This is especially when the boat is leaned on the end or turning when paddling in rough seas. It is the main reason why sit-on-top kayak is not suitable for rough seas, white water kayaking, and long-distance paddling.

How do you get out of a sit on top kayak?

Getting out and in of the sit on top kayak is the most significant advantage that any angler and divers who like kayaking will not trade it for anything. To get out of the of sit-on-top yak has no formula while on the water as you can slip on or off them, jump, or whichever way you seem fits.

If you want to get out entirely on the water from your sit-on-top-yak while on the beach; place your yack perpendicular to the shoreline, in such a way that half of your boat will be in the water while the other one on the sand then gets out. Also, you can get out at the dock or on a rocky/uneven shoreline. That freedom to get out anytime is what most kayakers like rather than feeling trapped inside the closed yak.

Why do sit on top kayaks have holes?

The self-draining scupper hole found at the bottom of the sit-on-top yak is critical since it drains water out that splashes in when kayaking or brought by the sea wave breaking the bow. In the case of an accidental capsize, these holes will help to drain water out and makes this kind of yak unsinkable.

The drawback side is that getting wet on these yaks is guaranteed since a small amount of water will always be at the bottom of your yak while paddling.

Can you stand up in a sit-in kayak?

Standing up in a sit-in kayak is something that we can’t guarantee as it is riskier. The design of open kayaks doesn’t allow you to stand up properly, especially if you are a beginner.  And as you know, standing up in a kayak is not pretty easier as it seems in those advertising commercials ads and videos.

Various things play a role, such as the design of your yaks, most importantly, its hull, width, and water conditions that help to create stability. Your physical fitness and your skills as an angler also matter. Fort instants most fishers can stand on certain yak that doesn’t mean you can too unless you have received training before you master the skills and confidence to try.

What type of kayak is best for fishing?

For fishing, open kayaks are highly recommended as it is more specialized for this purpose. With these kinds of yaks, standing up is easier for anglers. Standing up while fishing is an added advantage for fishers as they can be able to see more fish, structure, and bait. Besides, getting wet when fishing is normal, just like water splashing into your yak. Sit-on-top will be a better option since it can drain off some water, thanks to its self-draining scupper holes.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, having read to this end, you can make a wise and informed choice of the type of yak that will suit your needs. Both open and closed kayak have their share of pros and cons. Free yak, commonly referred to as sit-on-top boats, is much popular with the kayak beginners and fishers interested in its higher degree of initial stability. Sit-on-top yaks are also favorable for kids who are starting as any thought of sinking is not entertained in their minds. Well, they are also pocket-friendly for someone who is on a tight budget.

On the other hand, closed yaks or commonly known as sit -inside boats, are majorly favored by advanced and experienced kayakers who like paddling fast and for a more extended period. They are also suitable during cold weather, as the yak skirt will keep you dry and warm while kayaking.

With all this said and done, consider the kayak intended purpose, your need, and personal preference to make the right choice. Then click that purchase button and close your eyes, imagine all the fun that awaits you out there. Oops! We think you need to plan your first kayaking location, transportation, and storage for your brand new yak.

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