Sit-on-top vs sit-in kayaks: which one to choose?

Updated & improved with 2021 kayak picks!

Which is better, Open or Closed kayak?

First we should start with what defines sit-on-top and sit-in kayaks.

As the name implies, a sit-on-top kayak is a kayak which you sit on top of. There is no cockpit, just a seat mold or attached chair. Easy to use and usually great for beginners.

A sit-in kayak has a cockpit which you sit inside of surrounded by the kayak. You have more control of the kayak but it can be more difficult to get in and out of it.

Both of these kayaks excel in their own ways and are better suited to certain tasks.

Check out our favorite Sit-in and Sit-on kayaks:

Wilderness Systems Pungo

pungo kayak


  • Tracks incredibly well for its size
  • Very comfortable seat
  • Well made foot pads

Wilderness Systems Tarpon

wilderness sit on kayak


  • Ideal for sea, ponds and lakes
  • Weigth: 55lbs - length:10'
  • Responsive and easy to paddle

Perception Pescador Pro

perception pescador


  • Length: 12' - weight: 64 lb
  • Very comfortable seat with 2 position
  • Very Stable and Easy to Manuver

AdvancedFrame Expedition Elite Kayak

AdvancedFrame Elite Kayak


  • rudder mount
  • Length 13’ , Weight 42lb
  • Repair kit included

Sit-in vs Sit-on Kayaks

Sit-on kayaks are ideal for entry level paddlers or casual use. Since they have no cockpit and have no holes, they are nearly unsinkable.

They are also low in price making it easier for those who are on a budget.  They are ideal for calm lakes, rivers or a day at the beach. Sit-in kayaks are also very safe and great for kids who are just starting out. We’ve also written a piece specifically about sit-on yaks.

A sit-in kayak is a kayak that you sit inside of. There is a cockpit which usually sits around just above the waist in height, while your lower body is encased by the kayak.

Sit-in kayaks certainly have their share of casual entry level kayaks, but they usually cost a little bit more, with increased overall performance to compensate. Sit-in kayaks are great and with their large variety, can be used for pretty much any kind of kayaking.

In order to paint a better picture lets list off the pros and cons of the two types of kayaks. This will make it much easier to make a choice between the two of them and possibly answer some questions. Keep in mind, with how large a selection of kayaks exist out there, some features can crossover from one type to the other.

Pros And Cons Of Sit-in Kayak

The pros of sit-in kayaks:

  • Typically of higher quality and able to perform much better than a SOP kayak would.
  • Have cockpit rim which you can attach a spray skirt to preventing your lower body from getting wet. Spray skirts also keep water out of the kayak and make you much less likely to sink in the event of a flip.
  • There is space inside the kayak to store supplies or equipment and there are sometimes built in water tight compartments.
  • There are many varieties of sit-in kayaks which excel at specific tasks anywhere from long distance travel, whitewater, casual use or even wilderness exploration.

Check The AdvancedFrame on AMAZON

Now moving onto the cons of sit-in kayaks:

  • Can sink and fill with water in the event of a flip. Skirts may prevent water from entering the kayak but only if they are high quality and on the right kayaks.
  • Tend to be more expensive than sit-on-top kayaks. There are a selection of cheap entry level kayaks but the more specialized purpose-built kayaks cost much more.
  • You need to buy a skirt separately if you wish to stay dry.
  • Sit-in kayaks tend to be a little more advanced than sit-on-top kayaks and require a bit more skill.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of Sit-on-top Kayaks

Tribe Sit-on

Check The TRIBE on REI

Just like sit-in kayaks, SOP kayaks have pros and cons of their own.

Starting off will be the pros of sit-on-top kayaks:

  • Typically cheap, making it a great entry level kayak.
  • Entirely enclosed in plastic meaning they will never sink in the event of a flip.  This also means if there are no storage compartments, any items you have with you will also be going in the water resulting in possible loss.
  • The best type of kayak for a beginner, and great for a day on the lake or the local calm river.
  • Very stable making them more appealing to beginners. Their stability make them great for fishing  platforms.
  • Scupper holes will ensure easy emptying of the kayak when it fills up with water.
INTEX K1 Kayak

Check the INTEX K1 Price Amazon

Now for the cons of sit-on-top kayaks:

  • Typically meant for calm waters near shore, making them very poor for distance or rough water.
  • Generally don’t perform at the level a high end sit-in kayak can.
  • They are fairly limited in their use and mostly aimed at casual users. This means more advanced paddlers will not want to buy one.
  • Usually don’t have much room to store items if any at all. However some of the larger sit-on-top fishing kayaks do have compartments.

Both Types Are Great For Different Purposes

Sit-in kayaks are great whether you are a casual or advanced paddler. With their wide variety of kayaks, you can find the perfect one to suit your needs. If you want to go multi-day camping and possibly run some rapids, you can do that.

You want to kayak across a huge open lake? You can do just that. Sit-in kayaks offer so many advanced high performance kayaks for specific tasks. These are the kayaks to get if you want to take your paddling to the next level.

Check The TARPON kayak Price on REI

Sit-on-top kayaks are wonderful as a new family toy or for beginner kayakers. They are easy to use, cheap and best of all they won’t sink. Not being able to sink make them great for playing on the lake at the cottage or letting the kids use them. One of the great uses for a sit-on kayak is for a fishing platform.

SOP kayaks are ideal for fishing from, and even have some high quality fishing kayaks.

Whether your a fishermen, casual paddler, or complete beginner this is a good kayak to start with.

Sit-on-Top or Sit-in: Which One Is Best?

After weighing the pros and cons of the kayaks against each other, we can now compare the two…

Which is better: sit in or sit on kayak?

Sit-in kayaks are ideal for more advanced paddlers who plan to do specific types of paddling. Sit-in kayaks have a huge variety of types to choose from however the price for purpose-built kayaks are much higher than casual kayaks. Overall if you want to spend a little more money and wish to paddle at a higher level, then these are the kayaks for you.

Sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for those who are new to kayaking or just wish to paddle casually. Their lower cost make them much easier to acquire for those who are on a limited budget. They are great for a day on the lake with friends or family. Their stability make them great platforms to fish from so whether you are a casual paddler or an angler these are the kayaks for you. Stability, safety, affordability and fun, who wouldn’t want one?

On to my personal favorite. The sit-in kayak is great for a wide variety of activities. The high price for the higher end kayaks is definitely a barrier to some, but the performance you get out of them is one hundred percent worth it!

But let me tell you. If you’re paddling every now and then, then you could start off with a simple sit on. Don’t let more expert kayakers steer you into the wrong direction. You might end up buying a sit-in kayak which offers way too much for your intended use. Sometimes, simple is actually better. And you can save a ton of money by purchasing a sit-on instead of a sit-in boat.

Also, if you’re doing something more extreme you will want to ensure your kayak is up to specification and of the highest quality. This is especially important for things like whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking and multi day wilderness trips. Sit-in kayaks are ideal for those who wish to paddle at a high level.

Any serious paddler will go for a sit-in, but don’t let this influence your choice. Absolute beginner paddlers on calm waters will benefit from a sit-on-top yak greatly, in terms of comfort and safety.

Are sit on top kayaks safer?

This is a question a lot of beginners ask me. If you’re going for safety and ease of use, then sit-on kayaks are the right choice.

Whether you get an inflatable or solid sit-on yak, you can rest assured it’s going to be easy to use. Just sit on it and paddle.

In fact, sit-inside kayaks will be more difficult simply because it can be harder for a beginner to re-entry the kayak after falling out of it. This makes a sit-in kayak a more complicated choice, especially if used at the sea.

Check out our animation of a Paddle float re-entry. This is how you get back in your sit-in kayak.

There are also other reasons to go for a sit-on kayak vs a sit-in. If you’re into kayak fishing, it’s basically essential to be sitting on top of your kayak. You need space and freedom of movement in order to take care of the lines and rods.

A friend of mine and novice kayaker told me this…

I was unsure whether a sit-on or sit-in kayak would be best for me. I spent time researching and I was almost convinced to buy a quality sit-in. Changed my mind last minute and went for a simple, less expensive, sit-on kayak. I saved money and I also now understand how difficult it would be for me to use a sit-in, as I tried a friend’s kayak on the local lake. In fact, I am not in the best shape of my life right now, and I struggle with re-entry in a sit inside kayak.John - Beginner paddler

The Verdict: Sit-on or Sit-in Kayaks?

Hopefully this article can help others make a decision on the type of kayak to purchase.

I’m more biased towards sit-in kayaks, yet can appreciate and enjoy sit-on-top kayaks. A sit-on kayak with a simple anchor can make a great diving platform or fishing platform on the local lake.

A Sit-in can be a more serious option for expert paddlers seeking performance for longer and more demanding trips. For longer sea crossings, sit-in kayaks are your only viable options. Same applies for whitewater kayaking.

As with all kayaks though, make sure to never paddle alone and learn basic safety techniques.  Kayaking is a wonderful sport yet can become dangerous without proper training in certain situations. Whether you have a sit-on-top or sit-in kayak, stay safe, have fun and enjoy the water.

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