Florida is one of the world’s best places to kayak. There are an infinite number of places to paddle throughout the state, including oceans, rivers, lakes, swamps, natural springs and every other type of water.
There are fun opportunities to explore and have real adventures. Florida has truly wild rivers and there are many places to camp, fish and even hunt while paddling.
Florida’s huge variety of paddling opportunities is so good that it creates a bit of a problem for paddlers: What is the best type of kayak for Florida?
Kayaks and canoes are often specialized watercraft. Although some are versatile enough to handle a wide range of conditions, it’s a good idea to get a kayak that matches your intended use.
This guide will discuss the various factors one should consider when choosing a kayak for Florida.
New Vs. Used
When searching for a kayak, one of the first questions is whether to buy a new or used boat. There are pros and cons to both.
New kayaks often come with warranties which can give peace of mind. New kayaks are often sold by knowledgeable outfitters and retailers who can help identify the best kayak for a person’s unique situation.
On the downside, new kayaks are much more expensive than used kayaks.
Used kayaks can be much more affordable than new kayaks. Any loss of value, also known as depreciation, may have already been incurred by the previous owners.
Finding a lightly used, well-cared-for kayak is often the best way to get into the sport. This can be an especially good option for beginners who aren’t sure they love kayaking because it offers a low cost of entry, and therefore less risk of wasted money.
On the downside, used kayaks can be difficult to find. They’re often dispersed among many different sources, and it can be very time consuming to monitor dozens of different places to buy used kayaks.
The available market inventory of used kayaks, especially for people with unusual needs, heights and weights, can be difficult to find.
Beginners may also not be able to identify potential problems with used kayaks before purchase, like wear and tear, damage or malfunctioning equipment.
Overall, buying used kayaks is more challenging because there probably will not be an expert to help offer impartial guidance. Many people recommend buying kayaks through local outfitters, especially those who are involved in the kayaking community and have a vested interest in long-term relationships with their customers.
Hard Vs. Inflatable
Inflatable kayaks are relatively new innovations in the paddling industry. Until recently it wasn’t possible to manufacture high-quality inflatable kayaks at affordable prices.
Inflatable kayaks have many benefits, but also come with major downsides.
On the plus side, inflatable kayaks are much lighter and easier to store than hard-sided kayaks. For these reasons, they are usually very easy to transport, and can even be stowed in regular cars, or even backpacks.
The ease of transportation allows people to bring inflatable kayaks on trips where it would be too inconvenient or cumbersome to bring a large hard-sided kayak.
On the downside, inflatable kayaks are vulnerable to damage, air leaks, punctures and wear and tear. They are not safe or appropriate for some paddling situations, including trips that may contain underwater hazards that could puncture inflatable bladders.
If inflatable kayaks are stored deflated, they will need to be inflated before every trip, and require deflation, thorough drying and stowage at the end of a trip.
Inflation, drying and deflation can be a real chore, and many people choose not to bother bringing their inflatables because of the hassle. Or, even worse, they neglect to dry their kayaks thoroughly which can lead to mold, damaged materials or premature wear and tear.
For longevity it’s extremely important to store an inflatable kayak correctly. They should be stored in a dry, cool area, and should be absolutely dry before storing. This can be challenging to achieve with some inflatable kayaks that have fabric coverings over their inflatable hulls.
Overall, inflatable kayaks require special care to ensure their longevity. The special care and increased hassle may offset some of their benefits.
Foldable kayaks are yet another possible innovation which offer the benefits of inflatable kayaks without the downsides of fragile or maintenance-intensive inflatable kayaks.
Kayaks can be made from a wide range of materials. They can be made from traditional, natural materials like cedar-strip planking, “stitch and glue” fabric. More common construction materials include rotomolded polyethylene plastic, aluminum or fiberglass composite, also knowon as fiber-reinforced plastic. Many modern performance kayaks are even made of advanced composite materials like carbon fiber.
The best kayaks for Florida should be made of durable materials which will stand up to Florida’s environment. Although there are not many rocky areas in Florida, there are hazards which can damage fragile materials. Rivers in Florida often have submerged obstructions which can damage fragile materials like carbon fiber.
Most beginners who wonder about the best kayak for Florida will choose between inflatable kayaks, plastic or composite.
- Composite kayaks are more generally more fragile than plastic kayaks
- Composite kayaks are often lighter than plastic kayaks.
- Composite kayaks are usually more expensive than plastic kayaks
- Composite kayaks should be stored and transported in form-fitting cradles to help protect their hull shape and avoid stresses.
Weight is an important consideration when choosing a kayak. This is more of a concern for hard-sided kayaks, which are obviously much heavier than inflatable kayaks.
Most kayaks are designed to be relatively light-weight, but there is a lot of variation in construction, fittings and other variables which can cause kayak weight to vary.
A kayak’s weight is very important. It influences the kayak’s speed, durability, ease of handling and the energy required to keep the kayak moving. It can be difficult to load or unload a heavy kayak on top of a car.
Tandem Vs. Solo
Tandem kayaks can be a great solution for some people. Having a tandem kayak can eliminate the expense of purchasing multiple kayaks for a couple, or partners who often paddle together. Tandem paddling can also be an excellent way to paddle and explore as a team.
Tandem kayaking can be much more efficient than solo kayaking, when performed correctly. Synchronized paddling can allow longer voyaging and lower energy expenditure. The opposite is also true; poorly executed tandem kayaking can reduce effective range and increase paddling energy expenditure.
On the downside, tandem kayaks are often more expensive, longer and heavier than solo kayaks. They also require two people to closely cooperate to maneuver the kayak, which can be challenging for beginners or for people who are unaccustomed to paddling together.
Finally, tandem kayaks may require a compromise from one or both partners who may have different preferences while paddling. Disagreeable partners may squabble over paddling speed, stability and shakiness, choice of when and where to explore, and more.
Length and Shape
Depending on the intended adventure, kayak length can be an important factor. In ocean kayaks and touring kayaks, longer kayaks tend to track better and stay on a straight path with less effort. These factors can lead to huge differences in energy expenditure, trip speed and other things which make or break paddling trips.
Long kayaks are not appropriate for all situations or environments, though. Shorter kayaks are preferable in some conditions, including rapids and white water, small, narrow spaces where it is difficult to turn or maneuver a kayak, and other similar situations. Shorter kayaks are also much easier to turn than long kayaks.
The width of a kayak is very important. Wider kayaks are generally more stable than narrow kayaks because there is a greater footprint in the water, and more wetted surface area. On the other hand, wider kayaks have more water resistance, and will be slower and more exhausting to paddle.
The shape of the hull is very important when choosing a kayak. Sharp, pointy bows and chines allow kayaks to slice through waves and choppy water, but they offer less stability. Flat, blunt hulls may tend to slap through waves and may be unpleasant in choppy conditions.
Long kayaks can be difficult to handle solo, and may require special equipment to transport. Some paddlers with long kayaks bring wheels so they can portage and launch their kayaks by themselves. Other equipment may be necessary as well, including suction-cup rollers which can allow long kayaks to be stowed and retrieved on cartop carriers when single-handed.
One other important consideration for kayak length is the possible requirement to legally register the watercraft. Long kayaks often exceed 14 feet in length, which may require them to be registered in some states in the U.S.. Thankfully this is not an issue in Florida
According to Florida law and the FLHSMV, non-motorized kayaks and canoes do not need to be registered, regardless of their length. This law may be different in other states; each state has its own rules regarding vessel registration.
Sit-on-top vs. Sit-inside
I will refer to “sit on-top” and “sit-inside” kayaks as “open” or “closed”, referring to their cockpit style.
Open and closed kayaks both have pros and cons for different situations. Even in the same setting, some people may have different preferences.
Open-cockpit kayaks are often cheaper than closed kayaks. They may not require a spray skirt, and they may be preferable in hot weather, when a closed kayak might lead to overheating. This is a huge factor to consider when choosing a kayak for Florida.
Many paddlers in Florida think that open-cockpit, sit-on-top kayaks are preferable for swimming, snorkeling and other situations when a paddler may enter or exit the kayak frequently. Open kayaks may also be safer for untrained kayakers who have not learned to perform a “wet exit” safely. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of being strapped into a kayak because they don’t feel confident they could escape safely during a capsize.
On the other hand, closed kayaks are preferable in certain situations. Many people prefer the feeling of stability that comes from a sit-inside kayak. They can also help keep paddlers warm and dry during wet conditions, and may be preferable for more experienced paddlers.
Closed-cockpit kayaks are also preferable in some ocean touring kayaks. Closed sit-inside kayaks tend to be more stable because the paddler’s body is located down inside the kayak, resulting in a lower center of gravity.
By comparison, sit-on-top kayaks place the paddler on the very top of the kayak, resulting in a higher center of gravity which will tend to roll and tip over more easily.
Sailing kayaks are great options for some people. They can help increase a kayak’s useful range and open up new areas for exploration. It is exhilarating and fun to explore the many islands in Florida via a sailing kayak.
On the downside, sails can add a lot of complexity, weight and cost. Sailing kayaks require specialized knowledge of sailing which can add a steep learning curve to the sport of kayaking.
Like sailing kayaks, pedal kayaks can add a whole new dimension to the sport of kayaking. On the downside they come with more moving parts and introduce new complexity to otherwise simple paddlecraft. Pedal kayaks are also much more expensive, in general, than non-pedal kayaks, and tend to be heavy.
Storage and Deck Space
Depending on your intended use, dry storage and deck space can be important factors to consider in a kayak.
Deck space is especially important for people who wish to use their kayak in Florida for fishing, diving, snorkeling, or to kayak with dogs. On the other hand, dry storage is important for camping and transporting equipment that should not get wet.
Overall, there are many things to consider when choosing a kayak for use in Florida. One of the best pieces of advice is to carefully consider how you intend to use the kayak. If in doubt, it is always a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced kayaker who is familiar with your intended use. They can offer insight and knowledge that is unique to your own situation.
Knowledgeable professional advice can often be found in local clubs and outfitters who have close ties to their local paddling communities.