Are Sit-on-Top Kayaks Better Than Sit-In? Pros And Cons Of Each

Kayaks generally come in two main styles: Sit-On-Top kayaks and Sit-Inside kayaks. There are major differences between each type and it can be confusing to many paddlers which one of them is better.

So, are Sit-on-Top kayaks better than Sit-in? Sit-on-top kayaks are better if you’re new to kayaking. They’re easier to use, cheaper, and relatively safer, while sit-in kayaks are better for more advanced paddlers. Sit-in Kayaks are better suited for touring, surfing, and paddling longer distances.

Basically, which kayak type is better depends on your own situation and experience level. There is no better overall, but there is one that will be more suitable for you.

To learn how to choose and the pros and cons of each type, keep reading. If you’re already ready to make a decision, check out the best Kayaks under $1,000 here.

What Are Sit-On-Top Kayaks?

SOT kayaks to answer are Sit-on-top kayaks better than sit-in kayaks

Sit-on-tops are also known as SOTs for short. They’re quickly getting more popular with beginners and kayak fishermen.

The design of this kayak lacks an enclosed cockpit which allows the paddler to sit on top of the kayak deck instead of being positioned inside the kayak or below the water level.

Everything from footwells to the seatback is also positioned on top of the kayak’s deck. The only way to reach the inside of the kayak will be through storage hatch openings.

Since there’s no cockpit, there is nothing to stop water from splashing up onto the paddler’s body, and with each splash, the paddler will get increasingly more wet, so it’s much harder to stay dry when paddling in a sit-on-top kayak.  That’s the main reason why they are more popular in warm weather and tropical areas.

Sit-on kayaks can hold hundreds of pounds of weight. Many of them are rated safe for 500 or more pounds which allows some sit-on kayaks can hold two or even three paddlers.

Sit-on-top kayaks also have a considerably higher center of gravity and are much wider compared to some sit-inside designs. So, they usually have a much higher degree of initial stability. However, they can be much slower than a sit-inside kayak of lower width. Therefore, they require more effort from the paddler to push them forward.

They are considered to be a safer and more user-friendly option as they are more stable and can be easily re-entered from the water.  It can take some effort, but you should be able to pull yourself back up onto the deck of your sit-on-top and reposition yourself for paddling.  This helps make paddlers not feel like they are trapped inside of the kayak in case of accidentally capsizing.

Sit-on-top kayaks are normally manufactured with four holes in the bottom known as scupper holes. The main purpose of the scupper hole is to drain water that splashes on to the deck to prevent it from pooling underneath the paddler. 

Blocking these holes with scupper plugs will stop the water from coming up from through the holes, but it will still keep any water that makes its way onto the deck from getting drained back out. You can learn more about Scupper holes and how to make your own DIY scupper holes at home here.

When are Sit-On-Top Kayaks better for you?

Sit-on-top kayaks are better for you if you’re a casual paddler or if you are completely new to kayaking. They’re good for warm weather. They’re also good for fishermen as well as families because you can let the kids use them. That is because they are easy to use, cheap, and most importantly stable and safe.

What Are Sit-In Kayaks? 

Sit-insides are also known as SIS for short. They look more traditional and they were historically used by natives of some northern regions to hunt and travel. In the current times, they’re more popular with intermediate and advanced paddlers.

The design of this kayak includes an open cockpit where the paddler can climb in and actually sit inside the hull of the kayak below the water surface instead of being positioned on top of the kayak 

The presence of an enclosed cockpit in a sit-inside kayak allows the paddler to brace their knees against the underside of the deck which helps in achieving stronger and more efficient paddle strokes thereby increasing the paddler’s control of the kayak and its maneuverability.

The cockpit can also provide the paddler with more protection from the elements by having a spray skirt secured on to the cockpit. 

These skirts are basically a piece of cloth with a tightening mechanism designed to stretch around the cockpit to cover its opening and close off the inside of the hull. 

The paddler can wear the skirt around his or her waist and it will keep water from splashing into the kayak and onto the paddler’s legs. This is why sit-inside kayaks are more popular in cold water areas.

Sit-in kayaks have a considerably lower center of gravity and a higher degree of secondary stability which allows the paddler to lean the kayak on its side with more efficiency when turning and to having the kayak remain upright when paddling in harsh conditions.

A sit-inside kayak can be a lot narrower than sit-on-top kayaks, however, they are generally much faster.

Sit-inside kayaks are not considered the safest option, especially for beginners.

They are more difficult to re-enter in case of capsizing and can be sunk if the bow and stern hold become filled with water due to the hatch covers coming off in heavy seas.

They do not have scupper holes, so paddlers have to use either a manually operated or a battery operated bilge pump to remove the water from the cockpit.

When are Sit-In Kayaks better for you?

Sit-in kayaks are better for you if you’re an intermediate or advanced kayaker looking to do specific types of activities. They’re good for colder weather and rougher waters. They’re also good for campers who go on multi-day paddling trips or for paddlers who use kayaks to commute, as they’re faster and can cover longer distances.


Both styles can have their advantages so, what you need to consider the most when choosing between sit-on-top kayaks and sit-in kayaks is how and where you’ll be using your kayak. Your choice will mainly depend on your situation and the kind of experience you are looking to get.

Check the following summary of what each type of kayak is generally better for:

Warm weatherCold weather and rough waters
Recreational uses, casual paddling, and kayak fishingLong-distance kayak trips, racing and surf kayaking
Beginners and kidsAdvanced and intermediate paddlers

Related Questions

Which Kayak Is More Dog-Friendly?

Sit-on-top kayaks are more dog-friendly as they have more space for you and your dog. They’re also more stable and easier for a dog to climb on to. While sit-inside kayaks are usually narrower and more difficult to climb into, which makes them less ideal when paddling with a dog.

Are Rotomolded Kayaks Better Than Inflatable Kayaks?

Rotomolded kayaks perform better and can last long. However, they’re heavier, hard to transport, and can take up more space. Inflatable kayaks on the other hand have the ability to deflate to fit in a small storage bag which makes them easier to transport, but they’re less durable and more prone to punctures.

Helpful Resources 

The difference between Kayak Designs

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