I first learned how to sea kayak when I started working for San Juan Outfitters in 2012. From then on, I have grown my kayaking skills and become the owner of my very own kayak. After paddling many different boats through San Juan Outfitters, I was pretty sure of the boat that I wanted and was looking for.
A friend sent me a link to a beautiful blue and yellow 2003 Valley Avocet that was being sold on Lopez, and I could not pass up the opportunity. Along my path to becoming a boat owner, I was lucky enough to have the knowledge and skills needed to take my personal paddling to the next level.
Here are a few things that everyone should consider when purchasing their own boat.
1. Contact your local outfitter to see if they have any old ones
New boats can have a hefty price tag, especially when looking for a fiberglass boat. Used boats are fairly common, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. Most kayak companies turn over their sea kayaks every few years and sell old kayaks at a steeply discounted rate. While most guide boats have seen some love, just like your first car, a used boat is a great way to start out. No need to spend lots of money on a boat that may sit dormant in the garage if you end up not kayaking as much as anticipated. If you don’t have a local kayak company to support, Craigslist and Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade groups have kayaks that occasionally come up for sale.
2. Fiberglass vs Plastic
Fiberglass is light weight and can withstand sun damage, but also comes with an extra cost and is more fragile. Plastic tends to be heavier and will become brittle from sun exposure, but can withstand more direct force and is on the less expensive end. What material you want for your kayak will mostly depend on the activities you are hoping to do and the locations you are paddling in. If you are worried about hitting lots of rocks – go for the plastic. Want to get more performance and speed out of your boat – fiberglass is for you. If you have friends with kayaks or a local rental shop, I highly recommend padding both a fiberglass boat and a plastic boat before making your final decision. Sometimes it just comes down to personal preference.
While you may be picturing yourself owning a sea kayak, you may be more suited to another type of kayak or different types of sea kayaks. Besides sea kayaks, there are sit-on-top kayaks, recreational kayaks, folding kayaks, fishing kayaks, inflatable kayaks, and the list goes on. Depending on what kind of waters you are hoping to paddle in and what your skill level is, you may think about choosing a different type of kayak than a sea kayak. Within sea kayaks, there are also different lengths depending on activity. If you are hoping to have more pack space, a longer kayak has more hatch space and tracks straighter which is ideal for long crossings. Kayaks on the short side turn faster and are more responsive making them more playful.
4. Don’t compromise on fit
Kayaks are inherently not comfortable. You can almost count on feeling a little numb on the backside by hour 3, so it is important to start with a proper fit. Too tight and you will lose feeling faster to your lower half. Too loose and you won’t have the best control when maneuvering your kayak. Make sure you sit in the kayak before purchasing, adjust foot pegs, and ideally get a chance to paddle it. Many kayaks also come in high volume and low volume styles. High volume boats are great for those with longer legs or a larger thigh area while low volume boats are perfect for petite paddlers. If you can, find a rental shop with a variety of kayaks to paddle and test out a few different fits.
5. Know how to self-rescue in a single sea kayak
I cannot stress enough knowing this skill before you purchase a kayak. If you are not physically able to self-rescue, it is unsafe to take your kayak out, even in a group. Many kayak outfits host training sessions or will be able to put you in touch with local companies that teach kayak lessons. After you learn how to self-rescue, make sure to practice often to keep your skill sharp. You will also want to self-rescue in your new boat in a controlled environment to make sure there are not any quirks to your boat.