In this Guide
In terms of sheer adventure, few activities can compete with kayaking at sea. Ocean kayaking is exciting, unpredictable, and an amazing escape from the stresses of day-to-day life.
However, to keep you safe as you paddle, you’ll need a proper sea kayak that can handle the variable and unpredictable conditions of the ocean. Sea kayaks have to be extra well-balanced, with a design that manages to be both nimble and steady. You’ll need a boat that tracks well, and stays stable in choppy conditions without compromising maneuverability.
It’s a tricky balance to achieve, and still harder to find without spending obscene amounts of money on a professional vessel. Luckily, we’ve come to the rescue.
We’ve gone on a search for the best sea kayaks out there today. We relied on our extensive expertise, as well as the collective resources of professional and amateur reviewers online. We consulted outdoor adventure magazines, as well as lifestyle blogs and buyer reviews. We wanted to find models that performed well in all conditions, while maintaining a reasonable price point.
In the end, we narrowed the field down to three great sea kayaks. For this guide, we’ve written our own in-depth reviews of each of our favorite options. We’ll go through everything you need to know about these vessels, and help you get a sense of which one suits your own skill level and budget range.
To get started, have a look at our top three boats:
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Sea Kayak Reviews
The Frenzy is one of the best sea kayaks out there, period, and it also happens to be one of the most affordable! It’s a compact, lightweight design that’s ideal for beginners, as well as experienced paddlers on a tighter budget.
We’re particularly impressed by how well this model handles for users of all shapes and sizes. It tracks easily, moves quickly, and is nearly impossible to tip.
The sit-on-top design keeps you stable and above the water. Previous buyers said they had no issues with wobbliness, and stayed completely dry in smooth conditions.
It’s sturdy. The Frenzy is rated to hold people up to 325 pounds!
It’s super compact. The Frenzy weighs only 43 pounds, so it’s easy for one person to load into a vehicle and carry to the water. At 9 feet in length, it’ll fit into most trucks or SUV’s, as well as rooftop racks. To make it easy to port, there are molded-handles built into the sides of the Frenzy.
It also comes with standard toggle-style handles at each end. We think the Frenzy is ideal for people who don’t have a trailer, or large rack for their car. It’s by far the most portable of our choices.
We like the compact design because it’s easy for just about anyone to paddle. Kids can maneuver the Frenzy with ease, but it’s rugged enough for adults as well. Given that this is a compact model, we’re particularly impressed by the amount of legroom there is at the front end. Even taller users over 6 feet said they found it comfortable!
We love the special overlapping footwells, since they provide you with lots of options without having to make any adjustments.
Overall, previous buyers agreed that it had excellent stability without compromising its responsiveness. They said they’d taken it in surf, across bays, and even fished from it! Of course, this isn’t really a fishing kayak, but the fact that several people said they’d boated with dogs or fished from the Frenzy is a testament to its very impressive stability. Overall, they were impressed by the way this one tracks, saying that it competed easily with much longer models.
It comes with an excellent seat. The back and bottom of the seat are cushioned and padded for all-day comfort on the water. You can also adjust your seat in four different places, to find the perfect alignment for your body.
Even though it’s compact, it has plenty of storage space. There are wells at both the stern and bow end of the Frenzy, with bungees over the top to keep your gear and supplies secure.
One of our favorite features is the skid plate at the rear of the vessel. You can replace the plate as it wears out, protecting your hull at a low cost.
Previous buyers raved about how durable this model is. They said that even after a couple years of use, they couldn’t see much of any wear on the hull.
Most of all, this is a very affordable model. At less than $500, it’s one of the most accessible options out there, let alone for paddling on the sea. We’re extremely impressed by the stability, comfort, and efficiency of this design. Given the price, it’s a steal. There’s a reason you’ll see the Frenzy on nearly every best-of roundup!
Scupper plugs are sold separately. That’s not a huge inconvenience, but some buyers wished it had been listed in the product description.
Some wider users warned that the seat is a bit compact for plus sized people. It’s 18” across. If you’re on the larger end of the spectrum, or just like a bit more wiggle room in the seat, you might consider purchasing a seat separately. However, tall people have plenty of legroom.
The Scrambler is our favorite mid-range choice. It’s a bit longer than the Frenzy, which gives it improved tracking and makes it a better choice for taller, more experienced paddlers.
While it takes a bit more strength to paddle, it performs even more adeptly in all conditions. We also love the extra storage room, as well as the dry compartment. The Scrambler is an ideal boat for people with a bit more miles under the belt, who want a dependable, versatile vessel that won’t break the bank.
It has a lot of the same great features that we love on the Frenzy. The Scrambler features the same molded seat wells, as well as a similar hull design. It has storage wells at stern and bow, handles at the sides and on the ends, and bungees over the storage compartments.
It’s a bit longer than the Frenzy. At 11.5 feet long, the Scrambler tracks even better, and it behaves as more of a touring kayak in terms of performance. This is a steadier, straighter vessel to paddle. Previous buyers over 6 feet said they had ample room for their legs, and could even stretch them out completely.
The other benefit of the larger size is a lot more cargo room. Both storage wells are expanded, and you also get a watertight storage lock under the seat for things that need to stay dry. Previous buyers went padding with dogs and picnics with ease.
The Scrambler is actually the original Ocean Kayak design, and it’s remained an all-around favorite on the market ever since its introduction 20 years ago. It’s recommended for lakes, rivers, and fishing, as well as for surf and swell conditions at sea.
Previous buyers raved about the versatility of this model, saying it handled absolutely anything they could throw at it. They especially liked how it handled waves and swells. The Scrambler holds as steady a course as longer, heavier boats that are harder to maneuver.
While the extra two feet on the hull make this one a bit awkward to fit in vehicles, it’s still just as light as the Frenzy. At 47 pounds, this one’s easy to lift onto your car by yourself, and it’s just as easy to carry to the water. The light weight also helps the Scrambler’s speed and maneuverability out on the ocean.
It’s made here in the USA. The hull is made from the same durable plastic material as the Frenzy. Scrambler buyers said they could definitely feel the difference in quality between this and the cheap, $200 models. The hull is thick, rigid, and rugged.
This is one of the most reliable boats on the market. Previous buyers said that even after years of outdoor storage and exposure to the elements, the hulls on their Scramblers were holding up just fine. The Scrambler’s resilience to scratches, scrapes, and UV damage is one of its best selling points.
In terms of value, this one’s even more impressive than the Frenzy. It’s slightly more expensive, to the tune of ~$100, but given the extra performance improvements, it’s still one of the best values on the market. Plus, it’s a small investment that will last just as long as the more expensive options.
Some people didn’t find the seat comfortable. They recommended replacing it with something more cushioned, or adding some additional padding.
A few buyers had issues with their dry hatches leaking. They recommended keeping phones or other sensitive possessions in a Ziploc bag, just in case.
Since it’s larger, it’s not quite as nimble as the Frenzy. This model might take a bit more effort to paddle and get up to speed. Some buyers found it a bit slower than they wanted. However, your speed will depend on your strength and the conditions on the water. Most experienced and confident kayakers said the Scrambler was an easy, adept performer.
Our top quality pick for a sea kayak is something of a hybrid. It’s a long, slender touring kayak with all the key features of a serious sea kayak. However, the hull is made from a hybrid molded plastic instead of fiberglass.
The result is a vessel that tracks as reliably as a more expensive fiberglass model, with the resilience and affordability of plastic options. We especially like the value factor on the Riot. It’s packed with pro-grade features that make it more than capable of handling any adventure.
It’s a full-length sea kayak. At 14.5 feet, it’s a solid yard longer than the Scrambler, and nearly 6 feet longer than the Frenzy. That means this one tracks much more cleanly than either of the Ocean Kayaks. It’s the surest choice for rougher conditions, since it won’t tack off course nearly as much. This one stays the course no matter what!
It has some extra sea-worthy features that help it perform even better than the Scrambler. The hull is shaped to provide a bit of chine and keel for keeping the Riot tracking accurately, but without impeding its speed or maneuverability.
There’s also a rudder, to help you pilot the Riot in rougher conditions and through waves or swells. Previous buyers said the Riot handled very well through rough waters, and cut right through waves. They were very impressed with the tracking and stability of the hull in all conditions. The combination of the length, hull shape, and rugger make it the strongest performer here by far.
Even though this model is twice the price of our cheaper recommendations, it’s still a relatively inexpensive model. You’ll easily pay $1500+ for a sea kayak that’s made from the more traditional fiberglass. The Riot offers very comparable performance and features with a material that’s much easier to afford.
The molded plastic is also hardier than fiberglass. While some more conservative sea kayakers might be reluctant to buy something that’s not made of fiberglass, we’d point out that the Riot performs so well that it feels like a fiberglass model. In our books, the fact that it’s much more resilient to outdoor storage and rougher treatment make it the better purchase.
Almost unbelievably, the Riot isn’t any heavier than the Ocean Kayaks. This one is about 48 pounds, just like the Scrambler. While it certainly has a bit of extra length to contend with, you won’t need too much strength to lift it.
It has lots of storage space, and it’s all waterproofed! There are compartments at both the front and rear bulkheads, and they’re both sealed to keep water out. There are also reflective safety cords, straps, and a bar to keep gear from moving around unintentionally.
Like the Ocean Kayaks, the Riot features a fully-adjustable, comfortable seat. While some users found their seats a bit uncomfortable, Riot buyers said they’d gone out for hours at a time without having any discomfort.
This is a full-size model. It’s long and bulky, so you’ll probably need an extra person to handle it. We’d also advise that it’s best carried on a larger car or a trailer, since it’s so long.
The extra length also means that this one requires more strength to paddle than our other recommendations. This is for advanced boaters, and we wouldn’t recommend it to new paddlers.
While the Riot is much cheaper than fiberglass models, it’s certainly not a casual purchase. At close to the $1,000 mark, we’d only recommend it to serious kayakers.
Which Touring Kayak is Perfect for You?
The Ocean Kayak Frenzy is the clear choice for beginners, as it’s the easiest of the three to paddle. The short length and light weight make it a shoo-in for the most maneuverable slot.
It’s also the most affordable choice here, by at least $100. We think the Frenzy performs far above its price class. On the downside, the compact design doesn’t track quite as well as our larger recommendations. It’s also not the best choice for very tall people.
We recommend the Frenzy to beginners, and people on a very tight budget. It’s also the best choice for people who want a model that will fit in a vehicle, rather than on a roof rack or trailer.
The Ocean Kayak Scrambler offers a boost in both performance and storage space over the Frenzy, for only a marginal price increase. It’s our top choice for more experienced kayakers who are on a budget.
The Scrambler tracks more accurately, and it’s even more stable than the Frenzy in choppy conditions. That makes it a more versatile performer.
Previous buyers loved it in all waters, in all conditions, and even with fishing equipment or animal companions onboard. If you’re a beginner, the Scrambler might leave you more room to grow than the Frenzy. However, it’s not quite as packable, and the longer length means it requires more effort to paddle.
The Riot is by far the best performer here, by a long shot. It’s the longest of the three vessels, and that gives it the best tracking ability and stability on rougher seas. The Riot is also packed with lots of pro-grade features, from watertight storage to a pilot rudder.
Overall, we think it’s everything you could want. We highly recommend it to advanced and expert kayakers. However, you’ll need to be able to handle the longer length. It requires more strength to carry, and more strength to paddle. Plus, the Riot costs twice as much as one of the Ocean Kayaks.
Best Tandem Sea Kayak
All of the models we’ve looked at so far are single-user models. We also made sure to do some research into the best tandem sea kayaks, to find something that would be good for two adventurers.
Our current favorite on the market comes from Ocean Kayak. It’s a similar design to the Scrambler and the Frenzy, and it’s nearly as affordable. We like the Malibu because it works equally well as a single or tandem boat!
What makes the Malibu so great? To start, it uses the same rugged, reliable hull as the other Ocean Kayaks we’ve looked at in this guide. It’s very resilient to scratches, impact, and UV light damage. It also has the same carry-handles, skid plate, and comfortable raised seats.
We like this design because it’s one of the more compact tandems on the market at the moment. At 12 feet, it’s only slightly longer than the Scrambler. That makes it more maneuverable and versatile than longer models. Plus, the Malibu makes full use of its length. There are three seats, each with Ocean Kayak’s molded footwells. It’s designed to fit a child or a pet along with the two paddlers.
Overall, previous buyers raved about the versatility of the Malibu. They said it performed wonderfully on lakes, rivers, and at sea, and was completely stable in all conditions without feeling bulky. It’s lighter, faster, and easier to travel with than other sea tandems.
If you’re going to be going with a partner, the Malibu is an excellent choice!
How to Make Sure You Buy the Right Sea Kayak
Consider your budget:
Sea kayaks can cost between $250 and $2,000. While the ~$250 models might be tempting, we’d recommend spending at least $400-$500 on your new boat. The models below that price point have inferior hulls which damage easily. Plus, their poor designs mean that those boats won’t perform nearly as well at sea. Do yourself a favor and spend a little extra money at front for a more reliable vessel.
As a general rule, the larger the model, the larger the price tag. Larger models have better tracking performance, improved stability, and expanded storage space. You’ll also pay more for higher-grade plastics in the hull. Other extra features, like watertight storage compartments or rudders, will also cost you more up front.
We’d recommend that beginners spend around the $500 mark for a first vessel. More experienced paddlers will probably be better served by something closer to the $1,000 mark. However, as you’ve seen from our recommendations, there are perfectly good budget options for expert paddlers as well.
Think about your skill level:
Shorter boats, around 10 feet in length, will be the easiest for newcomers to power and maneuver. We’d recommend that people who haven’t kayaked more than once or twice start with something on the shorter end of the spectrum, or check out our other best kayak reviews. Shorter boats are easier to power, and they often maneuver more nimbly than bigger boats.
If you have some experience already, or are athletic and can paddle with more strength than most beginners, you may want to buy something in the 10-12 foot range. Those craft will give you more stability and straighter tracking in rougher conditions, and give you more room to grow.
For advanced and expert kayakers, we’d recommend a mid to full-size model, between 11 and 15 feet. The longer it is, the more effort it will take to power and steer. However, those long kayaks offer smoother performance and more reliable tracking than the shorter options. They’re the best choice for longer adventures and more variable conditions further from shore.
Expert kayakers will also be well-served by a model with a rudder. Rudders help you keep your steering constant when the water starts to get really rough.
Think about how you’ll transport your new sea kayak:
Most of the time when you shop for a boat, you think about how it’ll perform in the water. It’s tempting to get the biggest, coolest option you can find. Before you get too far into your decision process, make sure you take the time to figure out how you’ll be getting your boat to the water in the first place. Are you planning to carry it inside a vehicle, or on a roof rack or trailer?
No kayak will fit in a hatchback or sedan, but many compact models can fit easily in an SUV, van or truck. If you’re buying a longer kayak, or have a smaller vehicle, you’ll probably need to find a roof rack or trailer solution for transporting your boat.
Want to compare more great options? Check out Amazon’s best selling sea kayaks!