In this Guide
Sit-on-top kayaks are an interesting alternative to traditional kayak designs. Instead of the usual covered “cockpit,” sit-on-tops feature an open top for easier exit and entry. They’re a favorite for fishing, surfing and diving, and any other leisurely excursions through sunny climates and warm waters.
The sit-on-top model keeps many of the benefits of a traditional kayak, but comes with a (usually) lower cost and an easier learning curve for beginners and recreational users.
Because the kayaker’s legs and body aren’t enclosed in the body of the boat, users don’t need to learn any of the complicated self-rescue techniques required in traditional kayaking.
Divers and fishermen like sit-on-top kayaks because they offer more cargo space and more stability. They’re also favored as a more comfortable alternative for kayakers with large body types, long legs or limited flexibility.
Dog owners also love these kayaks, because the open top allows them to bring their pup along for the ride. In general, sit-on-tops have a more fun and relaxed feel than their enclosed counterparts.
When shopping for a new kayak, you’ll want to pick the hull shape best suited for the bodies of water you intend to use your kayak in. You’ll also want to consider the number of seats in the kayak (tandem or single), cargo space, and, of course, the quality and the price of the kayak.
Though the ideal shape and design will vary from person to person, there are a few models of sit-on-top kayaks that stand out in their quality and design. We compared some of the best models on the market today and picked our favorites.
Check out the top-ranked winners:
Best Sit-on-Top Kayak Reviews
1. Perception R15 Pescador 12.0 Kayak
The Perception R15 Pescador has all the quality of a high-end kayak, but it’s sold at a fraction of the cost of other models.
In fact, the Pescador is actually a rebrand of an early version of a more expensive kayak, the Wilderness Systems Tarpon (Perception and Wilderness Systems are owned by the same parent company, Confluence Outdoor).
The Pescador comes highly recommended by critics, but it’s also beloved by many beginners. The entry-level price allows many first-timers to try out the kayak with little risk of buyer’s remorse, and the quality is such that many owners never feel the need to upgrade.
As Spanish speakers may have guessed, the Pescador is designed for fishing. The hull shape is designed for tracking, speed and stability.
The Pescador is 12 feet long and 28 inches wide, with one caster rod holder, two flush mount rod holders and an anchor kit. There is ample cargo space for fishing gear in the Pescador’s bow hatch, stern and center day hatches.
Owners of the Pescador praise its versatility on the water. This kayak is fast and maneuverable enough to feel at home in lakes and rivers, but stable enough to handle the choppy waters of the surf.
Many reviewers called this the best kayak for its price, and we’re inclined to agree. The Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 (the original incarnation of this kayak) was rated one of the best of the year it came out. Now shoppers have the opportunity to purchase that same quality at half the price. Previous buyers of the Pescador said that the update has the same amazing ride quality of the original. They said it performs well in pretty much any conditions, and always tracks well.
It has lots of storage space onboard. Since there’s a 350lb capacity as well, you don’t have to worry about overloading this vessel. That’s ideal for fishermen and picnickers alike.
The Pescador is designed for fishing, but recreational kayakers can certainly reap the benefits of this kayak at its price point. Fishermen will enjoy the ample cargo space and rod holders, but any kayaker will love the stability, tracking and speed of the Pescador. The extra storage space is perfect for camping supplies or food for a picnic. Avid fishers said that this was by far the best model they’d ever used. They said that while they initially bought it as a backup, thanks to the low price, it steadily became their primary vessel.
The main complaint with the kayak itself is the weight. At 12 feet and 65 pounds, some people might find it difficult to transport the Pescador without the help of a friend. However, it’s the weight which gives it such great stability in the water.
In terms of bang for your buck, the Perception Pescador 12 dominates the current market. If you’re looking for a sit-on-top kayak that’s suited for fishing in any waters, the Pescador is a great way to save some money without compromising performance.
Even if you’re not looking for a kayak for fishing, the Pescador is worth a look. The ample space this boat provides would be perfect for diving gear, camping supplies, or anything else you want to take on a kayaking adventure.
2. Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14
Among the kayaks that we looked at, the Malibu Stealth 14 was notable for its near perfect ratings across several sites. It’s the most costly sit-on-top on our list, but offers a great deal of quality for those willing to make the investment.
The Stealth is sold on Amazon as a “fish and dive” model, but reviewers assert that it also serves well as a purely recreational kayak, as well. As with the Pescador, the Stealth offers ample storage space for gear.
The Malibu Stealth 14 is exceptional, however, for its 3 large dry hatches, which allow fishers, divers, and campers to carry everything they need along for the ride in the waterproof compartments. The center console doubles as a live bait well that can self-drain and circulates water—although many owners claim it makes an even better beer cooler.
In the water, the Stealth offers some of the best performance among sit-on-top kayaks today. At 14 feet and 4 inches, this kayak tracks well and paddles easily. At 31 inches wide, it’s also one of the most stable kayaks on the market.
The Stealth 14 is versatile—owners say this kayak is equally at home in the surf as it is in flat water. Many praised the tracking of the Stealth, which remains consistent even when loaded with gear. They complimented its performance in breaking waves and sight casting alike, and said that no matter what the water’s like, it’s always easy to paddle. It turns and tracks easily and responsively, which is very impressive for a wide boat like this one.
But unparalleled stability of the Stealth is where the true strength of this kayak lies. The Stealth 14, according to owners, can stay upright and dry even in some of the most challenging waters. That’s where that wide design really comes in handy.
So much so, in fact, that there is a stand-up platform in the center of the boat, allowing fishermen a stable spot to stand and cast or look for fish. It’s ideal for fishing in the middle of a lake. Previous buyers said this one’s so stable that they’ve even run 2nd class rapids in this one with no problems.
For owners, storage space was another major selling point for the Stealth. There’s more space, in fact, than many owners find they need.
The live bait holder is an interesting feature patented by Malibu. The center console has a plug that allows a limited amount of water to flow in and out in order to keep live bait. If you prefer to use the console as watertight storage, however, you can simply leave the plug in. Some previous buyers also liked the bait compartment as a drinks cooler, since you can fill it with ice. It’s an ideal feature for fishermen, since it keeps bait accessible and secure, so it’s not knocking around below deck.
As with the Pescador, there’s a lot of storage space in the Stealth 14. In addition to the live bait compartment, there are side hatches for tools, lures, and other spare supplies.
Finally, one of the best features about the Stealth 14 is the lifetime warranty Malibu offers. Not only does this keep you paddling for years to come, it also says a great deal about Malibu’s confidence in the quality of their product.
Compared to the other sit-on-tops on this list, the Stealth 14 is the most expensive. Though we’re confident recommending the investment, beginner kayakers may not be eager to spend quite as much on their first purchase.
Like the Pescador, a few users mentioned the weight of this kayak as a downside. Though the Stealth 14 is two feet longer, they are roughly the same weight (about 65 pounds).
For fishermen, divers and campers, the Malibu Stealth is one of the strongest models around. With great performance, ample storage space, and the best stability of any kayak on the market, the Stealth is a purchase you won’t regret.
Though it’s the most expensive model on the list, the benefits offered by the Stealth 14 outweigh the costs. We recommend this kayak to anyone who wants to take their fishing, diving, or camping to the next level.
3. Ocean Kayak Frenzy
The Ocean Kayak brand is one of the best-known and oldest names in the business of sit-on-tops, famous for their durable, lightweight and colorful kayaks. The Frenzy is a highly popular model for beginners, although many experienced kayakers sing the praises of this model, as well.
At 9 feet long with a 31 inch wide body, the Frenzy is best-suited for ocean waters, although owners say it performs well in lakes and rivers, as well. With a shorter tri-form body and wider hull than most kayaks, the Frenzy is designed with stability, tracking, and maneuverability in mind.
The body of the Frenzy is made of polyethylene, a sturdy but lightweight material used in many sit-on-top kayaks. It weighs just 43 pounds, making it one of the most portable kayaks on the market.
It’s a stripped-down model, with all holding and storage areas molded out of the boat. There’s a cargo well in the stern and a shallower storage area in the bow, both with bungees to secure your belongs.
It’s hard to beat the price-to-quality ratio of the Ocean Frenzy. At a lower cost than many other similar models, the Frenzy is a great buy for new kayakers.
As mentioned before, the hull shape of this kayak is ideal for the choppy surf of the ocean. The wide body is both better equipped to handle waves and more forgiving of beginners’ paddling mistakes. Owners say stability is one of the essential strengths of the Frenzy, and tipping this kayak is difficult task. That’s ideal for new kayakers, and new fishermen as well. Even with its wide, stable design, though, the Frenzy still turns much more easily than other wide ocean models.
Though it’s better suited for the surf, many owners claim that this model performs just fine in rivers and lakes, as well. If you’re planning on buying a kayak exclusively for use in a river or lake, you may want to consider a model with a thinner hull shape. For buyers who plan to explore many different bodies of water, however, the Frenzy is a great multi-purpose kayak.
Reviewers also noted how durable the frame was. Even though many had scraped the hull on sandbars, sharp rocks, barnacles and the like, the body of the Frenzy remained undamaged. Many reported that their Frenzy remained intact after facing the abuse that scuttled their friends’ kayaks. We read plenty of reviews from buyers who were still in the water with their Frenzies for well over a decade!
The major downside of this model is to be expected in a kayak built for the surf—in still water, the Ocean Frenzy will require more effort to paddle than a thinner-bodied kayak. Though it’s by no means a “slow” kayak, the Frenzy will not be winning any races, either.
Some users also commented that the fit in the shorter kayak might be snug for taller kayakers. Larger owners also warned that the seating well is narrower than you might expect.
Stability, durability, and unbeatable price make the Ocean Frenzy an ideal sit-on-top for beginner or recreational kayakers. Though it’s primarily meant for ocean kayaking, the Frenzy is versatile enough to keep your options open for future expeditions.
If you’re just starting out in the world of kayaking, or you’re looking to dip your toes into ocean kayaking without breaking your budget, the Frenzy is one of the best options available right now.
Top Rated Sit On Top Kayaks for 2017 – Summary
|Perception R15 Pescador 12.0 Kayak||Top Value Pick||$$$||5.0|
|Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14||Highest Quality||$$$$$||5.0|
|Ocean Kayak Frenzy||Best on a Budget||$$||4.7|
|Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11||Versatile Ocean Pick||$$$||4.6|
|Ocean Kayak 12-Feet Malibu Two||Popular Lightweight Tandem||$$$$||4.5|
|Emotion Stealth||Great for Fishing||$$$||4.4|
|Sun Dolphin Journey||Good for Lakes and Rivers||$$||4.1|
|Emotion Spitfire||Very Affordable with Reasonable Quality||$||3.9|
|Future Beach||Great Maneuverability||$$$||3.9|
|Quikpak K3||Integrated Backpack||$$||2.3|
Which Sit-on-Top Kayak is Perfect for You?
Our top pick is the model we believe to be the best blend of price, performance and features: the Precision Pescador 12. As a rebranded version of a much more expensive kayak, the Pescador allows a wider range of kayakers to enjoy the benefits of a high-end model. Both beginners and experts alike love the Pescador—and we think you will, too.
If you’re willing to make a larger investment on your next kayak, we recommend checking out the Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14. The Stealth 14 comes loaded with features and extra storage space that make it well worth the price. Combined with the superior tracking and stability (as well as a lifetime warranty) of this kayak, the Stealth 14 will serve any kayaker well for years to come.
Boating on a budget? The good news is that spending less doesn’t have to mean compromising on quality. The Ocean Kayak Frenzy is one of the most popular sit-on-top kayaks around, with a price that can’t be beaten. Durable, versatile, stable and lightweight, the Ocean Frenzy is a steal at its current price.