Sit-on-top kayaks are an innovative 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. Plus, they’re more stable, safe and nimble than traditional designs.
In this guide, we’ll explain why we love sit-on-top kayaks so much, and introduce you to our favorite models! We’ve chosen vessels that exemplify the best of the category, with sturdy hulls, responsive handling, and impressive stability.
Read on to find our in-depth reviews, where we dig into why our picks are better than the competition! Below, you’ll also find our simplified advice on which vessel is the best choice for you.
Check out the top-ranked winners:
What’s all the fuss about sit-on-top kayaks?
The sit-on-top model keeps many of the benefits of a traditional kayak, as opposed to other types of boat, but comes with advantages in safety, stability, and user-friendliness. In many cases, they’re also less expensive to purchase than traditional sit-in vessels.
While sit-on-top models don’t lend themselves to racing or paddling huge distances, they more than compensate in other areas. For one thing, their shorter designs make them very nimble at turning and handling on the water. And since they’re wider, they’re far less easy to tip/roll over.
Overall, the design offers 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. These vessels don’t roll easily like your average recreational model. You can be a much less smooth paddler and still go for a safe trip. That’s why we think they’re ideal for new paddlers!
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 love these kayaks, because the open top allows them to bring their pup along for the ride. You also have more flexibility as to where you fix the seats, and how you arrange your cargo. In general, sit-on-tops have a more fun and relaxed feel than their enclosed counterparts.
Here are some of our favorite models on the market right now!
- Perception Pescador Pro 12
- Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14
- Ocean Kayak Frenzy
1. 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 the company’s offering for beginners, although it’s also a sturdy little champ for experienced folks on a budget.
Stability, durability, and an unbeatable price make the Ocean Frenzy an ideal sit-on-top for beginner or recreational kayakers. Though it’s often marketed for ocean kayaking, the Frenzy is versatile enough to handle expeditions in any conditions.
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 an excellent choice.
It’s hard to beat the price-to-quality ratio of the Ocean Frenzy.While it’s small, it doesn’t lack for anything in terms of quality! At a lower cost than many other similar models, the Frenzy is a great buy for new kayakers. That’s also one reason we love it so much as experienced boatsmen–you never feel as if you’re missing something!
As you can guess from the name, the Ocean Kayaks lineup is definitely aimed at sea kayakers. The Frenzy’s shorter tri-form body and wider hull, give it superb stability, tracking, and maneuverability. Those are all essential for boating at sea. It turns easily, and won’t flip easily at all: exactly what you want from a sit-on-top design. This is perfect for anyone in a coastal environment!
Even if you never intend to paddle out on the ocean, the Frenzy’s seafaring chops will benefit you greatly. Since the wide body is well-equipped to handle waves, it’s also more forgiving of beginners’ paddling mistakes. This kind of stability is ideal for new kayakers, and new fishermen as well.
Despite its wide, stable design, though, the Frenzy still turns much more easily than other wide ocean models. It actually handles remarkably well, compared to other seafaring options. Since it’s so short, it turns more nimbly than a longer recreational vessel.
Though it’s primarily designed for the surf, this model performs just fine in rivers and lakes as well. If you’re planning on buying a kayak exclusively for use in a calm river or lake, you could certainly 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.
Unlike a lot of other inexpensive vessels, the Frenzy will last for years of regular use. The frame is rock-solid! It can handle scrapes on sandbars, sharp rocks, barnacles and the like, without suffering any noticeable damage.
You don’t have to take our word for it, either–just look at buyer reviews online! Many report that their Frenzy remained intact after facing the kind of 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!
What’s most impressive is the fact that it pairs rugged build quality with portability. 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.
While simple, it has all the essentials you need for a successful voyage. It’s a stripped-down model, but there are several 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 belongings.
The major downside of this model is true of any sit-on-top kayak like this. In still water, the Ocean Frenzy will require more effort to paddle than a thinner-bodied recreational or touring kayak. That’s the price you pay for all that stability. Though it’s by no means a “slow” kayak, the Frenzy will not be winning any races, either.
The Frenzy makes the most of its small frame, but there’s no getting around the fact that this is a compact kayak. It might be snug for taller kayakers, and there’s limited room for supplies. If you’re on the taller end, or are planning some overnight trips, you might want to go for something bigger.
2. Perception Pescador Pro
Our midsize/midrange choice, the Perception Pescador Pro 12 dominates the current market with its value factor. It’s extremely well-made, and performs better than anything else for this price. It’s one of our all-time fishing kayaks.
Even if you’re not looking for a kayak for fishing, the Pescador is worth a look. The ample space this boat provides is perfect for diving gear, camping supplies, or anything else you want to take on a kayaking adventure. It also has all the sit-on-top stability you’d expect in this category!
We think it’s the perfect middle ground between the compactness and affordability of the Frenzy and the performance and roominess of the Stealth 14 below. If you’re looking for a sit-on-top kayak that’s suited for fishing or paddling in any waters, the Pescador is a great way to save some money and weight without compromising performance.
It’s extremely affordable, given its size and quality. The Perception R15 Pescador has all the quality of a high-end kayak, and some extra room over the Frenzy, but it’s sold at a fraction of the cost of other models in its class.
That’s because 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 Wilderness Systems Tarpon 120 (the original incarnation of this kayak) was rated one of the best of the year it came out in all the big kayak and outdoor periodicals. The Pescador really is that same quality at half the price. It has the same superb ride quality of the original, and it doesn’t lack anything in terms of quality.
The entry-level price allows many first-timers to try out a larger, more sophisticated kayak than the Frenzy, with little risk of buyer’s remorse! It leaves lots of room to grow, and the quality is such that many owners never feel the need to upgrade. That’s why it’s also perfectly suitable to experienced paddlers who prefer a 12′ vessel to something like the Stealth 14.
As Spanish speakers may have guessed, the Pescador is designed for fishing. The hull shape is designed for tracking, speed and stability–all of which you’ll need for reeling in the day’s catch. So, if you’re looking for a stable place to fish from, this will do handily.
It has all the amenities you need for fishing, too. It’s equipped 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.
The Pescador is 12 feet long and 28 inches wide, so it’s noticeably sleeker than the Frenzy. It’s better for longer trips, while still turning easily and handling steadily.
Aside from its fishing chops, we think the most impressive aspect of the Pescador is 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. Whether you’re casting a line or not, it’s a fantastic all-purpose boat.
It has lots of storage space onboard. Again, that benefits anyone, not just fishermen. Since it has a 350lb capacity as well, you don’t have to worry about overloading this vessel! That’s ideal for fishermen, overnighters and picnickers alike.
We don’t have any real complaints about the Pescador. It’s a fantastic vessel. However, there are a few things to know.
It’s probably a lot for the average person to carry and lift, since it’s 12 feet and 65 pounds. If you’re not particularly athletic, you may need a friend to help out. However, it’s the weight which gives it such great stability in the water.
The Stealth 14 also bests this in both stability and speed, although the Pescador earns points for value and compactness.
3. Malibu Kayaks Stealth 14
The Stealth 14 is usually sold as a “fish and dive” model, but we think it also serves well as a purely recreational kayak. As with the Pescador, the Stealth offers ample storage space for gear, and that benefits any user.
This is the most costly sit-on-top we recommend, but it offers a great deal of quality for those willing to make the investment!
In the water, the Stealth offers some of the best performance among kayaks today–regardless of category. 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.
While the average paddler probably doesn’t need something this large, it’s the ultimate sit-on-top for the ambitious adventurer. We recommend this kayak to anyone who wants to take their fishing, diving, or camping to the next level.
The Stealth 14 is versatile—just like our other sit-on-top recommendations. It’s equally at home in the surf as it is in flat water. The tracking of the Stealth is particularly good, thanks to the elongated hull. It remains consistent even when loaded with gear!
It’s also just plain fun to paddle. The Stealth 14 has excellent performance in breaking waves and sight casting alike. 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 larger boat like this one.
Of course, those things are true of our other picks in this category. What’s different about this one is that it’s proportionally sleeker, given that it’s no wider than the Frenzy but adds a full 5 feet. So, it ends up being faster once you get it up to speed.
But unparalleled stability of the Stealth is where the true strength of this kayak lies. The Stealth 14 can stay upright and dry even in some of the most challenging waters. That’s where that wide design really comes in handy.
It performs equally well at sea and on lakes. You wouldn’t want to do so while fishing, but we’ve been told by owners that this one’s so stable that they’ve even run 2nd class rapids in this one with no problems.
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. While this is a good all-purpose vessel like the Frenzy or Pescador, it really comes into its own on fishing trips.
The Malibu Stealth 14 sets itself apart from our other picks in its spaciousness. Longer length does make for a speedier vessel with stronger tracking, but it mainly gives you more room! This one’s as long as most recreational kayaks, and even some touring models. So, it’s very roomy for even the tallest paddlers
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.
It boasts 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 you may find that it makes an even better beer cooler!
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 fresh. It’s really ideal, if you fish a lot.
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.
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. The Stealth 14 has a superb long-term track record, just like our other picks.
Compared to the other sit-on-tops on this list, the Stealth 14 is the most expensive. Though we’re confident it’s a sound investment, beginner kayakers may not be eager to spend quite as much on their first purchase. This is something more for dedicated folks with some experience under their belt.
Like the Pescador, this could be heavy for some people to lift overhead. On the bright side, though the Stealth 14 is two feet longer than the Pescador, they are roughly the same weight (about 65 pounds).
Top Rated Sit On Top Kayaks for 2020 – 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 for the average buyer is 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. It’s a nice middle ground in both size and price! Both beginners and experts alike love the Pescador—and we think you will, too.
If you’re a dedicated paddler, and are 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. It’s especially good if you fish! 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.
Before you buy, make sure you answer these important questions:
-Where are you going to be taking your boat? On lakes, rivers, or the sea?
Depending on where you’re headed, you’ll want to look for different lengths and features. However, the great thing about sit-on-top designs is that they’re stable pretty much anywhere! Just be sure to think about whether you want something shorter that’ll turn faster in the surf, or something longer that will help you paddle to an island on the lake more quickly.
-How many people will be onboard? Will you have a pet along for the ride?
Make sure you’ve got room for everybody who’ll be paddling with you! Tandems are the obvious choice for two. Many of them also have room for a pooch, but make sure you check before you commit to buying something.
-What kinds of amenities are important to you? Fishing rod holders, waterproof storage, cupholders, etc.?
-How much can you afford to spend?
-How much use will you get out of your new boat?
-How large a vessel can you easily transport?