sea kayak

Touring AKA Sea Kayaks – The Basics

If you are face to face with a touring kayak (or any kayak) for the very first time, the first thing you may be thinking is, is this thing a kayak, or is it a canoe?  Particularly if you are reading this, and you are from the United Kingdom, you might be especially baffled.

canoe vs kayak differences

Here Beach Baby will help you understand the general differences between the two, and then cover the main points of a touring kayak, or sea kayak.

Let’s start with this video featuring a certified kayak instructor, which explains some of the characteristics of the touring kayak as compared to some of the other types of kayaks…

As you can see from the above video, touring kayaks AKA, sea kayaks, have a few distinguishing characteristics that are easy to spot.  

First of all, they’re usually long and narrow, unlike recreational kayaks.  They also have thigh braces, which allow them to edge, brace, or roll, if need be.  

touring kayak in water

They also contain “walls”, which are known as “bulkheads”.  These walled-off areas in the front and the back mean that a touring kayak is basically divided into three sections.  These bulkheads can be used for storage, and they’re also used for safety, since they trap air that helps the touring kayak float.

So in the event of your kayak capsizing, the only part that takes on water is the cockpit area, meaning that the kayak isn’t going to sink, and this makes it much more accessible, since it stays on top of the water.  This is not how it works with recreational kayaks, which need to be taken in to shore if they take on water.  

When it comes to kayaks vs. canoes, you’ll also notice that the paddles look different.  Basically, canoes have a paddle with one blade at the end, while kayaks use a double-bladed paddle.

canoe blade vs kayak blade

So, just to recap quickly, touring kayaks are long, slender (but durable) sea faring vessels, which are quite buoyant and have a specific type of paddle.  They are easy to maneuver and tough to sink.  Let us take a look at another video showing some touring kayaks in action out on the open water!

Kayaks Then And Now

Today’s sea faring kayaks are beautifully crafted, elegant, and aerodynamic.  Back in the olden days, the first sea kayaks were light wooden boats covered with the skins of mammals such as seals, but similarly well-crafted and easy to glide through the water.

old kayak historical

The boats continued to be made predominately of wood, right until the mid twentieth century, when fiberglass overtook them in terms of popularity. Nowadays, rotomolded plastic may also be used.

Characteristics Of A Touring Kayak

Generally speaking, a sea / touring kayak will be somewhere between 12 feet and 24 feet in length, which gives it its long appearance.  Recreational kayaks are wider, and most often seen casually floating along on placid lakes, or flat streams.  Below is a touring kayak taking on some swells.  A recreational kayak, while they are statistically the most popular type for people to buy, typically can’t handle this much action.

sea kayak

There are also “sit on top” kayaks where you .. yes, sit on top of them.  These are more comfortable, but they are more along the lines of the recreational types of kayaks out there.  

Of course, whether you want to sit on top one, or  sit inside one, is up to you. There are ‘sit on top’ kayaks, that are considered suitable for use on open seas, although mostly when people refer to touring kayaks as they can take more of a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.  

Tandem Sea Kayaks

Some people prefer tandem kayaks, which are considered sea-faring, for a variety of reasons.  You can go faster in a tandem kayak, even without a lot of experience, than you can in a solo vessel.   Here is a video that provides more info on tandem kayaking if you are interested.

At this point it might be wise to consider the size, and more importantly, the weight of your touring kayak.   If it is a tandem you’re going with, of course it is going to be substantially bigger than a solo one, and this translates into a heavier vessel. 

Transporting Your Kayak

Now, we have to consider the all important question of how to transport your kayak, when you are on terra firma.

Suppose, that you opt for a touring, or sea kayak, because your adventurous spirit clamors for a big adventure, as opposed to a simple recreational boat ride (which, of course you can still do in your touring kayak).  The big adventure requires that you carry all the necessary outdoor equipment, including a tent.

portage with touring kayak

Considerations For Your Kayaking Trip

Here, the weight of your boat is going to matter a lot! Can you actually carry it? Will you even be able to lift it on, or off your car? Does it fit onto your car?  On the whole, the ‘sit on kayak‘ will outweigh the ‘sit in kayak‘ .  

The list of considerations here goes on and on.

There is the thorny issue of trying to deal with the larger kayak that has filled with water and/ or capsized. How easy is it to get back into?  This is where touring kayaks shine.

You will need to think about all the safety and practical implications of emptying it of water while at sea, in order to get back into.  

kayak bailing scoop

For this reason, it’s wise carry a bailing scoop to help get the water out fast. A double kayak could suddenly take on half a ton of sea water if you’re not careful, and that is a hell of a lot to have to deal with, especially if you are plunged into potentially very cold sea water.

Here is a video showing how to roll a kayak – a skill you might need at some point, especially with a touring kayak.

It’s also a good idea to invest in a sea sock, which  is a permanent fixture that needs to be carefully fitted into the body.  The benefits of installing one are worth the investment!  Not only will it limit the amount of water the vessel takes on, but it will prevent sand from getting into the cavity and damaging the kayak.  You will find an image of a sea sock below.

sea sock in kayak

Sea socks, however, do have their limitations, and need expert fitting to make sure they are safe, and they don’t trap you in the event of capsizing.

Fortunately the storage areas that a touring kayak comes equipped with, tend to make good flotation aids, should your kayak capsize, as already mentioned.

“Become” The Kayak

Hopefully, with lots of experience on the water in your more traditional type ‘sit in’ touring kayak, you will become ‘one’ with the kayak.  This feeling of oneness will allow you to steer it more easily and hopefully avoid some of the big waves that might capsize you.. In other words, you are more or less wearing the kayak,  You are inside of it, and your body will help it move in the direction you wish to steer.

become one with the kayak

You will still have to be prepared for the eventuality of capsizing , but we are assuming that you are not about to embark on some great sea adventure without having done all the adequate prep first.

Get The Proper Instruction

At the very least, Beach Baby strongly suggests you hook up with an experienced instructor, and learn the basics of kayaking, before your maiden voyage. Practice can be done in a pool, but it would be better to have the benefit of instruction at sea as well, preferably in the area where you intend to kayak.

kayaking instruction

After all, you wouldn’t embark upon the Tour de France, if you’d never ridden a bike before, so you wouldn’t start off on the open seas without some skills and knowledge as to how to operate your kayak, and remain safe whilst doing so.

Although there is a lot to learn, try not to be put off.  The basics can be easily learned , and with diligent practice, you will go from nervous newbie to fully fledged intermediate kayaker.


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