For anyone who is about to start their paddling journey, choosing between a sit-on-top kayak and a sit-in kayak is never easy.

It seems that the only difference between the two styles is just the open cockpit. However, to a lot of beginners’ surprise, the two categories of kayaks come with a bunch of different features – stability, speed, gravity center, etc. Sometimes, even an old paddler gets confused.

Today, to help you choose a suitable kayak, the features of the two will be fully covered. And most importantly, you get to read the best comparison to decide whether a sit-on-top or a sit-in will be a better fit.

Part 1: What Is A Sit-In Kayak

The sit-in kayak, also known as a sit-inside kayak or SIS for short, is a traditional kayak style when this tool was created.

The biggest element of a sit-in kayak is that half-open cockpit where you can put your legs inside to avoid cold and moisture. The deck can protect the paddlers’ legs and feet from rain, waves, and heavy rains.

Sit Inside Kayak

For cold weather days, the enclosed cockpit can keep both physical and mental warmth – at least you won’t go ashore just because of wet and cold feet.

Besides, sitting in the cockpit can help you better balance and stay stable. When waves or winds strike, you’re able to lean your legs and hips to the cockpit. You will still be on the kayak, which is perfect for beginners.

Apart from the windbreak, waterproofing, and stability, a sit-in kayak has a lot of other advantages as well. Let’s continue.

Lady On Sit In Kayak

Pro: The Perfect Stability Of Sit-In Kayak

The greatest feature of a sit-in kayak is the lower center of gravity.

Paddlers are sitting inside of it, not on the top. Their hips and legs are actually below the water level or level with it. This will give the kayak better stability and balance compared to a sit-on-top.

This is part of the reason that even though a sit-on-top kayak will bring ultimate speed, a lot of professional kayak racers will still choose a sit-in. After all, failure will be the result if you fall.

Kayak Racing

For the majority of recreational paddlers, especially kids and beginners, a sit-in is a better choice for sure. You don’t need to race with anyone and risk going into any rough waters. Stability – not falling into water is the priority.


If you really want to experience fast paddling, there’re some specially crafted kayaks for racing. You can buy the sit-inside models to have both speed and stability.

Con: The Difficulty of Flipping While Capsizing

A capsized sit-inside kayak will be a nightmare for all paddlers. Water will fill in the entire cockpit, making it extremely heavy and difficult to turn over.

First of all, you need to get out of the cockpit that’s filled with water.

Then, flip the kayak over with all your strength.

Capsized Kayak

Next, you will have to get the water out from that enclosed cockpit.

  • There is no scupper found inside or outside and the material of the kayak is waterproof. So, the water will not leak by itself.
  • Or, swing the kayak to get the water out and then scope the rest out with hands or any tools.

As a result, you will have tiring arms after flipping the kayak and a wet cockpit that’s uncomfortable to sit in. Your relaxing paddling trip is ruined.

Answer: Should I Choose A Sit-Inside Kayak

As mentioned, a sit-inside kayak is a perfect starter for kids and beginners thanks to its ultimate stability. It will help young paddlers to overcome the fright of being on the water.

Also, on cold winter days, a sit-in kayak will be the best warmer to keep wind and cold away. So, if you fancy a challenge in winter, this category keeps you warm.

Paddling With Kayaks

And most importantly, if shallow water is where you want to paddle, a sit-inside is definitely a big yes. It will let you enjoy comfortable, dry, and stable kayaking.

Warning: Situations Where A Sit-In Kayak Is Not Your Best Choice

However, if surfing is a big thing to you, a sit-inside kayak will give you huge trouble.

Also, for ocean paddling, a sit-in is never a wise choice. The ocean is unpredictable. You never know if there’s a storm or wave coming toward you the next minute. When either of them will get your kayak capsized, you will quickly lose your strength for turning it over. This can be extremely dangerous for ocean paddling. You’re away from land and you need to treasure every strength you have.

Part 2: What Is A Sit-On-Top Kayak

There’s no deck on a sit-on-top kayak. When a sit-inside has a half-open cockpit covered by a deck, a sit-on-top kayak has a wide-open cockpit. Everything is exposed to the sun and the wind. So, it’s mostly used in the summertime or in hot areas.


Pros: A Wide-Open Cockpit Makes All The Difference

A sit-on-top kayak is convenient and easy to get in and out of. Just step on the cockpit and sit down or get up.

This is why a lot of people who fancy swimming will get one of these. They can dive into the water anytime without getting their legs out of a confined kayak.

Also, anglers can stand or squat on the wide deck to cast a rod. Fighting and landing a fish becomes easier too if a fisherman can stand up on the open deck. For all those fishing kits, there’s enough space to put them. Some old fishermen will even put a foldable chair to have a better position to fish.

Man Fishing on Kayak

More importantly, when the kayak capsizes, it won’t take you long and hard to flip it back. You can save your strength to continue pulling your oars.

Meanwhile, by the time the kayak is flipped, the remaining water will be gone thanks to the scupper. At the corner of the wide deck, you will find at least one scupper that will help keep the cockpit dry.

Scupper on Kayak

Con: Buoyancy Makes Paddling Hard

Compared to a sit-inside kayak, a sit-on-top has a higher center of gravity, thus the buoyancy will be stronger too. You need to put more effort into pulling the oars.

Making it worse, a sit-on-top kayak normally has a wider beam in order to have more space for sitting, standing, or squatting. Also, a larger space makes paddler easier to stay on the kayak without falling into the water.

But a narrow aerodynamic shape will be faster. So, a wide sit-on-top will be slower in most cases.


There’re some narrow-shaped racing sit-on-tops that have faster speed than most sit-ins. But in most cases, in order to have better balance, sit-on-tops will be flatter.

Should I Choose A Sit-On-Top Kayak

Most experienced paddlers will choose a sit-on-top kayak in the hot summertime. Wind will go through the deck and your legs to make you cool a bit. Also, diving into the water and boarding become easier with an open cockpit.

Besides, when sea paddling is the challenge that you seek, a sit-on-top will be a better option for sure. When roaring wind and battering waves tip your kayak over, a kayak that can be easily flipped back means everything. By the way, the water will leak by itself.

Surfing on Top

And of course, if surfing is a thing to you, a sit-on-top kayak is the best of the best. Nothing defeats that.