Can A Sit On Top Kayak Sink? [Are They Safer?]

Kayaking is a great pastime and a fantastic sport for water-loving adventurers. However, as much as we might like the water, there is nothing more unsatisfying than having your kayak sink. With the addition of “sit-on-top” kayaks, many have switched over to these particular kayaks to prevent sinking, but are sit-on-top kayaks unsinkable? 

Sit-on-top kayaks are practically unsinkable under normal circumstances. One of the most common causes that would make a sit-on-top kayak sink is if you ignore the weight limit of the vessel. However, a sit-on-top kayak should never sink due to the scupper holes that allow water to drain out. 

Choosing a kayak based on whether it can sink or not might seem like a logical thing to do, but there’s a lot more to it than buoyancy. Even though sit-on-top kayaks are made to be practically unsinkable, there are still guidelines for using them and a few ways you might be able to ruin your kayaking trip if you are not careful.

Why Are Sit On Top Kayaks Practically Unsinkable?

Sit on top kayaks are designed so that they do not sink. In addition, they have scupper holes that allow the kayak to become self-bailing if it takes on excess water.

Sit-on-top kayaks will generally have molded, sealed hulls that can act the same way a bulkhead on a boat does. They trap air within the hull of the kayak to provide buoyancy. 

Due to this, no water should be able to leak into the hull of your kayak.

A sit-on-top kayak is designed to take on a lot of water making it practically unusable; however, even if your kayak becomes wholly swamped with water, it still should not sink. 

The only reason a sit-on-top kayak would ever sink is if you accidentally left your storage hatches open (assuming your kayak has storage hatches), as this would allow it to take on excess water. 

While some sit-on-top kayaks do not feature storage hatches, the kayaks that include them generally have no way of draining the water if you accidentally leave them open.

Are Sit-On-Top Kayaks Safer?

One of the main questions people generally ask when choosing their kayak is, “Which kayak should I get? Sit-on-top or Sit-inside?”. 

This is usually the first big decision when selecting your kayak. So, which kayak is safer?

Sit on top kayaks have been gaining a lot of popularity recently. This kayak type is different from the traditional kayak design as it allows the kayaker to sit on the top of the kayak’s deck. 

Everything from your seat back to the footwells will be rigged to the literal deck of the kayak. 

Due to you being in the open on top of your kayak, it is generally a lot more challenging to keep yourself dry while paddling. With every splash, wave, or riffle you encounter, it is guaranteed that you will get gradually wetter. 

Due to this, it is safer to use sit-on-top kayaks in warmer weather, as this decreases your risk for hypothermia. 

Both types are equally safe regarding overall safety between sit-on-top kayaks and sit-inside-kayaks. The only time a sit-on-top kayak will be more dangerous to use is in colder climates, where it is best to try and stay as dry as possible when paddling to prevent hypothermia.

When Are Sit On Top Kayaks Unsafe

Using sit-on-top kayaks can be great in warm weather when you have been kayaking all day and want to slide off to have a dip into the water. However, it is essential to note that sit on top kayaks are not the safest for use in frigid water or during months when being wet could get you sick.

Since it is guaranteed that you will get wet when using a sit-on-top kayak, because nothing is protecting you, it is recommended that you only use this kind of kayak when you are not prone to getting sick and don’t mind being wet for extended periods.

It is also recommended that you not use a sit-on-top kayak when kayaking through the winter months or in times where kayaking waters are particularly cold. 

Not only is there a chance of becoming sick when getting wet during the colder months, but in the worst-case scenario, you might even become hyperthermic.

Hypothermia is one of the few reasons a sit-on-top kayak is regarded as unsafe when kayaking on cold water. Since getting off of a sit-on-top kayak is so easy, you might even slip or fall into the water. 

In addition, if you are not experienced in the process of hoisting yourself back onto your sit-on-top kayak, you might be at risk of hyperthermia that could result in loss of limbs.

Hypothermia is not a condition to be taken lightly, and we recommend that you practice safety measures if you are indeed planning on making a kayaking trip in winter. 

Remember to keep an experienced kayaker with you if you make trips that could be considered more dangerous, and make sure to take supplies if the worst does come to pass.

Swamped Vs. Sinking Kayak

A sit-on-top kayak is designed to make it near unsinkable. However, your sit-on-top kayak can become swamped with water. When experienced kayakers use the word ‘swamped,’ they say their kayak has become submerged, overwhelmed, or filled with water. 

A swamped kayak vs. a sinking kayak is two completely different things. 

A kayak that is sinking usually takes a lot more effort and time to correct when compared to a swamped kayak. A sinking kayak may also disappear entirely under the water, whereas a swamped kayak will flood with water but still float.

There is a higher likelihood of your kayak becoming swamped when first getting onto it and before starting your kayaking journey. 

This makes it a relatively easy problem to fix. Simply pulling your kayak out of the water and checking to see that any hatches are closed might help prevent your kayak from becoming swamped again.

The main reason for a kayak becoming swamped is because of latches that have been left open, assuming your kayak has any. 

There is also the possibility that your kayak might be flooded due to water being trapped inside the kayak. The trapped moisture could be from previous trips or that the weight you are trying to put on the kayak is too great. 

Try emptying out the old water and reducing your gear to prevent your kayak from becoming swamped.

Other reasons for your kayak becoming swamped include hull damage and unsecured fittings. If your hull has been damaged, there is a strong likelihood that your kayak might be slowly filling with water. In addition, the added weight of the water might cause your kayak to be below the level of the water you want to kayak on.

You should always check your kayak for hull damage before entering the water. It is also good practice to ensure that your kayak’s fittings are secured and water-tight before starting your kayaking journey.

Final Word

Though sit-on-top kayaks are nearly unsinkable, there are still reasons why your kayak may become swamped or full of water. Checking your gear and kayak is crucial to ensuring your safety on the water. 

Both sit-on and sit-in kayaks have their advantages, but both are considered safe if you have experience and take precautions.

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