Can You Use A Recreational Kayak In The Ocean?

There are many different kinds of kayaks, all tailored to different situations. And that might lead you to wonder whether a recreational kayak is safe to take out in the ocean? And what you might need to consider before doing so.

Can You Use A Recreational Kayak In The Ocean?

Recreational kayaks aren’t great for taking into the ocean for several reasons. They tend to be short, designed to stay stable in lakes and rivers, and they aren’t good at handling waves or swells. They are also often heavy and slow, which can be problematic out at sea.

What Is A Recreational Kayak?

First, let’s explore what this kind of kayak actually is. You might be puzzled by the terms for all the different types of kayaks, and this one often confuses people. So how does a recreational kayak differ from the other kinds out there?

According to OutdoorVeteran, recreational kayaks are generally kayaks targeted at beginners. 

They tend to be cheaper and often smaller than the specialized kayaks, at only around ten to twelve feet long in most cases. However, they are also usually made of more inexpensive materials and often heavier, and lack extra features.

Recreational kayaks may also be wider, as this lends them more stability. But it decreases their maneuverability and speed. A recreational kayak can’t cut through the water as easily. For example, a touring kayak will be buffeted and pushed off course by waves and currents.

They do not track particularly well in the water because of their shorter length. This helps to make turning easier but doesn’t make them ideal for big open stretches, as they can easily drift off course.

So, how do those things relate to kayaking in the open ocean? We’ll explore each of the features below.

First Feature: Small Kayak

The recommended kayak length for kayaking in the ocean is a minimum of fourteen feet. This length lends a kayak stability and power in the water. This is important in the sea, where you will be dealing with swells, waves, winds, etc.

Being in a small, light craft might seem like it gives you better maneuverability, but this won’t be a significant advantage out on the sea, where there isn’t much to steer around.

A small kayak won’t have much resistance to waves and is also lighter and more vulnerable to winds. You will have significantly less control in a small boat when you’re on the ocean.

You will also be far less visible, and while that may not seem like a big deal, the dangers posed by large ships that cannot see you. Remember, you probably can’t outstrip a large boat when it comes to speed, so you need to be visible to be safe on the water.

Second Feature: Width

The width giving these kayaks better stability may sound like a good thing in the ocean, but it actually isn’t. Most ocean kayaks are narrow for a good reason.

When it comes to boat stability, there are two factors to consider: primary stability and secondary stability. Primary stability is how stable a boat is in normal conditions when the kayaker is sitting up straight, and the water is reasonably calm.

Secondary stability is how likely a boat is to be able to recover when it is rocked or jolted – as it will be when you’re out at sea.

A recreational kayak is designed to prioritize the primary stability. It will feel safer in the water, but it is much more likely to tip as soon as it gets rocked. This will happen very quickly when you’re in the sea.

Instead, you need a kayak that prioritizes secondary stability. This will feel less stable when you first get in but is far better at recovering when it is unbalanced. In addition, waves and winds are less likely to tip you over when you’re in a kayak with good secondary stability.

Third Feature: Poor Tracking

When you’re in the ocean, the ability to cut through the water in a straight line, regardless of swells and currents, becomes key. If you can’t do this, you’re going to struggle to get anywhere in the ocean, and unfortunately, this is a feature that recreational kayaks really lack.

If you have a particularly long recreational kayak, you may find that the tracking isn’t bad, but in general, these boats don’t have the length to be safe in the ocean. The waves and swells will push a short boat off course, however hard you paddle.

This is essentially because big boats have more inertia and are therefore better able to stand up to the movement of the water without being tossed about.

You might think it doesn’t matter too much where you end up in the ocean since there isn’t exactly much to hit (unless you’re kayaking near rocks). But, does it make a difference if you can’t go in a straight line?

Yes, being able to travel in a straight line is key to safety out on the ocean. 

You need to be able to cut straight back to shore when necessary, and you need to be able to do this reliably and swiftly if there is an emergency. For example, if your kayak keeps washing off course, you might be in trouble.

Fourth Feature: Speed

Again, the width of recreational kayaks is a drawback when it comes to speed. Wider boats suffer from more drag, which makes it difficult to paddle them quickly. In addition, you need a lot more power to drive them through the water.

This may not seem like a big problem if you are a leisurely boater. Still, ocean kayaking is already significantly harder than kayaking in a river. 

Because you don’t have a current to help push you through the water. Indeed, you will often find that waves are washing you in the opposite direction to the one you want to go in.

This means that wide kayaks are much harder to use in the open ocean, where you already need additional strength and energy to get where you want to go.

Fifth Feature: Space

Another issue with recreational kayaks is the lack of space. Because they are designed to maximize maneuverability, they often don’t have much space for gear. That may not seem like a problem, but when you’re kayaking on the ocean, you really should have some safety equipment with you.

As mentioned by Over-Board, you should always carry a whistle, navigation material (even if you don’t plan to go far out), floatation devices for all passengers, sunscreen, and a hat. You may also want to take dry clothes,. Some emergency snacks, water, and other more optional items such as a backrest.

Few standard recreational kayaks will have the space for these things.

Final Word

Recreational kayaks are therefore not very suited to ocean kayaking. Their design ticks all the wrong boxes. Meaning that they will be vulnerable to waves and wind, unable to track properly, and are quick to capsize.

You may also find that because these boats are heavy, you get tired quickly. And if you have to swim to shore with one in tow, it will be difficult. 

If you wish to kayak in the ocean, buy a kayak designed to maximize safety, and don’t take an unsuitable kayak out into deep seawater.

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