Can You Use A Sea Kayak On A River? [The Differences]

Have you ever wondered if sea kayaks can be taken out on rivers or if they are only suited for the ocean? There are some differences between sea kayaks and normal river kayaks. So it’s important to know what is safe to use before you launch yourself into the water.

Can You Use A Sea Kayak On A River?

Sea kayaks tend to be longer than river kayaks, and although they are excellent for paddling on the ocean, a lot of their advantages are lost when you take them out of the sea. While it can be done, it requires better handling and practice to stay steady in the water. However, it’s not unsafe to take a sea kayak onto a river.

What Makes Sea Kayaks Different To River Kayaks?

The biggest differences between a sea kayak and most river kayaks are that sea kayaks are longer and narrower. In addition, they have high rockers and sealed bulkheads, which is a significant advantage if you capsize, as the boat won’t sink when these are closed.

These kayaks are designed to handle waves very well. They rock with them rather than resisting them. And can cut through them much more effectively than standard kayaks can. So if you’re going through choppy waters, you might be tempted by the sea kayak. However, there are a few disadvantages too.

We’ll cover those next so you can weigh whether a sea kayak would suit you on a river.

What Are The Disadvantages Of Sea Kayaks In Rivers?

Sea kayaks are generally less stable on flat water because they are narrower. Even an experienced kayaker may struggle to keep a sea kayak steady when no waves are rocking it. And if you try and lean over the side, you’re pretty likely to capsize.

While the boat may not go down thanks to the bulkheads, this is obviously not a good thing – and it’s best avoided if possible. You don’t want to be overturning into the water repeatedly, so bear the stability issue in mind if you’re taking a sea kayak onto a river.

You should also know that sea kayaks are harder to maneuver in tight spaces because of their length. For example, a sea kayak is usually over fourteen feet long, making it challenging to handle river rapids or sharp corners well.

It’s also worth noting that a sea kayak does not do well when it comes to turning. These boats were designed to be used in the open water, where turning is not a priority. As a result, they cut through water when directed in a straight line but struggle to rotate even a little way.

You should also note that sea kayaks can’t handle shallow water as well as some of the flat-bottomed river kayaks can. So always check that the river has enough depth for your craft, or you may find yourself running aground!

If you were planning on whitewater rafting in your sea kayak, you should probably reconsider.

Sea kayaks do best in deep, straight rivers with few rapids in them. This environment gives them an advantage edge in superb speed. However, narrow, winding or rough rivers will usually be too much for sea kayaks, even in the hands of experienced kayakers.

What Are The Differences Between River And Ocean Kayaking?

You may already know some of the challenges that you’ll face in rivers, but let’s briefly cover them so you can see the potential pitfalls of using a sea kayak outside the ocean.

River Kayaking Is About Steering

Ocean kayaking is a sport that requires you to use the paddle, and if you’re not used to kayaking on rivers, you might be startled by how much less physical strain it involves. 

However, river kayaking makes up for that in the need to maneuver around obstacles and keep the boat steady in a current.

When you’re on a river, you are propelled by the water, so you don’t need to put as much work into moving the craft forward as you would do out in the ocean, but you do need to steer with care. 

It’s important to keep yourself free from obstacles and constantly be looking ahead.

This is why river kayaks tend to be designed for maximum steering and maneuverability, especially those made for white water kayaking. Unfortunately, when you need to turn fast and fit through tight gaps, a sea kayak is out of its element and often struggles to perform well.

However, in experienced hands, a sea kayak is fine on many rivers, and you can enjoy the more leisurely ride as a result of the river’s current while still making the most of your sea kayak.

You’re Close To Shore

It’s an important aspect of kayaking on a river – you are always pretty close to the shore. You will usually only have a short swim to get yourself back onto dry land, even if you can’t get your boat there.

This makes a significant difference to ocean kayaking, in which you could be far out at sea. Obviously, river kayaking is much safer, as it’s easier to get yourself out of the water if you get into trouble. In addition, you are unlikely to need to use your boat to keep yourself afloat.

This may be different if you choose to use your sea kayak in the lake. But even in a large lake, you’re unlikely to be so far from the shore that you can’t swim there unless the conditions are particularly unfavorable. 

Usually, kayaking in a river means you can get out quickly if you have to.

Even if capsized, the sea kayak’s ability to float is still very useful, but it’s not so important when on a smaller body of water.

There Are More Obstacles

Of course, the flip side of being in a river is that there are many more challenging obstacles to contend with. For example, even if you have chosen a river with few rapids, you’ll need to be aware of rocks, tree branches, other boats, etc.

If you don’t pay close attention to your surroundings, you may end up having an accident. Therefore, capsizing becomes more dangerous, especially in rocky waters, because you could hit your head or get stuck against a rock.

Here, the lack of maneuverability of a sea kayak can be problematic or even dangerous, as you may not be able to steer out of trouble in time.

You should always choose easy, safe courses while you’re getting the hang of using a sea kayak on a river. And make sure you don’t kayak alone. Take someone with you who can help if you get into any trouble.

Final Word

Sea kayaks are acceptable for rivers, but they require some skilled handling to provide a good experience. In addition, their poor turning ability, deeper hulls, and length make them ill-suited to white water, even in small stretches.

They are also easier to capsize, which can be more dangerous in a river than it would be out at sea (where they rarely overturn, despite their narrow profile). So overall, if you can get a river kayak, you will probably have a better experience. 

But if you spend most of your time on the ocean, and you want to kayak on the river, there’s no reason you can’t use it. Just know that it will handle differently!

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