What to look for when buying a family kayak

What to look for when buying a family kayak

Kayaking is a fun and safe way for the entire family to spend time outside together. This healthy activity can create memories for years to come, but working out the best kayak for your needs can seem daunting.

Different kayaks have different uses, and there are many versatile designs to be found on the market today. Besides making sure your kayak fits your family and needs, you should also consider comfort, stability and ease of use.

There are a few key aspects to consider when buying a family kayak, so let us take you through some useful questions to ask.

Is it better to have multiple kayaks or one larger one?

The age of your children, their sizes and paddling experience will determine whether they come along in a single, double or triple kayak. It will also help you decide whether they travel as a paddler or a “duffer”.

The term “duffing” refers to when a child rides in the boat’s centre compartment. It’s a great place to start for young paddlers, as it helps them to get a feel for the boat even though they’re not contributing to its propulsion.

Man carrying kayak
Whether to have one large kayak or multiple ones will depend largely on the age and ability of the children

As a rough guide, we have included some approximate age recommendations below:

  • Duffer: 8 years and younger;
  • Bow rider/paddler in double kayak: 4 to 7 years old;
  • Bow paddler in a double kayak: 8 years and older;
  • Single small kayak: 10 and older, if skilled;
  • Single medium kayak: 14 and older, if skilled.


Which seating configuration would be best?

Once you’ve decided on the number of kayaks, you can further consider your seating configuration options.

The trip goals, comfort levels and paddling opportunities for the kids will all come into play. When planning your trip, make sure that your goals aren’t so ambitious that they sacrifice the experience for the kids – try and let all ages paddle for at least part of the time.

Kayak trip
Try and ensure the children can paddle for at least part of the trip

Kayak layout

Children from ages 4 to 7 will typically be fine sitting in the bow of a kayak, or as a duffer. However, as they won’t provide much propulsion, your distances will be limited.

By the age of about 8, most children are ready to paddle the bow, and are capable of learning and executing paddling skills.

Many kayaks have a moulded grooved seat for your children to sit. However, you may want to consider a kayak that allows for an additional kayak seat to be fitted, so your kids aren’t sitting on the hard plastic itself.

Sit-in or Sit-on-Top?

When researching your family kayak, you will see both Sit-on-Top and Sit-Inside options.

  • Sit-on-tops are generally the most user-friendly. They’re stable, easy to get in and out of, and have small holes that allow the water to drain through them. They are a good choice for nervous paddlers, warm environments, and kids who love to swim.


Sit on top

Sit-on-tops are generally the most user-friendly configuration


  • Sit-inside kayaks shelter your lower body from the wind – you will stay drier while paddling than in a sit-on-top. Recreational sit-inside kayaks can also be very stable, fun and easy-to-use. However, they aren’t as easy to recover if you do flip as that will likely cause the kayak to fill with water.
Sit-Inside kayaks enable you to stay warmer and drier than sit-on-tops


What size kayak should you choose?

Of course, the size of kayak you choose will first be determined by the number of people you will be transporting.

Ages 4-8

If you have a child riding as a duffer, then a three-person kayak is a good bet. This size kayak allows for two adults (or an adult and older child) to paddle with a younger kid in the middle.

Nereus 2
A three-person kayak is a good choice when you have a duffer

The Nereus 2 is truly a three-person kayak – it even has an added backrest in the middle seat to give everyone on board ultimate comfort out on the water.

Ages 8 and older

If you have a bow rider or paddler in a double kayak, you may want a kayak that you can paddle alone or with a child with you.

The Nero sit-on-top kayak is an excellent compact single-seater kayak, whilst also doubling up as a tandem kayak for an adult and child.

Nero single
The Nero can be used on your own, or with a child

Ages 10 and older, if skilled

Small single kayaks are a good option if you have a confident paddler around 10 years or older.

A kayak like the Neptune would be suitable for this age. It is small at 2.6m, but its width provides stability which makes it suitable for beginners of all ages.


What options do you have for transporting your kayak?

Portability is another key point to consider in your kayak purchase.

Do you have a big car that can carry a longer kayak to your adventure? Do you have the space to store it at home? And is the family strong enough to help you carry it?

If you’re concerned about transportation or saving space when storing your kayak, you may want to explore inflatable options.

Inflatable kayak
You may want to consider an inflatable kayak for ease of transport and storage

Kayaks like the KXone Baram 300 have space for three people, but its compact and lightweight nature makes it much easier to transport to your next adventure than a traditional kayak.


Safety on the water

Okay, so it’s not a question to ask yourself. So, consider this a safety ‘bonus’ section instead.

Having the correct equipment and safety gear is essential for safety on the water.

Ensure that you and your passengers have a Personal Flotation Device (PFD), and wear a highly visible colour such as bright orange or yellow.

The deck rigging on our kayak range comes with a reflective material built into the rope, which helps to illuminate the kayak when light shines on it.

To learn more, read our beginner’s guide to kayak safety 


Are you ready to prepare for your adventure?

Explore our family kayaks

Consider our full kayak range

Read more about kayaking with kids

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