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 that 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 we’ll take you through some useful questions to ask, before presenting our top 8 picks for family kayaks in 2021.
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.
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.
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-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Family kayak reviews for 2021
Now that you have considered the questions laid out above, we have selected our top 8 family kayaks for 2021, depending on your family’s needs.
1. Best for a duffer
The Hug XL is one of the most versatile kayaks on our list – a large 3-seater family kayak, it can also be used solo using the centred rear seat. It is also one of the best-value family kayaks on the market.
The build quality is the best in class, with no traces of air bubbles inside the UV stabilised plastic walls, meaning your kayak is superior in durability and won't crack like brittle plastic kayaks prone to air bubbles.
This kayak measures 5.5 metres long and 0.72 metres wide. It boasts a maximum weight capacity of 322kg, despite only weighing 40.5kg. The middle seat is 25cm smaller in length than the front and rear seats, making it perfect for a smaller child who can’t yet paddle alone.
The smaller middle seat on the Hug XL makes it perfect for a duffer
The Hug XL was designed to provide comfort without forgoing speed and stability. This comfort also translates to a wide range of activities including cruising, fishing, camping and exploring.
Glide effortlessly through the water with the rounded ‘torpedo’ hull and its tracking properties which are excellent even in windy conditions or strong currents.
With a spacious cockpit design and its focus on comfort, speed and stability, the Hug XL is a true three-seater touring kayak.
2. Best for a bow paddler
The Nero is a versatile hybrid between a sit-on-top and sit-in kayak. You get the stability and functionality of a sit-on-top, but with similar paddling speed to an entry-level sit-in kayak.
A good value choice for beginner to intermediate paddlers who want the flexibility to paddle alone or with a bow paddler.
Measuring 3 metres long and 0.8 metres wide, it has a generous weight capacity of 180kg while only weighing 22kg.
The Nero is a great option for a bow paddler with its additional moulded grooved seat at the front. You can even fit an additional seat for your child for additional comfort.
“Well made Kayak that is great if you want to take a young child with you on the front. My 8-year-old son enjoys paddling with me.” – David L.
The Nero is a compact single kayak, while also doubling up as a tandem kayak.
You’ll be able to paddle some distance in rivers, lakes, harbours and inlets, with more “oomph” than you would expect from an entry-level kayak!
3. Best for the child ready to go it alone
When your kid is confident enough to start paddling alone – still with the rest of the family for safety, of course – a small single kayak is your best option.
Weighing in at only 18kg, The Neptune is a very light, smaller-sized, entry-level kayak. With a length of 2.7 metres, but a width of 0.72 metres, the dimensions of this kayak make it perfect for stability and beginners of all ages.
“This is a great little kayak, easy to transport, not too heavy and easy to manage so I tend to use it frequently and can get it onto my roof racks without much trouble” – Darren R.
We particularly like the additional features on this entry-level kayak, from a built-in paddle saver to versatile bungee cord storage.
The fussiest of kids will be happy with the wide variety of colour options, although our favourite is the multi-coloured version!
Its slim profile and compact size also make it perfect for boat owners, or those with limited space to store their kayak.
4. Best sit-in
If you’re looking to invest in a sit-in kayak that will serve you for years to come, then the Quest 556 Superlite double sit-in kayak is our pick.
Being a double kayak, it can accommodate an adult and older child, or you and your partner when your kids leave the nest. Speedy and lightweight with a stable hull, the Quest is comfortable for both new and experienced paddlers.
“I bought this tandem kayak to use it in leisurely paddles along the beach with my 13 year old daughter. After testing it, I think it is perfect for that purpose. It is long and wide, so it is very stable. It is also very comfortable.” – Roberto P.
The cockpits have been developed to accommodate paddlers of all sizes, making it a perfect family kayak. It is also so comfortable that it can be used for an afternoon cruise or a multi-day trip. Its stability means that you can fish and view wildlife, and its long waterline length provides excellent volume and comfort.
At 5.5 metres long and 0.77 metres wide, the Quest’s weight capacity is a generous 249kg, while weighing only 39kg. It is made of ABS thermoformed plastic, which is harder and more scratch-resistant than more common polyethylene kayaks. They also tend to be 20-30% lighter than their polyethylene counterparts.
5. Best sit-on-top
The Nereus 1 is Australia’s favourite tandem kayak and, in our view, is the perfect family kayak.
At 3.7 metres long and 0.86 metres wide, it’s a spacious 2-person kayak, which can also be used by two adults and a small child in the middle. Thanks to its flat hull and deep grooved hull lines, it is super stable whilst also tracking a straight line impressively well for a sit-on-top kayak.
You would be hard pressed to tip this super stable kayak!
“My sons use it regularly out on the water together. The kayak is a strong solid unit but considering its size, my 11 and 7-year-olds can pick it up and move it on their own.” – Laura M.
The roomy cockpit in the Nereus has several grooved foot positions, so that the whole family can have ultimate comfort.
If you’re looking for a tandem kayak that’s easy to use, stable, tracks well in the water, and ready for anything, then the Nereus is the kayak of choice. It is an excellent all-rounder, suitable for paddlers of all ages and kayaking levels.
6. Best inflatable
Inflatable kayaks are great for the adventure-seeker who appreciates both performance and practicality. Inflatable kayaks are lightweight, fast and can be incredibly durable.
The new 2021 Air Glide 473 is our favourite inflatable kayak pick for families. It has the capacity for 2 adults and a child, and a maximum weight capacity of 250kg while only weighing 20kg.
“Perfect for family holiday. Light enough for the kids and wife to carry. Takes 2 adults and 2 kids (5 & 8 yrs). Stable and fun to paddle” – Richard B.
Measuring in at 4.73 metres long and 0.89 metres wide, the Air Glide is a great companion for use on rivers, light whitewater and lakes.
What we particularly love about this kayak is its Drop-Stitch design which contains millions of tough polyester threads, connecting top-to-bottom and the side walls of the kayak. This allows the kayak to be inflated to high pressures while giving them rock-hard rigidity and form.
The adjustable 5-point high-back seats also provide excellent back support and comfort when paddling.
The only thing this kayak can’t do is handle windy conditions due to its lightweight nature and upright side wall shape.
You will barely realise it’s inflatable when you’re on the water, as it provides hard shell performance and feel, but with the ease of transportation and storage.
7. Best for family fishing trips
If you’re looking for the perfect kayak for your family fishing trips, then look no further than the Nereus 2. Similar to our best sit-on-top pick, the Nereus 1, but the Nereus 2 is kitted out for fishing.
Along with an extra paddle and backrest (3 paddles and 3 backrests in total) to ensure your family’s ultimate comfort when fishing, the Nereus 2 also boasts four flush insert fishing rod holders, and one 360-degree mounted rod holder.
The Nereus 2 also has some additional width (0.88 metres compared to the Nereus 1’s 0.86 metres). This provides additional internal space as well as stability. The Nereus 2 has a weight capacity of 250kg, while weighing 32kg.
“You really couldn't ask for more from the Nereus 2 given its price. It comfortably fits myself and my two kids. It comes with great quality paddles and seat pads. It's extremely sturdy and would be difficult to capsize. It has a well designed layout for storage and fishing rod holders.” Grant Q.
The Nereus 2 is a true 3-person kayak. With an added backrest in the middle seat, it ensures comfort for everyone on board. You even have the space for an esky.
Fishing kayaks might look similar to recreational kayaks, but they’re purpose-built to handle fishing adventures. They are wider than a standard kayak for extra stability, allowing you to reel in even the biggest catch.
The Nereus 2 is a true three-person kayak for ultimate comfort for all paddlers
They are also sturdy, but still allow you to glide through the water. They are surprisingly manoeuvrable, tracking exceptionally well, giving you confidence to pursue even the most remote fishing locations.
The extra space provides additional room for your paddlers, but also for your catch, bait and spare lines. It’s all about comfort and practicality when you’re out on the water fishing for a few hours.
If you’re looking for a kayak that’s easy to use, stable, tracks well, and is ready for anything, then the Nereus 2 is the perfect family fishing kayak for you.
8. Looking for something a bit different?
Sometimes, you want to throw boring practicalities aside and purchase something with a bit of wow factor. So, we’re happy to oblige with a bonus pick, if you’re looking for something a bit different from your family kayak.
If you're interested to see not just what's around you on your paddles, but also the spectacular sea life beneath you, then the ClearView 3 is for you.
Measuring just over 4 metres long and 0.74 metres wide, the ClearView has a weight capacity of 200kg while weighing only 39kg.
“A fantastic addition to the family. We purchased this double kayak to use with our kids in our local lake. It is amazing, easy to direct and paddle with the kids in the front.” – Alyce S.
The clear bottom of this kayak is our favourite feature, but beyond that the designers haven’t scrimped. There’s a convenient watertight compartment at the front of the kayak which is ideal for keeping valuables such as your phone, wallet and keys secure while out on the water.
The ClearView also boasts an additional generous storage area at the rear to hold your dry bag, esky and even a fishing anchor.
Speaking of fishing – you can use the ClearView for that as well! It has four in-built fishing rod holders and Trac rails. They are perfect for dropping a line and trawling, or even to put an umbrella in to shade you from the sun.