4.2 Boat designs

The modern British sea kayak has been developed to be seaworthy in a wide variety of conditions. It is long enough to be fast, but retains some maneuverability. It has a number of watertight compartments with sealed hatches. Its decklines and elastics allow kit to be stowed and the boat to be handled during rescues. It typically has a fairly low profile above the water to reduce windage, but has a raised bow to cut through waves.

Sea kayak manufacturers include:

Boats are normally made from either composite or plastic:

  • Composite construction involves combining mats of glass, diolen, kevlar or carbon fibres with epoxy resin to produce a very strong and stiff material. These boats are stiff and can be made light - although low weight designs are rather expensive. Composite boats are more expensive than plastic models. Whilst composite boats are easier to damage, they are also easy to repair. Because each boat is virtually a one-off, a degree of customisation (e.g. in bulkhead position or deck fittings) is often possible.

  • Plastic boats are moulded in polyethylene. More modern designs use multi-layer constructions, with a foam core to reduce weight and increase stiffness. These boats are lower cost and more robust than composite - a good choice for playing near rocks or dragging around. They do have a degree of flex, although many paddlers aren’t bothered by this.

A range of boat designs exist, each with their own characteristics. The images below show a small selection of currently available designs to illustrate some of the options.

The Inuit, the kayak hunters of Greenland and the Arctic, made their boats from seal skin stretched over wood frames. Early UK designs in fibreglass, like the Anas Acuta, copied these closely, retaining the hard corners in the hull shape.

These designs were refined into classic designs like the Nordkapp - boats designed to carry expedition loads and handle rough conditions.

Modern expedition boats like the P&H Cetus, Valley Etain and Northshore Atlantic are typically more stable and easier to paddle than the older boats, but are designed for much the same role.

Whilst an 18 foot long boat is perfect for expeditions and paddling in a straight line, it is less well suited to exploring rocky shorelines and surfing tide races. For many sea kayakers who mostly paddle on day trips to rock hop and play in races, shorter boats around the 16 foot mark are a better compromise. Sea Kayak UK’s Romany is a classic design in this category. More modern boats have incorporated flat bottoms, harder chines and reshaped bows like the P&H Aries and the Tiderace Xcite.

More recently, a series 16 foot sea kayaks more focused on general day paddling (and a little less on playing) has emerged. These include the P&H Volan/Leo and the Valley Sirona. These boats are an excellent compromise for many sea kayakers,

Extreme ocean playboats have shrunk to around 14 foot long, and become less suitable for journeying - the P&H Hammer being one example.

Another strand of kayak development has focussed on boats that simply go faster. Designs like the Valley Rapier were designed for pure speed and sea racing, compromising handling and stability. More modern boats, led by the Rockpool Taran have more predictable handling and somewhat improved stability.

As well as race use, they have been used for expeditions, breaking records for circumnavigations of Ireland and the British Mainland. Some say that the Taran and similar boats are a vision of the future of the expedition sea kayak.