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What Is a Sea Kayak?

A sea kayak is a robust, streamlined vessel designed for paddling across open waters, bays, and coastlines. It's built for stability and efficiency, allowing adventurers to glide over waves and navigate with precision. With features tailored for long-distance travel, it's the ideal craft for exploring the vastness of the ocean. Curious about the thrill of sea kayaking? Let's dive deeper.
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

A sea kayak is a type of watercraft specifically designed for use on the sea. The boat itself is very narrow and usually fairly long in relation to the person using it, and the sea kayak is likely to feature a rudder used for steering in choppy water. Modern sea kayaks are made of fiberglass and are much longer than whitewater kayaks, which are designed to be quick and maneuverable on narrow river passages. The user sits inside the enclosed boat, and is often surrounded by a spray skirt to keep water out of the boat and off the body.

The main propulsion source of a sea kayak is a handheld paddle, which is also usually made of fiberglass. The paddle is lightweight and buoyant so it can float should the user lose control of it. The sea kayak is steered using a rudder mounted at the rear of the boat; this rudder is controlled by foot pedals within the boat that are connected to a series of ropes that run through pulleys. Pressing one foot pedal turns the boat in one direction, and pressing the other pedal turns the boat in the opposite direction. This is a different steering method than rudderless whitewater kayaks that must be steered solely with the paddle.

Traditional sea kayaks were made with driftwood, bone, and seal skin.
Traditional sea kayaks were made with driftwood, bone, and seal skin.

The design of the sea kayak derives from traditional Aleutian models. These traditional boats were made from driftwood, bone, and seal skins, and they were exceptionally lightweight. The narrow design of the boat allows the craft to move quickly through the water, and it also makes the boat maneuverable and nimble. Modern versions can be made of fiberglass or even wood, though wood boats do tend to be somewhat heavier. Traditional kayaks were used for fishing and transportation, while many modern sea kayak models are designed specifically for recreation.

Some features of the sea kayak make it far more comfortable for longer boat trips than other types of boats. The sitting position can help keep a person's back straight, and almost all sea kayaks feature some sort of comfortable seat for resting one's weight during the trip. The sea kayak is much longer than a whitewater kayak, thereby allowing a user to extend his or her legs for a more comfortable sitting position not possible in the shorter whitewater craft. Elastic netting mounted in front of and behind the user allow for the stowage of waterproof bags or other items as well.

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Discussion Comments


@bythewell - Sea kayaking is particularly nice though because you're so close to the water. My sister went for a sea kayak tour a few months ago and she actually had both dolphins and seals come up to the kayak while she was in the water on different days. I don't think there are many other forms of ocean transportation that get you so close to the water without machinery, but still let you go relatively fast and smooth.


@irontoenail - If you live near the ocean and there is a thriving waterfront area near you there is probably a place there to rent sea kayaks. We have several places near us that will do it and they will hire them out for the hour or the day and offer tours and lessons as well.

It looks like fun, but I don't think that I would enjoy it very much. I've kayaked on rivers before and my legs always fall asleep when they are stretched out like that for long periods.

In rivers you can get adjustments so that you aren't necessarily sitting like that, but sea kayaks have to be very long and thin in order to balance on the movement of the waves, so they don't have a lot of leeway in terms of space.

There are other options as well though. Paddle boats, sail boats, sailboarding and so forth. Everyone who lives by the ocean should really take as much advantage of it as they can for recreation.


I've never used a sea kayak but I've always wanted to. It just looks like it would be an amazing activity on the right day, when the ocean is flat and there are islands to visit.

I live in an area with a large bay and there are several people who commute across it in sea kayaks every morning (well, I assume every morning that they can). I don't live anywhere where that would be practical, but I admire them very much for doing something that might seem unconventional but must be such an exhilarating experience.

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    • Traditional sea kayaks were made with driftwood, bone, and seal skin.
      By: petarpaunchev
      Traditional sea kayaks were made with driftwood, bone, and seal skin.