Although varied in design, construction, and uses, kayaks have just two main types: sit-inside (typically known as sit-in kayaks) and sit-on-top kayaks. While they both will keep you afloat and provide you with some excellent fishing opportunities, they are very different boats designed to suit particular paddler needs.

Also Read: How to Choose a Kayak – Buying Guide

Sit In vs Sit On kayak – Which Is Which?

The best way to differentiate between these two is to define them separately and look at each one’s advantages and disadvantages.

Sit-On-Top Kayak

As the name suggests, a sit-on-top kayak doesn’t have an enclosed cockpit, which means that the paddler doesn’t sit inside the kayak as they would with a sit-inside kayak. On a sit-on-top kayak, the paddler sits on top of the kayak and way above the water’s surface.

This gives them a commanding view of their surroundings and makes their fishing or recreational kayaking a bit more picturesque. That is one of the main reasons this type of kayak is most popular with both beginners and experienced anglers.

The Advantages of a Sit-On-Top Kayak

  • The obvious and most popular advantage of a sit-on-top kayak is what we have already mentioned; the paddler is seated on top of the kayak in a commanding position above the water level instead of the inside cockpit just above the water level. This not only gives them a commanding view of the surroundings but also gives them a kind of freedom that a sit-in-kayak doesn’t offer. Many paddlers claim that sitting inside a cockpit feels a little claustrophobic.
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are much easier than sit-in kayaks to re-enter in the all too common event of capsizing. Furthermore, the paddler doesn’t feel confined within a tight space when paddling or even during a capsize.
  • Thanks to their design, sit-on-top kayaks have a much higher center of gravity. This means that they are built wider than most sit-in kayaks. This gives them a much-needed level of stability that is important for beginners. This is called the “degree of initial stability,” which is the sit-on-top kayak’s tendency to remain upright while the paddler sits on it with the keel directly beneath them.
  • Because they have an enclosed hull, sit-on-top kayaks are virtually unsinkable.
  • The best sit-on-top kayaks have an open tank that provides you with plenty of storage space for carrying all the gear you might need on your trip. You can fit pretty much anything in there – a small cooler, your phones, camping gear, and even Bluetooth speakers for your entertainment.
  • Should you capsize, as you probably will from time to time, sit-on-top kayaks are designed with self-bailing scupper holes that work to let the water out of the hull. This means that you don’t have to carry a bilge pump with you and can enjoy kayaking in the surf zone without a care in the world.

The Disadvantages of a Sit-On-Top Kayak

  • They aren’t quite as fast as sit-in-kayaks. This is mostly because of their wide beam, which means that you will need to use a bit more effort to propel these boats forward, making them best for short-distance excursions and kayak fishing.
  • They have a lower degree of “secondary stability”; the kayak’s tendency to remain upright should the paddler lean on either of its edges. This is also thanks to the generally wider beam as well as the generally high center of gravity.
  • Since you have an open cockpit, you can’t really brace your knees against the underside of your kayak’s deck; an option that tends to give people who love sit-in kayaks much more control of the boat as well as better maneuverability. All advantages that you won’t enjoy with a sit-on-top kayak.
  • Since these kayaks tend to have wider beams, paddlers also need longer paddles, which requires more effort to use and propel the boat forward.
  • Paddlers using sit-on-top kayaks don’t have the luxury of sitting in an enclosed cockpit and are therefore fully exposed to the elements such as sun, wind, and rain.



As the name would suggest, a sit-inside-kayak is one that allows the paddler to quite literally sits inside it. The boat has an enclosed cockpit and sits pretty much right at the water level. While they might not be very popular with beginners, sit-inside-kayaks are the best types of boats when you want to go touring or for those who are serious about kayak as a form of exercise. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of sit-inside-kayaks:

The Advantages of a Sit-Inside-Kayak

  • One of the biggest advantages this type of kayak has over the sit-on-top design is that it has a much lower center of gravity since the paddler is sitting inside the kayak and below the waterline. This means that a sit-in kayak has a higher degree of secondary stability, meaning that the paddler can lean over the boat’s edge without necessarily capsize it. In turn, the paddler can lean when turning the kayak and have better maneuverability.
  • These kayaks can be designed to be much narrower than their sit-on-top counterparts. This is mostly thanks to their lower center of gravity. As such, they tend to be much faster and more efficient as far as paddling effort is concerned. Make sure you know what kayak length you need before purchasing.
  • Thanks to their enclosed cockpit, the paddler can brace their knees against the inside of the boat, thus giving them better control of the boat and maneuverability.
  • The paddler is also provided with better protection from the elements, thanks to this enclosed cockpit. Furthermore, these kayaks have what is known as a spray skirt, which is used to keep water out of the cockpit and ensure that the paddler remains dry from the waves breaking over the gunwale or bow.
  • Because these boats tend to be much narrower, the paddler can use a shorter paddle, which is more efficient.

The Disadvantages of a Sit-Inside-Kayak

  • One of the biggest disadvantages of a sit-inside kayak is the fact that it has an enclosed cockpit. This makes some paddlers feel a little claustrophobic and uncomfortable in case of a capsize.
  • These boats aren’t quite as unsinkable as their sit-on-top counterparts. Should their hatch covers come off in rough waters, both the bow and the stern will quickly fill with water, sinking the boat.
  • Because sit-inside kayaks tend to be narrower and have a much lower center of gravity, they also have a lower degree of initial stability, making them difficult to keep upright for inexperienced paddlers.
  • Since they are typically narrower, sit-in kayaks don’t offer much space for your gear, making them not ideal for fishing.
  • Getting back into a sit-in kayak in the event of a capsize is far more difficult than getting back on to a sit-on-top kayak.

Also Read: Ascend 10T Sit-On-Top Kayak Review

Both these types of boats have their advantages and disadvantages. It all comes down to what kind of paddler you are and what you want to use the kayak for daily.