Taking a kayak into the open ocean is very different from taking it into the calms waters of a lake or river.

Crashing through the surf for the first time, getting rocked by the waves and drawn by the current, is an unforgettable experience.

Unfortunately, choosing an ocean kayak that can take you safely into the waves isn’t as simple as it seems.

Believe me: I know this from experience.

Today, I’d like to share what I’ve learned about the best ocean kayak, what features you need to look for when purchasing an ocean kayak, as well as some tips for success when taking your kayak out past the surf for the first time.

Then, I’ll introduce you to the 5 best ocean kayaks that money can buy right now!

A Single Kayak is Not Meant for Every Situation

At the summer house in Canada, we always had kayaks. Taking them to Algonquin Park was a family tradition, and even when my boys got older and stopped coming to Muskoka, I would still take my fishing kayak and head to the lakes.

But I learned very quickly that my calm water kayaks were not meant for the open ocean.

The first time I tried to take one of those kayaks into rough ocean waters, I couldn’t even get past the surf without being bowled over by incoming waves.

My wife stood on shore taking pictures, just to make sure I’d never forget. I guess I made quite a scene.

When I finally gave up, another sea kayaker who had witnessed my plight came over to give me some tips.

He showed me that, although my kayak was perfect for calm waters, it was terrible for rough waters.

With the information this friendly stranger gave me, I was able to purchase a kayak that actually worked in the ocean.

Today, I’ll show you how you can too!

Features to Watch for in the Best Ocean Kayak

  • Length

While calm-water kayaks range in size from 9 to 15 feet (or sometimes even smaller), an ocean kayak should never be less than 12 feet long.

This length allows it to cut through waves smoothly. As a result, paddling becomes easier, which means you’ll conserve energy and have an easier ride back to shore.

The longer the kayak, the better.

  • Width

The width of your ideal kayak will depend on how experienced a paddler you are.

If you’re new to kayaking, I suggest getting a kayak that is at least 30 inches wide. A wider kayak feels much more stable, and is the best option for beginners.

However, if you’ve already got some experience under your belt, I would highly recommend a thinner kayak, perhaps between 20 to 26 inches. The typical long and thin kayaks that you see on the ocean are best for gliding through rough seas.

  • Material

Kayaks come with all different materials. When purchasing an ocean kayak, it’s especially important that the material is durable enough to stand the surf as well as the shore.

Polyethylene molded kayaks are probably the most common option, and these can really take a beating. Since the end result of the construction is a hard plastic kayak, they can get knocked around quite a bit without getting damaged.

However, polyethylene kayaks are very susceptible to UV rays, so you’ll need to make sure your kayak is protected. Also, this material makes for a very heavy kayak.

Many kayaks are also made from composites, such as fiberglass composite or Kevlar. While not quite as durable as polyethylene, composite kayaks still work wonders on the waves, and have the extra bonus of being much lighter.

For inflatable ocean kayaks, always make sure that drop-stitch construction was used, as this does a lot for the material’s durability.

  • Cockpit Size

The size of the cockpit (or the hole in the top of a sit-inside kayak) is an important feature to consider.

When you’re on the water, a stray wave can dump water right across the top of your kayak.

If your kayak’s cockpit is too large, that water will get inside.

It’s very hard to get water out of a kayak when you’re riding in it. Not only is this an extremely uncomfortable way to ride a kayak, it could be a dangerous situation depending on how far you are from shore.

So, the best option is to get a cockpit that is small, perhaps just big enough for you to get inside. That way, there’s less space for water to get into the kayak.

  • Hull Shape

The hull, or the bottom part of the kayak, will determine how it rides on rough seas. While a flat-bottom or rounded kayak is great for calm waters, it will not offer stability in the waves.

To be able to really cut through waves and stay stable in ocean waters, your kayak should have a V-shaped hull. This, combined with a long and narrow body, will give you maximum stability and speed on the water.

  • Tracking

While maneuverability isn’t as important when you’re paddling through the ocean, tracking is absolutely one of the most important features you should look for.

Imagine you’re trying to get back to shore. A gust of wind blows from the side, and your kayak is pushed right off course. You’re doing your best to get back in the right direction when another gust blows, pushing even further from your destination.

A kayak that doesn’t track well will get pushed off course by the slightest influences. To keep safe on open waters, it’s important that your kayak is able to stay on course without wavering.

  • Sit-Inside vs. Sit-on-Top Ocean Kayaks

We mentioned above that for a sit-inside ocean kayak, it’s better to have a small cockpit.

But you might be wondering: can you take a sit-on-top kayak into the ocean?

Personally, I don’t recommend taking a sit-on-top kayak into very rough waters. When you’re dealing with white water, it’s much easier to lose stability and tip with a sit-on-top than with a sit-inside.

However, if you’re going to be using this kayak just around calm bays and coves, a sit-on-top is a perfectly good option!

As long as the sea doesn’t get rough, a sit-on-top can be an excellent ocean kayak.

Tips to Keep Stable and Dry While Sea Kayaking

  • Stay Centered

Your head controls the stability of most of your body. If you’re tipping your head to look over the side of the kayak, it’s very likely that you’ll start to feel unstable.

Instead, draw an imaginary line from the tip of your kayak to its back, following its exact center. Then, try to keep your head as close to that center line as possible.

  • Relax Your Grip

You don’t want to force your paddle through the water, you want it to glide. So, keeping a relaxed grip on the paddle will allow your muscles to stay more open.

  • Push, Don’t Pull

Instead of trying to pull the end of the paddle that’s in the water, try pushing the end of the paddle that is up. This will make it easier on your muscles, allowing you to save energy for the trip back to shore.

The Best Ocean Kayaks for This Year

  • Riot Kayaks Edge 14.5 LV

This beautiful ocean kayak has a long and narrow body, allowing you to skim easily through the water. It also comes with a retractable rudder system that gives you even better maneuverability and tracking.

The Edge is built for comfort, featuring an adjustable seating system and thigh braces. The cockpit is also quite small, and there are two different sealed storage areas.

Length: 14.5 feet

Width: 22.5 inches

Material: Polyethylene

Kayak Weight: 60 lbs.

Weight Capacity: 325 lbs.

  • Ocean Kayak Zest Two Expedition

If you’re looking to have an adventure in calmer seas with a friend or family member, this is one of the best options you can find. This kayak has two padded seats and molded foot braces. Since it is a sit-on-top kayak, it’s best for flatwater ocean areas.

That being said, it is a very stable kayak and even offers good tracking for wavy days.

Length: 16 feet

Width: 30 inches

Material: Polyethylene

Kayak Weight: 75 lbs.

Weight Capacity: 500-600 lbs.

  • Sea Eagle Razorlite 393rl

This unique inflatable kayak is quite stable on the ocean. Its reinforced PVC body has been constructed using drop-stitch technology, making it very durable.

Taking less than 10 minutes to inflate, this kayak is ideal for those with limited space, or who are looking for a lighter kayak. Since the bow and stern are rigid, this gives it the ability to cut through the water just like a hard plastic kayak. It also maintains excellent tracking, even on breezy days.

Length: 12 feet 10 inches

Width: 28 inches

Material: Reinforced PVC with drop-stich construction

Kayak Weight: 35.5 lbs.

Weight Capacity: 500 lbs.

  • Riot Kayaks Brittany 16.5

Another stunning option from Riot Kayaks, riding the Brittany 16.5 feels like you’re cutting the water with a knife! Its V-shape hull design and perfect body offer the best in tracking, speed, and stability. You’ll also find comfortable seats, 3 sealed storage compartments, and foot braces.

Beyond that, the Brittany also offers a retractable skeg and rudder system, allowing you to get the best handling possible on an ocean kayak.

Length: 16.5 feet

Width: 21.75 inches

Material: Polyethylene

Kayak Weight: 51 lbs.

Weight Capacity: 350 lbs.

  • Huricane Santee 126

Although a bit shorter than other options, the Santee is perfect for beginning to intermediate sea kayakers. It is a lightweight, easy-to-carry kayak that still offers the stability and durability that you need in an ocean kayak.

Since the Santee is made with Trylon ABS, it is slightly less impact-resistant than polyethylene. However, it does offer much better protection from the sun and abrasion. This kayak is best for calm ocean waters, and is not recommended for any type of white water.

Length: 12.5 feet

Width: 28 inches

Material: Trylon ABS

Kayak Weight: 39 lbs.

Weight Capacity: 350 lbs.

Which is Your Best Ocean Kayak?

Out of the five options above, which should you choose?

Well, if you’re looking for a sea kayak that’s also portable, I would highly recommend the Sea Eagle Razorlite 393rl. This kayak is made with durable materials that will keep you going straight on wavy waters.

Personally, however, I feel that the best ocean kayak that you can buy today is the Riot Kayaks Brittany 16.5. It offers every feature that a sea kayaker needs to stay safe and dry on the ocean. That long, narrow body and V-shaped hull are exactly what you need for stability and tracking. It also has the bonus of a retractable skeg, which gives you even better handling.

Are you ready to feel the spray of the ocean in your face? It’s time to get yourself a kayak that can handle the challenge of the sea.

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Phil Mansbridge
Phil Mansbridge

Phil is a retired Sport Fisherman from Florida. His passion for the last decade has been kayaking and canoeing. He spends his summers in Canada and most of the winter in California. He loves reviewing equipment for his avid readers and hopes that everyone's time out on the water as enjoyable as possible.