Types of Kayaks : Check out the Different Variations


In general terms, a kayak is a canoe type of boat that sits low in the water. The paddler of the kayak sits facing forward, with legs out in front. The kayaker uses a double-bladed paddle that is to be pulled front to back, one side to the other, to propel through the water with speed and grace. In the world of kayaking and water sports, there are sub-varieties of different types of kayaks.


Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are also known as the duckies of specialty kayaks. These types of kayaks are usually transported by hand using a bag. These kayaks are made from varying materials, including PVC, Nytrylon, and Hypalon. To inflate these kayaks hand, foot or electric pumps may be used.

Most inflatables are like pointed rafts, are non-rigid and are often best suited for calm waters. More expensive inflatables are used for more sea-worthy purposes. Inflatables are appealing due to the portability of the craft. These kayaks are also known for durability, ruggedness, and stability. One drawback of inflatables is the lesser degree of sturdiness compared to traditional, hard-shelled kayaks.

Other Types of Specialty Kayaks

The different types of kayaks under specialty kayaks are descendants of the traditional type of kayak. A pedal kayak is a kayak that allows the peddler to propel the boat by using a rotating propeller, also known as underwater ‘flippers.’ This engages the legs rather than the arms as is used in traditional kayaking.

Other specialty kayaks include twin hulls and outriggers. These kayaks are multi-hull boats like catamarans and outrigger canoes. These both have increased lateral stability and speed. Both are good for touring, fishing, motorized kayaking, and kayak sailing.

Recreational Kayaks

These particular kayaks are designed for a casual paddler, perhaps good for those who fish, photograph or just want to relax on the lake. Recreational kayaks make up the largest amount of kayak sales at the present time.

When comparing these to traditional kayaks, these have larger cockpits, a wider beam, and limited cargo capacity. Recreational kayaks are often less expensive than traditional kayaks and are made with less expensive materials. Some of these kayaks do not perform well at sea.

Various Type of Recreational Kayaks

Sea kayaks can be used by up to three paddlers on the open water. The subtype of sea kayaks includes sit on top kayaks and skin on frame kayaks. Sit on top kayaks have a sealed hull and were developed for leisure activities, much like surfboards. The subtypes of these kayaks are touring kayaks, sea marathon kayaks and planning surf crafts.

Surf kayaks are specialty surf boats. The bottoms of surf kayaks are flat, and the structure has hard edges. This type of kayak is designed for use on ocean waves as opposed to being used on a river.

Whitewater kayaks are semi-rigid and made for rapid-flowing water. The plastic hull on these kayaks allows the boat to bump into or bounce off rocks without damaging the shell and causing it to leak.

The main types of whitewater kayaks are a playboat and creekboat. A playboat is built for high maneuverability and is primarily used for performing tricks on short stretches of a river. A creekboat is longer and much more stable, faster and high-floating than a playboat. These kayaks are mainly used in downriver racing.

Racing Kayaks

There are a variety of kayaks used for racing. These varieties include whitewater, slalom, flatwater sprint, and surf ski. Each used different levels of skill on differing types of water and waves. 

Tandem Kayaks

A tandem kayak is for use with two paddlers. The important point to remember when using this type of kayak is that the person in the back must do exactly what the person in the front is doing.

Tandem kayaks are often a bit more expensive than single kayaks, but less expensive than buying two single kayaks. These are great for spending time with friends and family, but if freedom and independence are what you are looking for, steer clear of a tandem kayak.

Fishing Kayaks

In recent years sports fishing has become popular in salt water and fresh water, so the use of kayaks for this purpose has risen. Traditional kayaks used for fishing have wide beams that will increase the stability of the kayak. Some are even equipped with outriggers, which also increase stability.

Some fishing kayaks have twin hulls that make for stand-up paddling and fishing. These kayaks are often inexpensive and have low maintenance costs. Anglers like to customize these crafts specifically for fishing. This conversion is known as ‘rigging.’

Touring Kayaks

Touring kayaks are very similar to recreational kayaks. These kayaks are usually designed for one, two or three paddlers. These are used on open water and have good maneuverability, but less stability and cargo capacity. Touring or sea kayaks are also called ‘skin-on-frame’ kayaks. These will have an open deck and traditionally constructed frames, like recreational kayaks. Sea kayaks have a longer waterline and below deck storage, and sometimes have rudders.

Modular Kayaks

Modular kayaks are take-apart snap kayaks. These are typically high-performance, sit on top vessels. These kayaks are very easy to carry, haul and store because of the modularity. Modular kayaks can be used solo, tandem or more.

Folding Kayaks

Folding kayaks are the offspring of skin on frame kayaks. These are constructed from a wooden or aluminum frame. A synthetic skin is placed over these frames. This synthetic skin uses materials including cotton canvas, polyester, polyurethane, or Hypalon. Folding kayaks are more expensive then inflatable kayaks. Folding kayaks have a greater stiffness than inflatable kayaks, allowing them to perform better on the sea.


Modern kayaks vary considerably from the traditional kayaks of the past. Some of these kayaks eliminate the cockpit all together, which is a large variability from the traditional kayak. Modern-day kayaks also vary in design by playing with different things such as length, primary and secondary stability, the profile of the beam, ergonomics, hull surface, and kayak maneuverability. Kayaks were first used by indigenous peoples in the subarctic regions of the world. Today, the kayak is used primarily for sport and leisure.