A Sit-on-Top Kayak for Paddle Touring & Sea Kayaking in Tasmania???

by Andreas Hack, andreas@ahack.org, www.ahack.org, 2003.

Hang on … a float-upon? A sit-on-top (SOT) kayak? BUUUT … you can’t take any gear in them, it’s unsafe, you get cooold, they are slow, you can’t sail them, … in short: you wouldn’t seriously use one of them as a touring or sea kayak, would you?

Well, maybe I’ve just had one Guinness too many to appreciate common sense.

Gordon River from Andreas SOT 1997.jpg

Gordon River looking upstream, 1997.
On ‘Red Chilli’ (stuff that’s meant to be good for you), a Perception ‘Swing’ SOT.
Susanne on her SOT as a tiny speck in the distance.

Mike, editor extraordinaire of the Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club’s magazine, asked me to document my mis-guided thoughts on the recent paddle craft acquisition. As a warning to others, I suppose.

So, what’s the story? …

Once upon a time I was an avid yachtie, even lived on yachts for a few years. One thing that always bothered me was the inability to explore smaller waterways, coves, caves and that sort of stuff when you’re based on a yacht and don’t like the idea of having motorised dinghies. Enter the thought of SOT kayaks that would double as dinghies, were capable enough for light duty camping touring, and stable enough to step on & off from a yacht. That’s how Susanne & I ended up with 2 Perception ‘Swing’ SOTs. They didn’t have rudders and were fairly beamy (~ 4 m long X 80+ cm wide). On one of our Xmas trips, paddling up the Gordon and Lower Franklin Rivers, we carried 16 days worth of supplies and could have taken much more. The Swings were directionally stable and reasonably fast with a calm water cruising speed of ~5 km/h when loaded. Then, one year after they hadn’t seen a lot of use, someone who’d had a scary experience with sit-insides rang wanting 2 Swings just before Xmas. None were available new in Hobart. That was the end of SOT episode #1.

 SOTs in the Rainforest, Gordon River 1997

‘Cucumber’ & ‘Red Chilli’, our Perception ‘Swing’ SOT kayaks,
in the rain forest somewhere on the Gordon River, Xmas 1997.
Can you see the duck on the bow of Susanne’s ‘Cucumber’?

A year or 2 without touring paddle boats ensued. The last yacht was sold. Damnit, something was missing - the feeling of floating on water every now & then, and of being able to get to remote places by water. We’ll skip the folding kayak episode at this point, except to say that it was a beautiful boat which I can highly recommend for all sorts of good reasons.

So now we are up to SOT episode #2. What was I looking for this time? A paddle craft for touring & sea kayaking that would … :

After a survey of offerings in Hobart shops and looking at international options via the Internet I ended up with a Cobra Kayaks ‘Tourer’ SOT with 3 hatches and a rudder system. Purchased through a Tasmanian dealer of course who ordered it in from Sydney.

The ‘Tourer’, bought untested, has been a pleasant surprise so far. It is more responsive than expected and has a good speed with a calm water cruising average of 6 km/h over a 2 day trip. In performance it might end up being comparable to a Puffin sit-inside kayak, maybe even a bit better. Veeery nice to get on & off quickly, heaps of easily accessible storage space with the 3 bomb-proof hatches. A mast step has just being installed. Still need to think about the sail arrangement, make a net bag for the cargo deck behind the seat and a smaller net bag for 'easy-access items' to go between the legs.

Cobra Tourer SOT on Snake Island, 2003

My new Cobra “Tourer” SOT on Snake Island May 2003.
Large A-shaped hatches at the bow & stern, centre hatch, rudder & rudder controls,
and the cargo deck with some gear in it. Knee straps are hanging over the sides.
It was a calm & rainy afternoon, perfect for reading a book & having a few cuppas :-) .

Below are a few thoughts on the pros & cons of SOTs as well as a comparison chart for some touring/sea kayak designs available in Tasmania.

SOT Advantages

SOT Drawbacks

FAQs & Stuff

Aren’t SOTs unsafe?:
No, quite the opposite. Easier to self-rescue, less time spent in water, head less likely to end up under water, no cockpit needing to be pumped out. Sounds pretty safe to me. Just make sure you’ve got all internal space taken up by waterproof packed gear or floatation.
Don’t you get cold on a SOT?:
No, I don’t. Not more than in a sit-inside, if I wear a wind & splash proof outer layer and my usual thermal/wetsuit combo.
But you can’t take any gear?:
News to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if you can actually fit more gear into SOTs for equivalent size. Have a look at the kayak comparison chart below.
You can easily fall off:
Not if you use knee straps. You can even roll SOTs with knee straps on, not that I’ve tried mind you (I haven’t yet made friends with the idea of hanging upside down under water when other options are available).
Aren’t SOTs slower?:
Depends on the design. Fast models are available.
How would you sail them?:
Put a mast step in/on, insert/attach mast with sail & off you go. No different from sit-inside kayaks.
Cobra Tourer SOT on Snake Island, 2003

Nice view, Snake Island 2003.

Comparison Chart

(This info was compiled from various Internet sources. Models were selected to represent different ‘classes’ of touring/sea kayaks and had to be available on the island state of Tasmania, Australia, during April 2003. I believe the info to be fairly accurate, but no guarantees given. Please check out for yourself. Price indications are given for a configuration with rudder and 2 or 3 hatches).

Model Length Beam Weight Carrying Capacity or Volume (whatever Info was available) Comments
Cobra “Expedition”, plastic SOT, ~Oz$1900. 5.49 m 60 cm 21.8 kg 193 kg Long, fast, light, high directional stability, superb hatches, great load capacity, low (wet ride), low primary stability, high secondary stability.
Cobra “Tourer”, plastic SOT, ~Oz$1600. 4.60 m 71 cm 22.7 kg 215 kg Good looking all-rounder, superb hatches, excellent rudder control set up, comfortable, heaps of storage space & carrying capacity, tank well (=cargo deck), cockpit good for tall people
Ocean Kayak “Scupper Pro”, plastic SOT, ~Oz$1350. 4.50 m 66 cm 25 kg 181 kg The ‘classic’ sit-on-top touring kayak, an oldish design, well proven, favourite in rental fleets overseas, available with choice of with either tank well (cargo deck) or larger inside boat storage. Hatch design not so suitable for rough conditions, need to be improved for conditions other than calm water.
Perception “Swing”, plastic SOT, ~Oz$1300. 4.00 m 84 cm 26.8 kg 170 kg Excellent all-rounder for floating about/fishing/diving/…, in this comparo mainly for reference, in my view a bit too short/beamy/slow to be considered as a tourer.
Penguin Fibreglass “Greenlander Pro”, fibreglass “sit-inside”, ~Oz$2200. 5.50 m 59 cm 25 kg dep. on options 170 kg Highly competent Tasmanian design, common among Tasmanian sea kayakers, very economical to build as part of TSCC ‘members-build-your-own’ program (~Oz$800-900 in materials)
Current Designs “Storm”, plastic “sit-inside”, ~Oz$1900. 5.18 m 61 cm 29 kg Total 394l, Front 61l, Rear 91l, Cockpit 242l.152l storage litres excluding cockpit Popular plastic sea kayak, spacious cockpit, lots of storage, good boat for medium-largish paddlers.
Current Designs “Squall”, plastic “sit-inside”, ~Oz$1800. 5.03 m 56.5 cm 26.3 kg Total 299l, Front 44l, Rear 75l, Cockpit 180l. 119l storage litres excluding cockpit Popular smaller sister of the “Storm”, liked by paddlers who want a smaller day boat or by paddlers who don’t qualify as “medium-largish paddler”.
Quality Kayaks “Puffin”, plastic “sit-inside”, ~Oz$1800. 4.95 m 61 cm 29 kg Total 370l, Front 90l, Rear 145l, Cockpit 135l. 235l storage litres excluding cockpit Nick-named "pack-horse", requires a good load to feel stable, rigid "pod" fitted (= built-in sea sock that ensures the kayak's buoyancy and handling integrity, even when the cockpit is awash), not a fast boat, a safe rental fleet & tour operator favourite.

Internet Links

(A small selection of good ones, there are many more out there if you are interested in looking)

Photos: Touring Kayaking & Sea Kayaking Photos

Outdoor Trip Philosophy: Bush Philososphy

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Contact: andreas@ahack.org