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When plastic boats burst onto the scene manufacturers were suddenly left looking for the boat to
suit everyone, a boat which could be manufactured stockpiled and sold to the masses not a
whitewater machine with a relatively small end user group but a general purpose safe for all the
family style boat.
Mirages, Dancers, Europa’s came and went being replaced by shorter more playful designs, gone
were the days of one boat did everything.
Eventually sit on tops were born.
With UK based company’s building boats Perception, feel free and islander other companies have joined
on to the expanding market. Now in Ireland we have a huge choice of sit on tops for every need.
Sit on tops are a fantastic choice for all the family from taking your first paddle strokes through to
In the past a sit on top was widely seen as a ‘beach toy’ with designs like the Perception Scooter and
the Islander Kayaks Calypso Sport two very similar boats both UK built and sold hugely in Ireland.
These created a family friendly platform for getting adults and kids out on the water. These general
purpose sit on tops range from between 8-10ft in length with cheaper options like the Winner Purity
II and the Islander Hula perfect for smaller guys and gals up to the increasingly comfortable
Wilderness Systems Tarpon 100 this range of boats were designed to do everything, whether its
pottering around your local coastline or playing in the waves they will feel at home on canals and
inland waterways manoeuvrable yet super stable. The shorter a boat is, generally the wider it gets these
boats all provide a fantastic platform for getting out on the water with the worst case scenario involving falling in, getting wet before simply climbing back on, a sit on top takes the hassle out of paddlesport.
So why are they not more often used??
Well now that is the question over the past few years companies have expanded their ranges of sit
on tops looking at specific uses for many boats to draw people in to the non covered way of life.
There’s not a lot of things better than a sunny day on the water in a boat except for sharing that
experience with friends and family, a tandem offers that experience with space now for 2-3 people
for both adults and kids the capacity of the boats is huge which provides a stable platform for kids
playtime and adult enjoyment boats like the Islander Kayaks Paradise 2 comes with really soft seat
backrests to keep you comfy and stable whilst out for a paddle other boats like the Tarpon E from
wilderness systems provides solid flip up backrests for extra support. both designs offer the centre “third” seat, a moulded space to bring a little one along for the ride.
With wave skis being used the world over it was natural for a company to attempt to build a surf
specific boat the Perception 5-O at the time the only high performance sit on top-esque wave ski of
its class, hard rails and fins with a flat belly and lifted nose provided the platform for a popular
introductory surf boat but soon many would be upgraded to a lightweight ski.
With sit on top designs the big factor has to be the length and the width, as a boat gets longer it gets
narrower. As with sit in kayaks the 14foot designs like the Tarpon 140 and the Venture Kayaks Islay
14 SOT offer a fantastic option to take your beach toy and suddenly give it some speed and you can
start exploring coastlines, islands and caves. By extending the length will allow the boat to track better and
provide the extra speed to head off and explore with boats like the Tarpon 160 a 16ft monster taking Sit
on Tops right up into the performance sea kayaking end of things. Being able to load up these huge
crafts with the built in hatches and head off on your adventure. Add a rudder for better steering in
bigger water and you have a boat you can paddle all day. What you gain in length and straight line
speed you will lose in manoeuvrability, the longer the boat the less easy it is to turn around so before you
pick yourself up a speed demon just decide if your canal is wide enough to turn in!
Probably the most practical use for sit on tops had to be there stable nature and load capacity. This has
meant thousands of fishermen worldwide are now availing of these easy going craft.
With Sit on tops easy to launch and recover as well as being able to get into places a boat may find
difficult the cost of a Sit on Top in comparison to a motored boat has led to a new culture with top
fisherman now pulling in huge fish onto their sit on tops. With many favouring the likes of the
Tarpon 14 and the Ocean Kayak Prowler series it’s easy to look at the Jackson Kayak a whitewater
brand now makes more fishing kayaks than whitewater boats. With boats turning into full on fishing
platforms now makes it much more accessible.
At the budget end of things the strike angler from Islander Kayaks provides a simple set up with flush
mounted rod holders which can be used for trailing lines and accessories.
Many of the fishing boats have comfort in mind with better seating positions to give you comfort and
support whilst out for the day, with many now offering higher seats and ability to stand as well really
proves the stability of many sit on tops.
As previously mentioned throughout the article the seating, probably the biggest area of change in
Sit on tops, from simple plastic moulded seat locations providing an area in which to sit, next the
fabric backrests and seats, a simple clip on clip off design which can be adjusted to offer support and
comfort this is the standard as found on many a sit on tops.
Next comes the solid backrests with simple flip up designs to go with padded seat areas provide solid
support and very user friendly,
At the top end the boats look like arm chairs wilderness systems have a unique three way
adjustment system to provide height adjustment in the backrest as well as angle of the back rest and
a leg lifter to take pressure off of your legs.
If you look at Jackson kayaks with their rock and roll seat
which provides height adjustment and then lift out of the way to provide standing room you might
as well be in heaven, Sit on tops provide some of the comfiest seat positions going because of their
nature the seat doesn’t need to be able to fit into a round cockpit to be fitted this allows more space and
more comfort for the end user.
Many of the boats have simple moulded in footrest positions this allows the user to choice a spot
and put their feet on the right mark, this makes boats really user friendly, for slightly more comfort
an adjustable footrest is then used whereby the user is able to slide the pedal into position for
To combine usability with performance knee straps can be used a simple foam and fabric pad which
is clipped along each side of the boat allows knees to slip under and grip this provides the user with
extra control in rough water and waves it also helps to be able to roll some of the boats. In the event
of a spill simply straighten your legs and you will easily fall of ready to hop back on.
All of the kayaks mentioned have their own storage compartments many are done by the way of a
watertight hatch cover which allows access to the inside of the hull. Many of these are highly water
proof but because of the nature of the boats not totally water tight so dry bags should definitely be
used as well.
The bigger the boat the more storage with larger hatches and hinged covers making loading easier
and specific areas on the top deck designated for bait boxes and rod holders on fishing specific
As with all kayaks a Sit on Top is virtually maintenance free with the exception of the odd hose down
after being in the sea many a folk leave the boats outside, as with all plastics the biggest thing to
degrade a boat is the UV damage from the sun so a good idea to keep them covered if possible but
as far as being waterproof the rain provides no threat. A quick hose down after being in salt water will help keep fixtures and fittings in good working order.
Sit on top accessories are a huge thing with seat upgrades through to camera mounts and rod
holders all available my personal suggestion would be a paddle leash. First thing when buying your
boat, PFD, paddle and paddle leash so when you fall in or put the paddle down its attached to your boat and
won’t be off floating without you, your paddle is your engine and without it makes things fairly hard
So the article had to lead back to whitewater, as many may have seen over the years people have
tried to create whitewater sit on tops whether it’s a good idea or not has led to much debate, with
boats like the Liquid Logic Coupe and the Fluid Doitnow not really taking off in Ireland its now turn of
the Pyranha Fusion Sit on Top.
The Fusion has been an excellent crossover boat for a few years now paddling whitewater and
flat-water with ease so Pyranha have taken the ever stable hull, made it more stable and changed the
top deck to a sit on instead of a sit in.
At first glance I had never thought much about the idea of whitewater and sit ons thinking about
how much it might hurt falling off, but then again how much does it hurt when you fall out of a
kayak? So having taken a demo Fusion sit on top for a spin I found it easy to paddle, very
manoeuvrable and not a whole heap different from my standard river kayak, almost disappointing
how good it was. So over the past while I’ve been pushing it further and further paddling class 1-3+/4
on it with relative ease, I’ve had it sea surfing and bouncing down weirs whilst still surfing holes and
spinning on waves. Firstly the control means the boat rolls with the thigh braces and if rolling isn’t
for you hop off and hop back on within seconds your away again no more emptying boats or lifting
Personally I feel previous whitewater sit on tops have never really taken off because they haven’t
been paddled, my best advice for any one whether experienced whitewater paddler or intermediate
just give it a go. Get it out and see what you think it’s some of the best fun I’ve had. Mentally the fact
you’re not enclosed brings about a sense of comfort for many who feel kayaking claustrophobic and
entrapping. Being able to jump off when things get scary will give people a lot of confidence and
then the ease of hopping back on quickly gets more time in a boat and less time underwater.
Sit on tops have many positive factors and very few negatives, they will never completely replace a
closed in kayak but for sure will make paddlesport more accessible for many users whether an
introduction, an afternoon hire or a trip down a class 2 rapid it’s about the fun the excitement and
the exhilaration it brings to the end user.
.Sit On Tops are available in a whole heap of shapes and sizes for the best advice on what your require always visit your local kayak store before ordering to make sure you pick up the right boat for your needs
As always thanks to the photographers for use of images Palm Equipment, Conflueance watersports and Irish Photographer @Oisin McHugh – http://www.oisinmchughphoto.com/