||Only what you can afford and probably more advanced than you think you need. There is a tendency for first time paddlers to buy something really short and fat so they won’t tip over. Then after a paddle or two find themselves frustrated by their boat’s limitations. On a recent club beginner paddle we put a first timer in a boat even many expert paddlers would be hesitant in, because that was all that was available. She did fine because she didn’t realize she was in an “extreme” boat. She assumed all boats were that tippy! A paddler should buy a boat that will meet their needs over a period of time and not be overly concerned about going swimming a few times until they find their “seats” in the boat.
In picking a boat it is important to understand there is no one perfect boat. The same boat that tracks so well across open water may be a bear to take up a winding stream and vice-versa. That is why many of us end up with several boats. Most of our club paddles are conducted in what is referred to as touring conditions and therefore most have touring kayaks. Touring kayaks are generally 14 to 18 feet in length and 21 to 26 inches wide. In theory, speed increases with the length of the boat and ease of paddling increases as the width decreases. Kayaks come in two basic shapes, fish form which is larger in front of the cockpit and smaller behind; and Greenland, which appear to be similar in both their bow and stern. Fish form boats tend to have larger cockpits with more leg room, are somewhat drier, and are probably easier to learn to paddle. On the downside, they are less controllable in high wind conditions. Greenland boats have a steeper learning curve and tend to be wet and tight. However, they are better suited for extreme sea and wind conditions. For the types of paddling the club does a rudder should be considered for a fish form boat and a skeg for any Greenland style boat.
Boats can be made of plastic (roto-mold), composites, or wood. Plastic boats “wear like iron, weigh like lead, and are priced right”. Composite boats are lighter, pretty, and more expensive. Wooden boats are works of art and a labor of love. We have club members paddling all three and they all work fine.
A final consideration is matching the boat to the paddler. Boats and paddlers come in different sizes and weights. Too much paddler in too little a boat is unsafe, as is too much boat and too little a paddler. Most boats have a recommended weight range. You should pick a boat where your weight falls in the middle of the range, and where your weight plus your maximum gear load will not exceed the top of the range. Also, never buy a boat you haven’t sat in wearing your paddling attire. Pay particular attention to foot space and cockpit width. You don’t want to roll over and find yourself wedged in.