While there are more and more kayak lessons offered for sit-on-top paddlers some schools and instructors are not fully teaching sit-on-top essentials, especially in the northern states. Sit-on-top kayakers need education just as much as sit-in-side kayakers and canoe paddlers. To perfect paddle sports techniques, strokes and skills requires the guidance of a teacher and a lot of practice. Books and conversation can be very helpful but kayak lessons from an experienced professional are invaluable.
Look for an introductory lesson program that focuses on paddling strokes and skills. If you are a sit-on-top paddler only you might find sit-on-top only kayak lessons offered in your area; but a sit-in lesson may be your only option. Sit-on-top paddlers will not need to learn Eskimo rolling. A sit-in-side kayaker, or any one using a sit-in kayak during a lesson will learn the wet exit, an easy procedure for getting out of a tipped sit-in kayak. As a sit-on-top kayaker you will, however, want to learn tipping over and getting back onto a sit-on-top kayak, in deep water.
The American Canoe Association offers kayak lessons through certified kayak instructors. The ACA's "Smart Start" and "Quick Start Your Kayak" courses would be appropriate for sit-on-top kayakers to get started, and are often taught as a sit-on-top only program. Once you have some basic instruction you can elect to take more advanced lessons. The ACA also sponsors a "Sit-on-top Surf Kayaking" course.
Adaptive paddling lessons are offered by some ACA instructors for those people with disabilities. Any kayak shop or school that offers kayak courses with certified ACA instructors should be able to help you get started on the path to skilled kayaking. Some lesson programs and instructors might not be ACA certified. The British Canoe Union (BCU) is also a certifying organization. While some non-certified instructors might be very good and offer excellent instruction, it would be best to seek out certified instructors and lessons when ever possible.
If you can not find a sit-on-top only lesson you will have to take a sit-in-side kayak lesson. Ask the instructor if you can use a sit-on-top for the lesson. If this is possible bring your own sit-on-top kayak or make arrangements to have a sit-on-top kayak provided for you.
Special Note for Kayak Fishing: Many fishing people are now using a kayak to fish from, rather than a powerboat, or fishing from shore. Most of these folks are fishermen first, and kayakers 2nd. While it is OK to have a focus, it is essential that as a kayak fisherperson you know how to safely handle your kayak. Some kayak fishing guides and schools will offer kayaking basics as part of their curriculum. Such a lesson may cover the needed skills, and possibly very well. It is up to you to make sure that you get a well rounded and complete kayak lesson. A kayak only lesson, no fish info or gear, by a kayak only instructor, is well worth the effort. Take a look at our Kayak Fishing Index for more information.
All sit-on-top paddlers, fishing or not, need to learn the following - links to articles are not meant to be substitute for actual experience with on-water instruction:
The strokes and water wisdom are the same for sit-in and sit-on kayakers. The only difference is the way you get in and out of the kayak, and the use some of the accessories.
Using a sit-on-top in such a course will still allow you to learn all the basic paddle stokes and other skills necessary to start your kayaking career.
If you are to be provided with a sit-on-top kayak for your lesson by your teacher make sure that the hull shape, length and intended use for the boat are the same as the kayaks the other students will be using. A short sit-on kayak will not be compatible with long sit-in kayaks.
If you end up on a sit-on-top surf kayak and the other students are learning in sit-in-side touring kayaks the quality of your experience will suffer.
You may not have the option of using a sit-on-top kayak for your lesson. This may be a problem for some of you that have chosen open-cockpit kayaks for reasons of physical limitations or fears of sit-in-side kayaks. If this is so ask if there is a kayak that has a very large cockpit opening that will allow you to get in and out easily and not make you feel uncomfortable about squeezing into it. (Photo: courtesy of Ocean Kayak)
A comfortable sit-in kayak will do fine in a controlled lesson. There will be an instructor to help you if there is any tip-over trouble.
Check to make sure that any kayak you are requesting, sit-in or sit-on, will be appropriate for your weight and the lesson conditions. To be sure of comfort "test sit" the fit of any kayak you will use prior to the start of course. Remember that you are there to learn strokes and skills. The type of kayak that you use does not matter that much, but the comfort and appropriateness of the kayak does. When the lesson is finished you will be free to use the kayak of your choice.
If you insist on using an sit-on-top kayak for your lesson and one can not be found in your area, don't give up! Plan a vacation in a southern or tropical state (See our directory) and find a paddling center that can meet your needs. If you are in New England see us about a lesson in New Hampshire.
LANDING AND LAUNCHING:
Landing and launching a sit-on-top kayak may or may not be covered in your lesson. If you are lucky the instructor of your course will be able to teach you. If not you will have to teach yourself.
Some sit-on kayaks come with a brief instructional section in the owner's manual.
Practice the deep water reentry technique from water close to shore. Do no go far off shore until you have the ability to get into you boat from deep water consistently.
Use these Links for more information:
Instructional books on sit-on-top kayaking: Tom's TopKayaker Shop
Many of accessories for the sit-on-top kayaks are quite different from sit-in-side kayaks.
Backrests, knee straps and a paddle leashes are the pieces of gear that different. They are easy to figure out as you go along.
Use this link to learn more about sit-on-top accessories: Backrests, Knee Straps and Paddle Leashes
ON YOUR OWN:
When this article was first posted on-line, almost 10 years ago, the standards set by the American Canoe Association did not include or acknowledge sit-on-top kayaks or sit-on-top methods and skills. Fortunately this has changed. This trend is all but unheard of now, and more shops are offering a wider selection of lessons, as well as a much wider selection of sit-on-top kayaks. While advanced sit-on-top kayak skills and instruction is still not supported by the ACA, it is hoped that the recent progress will continue and we could expect to see advanced open water sit-on-top skills to be expanded upon and offered as certified curriculum.
Good news for the numbers joining the sport of kayaking as Top Kayakers!
Want some more good advice if you live in an area remote from lesson support? Join up with other "Top Kayakers" in your area to compare notes and share your water wisdom. Our Forum is a very valuable place to find other sit-on-top paddlers who can offer advice specific to your kayak model and location or the conditions you will be paddling in.
Over the last decade our forum has watched novice turn to expert, couples turn into clubs, and been responsible for bringing together kayakers from around the globe. We are a friendly, generous group and hope to hear from you.
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