This page offers additional discussion of the "Whats and Whys" of dive kayak selection. Like my Equipment page, much (or all) of the information presented here appears as email communications that I have had with readers of my book and web page. DAGGER CAYMANS
One reader wrote:
Saw your article and found it interesting. My wife and I have 2 Dagger Caymans and love them. Have only been on some of Alabama's lakes so far but looking forward to taking them to the Gulf Coast this summer. I'm certified, but we plan to snorkel off them. The Cayman's are pretty stable, track well but are also quite maneuverable. Both will fit on top of our Jeep Cherokee with no problem. Mark
Many readers write to ask for general guidelines in selecting a kayak. Here is a recent reply:
Which kayak to buy depends on a few factors, most importantly, how far will you be paddling. Other factors are:
Do you want to surf the kayak after the dive?
Can you handle a fair amount of instability?
How much and what kind of storage and cargo carrying ability do you desire?
Here are a few guidelines:
Shorter kayaks are MUCH more fun in the surf but painfully slow for paddling long distances.
Longer kayaks are better for the long distance jaunt or touring but out of the realm of surf kayak, especially for the novice.
Some kayaks don't come with any hatches cut in. You often need to cut them in yourself and buy or make the hatch cover.
Most of the people in our group like Ocean Kayak's Scrambler XT over all other models. It has great stability, good storage under the front oval hatch, is very sturdy, a decent medium distance tourer, and yet is still fun in the surf, although not nearly as much fun in the surf as, say, the Frenzy.
A few others like the Scupper pro. You might want to take a look at the Scupper Pro TW, that has a tank well instead of covered hatch in the stern.
The Necky Dolphin may be the fastest plastic kayak on the water but is not very stable. You will get used to it eventually though.
The Albion, a catamaran design, is impossible to handle in the surf and is VERY slow. However, it is the most stable kayak on the water.
Other kayaks may be too heavy and/or slow, too small for much gear, or very tippy. Cobra has 1 or 2 nice models now to choose from.
Best advice is to try a few before you buy. Kayak clinics, bum one at the beach, rent, whatever. Ask other kayak divers what they like or dislike. THE ULTIMATE DIVE KAYAK....
When I was asked, "What features would the 'Ultimate Dive Kayak' have?"...
The ultimate dive kayak might be similar to a Scrambler XT, one foot longer and 2 inches narrower. Note that the extra length will maintain the stability lost to the narrower width. The front deck would be a couple inches bulkier for just a little more storage under the hatch and you could secure a second tank very well up front.
Meanwhile, the XT in its current form is an excellent dive platform, especially with the addition of several eyelets around the tank bay and around the forward storage area.
We almost always paddle with our long-john part of our wet-suits on so a little spray is not a problem. It's entirely too difficult to paddle with a wet-suit jacket on, so on colder days a wind parka (preferably water-proof) or sweat shirt is a must. Take along a dry bag to keep cotton or other non-water-proof warmup clothes dry during the dive. The low profile is desirable to aid in cutting through wind, chop, and surf. THE MALIBU TWO....
One reader wrote to ask if he was going to be able to use his Malibu Two for diving. He also stated that he was thinking about replacing it or buying a few more smaller kayaks for diving and play in the surf.
This was part of my reply....
The Malibu Two will make a grand and stable dive platform. Sitting in the rear-most seat leaves LOTS of cargo space and capacity on the front deck for all your dive and fishing gear. It will be a lot of kayak for a smaller person to handle but not unmanageable by any paddler once in the water.
The Malibu Two is extremely sturdy and will give you many, many years of enjoyment for diving, fishing, touring, and surfing. As an alternative, think about going ahead and buying the Frenzy for your son and a Scrambler XT for yourself. My girls started paddling when they were about 7 years old and the Frenzy is very stable and a good choice for the smallest child that can wield a paddle. THE COBRA FISH & DIVE
A reader wrote to ask my thoughts on the Cobra Fish & Dive and how it compared to Ocean Kayak's Scupper Pro. A year earlier I had taken the Fish & Dive out for several sea trials. I found some good and some not so good points to report about it...
He wrote: Howdy and thanks for a great read. I currently own a Malibu Two and want to trade up to a boat with some inside storage. I read your comments on the scupper pro and the fish and dive. I'm wondering if you have paddled and dove off of the fish and dive and does it compare favorably with the Ocean Kayak models? I'm leaning toward the Fish & Dive because of the weight capacity and the ease of access with the center hatch.
I would like to load up both of these boats and try them out but I don't think a bunch of new eyelet's sprouting up from the decks of these boats would make me popular with the rental shop. Any additional insight that you or someone you know that has a Fish & Dive would be appreciated.
And I responded:
Unless you weight over 220 lbs, the Fish & Dive is just too heavy and slow for the single paddler. It is designed from the same exact hull as their tandem!
The Scupper Pro and Pro TW, in my mind, are still the best choice for speed and under deck storage. You can put three 80s, plus all the rest of your dive gear, below deck in the Scupper Pro.
Go ahead and give them both a try. You can get all your gear below on the Scuppers, and the Fish & Dive has sufficient straps for a calm day and little surf. You can always add tethers as needed to be comfortable about not loosing gear.
Ask your local dealers when they might be offering free clinics where you can try several models out at no cost. Finally, ask about applying any rental cost toward the purchase of your kayak.
Another reader had left a message on the California Kayak Friends bulletin board inquire about the Fish & Dive. Tim said he was a "rather large" guy weighing over 250 pounds...
I wrote: Greetings Tim, Saw your question in the CKF guestbook and thought I'd write.
For the heaviest of paddlers (250+) I have no problem recommending the Cobra Fish & Dive. It's a lot of kayak for a lesser paddler but will be a joy as a fishing platform for the bigger person. It is ultra-stable and paddles OK. It also handles fairly well in the surf.
For proven durability, you might also want to take a look at the Ocean Kayak Malibu Two. You'll find it has more stability than you'll ever need (although not as much as the Fish & Dive), and performs as well, or better than the Fish & Dive. It is just a little easier to paddle because it sits a little lower on the water and may be a few inches narrower.
Unless you're looking at something as big as OK's Zest Two, these will be the best places to start your search. THE COBRA TOURER
Arnie wrote to tell me about his Cobra Tourer... Thanks Arnie! -MT
I just visited your web site again. Reading through your kayak updates, I
thought I should contribute my experience with what I think is a very
capable dive kayak: the Cobra Tourer.
I bought mine used from a kayak rental in Malibu. Had quite some scratches
at the bottom but all else was (and still is) in top shape.
Of course, it takes all necessary dive gear and then some. The tank bay is
good for one tank/BC unit, and the rear A-hatch just accepts my HP100 steel
tank (which, I think, is pretty much the size of an Al 80). No way would a
tank/BC unit fit through the hatch, no matter how small the tank. The hatch
frames have somewhat sharp edges, and the BC would not glide by. Other than
that, there was nothing I needed on a dive that would not have fitted in the
hatches. I find the Cobra hatches very strong and water tight, if a little
difficult to open and close with their 8 latches.
15' long and 28" wide with sharp bevels (not rounded like the Scupper), the
Tourer is more than sufficiently stable for scuba diving applications but at
the same time fast and easy to paddle. I don't have the rudder (which
requires the pedal bar that would be in the way for moving about on the
yak), so I have to fight sideway winds that push you into the wind. My
carbon paddle (I followed your advice and did not skimp!) helps me a lot
there, especially as I'm about the least athletic kayaker. Which reminds me
of another problem: weight. The empty Tourer is supposed to weigh 50 pounds.
Well, that must be without hatches, and they are heavy. I guess it weighs in
at 60 pounds which is just about the maximum I can handle overhead. But I
found ways to load and download alone in a controlled fashion, so that is
not a serious problem.
When I was looking for a kayak, I soon preferred the Cobras over the Ocean
Kayaks due to their better finish and some better details, like the hatches.
Then, I figured, I'd also like to use it just for fun paddling over longer
distances. Plus, I wanted maximum load capacity, so choosing the Tourer over
the Explorer was pretty much obvious. While I'd prefer to lift only the
Explorer weight, I'm happy to have the Tourer properties every time I take
it out. I wouldn't want another one.
Cobra in Gardena were very generous in fixing a leakage around the center
hatch--they simply installed a new frame and hatch and sealed the frame. At
no charge, and no questions asked.
Feel free to (edit and) post this on your site. I hope it will help someone
make a more educated decision. -Arnie
Note: I didn't edit it at all! -MT OCEAN KAYAK'S ZEST TWO
I was recently asked about "tandem" versus "single-seater" from a guy who seemed mostly interested in a larger tandem kayak...
He wrote: Dear Mark, I enjoyed reading your web page on Kayak diving. I will be mailing in my order for you book next week (unless you take credit cards - then I will call in with my number).
In the meanwhile, I would like to ask for a recommendation for a kayak based on
I am an intermediate scuba diver living in New Jersey. I weigh around 160 @ 5'8". I am 41 years old and getting lazier by the day. My most likely dive buddy (sharing the kayak) is 200+ lb. @ 6'.
My local diving would be in lakes, reservoirs and the Atlantic. I also hope to just paddle around lakes and rivers with my two kids 12 & 14 (a bit older than yours) weighing in at ~ 60 & 100 lb..
I am not particularly athletic and I don't think I will be getting into playing in the surf - but rather, I am looking forward to quiet, safe, stable dives and excursions. I also thought, hanging a little electric outboard over the stern for extra lazy days might be fun.
I guess my budget is in the $600-800 range. For my 1 (just me) / 2 (two adults with scuba gear) / 3 (one adult @ two kids) person everything kayak, I was thinking of the Cobra Fish & Dive. What do you think? Best regards, Dan
Greetings Dan, The only kayak I could recommend to do all that you describe is the Ocean Kayak Zest Two. The Cobra Tandem is too small for both fully outfitted divers starting out at 360+ body weight combined. Remember, their single passenger Fish&Dive model is built on the same hull as the Tandem!
The Zest Two is going to cost a little more than your -$800 price range, and you will need two paddles (I reccommend the Werner Crosspoint 210-220 at $100 each) and seatbacks ($25-$80 each) in addition.
It will be easy for you to carry all your gear, add an electric troller, depth finder, second passenger, (or two kids), with the Zest Two, at the price of higher cost and two additional feet in length with the associated weight, but if you are set on buying a two-seater model that does all you describe, I think you'll find these extra (one-time) costs to be worth it.
As an alternative, you might consider a couple of Frenzys or combination of two or more smaller boats for your kids, in addition to a larger boat for yourself. Your kids would probably love to paddle their own yak so they can race and play bumper-boats as you paddle along. My girls started paddling solo when they were 7 and 8, and I've seen younger kids out on them doing well enough. OCEAN KAYAK'S SCUPPER PRO FOR RENTAL BUSINESS
The Scupper Pro TW will be an excellent choice for your business considering the strong winds. You will find that the TW will be very durable and last through many years of any abuse your renters and clients might throw at it. If you will be dealing with crosswinds, I would suggest considering the addition of rudders on the kayaks as the bow can be blown downwind in such conditions. I would add a few extra eyelets around the tank well to enable you to better secure the tank/bc, especially if surf conditions will be encountered on the entry and exit. A few eyelets up front for securing the anchor on the lead kayak will also be a good idea. All of this is covered quite well in my book.
Another reader wrote to comment on his Necky Dolphin: The Neckey Dolphin has an odd behavior as the payload gets heavier. The nose. acts like a plow and the water is pushed up and outward from the. bow with any attempt at speed. This helps me go over waves better when launching in the surf since the bow rises as the water is being displaced. This occurrs at about 250 pounds payload. Take a look at the Dolphin. The nose gets more blunt the further up the bow you get. For me, since I am a big and heavy guy, I tried a Scupper Pro and noted faster speed at the top end of effort since the energy I was using did not waste itself displacing water up and away from the bow. I also have front end drag more than the usual person would have when landing with the surf, hence the front end wants to turn away from the beachhead despite all the paddle tricks I have tried. A rudder would help, but I don't know if it would last long getting dragged across the sand and rocks on a surfing style landing. I just go in between waves as fast as I can and keep it pointed to the beachead as my only landing style.
I would trade my Neckey Dolphin for a two hatched Scupper Pro if anyone is interested somewhere on the southern half of the California coast. My Dolphin has done well except for the weighty problem due to its occupant's size. It is granite grey, has a glove box sealed insert, delux touring seat, fishing rod holder, and thigh straps. It has been used alot, but with plastic, it has lots of years left. COBRA EXPLORER
A reader wrote: I live in the northwest and am leaning towards the Cobra Explorer... Do you have anymore thoughts since you wrote the article that's on the net?... I like the weight, capacity and price of the Cobra..... The Fish & Dive seems like a tank... so that's why the Explorer... It's also very similar to my buddies Ocean Kayak Scrambler XT in size and features... Lighter though... Carrying this thing is going to happen...
I wrote back:
I was aslo impressed by the looks and specs of the Explorer. I haven't tried the Explorer yet, but, sofar I have generally found the Ocean Kayak models to track better, paddle well, and to be (or at least appear) more durable. Cobra is now definitely the number two dive kayak manufacturer, above Necky and Perception/Aquaterra, but not likely to catch up with OK too soon. COBRA TOURER
Another reader wrote this: I spent 3 hours paddling around Huntington Harbor yesterday. Took a friend with me. I was in my new Tourer and he had one of my Cobra XL's. I cannot tell you how nice the Tourer was, especially with the rudder. So much easier to paddle and control than even the XL. The wind picked up a little in the afternoon and I really had no trouble at all to speak of. Have not been out in open ocean yet though, however I feel rather confident that this will be a very good boat. Really impressed with stability and speed, and yes, it definitely has more than ample storage space.
I sent you a check for $24.00. I am anxious to benefit from your experience. Thanks for sharing it in this form. I just checked my e-mail and it seems that Cobra has responded and I was pleased with their response. I will forward it to you for your own information. Being they are still relatively small in size, I suspect this is why the response was slow in coming.
If you have an opportunity to test one of the new Tourers, please publish your thoughts on your web page. I am anxious to see how you think it compares to some of the other offerings available. I will certainly give your suggestions for rod holders serious consideration as well. Look forward to reading your book. Sincerely, Ken....
This was part of my response to Ken:
I was very interested in hearing your review of your new Cobra Tourer. At 15 feet and (advertised) only 55 pounds or so, the Tourer should be a very fast kayak. Cobra claims it won the 5 mile breaker to breaker race down in your area. I saw that it had a tremendous amount of storage and functionality. You could set the tank well up as a live bait tank with the addition of some screening in the scupper holes that would keep the water fresh and cool (of course, one tip and your bait is gone!). SURF SKIS
In response to one readers suggestion that a long surf ski could be used for freediving, I wrote:
I agree! The surfski would be great for freediving, especially far from the launch point. They are fast and light, but also fragile. So, expertise in returning through the surf is a must. Of course, they are made for surfing open ocean swells and offshore rollers, but not necessarily waves crashing on the beach. Best bet is to come in very quickly on the back of the wave. The speed and length of a surfski makes it pretty easy to keep up with the wave and let it carry you on its back right up onto dry shore. You’ll be moving pretty fast so avoid all encounters with rocks on the shore and hop out just as the hull starts to hit the beach. OCEAN KAYAK SCUPPER PRO AND SCRAMBLER XT VERSUS COBRA TOURER
A reader recently wrote the following:
Hi Mark, I would like to get a copy of your book Kayak Diving, but first I'd like to ask you some questions about kayak selection. I am very confused about what kayak to buy. I know that the Scrambler XT is the boat of choice for you, but I have read articles from others that slammed the XTs for being slow paddlers and not having enough internal storage space. It has also been said that a rudder is very useful, especially on a windy day.
I was wondering what your feelings are on kayaks like the Scudder Pro and especially the Cobra Tourer. I know that they are a little less stable, but they do have more internal storage space and a longer range in the water. How much harder would it be to remove a dressed tank from an internal area as opposed to storing it in an external well area? Have you ever tried one of these longer boats? Do you think internal storage is the way to go? Well, I hope to be out on the water soon, practicing with my new kayak so I hope you have time to answer a few questions for a confused beginer. Tim
I responded to Tim:
Howdy Tim, You seem to be pretty well informed already and have pointed out the pros and cons between the two models.
There are a few differences of note between the XT and Scuper Pro. The XT has more cockpit space and is just a bit more stable than the Pro. Unlike the Pro and Cobra Tourer, the XT can be taken back out for play in the surf. It's not a great surfer but it is still fun for rides in on the waves. Finally, it is almost 10 pounds lighter and about a foot and a half shorter than the Pro, making it a little easier to handle.
The longer boats are definitely better for long distance paddling and the Scupper Pro is now available with a tank well in the rear and the quite large in-hatch storage area up front. The Tourer has a tank well also.
It is very difficult to get an outfitted tank (with BC and reg attached) in and out of the hatch on the Scupper Pro (possible only with a very trim BC). I haven't tried it on the Tourer, but it looks like bare 80 CF tank won't even fit under the hatch (I could be wrong!). Also, the tank well on the Tourer is rather small and may not acommodate more than one tank very well. On the other hand, at 15 feet, the Tourer is a very fast paddler.
I have found that the XT has (barely, at times) sufficient storage under the front hatch for all my dive gear except jacket top. This includes weight-belt, fins, mask, anchor and line, goody-bag, etc. We typically stack two tanks in the rear well and balance the weight back out by placing the weight-belt along one side in the front.
The XT's steering is not affected too bad in a cross-wind. The Pro, on the other hand, can become quite hard to hold on course in a cross-wind without a rudder. I don't know about the Tourer, and the rudder is optional on both models. Cobra typically understates the weight of their yaks, so beware of their 50 lb. claim on the Tourer. Hope this helps! Mark
In response to Joe's question about the Cayman and surfing the Prism and Scupper Pro, I wrote:
Hi Joe, Forget about surfing the Prism and Scuppers. They are great for speed but will pearl on you when surfing in on any wave over 1 or 2 feet in height.
I have yet to see the Cayman in person, but must say it looks like a great boat on their web site! The 12'6" length will make it faster for someone in your weight range than, say, the Scrambler.
I am partial to the Scrambler XT for stability and durability, and, the XT is a decent surfer and just fast enough on the water to compete with the other similar kayaks. You would probably also find the XT to be quite a bit more stable and have more cockpit room than the Cayman, which would be nice for fishing.
I don't want to discount the Cayman for you, it looks sharp and well outfitted, but that narrow and sharp bow will make it less of a surfer than the Scramblers. It will, however, make it better for punching out through the surf and wind. And the longer, narrower hull dimensiuons should make it a little faster on the water if too much flotation hasn't been lost to the narrower width.
Take a look at the cargo capacities, with rider, of the various models and compare hull dimensions to get some idea of stabilities before you buy. Just remember: longer = faster, wider = more stable, shorter = better surfer, etc... Hope this helps!
When Tom wrote asking for purchase advice, I wrote:
Hi Tom, I probably don't have to tell you that I am very much a fan of the Ocean Kayak line of kayaks. They have proven to be the best value for the money, with a good mix of durability, stability, tracking, and cargo capacity. To answer your question with a higher degree of certainty, I would need to know a lot more about you and the type of paddling you intend to do, but I'll offer a few points to consider.
Paddling distance and total weight are going to be your main concern. The Scupper Pro and Scupper Pro TW are excellent choices if you will be paddling more that 3/4 of a mile each way. You can carry three tanks in either model and the load capacity is unsurpassed for a single-seater. It is not much of a surfer, but that probably isn't a concern in the keys, having little surf. The Scupper Pros are extremely stable, sturdy, and seaworthy for being a faster kayak.
The Scrambler XT has been our groups' kayak of choice. With a diver under 200 pounds, it will easily carry two tanks, stacked in the tank well (my preference), or one up front between the knees. It is fine for paddling up to a mile (or more) each way with a heavy load. And, you can play in the surf with it when you are done diving. It has more cockpit room and is just slightly more stable feeling than the Scuppers.
Hope this helps! You can find a lot more discussion along these line in my book, plus very useful information on outfitting your kayak to prevent gear loss or trouble with mother nature. PERCEPTION SWING
Perry wrote to tell me about his Perception Swing...
Mark, First off, I'd like to say even though I fish and don't dive anymore (eardrum puncture), I thoroughly enjoyed your book. Hopefully, I'll be able to resume diving in a few years, and will be able to use my kayak for one more activity.
I bought a Perception Swing to rig for fishing. I am 5'11" and 230, and, even decked out for fishing, I can see where they say it will float 350+ lbs. I have a lot of waterline left. I'd put 50 lbs more in it and not think twice about it.
Even without a rudder, it tracks very well. A little bit of paddle steering in good cross winds is all it takes. The stability beats a Scupper Pro hands down. It feels as stable as a Scrambler XT I paddled. It's also pretty fast.
There is only one thing I would change, and that's the hatch size. If they put a hatch in the front like a Cobra Tourer or a Scupper Pro, it would have been nice. You have plenty of below deck space, but are limited to what can be put down there. I have one of the Primex carrying carts that fold, and even with it folded, it still won't fit.
I have a small fishing site getting started and a few pictures of it setup. The URL, if your interested, is: So. Cal Kayak Fishing.
Take care, and thanks for the great book !! Perry C.