What’s the difference between a touring kayak and a recreational kayak?
I live on the Hillsborough River in Tampa. I’d mainly like to get a kayak for going up and down the river. There’s a riverside bar/grill I like, plus I have other friends that live on the river. But also, I’d like to be able to take the kayak into the Gulf of Mexico sometimes. Being able to fish from it would be nice, but not a priority. Any suggestions?
Jim, what are you, a hooker?
I can offer some good advice, but I need to know more info on your height, weight, physical ability and how much $$ you’re willing to part with.
A touring kayak is designed to paddle easily in a straight line and carry gear. Recreational kayaks are designed to play in, they turn easily and can be rolled with little effort.
You have two choices: a sea kayak or a slalom type kayak. A 13’2″ whitewater kayak will suit your purposes as will the sea kayak. Try them both before buying. Take some lessons. Read about the sport. Buying your boat should be the last thing to do as you get into the sport. Don’t neglect to try a canoe.
Recreational kayaks are designed for ease of use. They tend to be short (9-12 feet or so), wide, and flat-bottomed. This makes them stable on flat water and maneuverable. The downside is they’ll be a bit slow and won’t handle wind and choppy water very well. Most recreational kayaks have a large cockpit (the place where you sit) for easy entry and exit.
The term ‘touring kayak’ is rather broad. At the high end are full-on sea kayaks, typically 16-18 feet long and narrower than recreational kayaks. These are designed to go fast and straight over long distances. They can also handle rough water (assuming the paddler is skilled enough). Most have smaller cockpits with thigh braces that help allow you to control the boat with your lower body and even roll.
Some manufacturers produce ‘transitional touring’, ‘crossover’, or simply ‘touring’ kayaks which are somewhere between a recreational and sea kayak. These may be in the 12-16 ft range. They closely resemble sea kayaks, except that they’re usually slightly wider and have more volume. They tend to be more stable than sea kayaks but still have rounded or V-shaped hulls which are faster and better in rough water. They’re faster than a recreational kayak.
For the river (assuming a calm river), you could go with either a recreational, transitional, or sea kayak depending on how fast and far you want to go. For fishing, touring and sea kayaks won’t do so well because of the reduced stability and small cockpit. If you don’t mind getting exposed to the water a little, you could consider a sit-on-top fishing kayak. For the Gulf, you most likely would want a touring or sea kayak (and some lessons), unless you know of some reliably calm, protected areas.