Can Ocean Kayaks Be Used In Freshwater?

If you are an active kayaker, you should have thought of paddling in different waters. You can kayak in the ocean, seas, lakes, and virtually anywhere. But can ocean kayaks be used in freshwater? Yes, but only if you have experience but not recommended.

We are all aware that ocean waters are salty, which may not have the same density as freshwater lakes. Moreover, the conditions in the ocean are not the same as those in most freshwater lakes and rivers. However, you can use any kayak anywhere if you have the experience.

Read on for details!

Can Ocean Kayaks Be Used In Freshwater?

A man paddles ocean kayak
A man paddles ocean kayak | Credit: Popartic /

Yes You can use your ocean kayak in any water if you are an experienced paddler. But it can be challenging for you because of changes in the environment.

Kayaks are classified as either Sea or Whitewater kayaks, depending on where they are intended to be used. A sea kayak is designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions and strong waves. It can navigate through the salt water quite easily.

On the other hand, a whitewater kayak is meant for freshwater paddling. It differs in design, which affects buoyancy and stability.

Overall, use an ocean kayak or whitewater kayak where it is designed to be used to be safe.

Differences Between Freshwater and Ocean Kayak Systems

Ocean and Freshwater Kayak
Ocean and Freshwater Kayak | Credit: Jupiterimages, Jakub Hostacny /

Freshwater and ocean kayaks are both designed to stay afloat on the water while carrying specific weight. However, the two exhibit some differences that adapt them to various environments they are meant to be used.

What Are Ocean Kayaks?

Ocean kayaks are small boats designed for paddling in vast ocean waters. They are long, slim, and pointed to break through ocean waves. Most kayaks feature covered decks, watertight hatches and bulkheads, and backrests not extending beyond the cockpit height.

Most ocean kayaks are relatively stable and sealed by design. Ocean waters can get rough with strong waves, which can easily tip them over. And since they mostly have covered decks, getting them back in position is easy.

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What is Freshwater Kayak?

Technically speaking, kayaks labeled as freshwater kayaks do not exist. However, some boats are best for better navigation through freshwaters on rivers. Such kayaks should never be used in the ocean because of adverse conditions.  

Kayaks preferred for freshwater paddling are usually shorter lengthwise for easy maneuverability. They have smaller cockpits.

As mentioned, ocean kayaks are narrower and longer than freshwater kayaks. That design feature makes them cruise more efficiently, faster on the water, tracks better, and offers lots of storage space for overnight touring gear. 

However, an ocean kayak is challenging to turn 180 degrees, even in the vast ocean or sea waters. That is why they are not suited for use in rivers.

Freshwater kayaks are generally smaller and shorter, making them easy to navigate along the narrow river channels. As a kayaker, you should find it easier to turn around a freshwater kayak than an ocean kayak

Lady paddles kayak in river
Lady paddles kayak in river | Credit: South_agency /

Pros and Cons If You Use Ocean Kayaks In Freshwater

Kayaks designed for use in the ocean or sea are much narrower and longer than those for freshwater. You don’t get any advantage using them on freshwater. Instead, they become relatively unstable and difficult to control.

Ocean kayaks should never be used in rivers with narrow channels as turning can be a hard nut to crack. Additionally, the less stable boat can capsize.

Best Kayaks Be Used in Freshwater

So, what kayaks should you choose if you are determined to paddle in freshwater? It all depends on where you take your adventure to.

Choose recreational kayaks to improve your experience when navigating relatively freshwater without waves. They will give you the best comfort to enjoy nature. But if you want to test your kayaking skills in fast-flowing water, consider whitewater kayaks. They are more stable and can withstand mild conditions in those river sections.

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Can You Use a Freshwater Kayak in the Sea?

Yes, but it depends on many factors. Technically, you can use any kayak anywhere if you are an experienced paddler. We recommend using the appropriate sea kayak in the sea if you are a beginner.

Another condition that favors using the freshwater kayak in the ocean is the water currents. You should have no problem if the water is calm. We advise you to stay as close to the coastline as possible just in case water waves approach.

Freshwater kayaks remain relatively stable on calm waters near the beach. However, you will need more effort to paddle it because of its wider hull and shorter length.

You should not fear navigating the ocean waters along the coastline with a freshwater kayak if there are no waves. However, take precautions for any eventuality. You can go in pairs and always have your life jacket on.

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Can I use an ocean kayak on a lake?

No. Ocean kayaks are not suitable for use in small lakes frequented by waves. Their design makes them best for use in flat waters such as oceans, seas, and larger lakes.

If the water is calm, you can use sit-in-kayaks on large lakes. However, you will struggle to maneuver and paddle it forward.

What’s the difference between an ocean kayak and a freshwater kayak?

The main difference between an ocean and a freshwater kayak is its design. The former is longer and narrower, making it easier to paddle forward. At the same time, ocean kayaks are less stable than freshwater ones.

Can you use a normal kayak in the ocean?

Yes, but it is not recommended. Kayaks for navigating the vast ocean waters exist and are designed to make it effortless to paddle and break through the waves.

So, if you plan to use a normal kayak in the sea, stay along the coastline and have your friend close by. Also, put on your life jacket and don’t go into the ocean when the water is not calm.

What makes a sea kayak different?

Sea kayaks are different from freshwater kayaks in their design. They are longer and narrower and often covered. That makes them easy to roll back if they capsize. These kayaks are easy to paddle forward but not easily maneuverable.

Can I use a sea kayak on a river?

No. A sea kayak is unsuitable for navigating the narrow river channels. They are unstable and not easily maneuverable because of their length. Look for freshwater kayaks for the best paddling experience in rivers.

Are ocean kayaks stable?

Ocean kayaks are relatively stable. However, their long and narrow shape makes them prone to capsizing when hit by waves. Ocean kayaks are much easier to roll over if they topple.

Wrapping Up

You can use ocean kayaks in freshwater, but only if the water is calm and large enough to accommodate the boat. They are usually narrow and long, making them challenging to maneuver in most freshwater bodies. You should also be an experienced paddler to use an ocean kayak in fresh waters.

Thank you for your time reading this article at the Windpaddle. We appreciate your time and believe you are now well informed. Kindly share this information with fellow paddlers to help us reach a wider audience and educate more people.