Sea Kayaking Vs. River Kayaking: What Are The Main Differences?

Sea Kayaking Vs. River Kayaking: What Are The Main Differences?

No two kayaks are the same and knowing which one you should choose depends on what kind of outdoor recreation you wish to experience. Two of the most popular forms of kayaking are sea kayaking and river kayaking. Let us discuss these two styles of kayaking so you can decide which may be a better fit for you. While both offer the chance to get out in the great outdoors, each presents their own unique adventure. So without further ado, let us paddle our way through the differences between sea kayaking and river kayaking.

Endurance Sport vs. Adrenaline Sport

When it comes to kayaking on the rivers, you get assistance from the river’s flow meaning you need to paddle far less than what is required in sea kayaking. When it comes to sea kayaking, the only way to move forward is to use your own physical energy to paddle, making it much more of an endurance sport. You also tend to kayak longer on the open sea and cover more distance using your own energy.

River kayaking provides a much more adrenaline pumping sport where you brave the rapids on what can seem like a bit of a wet roller coaster ride. Of course in-between stretches of rapids, you have the ability to get a bit of rest to recover from all the white knuckle action, as the river takes you downstream with very little effort needed by yourself.    

Differences in Design & Handling

Sea kayaks are long and often very narrow which allows them to track very well. You can check these touring kayaks out. They are designed to go straight, but turning can be a much bigger challenge than in a river kayak. You do tend to go faster in a sea kayak but you of course will be at the mercy of the wind and swells of waves. Sea kayaks may seem a bit more tippy, but this is designed to handle rough water better and makes it far less prone to capsizing in large waves. A must feature on a sea kayak is a rudder or skeg. This helps you maintain a straight line during periods of high winds and helps with correcting your course.


River kayaks have shorter and flatter hulls which allows for quick and responsive maneuvering. Your weight distribution plays a key role in turning your kayak in the direction of where you want to go. This “edging” maneuver is a bit easier in a river kayak since you simply lean into the direction that you want to go and your kayak follows suit. Sea kayaking can be a bit more random and trickier to learn how to distribute your weight. With both styles of kayaking, it would be beneficial to learn the basics of how to paddle a kayak effectively.

Each Provides Different Experiences

While kayaking on rivers and the sea both surround you with abundant natural beauty, river kayaking often doesn’t allow you to focus on your surrounds as much since you have to pay attention to the rapids. Sea kayaking allows you the opportunity to really take in the landscape and focus on wildlife watching. You may get up close and personal and have the time and ability to photograph animals such as whales, dolphins, seals, and birds.

Sea kayaking also allows you the opportunity to stop for breaks on remote beaches where you can enjoy a private relaxing lunch. River kayaking on the other hand will take you through gorges and often to incredible waterfalls. You literally feel as though you are one with nature as you flow with the river. It offers much more of an adventure and requires you to constantly be on alert as you navigate obstacles.


We recommend you try both styles of kayaking to discover what is a better fit for you. You may find you fall in love with both sea kayaking and river kayaking. From simple recreational kayaks to the top of the line river or sea kayaks, getting out on the water is a great way to escape the stress of your everyday life and truly feel alive.

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Author: Michael Jerrard

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  1. Ah, Real detailed analysis between the Two, I really prefer when it comes to enjoying the beauty is river kayaking its give you the stability to enjoy and inhale the natural beauty… on the other hand, sea kayaking is for more about fun for me competitive time expand!

    Anyways Really nice and interesting post, keep sharing the good stuff 🙂

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  2. I feel the sea is the best for me to do Kayaking.

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  3. This was too funny!! I’m relieved to know I’m not the only person who tends to bust out “Just keep swimming” when the moment calls for it, lol!!!

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  4. There is different types of river paddling and that was not explained. Before you decide on a Kayak read more than this. White water boats are great for surf and white water. Sea kayaks are great for rivers lakes and the sea.

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