larger paddlers

Tips for Larger Paddlers to Enjoy your Ride

Call me “weight challenged.”

The older and heavier I get, the more I recognize activities I once enjoyed in my more athletic youth now lack any appeal.  Pogo sticks and diving boards to name a few. Rock climbing is out of the question along with marathon races. I waddle now instead of run, and airplane seats are now even less than uncomfortable.

I admit it.  I’m starting to limit some of my activities because of my size. But kayaking isn’t one of them.  

If you consider yourself big or large or overweight, this article is for you.


Can Heavy People Kayak?

Absolutely!  The biggest problem is that many larger people are introduced to the sport in a boat that’s too small for them, so they get embarrassed or discouraged and give up rather than finding a boat that fits.

When I first started paddling many years ago, I was pleasantly surprised and inspired to find a few very large guys in the club who were expert paddlers.  I suffered the general misconception that kayaking was all about strength and fitness and was surprised to discover that it’s more about technique and finesse.  Having the right boat for your size and purpose is everything.

I will forever regret a time a good friend of mine asked me to let him try my kayak in a pool.  I didn’t think or consider that he was that much larger than me, but it became quickly apparent that his butt was different than mine and just wouldn’t comfortably fit into my boat.  To my shame, he got discouraged and concluded that kayaking was not a sport for him, and there was nothing I could say or do to convince him otherwise. First impressions are difficult to overcome.  Make sure your first impression is positive by making sure the kayak you try is rated for your size and weight capacity.

The secret of weight capacity is displacement.  Longer and wider kayaks displace more water and can, therefore, hold greater weight and larger people.  You’ll be looking for a wide kayak in the 10 to 12-foot range. See more: Does kayak have a weight limit? (With 31 examples)

If you still need convincing that big guys can kayak, watch the YouTube video below.  If this 15-year-old can do it, so can you.


What about Heavy Women?

What if my big butt won’t fit?  What if I sit on the kayak and it sinks?  What if I fall off and can’t get back on? These are some of the typical fears and excuses that goes through the heads of some larger women when someone suggests kayaking to them.  

It’s true that women are built differently and tend to be more pear-shaped and sometimes lack sufficient upper body strength, but that only factors into boat selection.  

Think of kayaking as the new yoga.  Instead of worrying about jiggling a little while walking for exercise, you can expend calories having fun in a beautiful environment while sitting down. Save your knees, go kayaking instead!

Sure, your arms will get tired at first but don’t give up and you’ll be able to spend longer and longer periods on the water.  You could also get a hybrid pedal/paddle boat that lets you peddle for a while when your arms wear out so get both an upper and lower body workout.

Don’t let weight hold you back.

If you want to be inspired by a woman’s perspective, here’s an excellent article: Fat Girl Fear Debunked: Kayaking When You’re Overweight


How to Choose a Kayak for Big Guys?  

Kayaks really aren’t made with HIS or HER models, so perhaps Big Persons would be a better title for this question. As I alluded to before, just because a guy and girl are the same height and weight doesn’t mean they’ll FIT the same into a boat.  But that’s more an issue of OUTFITTING the seat to accommodate wider or narrower hips.

Here’s a list of factors you should consider:



The FIRST factor to consider is your intended purpose for the kayak to steer you in the right direction.  Are you interested in whitewater? Fishing? Flatwater?  Kayaks are made differently depending on their function, so identifying your purpose is your first step.


Optimum Paddler Weight

Once you know what KIND of kayak you need, look for the suggested paddler weight range for the LARGE model of the boat.  This is usually described as something like “Optimum Paddler Weight” and given as a range in both kilograms and pounds.  This is the tested range which will give the optimal performance based on displacement. The more you’re above the recommended upper limit, the lower in the water the boat will ride meaning you won’t be as fast or maneuver as easily and will likely scrape the bottom and submerged rocks more frequently. See more: Does kayak have a weight limit? (With 31 examples)

For a great visual of this effect, catch this Youtube video on  Kayak weight limits.

Then, consider YOUR weight.  Generally, sit inside whitewater kayaks have limits up to nearly 300 lbs.  Sit on tops can be rated up to 500 lbs.



This means you’ll need to sit in or on the boat in the store to see if you fit and if its comfortable to sit in.  Remember you’ll likely be in the boat for several hours at a stretch. Is there sufficient back support? Are you snug but not too tight?  Is it able to be adjusted to suit your needs? Get a good salesperson to assist you and answer your questions. This is one time you’ll need to suck up your pride in the interest of honest answers.  Don’t just buy a kayak online and hope for the best unless you’ve already sat in one.

IMG_2932 by tomsands80, on Flickr
IMG_2932” (CC BY 2.0)  


Weight of the Kayak

Note the weight of the kayak.  Remember you’ll need to be able to get your boat from wherever you store it to and onto your vehicle and from there to the water which could be a considerable distance.



Frequently the model you select will be available in various colors to choose from.  You want a boat you will feel good about and look good in.  Is purple your thing? Brighter colors show up better in pictures and videos.  It’s OK to be bold and distinctive and show your personality here. Make a statement.



I’ve saved price for last because it’s relative to how much you can afford and how badly do you want it?  You can buy new or used, or set your savings goal. Considering the rest of the gear you’ll need including your PFD and paddle, you’ll probably be looking at a minimum of $500 to $1000 as your initial investment which is not to be taken lightly. What you don’t want to happen is for your kayak to become another little-used toy like that treadmill in your basement. See more: 7 Reasons Why Buying Cheap kayaks is a Bad Investment


Recommendation Sit-on-Top Kayak for Big Paddlers

If paddling on flat open water is your thing, then a sit-on-top may be the kayak for you.  Sit-on-tops are generally not as versatile as Sit-insides and aren’t recommended for anything beyond a mildly moving current, but they are very stable on flat water and may accommodate higher paddler weight ranges up to 500 lbs depending on the boat. See more: 17 Reasons Why I’m Choosing a Sit-on-Top kayak

They tend to be a lot heavier than Sit-insides to carry and load, but they’re also easier to slide on and off of, and you can hang your legs over the sides if you need to change positions.  They have scupper holes to drain the water. Just understand that you WILL get wet. I’m a little leery of molded seat designs being able to offer enough back support for several hours on the water.  But the durability of strap-on back seat supports could be an issue, too

I like the  Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11(Check on Amazon) is a highly rated sit-on-top good for ocean surf or lakes.  It has a 300 lb capacity. It has a 4 way adjustable Comfort Plus seat support to keep you comfortable for longer periods.  It has a tripoint hull for added stability and a keel to keep you going straight. With lots of leg room, it’s an excellent kayak for tall paddlers and weighs just 47 lbs.  

My second choice would be the Perception Kayak Striker (Check on Amazon).  It comes in various lengths.  I would recommend at least the 12 foot.  I would invest in a kayak seat rather than sitting on the molded seat and also scupper plugs for under the seat to keep your butt dry.  Otherwise, this is a very stable boat, suitable for fishing and touring around. It has a 500 lbs capacity making it ideal for carrying larger paddlers and their gear.  


Recommendation Sit-in Kayak for Big Paddlers

Sit-inside kayaks are considered more versatile, particularly in whitewater, and many paddlers enjoy the sense of being enclosed and protected from splash, particularly in cooler weather.  They aren’t as roomy and probably a little more difficult to get into and out of than a sit-on-top. The large size kayaks generally have a paddler weight limit of around 300 lbs.

The Pyranha Machno (Check on will be my next boat now that I’ve maxed out the weight limit on my current one.  It’s still new on the market with few used boats available as no one is letting go of this hottest new design. The Large model is rated for a paddler weight of up to 287 lbs, and at nearly 9 feet long, it’s 97.2 gal volume, high rocker, and plaining hull design give this boat excellent stability, speed, and maneuverability in creeky whitewater.    

The Dagger Axis (Check on Amazon) is a multi-water 12-foot recreational kayak.  It’s probably better suited for flatwater or very mild whitewater.  It’s rated up to 300 lbs and boasts a roomy comfortable cockpit. It’s fast and maneuverable and has a rudder to keep you going straight.


Other Possibilities

There are also a few other possibilities worth mentioning.  Some people are very comfortable with inflatable kayaks. They can support a lot of weight and can be somewhat lighter to handle.  Tandem kayaks are built for two people, but can also be paddled by a single paddler.

The pedal/paddle hybrid we previously mentioned has an additional advantage of being suitable for hands-free fishing.   They tend to be more expensive than regular kayaks. Both the

Perception Pescador Pilot Fishing Kayak and the Hobie Mirage Compass Kayak have received good reviews.  


Kayaking Tips for a Heavy Paddler.

  • Always wear a life jacket (PFD) that fits your plus size.  
  • Don’t forget your water bottle.  It’s so important to keep hydrated.  I like to freeze mine in the freezer so I’ll have cold water as it melts throughout the day.
  • Better to paddle with friends who can assist you in carrying or loading your kayak, or helping you get in or out of it if necessary.  
  • Demo a boat before you buy one.  Make sure you’re able to climb back into/onto the kayak when you’re in the water,
  • If you’re a beginner with zero upper body strength, consider a pedal/paddle hybrid in case you wear out your arms and upper body.
  • Pack a sturdy step stool in your car.  These are great for helping you strap your kayak to your car.
  • Keep a kitchen rug in your car. You can lay it on the trunk of your car to protect it so you can slide your kayak up onto the roof rather than having to lift it.   It can also double as a changing mat.
  • Get yourself a changing poncho so you’ll have ample room to change your clothes discretely rather than trying to maneuver inside your vehicle.
  • Forget about what anyone thinks or how you might look.  Enjoy yourself.



I hope this article has inspired you to consider the possibilities in not letting your size hold you back from the wonderful adventure and fun of kayaking.  For another good article on boat selection for big guys, you should also read 10 Best Kayaks for Big Guys that Won’t Rock the Boat and The Best Extra Large Kayaks for Big Guys & Gals, and  Best Kayak for Big Guys/Gals 2018 for more advice, opinions and boat reviews.

Just do it!  Don’t worry what anyone else might think.  You are entitled to have fun, same as anyone else. As always, your personal comments and experiences are valued and welcomed below.

Thanks for reading, Happy kayaking.

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1 year ago

Great article!

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9 months ago

I want to see a beginner video by a fat person who teaches fat people how to paddle because honestly it’ll just help me understand the motions better. I feel like I end up tiring myself out because I’m not doing it properly. 😔

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