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It’s that time of year. New kayaks are hitting the showroom floors. This is also the season when people start thinking of getting one or two new kayaks. Many times those people thinking about it will be first time owners. To simplify some potential heartache, I submit to you my First Time Kayak Buyer’s Guide.

Kayak fishing Facebook Pages are lighting up with requests about which boats to look at, which one is for me and myriad other questions.

So which boat should you get? It’s not that simple. You may as well ask which one main dish your town would like to eat every day for the next year.

One kayak buyer’s expectations vary greatly from another. We are all unique individuals with very specific things we are looking for. Kayak fishing is no different.

So what do you do? Here are a few steps to help make the right-for-you decision.

#1 Kayak Buyer’s Guide : Make a List

You need to make a list of all the things you are going to do in the kayak and how it will be used.
Are you fishing in big lakes, the ocean, rivers, bays or all of the above?
Do you want to troll, drift, sit, stand, paddle, pedal or use an electric motor of some sort?
Are you fishing for bass, crappie, cats, specks, reds, flounder, anything you can catch or all of the above?
Who will be using the kayak? Will it be just you or will others be sharing it?
How will you transport it? Do you have a truck, trailer, car, van? How about a roof rack? Do you have cross bars on the roof rack?
How much storage do you want the kayak to have?
Do you fish in the cold much?
Do you fish in the wind much?
Where will this kayak be stored? How much room is in that place (size limits)?
Do you have any health issues that will play into your decision (bad back, bad heart, arthritis, etc)?
How much weight can you lift above your head? What amount of weight can you raise to your waist?
Of the people that will be using the kayak, how much does the heaviest person weigh ?
How tall is the tallest person that will use the kayak?
What weight capacity, gear and people, will the kayak need to have?

First Time Kayak Buyer's Guide

This is by no means the full exhaustive list but it will get you in the right frame of mind to discover what you need. Take down your answers and take them in to a dealer or with you to a demo day.

#2 Kayak Buyer’s Guide : Price Range

This one is tough. Most people decide they want to get into kayak fishing with a max cap of  around $500. Some have a smaller budget than that. The problem with that number is that will usually only get you a kayak. Let’s say you go to a big box store and by the entry level model.  It’ll cost you, in most cases, about $500. After tax you are already over budget. Now you need a paddle, lifejacket (PFD), and whistle just to be legal and able to go to the lake (in most states). This adds another $60 if you get the absolute cheapest stuff that’s made. Throw in tax and your $500 budget is now at $670.

This is when most people start to look at used kayaks and settle on one in their price range from Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. Usually the kayak doesn’t fit that list of things you wanted and more often than not, your $450 you spent on a used kayak turns into a loss because after the first couple of trips you are selling the used kayak and stuff for $350 on Craigslist because kayak fishing just isn’t for you. You can find details on all of Jackson Kayaks models and pricing here on our store.

#2.5 Some Hard to Hear Advice

Don’t blame the kayak. If you take a date out to McDonald’s and tell her to order off of the Dollar Menu only do you think you’ll get a second date? Rarely. When you buy a used kayak on the cheap that you’ve done little research on and doesn’t meet your needs, your time in kayak fishing is usually, not always, but usually short lived.

Make a realistic budget for what you can do and stick to that but make sure it meets your list. If it doesn’t meet your list, save up more money to expand your budget or keep waiting. Trust me here. A kayak that meets all of your needs (or most) rather than just the desire to get on the water will make you much happier in the long run.

First Time Kayak Buyer's Guide

#3 Kayak Buyer’s Guide : Demo, Demo, Demo

Before you make a purchase, if at all possible, demo lots of kayaks. Technically speaking, there are demo days almost every day of the year. Lots of dealers will meet you at the lake with a few kayaks you want to try. Meet up with folks who have the kayak already and give it a try. Please don’t buy a kayak without trying it first. It usually ends in heartbreak. Take your list and check off how many of your desires each one has. If it is out of your budget, look for a used one or save some more money and get the one you really want.

#4 Kayak Buyer’s Guide : Research

Talk to people who have the kayak you have narrowed it down to. Do some web research. Look at the manufacturers website. Join the Facebook Group for that particular company or model. I know there are lots of questions and answers flying around in the Jackson Fishing Kayak Owners Group on Facebook. What would they change? How did they rig their kayak for fishing? Would they buy that kayak again? Make an informed decision.

#5 Final Thoughts : No Regrets

Even if you follow all of these steps, it doesn’t guarantee a perfect kayak for you. There is always a chance you’ll change boats a few times in your life and that is good too. As your preferences change, it’s possible so will the type of kayak you need however the chances of you buying the right kayak the first time without any of the above steps is not a very likely scenario.