Can You Use an Ocean Kayak on a River?

Can you use an ocean kayak on a river? What about using a river kayak in the ocean? Which is better for beginners, and what are other places to paddle beside waterways and oceans?

You can answer these questions after reading this blog post.

A couple kayaks down the mountain river while enjoying the scenery

Can I use an ocean kayak on a river?

You can definitely use an ocean kayak on the river. The key is to choosing the right boat for your paddling style and environment.

Sea kayaks, as a rule, are longer than river kayaks and can be challenging to maneuver in the turbulent waters of a river. Recreational kayaks can serve as an alternative for those who like working out on flat water, but they are not designed to handle strong currents.

Sea kayaks have small enclosed cockpits with skirts that make it easier to paddle/stay dry in rougher water.

You can use an ocean kayak on rivers with strong currents and rough conditions, but it can also get challenging to maneuver the boat in a straight line.

Recreational kayaks are larger boats that can handle rougher waters (but not whitewater) and come equipped with storage space for things you might need while paddling.

And don’t forget about wearing PFDs when out on the water of any type.

What’s the difference between a sea kayak and a river kayak?

Sea kayaks are narrow and long; this allows them to track very well, but it can be difficult to turn.

River kayaks have shorter and flatter hulls that allow quick, responsive maneuvering, making them more accessible in tight places or turbulent water conditions.

Sea kayaks are great if you’re looking for a long, straight-tracking ride with more stability on the ocean waves when paddling.

River kayaks can be used in calm rivers and ocean conditions, but are often more comfortable for quick maneuvering around rocks or other obstacles on the river bed.

The shorter length also means you can get out of tight spaces more easily than with a sea kayak that may have trouble fitting through shallow areas like some rapids.

Sea kayaks can work well in the ocean but may not be as stable in waves. River kayaks can track better than sea kayaks and can make tight turns more easily.

It’s also easier to get out of the water with a shorter river kayak because they are lighter (you can carry them over your shoulder).

Sea kayaks can track very well and are long, meaning they are ideal for straight tracking but can be challenging to turn.

What makes a kayak a sea kayak?

Sea kayaks are usually very narrow and long, so that means they’ll have smooth tracking but can feel a bit twitchy at times. Many people enjoy this because it gives them more control over their movements in the water or on land.

Another feature that’s a must on a sea kayak is either a rudder or skeg. It can steer the kayak and help you track better with your strokes.

Using an ocean kayak on a freshwater river

What kind of kayak do I need for a river?

It would be better to get a stable kayak that can turn quickly on a river. For rivers and lakes, you might consider a sit-in kayak or a day touring sit-on-top.

RELATED:  What Muscles Does Kayaking Work? [The Ultimate Guide]

If you want to have one boat that can do both still and moving water, consider starting with a short recreational kayak: a sit-in or sit-on-top.

What is the difference between a river kayak and an ocean kayak?


It is not easy to paddle an ocean kayak on a river. You can find the main difference between the two in energy sources.

River kayaking occurs downstream, or with the current pushing you downriver and requiring almost no effort from the paddler to move their boat upstream.

It is because of gravity that much of the work has been done for you. In contrast, sea kayaking can require paddling against the current and can be much more strenuous because of this.

Sea kayakers will paddle for a long time to reach their destination without much to no rest. However, river kayakers can take breaks when they need them and can often enjoy the scenery along the way. It is because they can paddle without worrying about doing it the wrong way.

Sea kayakers will need to be much more conditioned and in shape than river kayakers. They do all of the work while in a sea kayak, unlike when paddling downstream. Gravity is helping them like a river kayaker would have it.

It remains crucial for individuals to consider their skill level before signing up for a river kayak.

Distance from land

Rivers are narrower than the sea or ocean. Rivers can get plenty wide, but most, particularly where there’s whitewater, are relatively thin.

  • If you need a break from paddling or stretching your legs, the shore is relatively close, and it’s easy enough to stop paddling to get out.
  • Riverbanks can be a convenient stop, and if you capsize and need rescue or self-rescue, the shore will not be too far away.
  • Sea kayaking is very different because the bank is usually much further away.
  • Beginner paddlers should be careful to stay near shore regardless, but this is especially pertinent for beginners.
  • Some types of kayaking require less distance from the shore, such as whitewater.
  • With rivers, the shore is much closer, and there are more options for stopping to stretch and have lunch. It may not be possible with other types of paddling adventures, like ocean or sea kayaking.


To kayak on a river, it is advisable to use more maneuverable kayaks. Kayaks can be made from plastic or fiberglass.

Plastic kayaks are cheaper and easier to repair, but they can break under the weight of a heavy paddler.

On the other hand, fiberglass is more expensive but is stronger and lighter than its plastic counterpart.

The shape of river kayaks can vary depending on what type you use for what purpose. Generally, they can be flat-bottomed for speed or have a rounded hull to more easily roll over obstacles.

River kayaks can also come in long and short lengths. It is crucial since the length of your boat affects how easily it can turn on an eddy line or track down rapids as well as maneuver around rocks.

Sea kayaks can’t turn quickly because they are designed to move in straight lines. Additionally, edging on a river would involve lifting the upstream edge and leaning into the turn. In sea kayaking, you would lift the knee of the paddler’s downstream leg to create that lean effect and assist with turning.

Changing ingrained techniques can be challenging, but you can find the boat that best fits your needs and abilities by experimenting.

Whether it’s a river or an ocean kayak, there are many considerations to consider which type of paddling is right for you.

RELATED:  Can One Person Use a Two-Person Kayak? (A Comprehensive Guide)

Aren’t all kayaks that go into the ocean called ocean kayaks?

You can use all kinds of kayaks in the ocean, but not everyone can paddle them in the river. The confusion starts because there’s no agreed-upon definition of what qualifies as a kayak, and many different types can be used for both tasks to varying degrees.

Ocean kayaks are typically 14 feet or longer. They are equipped with two airtight hatches in case you capsize. In addition, they have enough buoyancy to stay afloat if you can’t right your kayak.

River kayaks, on the other hand, are usually 12 feet or less. Their hull design is different from an ocean boat because it needs to be fast enough for rivers and handle choppy water.

The quickest answer would be that you can use a river kayak in the ocean, but you can’t use an ocean kayak in a river.

You can use it on lakes and other smaller bodies of water with calmer conditions; it’s just that they’re not designed for open bodies of water like rivers or oceans.

The bottom line is this: if you want to take your boat out in rough waters, you need to know the limitations.

Are ocean kayak models different from other sea kayaks?

There is no difference between ocean kayaks and sea kayaks.

Two kayakers in long ocean kayaks specifically designed for ocean excursions

What are some differences between freshwater and saltwater kayak systems?


Ocean kayaks can be long and slim for cruising.

River kayaks can be shorter and flatter for maneuvering in tight spaces.

As a result of the draft of the sea kayaks, it is easier to accelerate when traveling straight quickly. But tight turns can be more complicated than river kayaking.

Saltwater is heavy, so you may want to invest in a higher-grade, lighter-weight kayak made for saltwater.

The sea can be tough on the skin, so you may want to think about investing in neoprene covers or spray skirts.

Saltwater can cause rust. That’s why kayaks for saltwater should have higher-grade, lighter-weight hulls and are often recommended with keels designed to prevent them from flipping over when docking at a pier.


Durability can be a factor when it comes to choosing between a saltwater kayak and a freshwater one. A saltwater kayak can be rougher than a freshwater kayak, so it will typically come with more durable materials.

First, depending on the type of kayak a person wants to have (saltwater or freshwater), they’ll need to determine if it will be tough enough for how they plan to use it. A saltwater kayak is usually more durable and can take more abuse than a similar freshwater kayak. They are generally heavier, but can be worth it for those who can handle the extra weight.

A kayak designed explicitly for use in freshwater won’t have to take the same level of precaution against potential injuries, bruising, or wear from prolonged use. Hence, they often cost less than saltwater-adapted models with the same features and quality.

But because freshwater kayaks tend to be so much cheaper, they are a little more susceptible to wear and tear. They usually stay on the market for less time too.


Every kayaker can appreciate a convenient place to store their gear.

Saltwater anglers, or even just saltwater kayakers, will be required to carry a bit more than usual with them. It is because of the environment they will face on the water.

Freshwater kayaks have storage options too, but not quite as extensive (mainly because they can’t carry much of a load).

For most kayakers, storage is just as significant to their overall experience.

How can you tell if your boat will work in fresh or saltwater?

Saltwater kayaks should have a thicker hull and can be made of fiberglass or other hard-wearing materials that resist corrosion.

RELATED:  Best Kayak Foot Pegs 2022 [How to Choose the Right Ones for You]

Freshwater boats are usually less expensive to buy, but they require a fresh coat of paint every year if you don’t want them to rust. If your boat starts turning green from the algae on top of the water, then you should consider repainting it.

Saltwater can corrode other materials, such as your deck, cockpit cover, and seats. A boat in saltwater should have a sealed hull design to avoid this corrosion from happening too quickly.

Are there any advantages to using one system over another?

There can be advantages to using a river kayak instead of an ocean one. A river can have standing waves, steep drops, or rapids that are not found in the open water of the oceans.

An ocean kayaker may find it easier to paddle in flat, calm waters rather than in rough conditions on rivers.

Which type of kayak should you buy first, a freshwater or a saltwater model?

An ideal way to start kayaking is to do so on a pond or lake. The reason is that it can be challenging to stay on course in ocean water. In addition, there are lots of dangers that can arise when kayaking in the sea or bay.

Is it possible to convert a freshwater kayak into a saltwater kayak?

You can use a freshwater kayak in the ocean without any significant problems. One can use a freshwater kayak in the sea without any difficulties, but you might want to do some additional preparation before heading out on your trip:

  • If it’s not too tricky (and always try), take time to wash off all of the saltwater and sand that has accumulated on the outside of your kayak and inside the cockpit.
  • It can also be helpful to rinse off any wet gear before it dries and accumulates dirt, sand, or salt particles inside your kayak.
  • Rinse out the dry storage compartments in case water has seeped into them. Remember that nylon absorbs water like a sponge.
  • Make sure there’s no water left in the seating area of your kayak, as this can cause mold growth.
Stunning view of blue ocean waves and a lone kayaker enjoying his perfect day on the water

Will either be more difficult than the other to learn how to operate?

While both can be worthwhile pastimes for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels, there are some noticeable differences between these two types of boats. Depending on the situation, these differences can make it more difficult for one to operate.

With an ocean kayak, the cockpit can get submerged in deeper water and can be challenging for beginners to maneuver because it’s lower than a riverboat. It can also make your boat more difficult to control with stronger waves and currents.

A river can have stronger currents, which can make it difficult to control your boat with stronger waves. It can be compounded by the fact that ocean kayaks are usually heavier and wider than riverboats, making them less agile in solid currents.

Ocean boats can also get stuck on river rocks if they’re not careful when using these types of vessels for recreational purposes.


I can sum up this article in one sentence: “Yes, ocean kayaks can be used to paddle on the river.”

Ocean kayak hulls are designed more for speed than tracking and maneuverability, so if you’re using an ocean kayak on a river with many obstacles like rocks or logjams, you can quickly get stuck or flip.

Because ocean kayak hulls are designed for speed, you can’t use them on slow rivers with many obstacles.

If you’re using an ocean kayak on a river with many obstacles, then it can be tricky to maneuver. Therefore, the most practical option is usually not to bring one at all.

Last updated on June 19, 2022 by Duncan Barrett

Leave a Comment