Kayak Alternatives | Small Boats and Watercraft

Solo Skiff
Photo courtesy of Crescent Kayaks

As much as we here at Yak Logic love kayaks we also understand that sometimes you’ve got to split off from the herd and do your own thing. Kayaks have a lot of advantages over other vessel types, but they aren’t the end all be all of small boats. There’s a wide world of personal watercraft that will get you where you’re going, with or without a paddle. We’ve limited our list of kayak alternatives to boats that are comparable in both size and function; so bass boats, yachts, and most things made of fiberglass didn’t make the cut.

Kayaks are such a popular fishing craft because they’re pretty well balanced in multiple dimensions. For the most part yaks offer decent performance in mobility, portability, stability, and so on. The vessels below have opted to spend most of their spec points in a single trait. So rather than balanced builds you’ll find boats that are really good in one facet like stability or portability. Just remember that there is no perfect boat. It’s important to find the vessel that fits your style and waters.

UltraSkiff 360

UltraSkiff 360
Photo courtesy of Ultra Skiff

The UltraSkiff may look a little funny at first glance. There aren’t too many boats on the water that don’t immediately have a discernible bow or stern. After a closer look though you’ll see that this modern day coracle is a well thought out one man fishing machine. This donut shaped skiff was designed to provide the portability of a kayak with the greater stability of a jon boat. The result is a compact circular craft that weighs in at just 123 lbs, which is a smidge more than most 12′ fishing kayaks.

We’re confident when we say that the Ultra Skiff is the most stable personal watercraft out there; it’s almost impossible to tip it using just your bodyweight. The inverted sloped gunwales counteract freeboard slope to self stabilize and provide an ultra-stable standing platform. A transom mount in the stern fits a trolling motor and the deck is adorned with hatches, cleats, and ram mounts. The center seat mount can accommodate a variety of seat types, but we’re most fond of the pedestal mounted chair. The higher seat is great for sight fishing and makes sit-to-stand transitions quick and easy. One of our favorite features is how it’s transported; there’s no need for wheels. Simply turn the UltraSkiff on its side and roll it down the dock.

The UltraSkiff 360 is a nifty little boat that’s perfect if you’re looking for incredible stability in a small package. Its smaller form factor makes it a great option for those with limited space. A few straps will secure this to almost any roof rack with ease. And it can be mounted to the back of an RV without increasing your anxiety going under bridges. The American made UltraSkiff 360 comes in a few different packages all of which run under $2,000.

Float Tube

If you’re looking to get out on the water on a budget than a float tube might be in your future. It’s one of the smallest, lightest, and cheapest crafts out there that’s still suitable for fishing. This type of “boat” doesn’t even really qualify as paddlecraft because…there’s no paddles. Float tubes are propelled by either the river current or your own feet with some flippers on them, which is how they earned their nickname: kickboats.

Fishing float tubes are a few steps above the plastic versions found on your local lazy river. The Classic Accessories Cumberland Float Tube featured above has a reinforced PVC bottom for scraping along river rocks and a padded seat for a comfortable ride. Side pockets, velcro rod holders, and a cup holder will carry a small amount of gear and some tasty adult beverages if you’re intent on a more relaxing experience. The Cumberland can be carried like a backpack and at only 17 lbs won’t break your back. There are a few different models and colors that usually come in around $200.

Pack Raft

Sea Eagle PF7 PackRaft

Packrafts are small inflatable one-man boats that can be used in any type of water. They became popular after WW2 when adventurous outfitters began reselling the surplus of emergency survival rafts pulled from aircraft. Packrafts typically weigh just a few pounds, between 5 and 10 for whitewater types, and can fold up into a very small package. Ambitious paddlers will often hike up a set of rapids or other water and float back down – a feat enabled by it’s low weight and diminutive size.

Just like kayaks packrafts are generally designed for a specific application. Whitewater focuses on lighter weight and manueverability, recreational rafts add more creature comforts, and so on. We’re fond of the Sea Eagle PackFish 7, a fishing focused packraft. It’s a little heavier at 22 lbs. However that weight is justified by the extra amenities it affords specifically for fishing. The PackFish 7 comes with two built in rod holders, stow pouches for gear and tackle, a comfortable seat, and even cupholders. Best of all the reinforced floor permits standing in calm water – a feature seldom seen on comparably sized models. The Sea Eagle PackFish 7 starts at $379 and is the perfect boat to keep in the trunk of your car for impromptu adventures.

Pontoon Float

The word “Pontoon Boat” usually conjures up images of hard partying co-eds and sun-burned bros on a lake somewhere in the SouthWest. While aluminum pontoons are great for housing a rowdy good time you can throw your own mini boat party for considerably less. Inflatable pontoon boats offer a compact fishing experience at a very affordable price. These boats fill the niche in vessels that are more comfortable and feature rich than packrafts but lower priced than a fishing kayak.

The Colorado XT, made by Classic Accessories, offers a comprehensive fishing experience that’s ready to rock right out of the box. We like that this pontoon boat includes features that are often accessories on kayaks. The XT comes with an anchoring system, integrated wheel for transport, motor mount, and detachable gear bags. A swivel seat in the cockpit is great for casting in all directions and the footrests keep your feet dry. Two oarlocks and the included 7′ oars serve as your main means of propulsion – but we highly recommend upgrading to a trolling motor.

These types of boats, and the Colorado XT in particular, are very popular among fly fisherman and anglers who frequent flat water. Although they’re inflatable most people tend to keep these craft fully assembled as they aren’t the easiest to break-down. Nevertheless their light weight, just 68 lbs, makes transportation super easy. The fabric pontoons can be strapped down on any car without fear of scuffs or scratches. The Colorado XT is a great value for fisherman who want a fully capable fishing rig at a lower price.

Stand Up Paddleboard

Stand Up Paddleboards (SUP) exploded in popularity in the early 2010’s. Their extreme stability, lightweight, and ease of transportation made them more accessible to recreational paddlers than larger canoes and kayaks. In addition SUP’s are pretty easy to operate. A flatter learning curve allowed rookie paddlers to go from novice to pro in record time.

Fishing SUP’s present a few distinct advantages. To begin with they provide an excellent standing platform which makes sight fishing a breeze. With a little practice you can easily walk from bow to stern. The wide open deck also makes casting in any direction unhindered and uncomplicated. SUPs also present a degree of simplicity that tricked out yaks and canoes can’t offer. Besides your board a cooler, paddle, and rod are all that it takes to get out on the water.

The SUP market is almost as wide and varied as the kayak market. Size, shape, and material differ to accentuate either speed, mobility, or stability. The Kaku Kayak Kahuna Fishing SUP pictured above is a great all-around fishing SUP. It features 6 tie downs for securing your cooler, a small front hatch, and threaded inserts to mount a power pole. Gear trac on each side makes throwing up a rod holder or adding other accessories simple. At 60 lbs the Kaku SUP is easy to cartop and walk down the beach. The Kaku Kayak Fishing SUP has an MSRP of $899.

Expandacraft

Humans have been playing around with boat designs ever since they learned that wood floats. For a lot of boaters half the fun is in tweaking their ride until it fits their style perfectly. If you’re interested in tweaking your boat, or even just building a new boat altogether, than Expandacraft’s suite of pontoons and brackets might be right up your alley.

Based out of St. Petersburg Florida Expandacraft has been designing and manufacturing kayak and boat parts for bespoke watercraft since 2002. Their wide selection can be used in a variety of creative ways. If you want a little extra stability on your existing kayak you can rig up an outrigger and throw a net on it for extra storage. Or if you’ve always dreamed of converting your old aluminum canoe into a sailing catamaran, well you can do that to it.

We encourage you to check out the Expandacraft website if you’re serious about modifying your boat. They’ve got an amazing selection of different pontoons, brackets, sails, and decking that can fit any application. There are also pictures of some really amazing builds that can help inspire you. In addition to parts they also sell boat kits such as the PaddleCat – a twin hull vessel with pontoons that quickly disassemble into 3 parts each. Our favorite is probably the 21′ tri-hull expedition raft – that would be a fun camping trip.

Kaboats

Saturn Kaboat 14'

Crossovers and hybrids are a common trend in any sort of vehicle. The idea is to take the best parts from each craft and merge them into one for better performance. Saturn’s hybrid Kaboat has done just that with surprising success. Its borrowed elements from kayaks and boats, specifically a dinghy, to deliver an inexpensive and versatile inflatable craft.

The Kaboat is a soft floored elongated pontoon craft with a transom insert and aluminum seats. The long length and narrow beam allows the Kaboat to get up on plane with relatively little power. A 6 hp Tohatsu or Mercury will do it with one person and light gear. However the transom on most models will support a 10 hp motor if you want more power. An optional floor insert will provide more rigidity for standing on flat water. Multiple d-rings, tie downs, and grommets make accessorizing easy for the average diy’er.

Saturn’s Kaboat is available in several different lengths, colors, and outfitted options. This is a great boat if you’re looking for an inexpensive way to take your friends out on the water. The 18′ version can hold 4-5 people comfortably and is usually priced around $1,200. We doubt there’s a more affordable boat out there that can as many people. Whether you want to cruise down a river with your buddies or spearfish in the open ocean the Kaboat can work in just about any marine environment.

Twin Hull Kayaks/Biyaks

Blue Sky Boatworks 360 Angler
Jackson Kayaks Blue Sky Boatworks 360 Angler

What’s better than a kayak? Two kayaks! That’s more or less the design philosophy behind a twin hull kayak and the reasoning definitely holds water. Two rotomolded and streamlined pontoons are connected with decking to provide an incredibly stable fishing platform. All that extra deck space permits for a spacious and unconfined cockpit that makes casting in any direction a breeze. The biggest selling point on a twin hull kayak is the extra stability. You can walk around the deck with confidence just as if you were on a bass boat.

Twin hull kayaks, also known as Biyaks, offer extra storage, comfort, and capacity than kayaks while maintaining low draft and easy portability. All of those amenities do come at the cost of quite a bit of extra weight though. Fully rigged biyaks can easily tip the scales at 170 lbs. Luckily most models collapse or disassemble to some extent in order to facilitate easier transportation.

There are currently only two major US players in double hull kayaks: Jackson and Native. However we expect that more and more manufacturers will begin to introduce models as these monstrous yaks begin to grow in popularity.

Blue Sky Boatworks

Jackson Kayaks Blue Sky Boatworks Tricat

The Blue Sky Boatworks brand launched under Jackson Kayaks around 2018 and quickly took the lead in the Twin Hull market. Their 360 Angler measures 48″ wide and features the Jackson Flex Drive, an integrated wheel system, and a pedestal mounted throne. Four storage hatches provide access to pontoon interiors for incredible storage while raised t-track handles double as convenient spots for kayak accessories. Finally the beefy rudder is controlled by hand throttles placed on each side of the chair. The number of nuanced and thoughtful features on this boat is incredible. Suffice it to say that the 360 angler is awesome. The 360 Angler has an MSRP of $3,999. If you want to bring the whole family (even grandma) then consider the 2020 Blue Sky Boatworks Tricat (pictured above) for $5,999.

Native

Native Biyak
Native Biyak

The Native Biyak offers paddlers seeking a twin hull platform a smaller and more flexible option. At 12’7″ long, 30″ wide, and 129 lbs fully rigged the Biyak sounds like a regular kayak on paper. The real trick is that this dub yak easily expands to 50″ wide to provide an incredibly stable standing platform. A sliding rail system permits on the fly width adjustment; so you can paddle to your favorite spot while it’s narrow and then kick out the sides once you’re there.

In addition to this nifty trick the Biyak has the normal array of features that Native fans love and expect. The Hi-Lo lawn chair style offers exceptional comfort and storage is plentiful with four pontoon hatches and one in the center platform. Gear track in the middle offers convenient placement for rod holders and marine mat affords extra grip for standing. There’s no pedal system available for the Native Biyak, so if that’s a must have than the Blue Sky is your only double hull option for hands free fishing. The benefit of a simpler system though is a lower price; the Native Biyak is priced at $1,999.

Micro Skiff

One of the biggest drawbacks of any paddlecraft is its range. Even motorized kayaks, rigged with either a trolling motor or 2.5hp two stroke, are limited to excursions between 5 and 10 miles. Displacement hulls, which are near universal among kayaks, place a hard limit on top speed which is impractical and inefficient to overcome. Bigger boats with planing hulls will provide much more range and convenience but at the cost of a deeper draft, which prevents access to skinny (shallow) waters.

If you’re looking for range, speed, and low draft than there’s really no better option than a micro skiff. Micro Skiffs are a class of flat bottom vessels that typically measure less that 18′, can hold 2-3 people, and fit a 30 hp outboard motor. They’re great for zipping out over flats or even open water in mild conditions. You won’t find the amenities that bigger boats afford such as sound systems, cupholders, or cushy seats. Instead you’ve got an awesome one man ride that’s fun to captain and fish from.

There’s a wide range of microskiffs out there but we’re fond of a few that come in on the smaller side.

Solo Skiff

Solo Skiff

Crescent Kayaks Solo Skiff is a rotomolded microskiff that resembles a stretched out kayak. At 41″ wide and 14’5″ long the Solo Skiff can fit into the bed of a pickup truck, and at 150 lbs it’s still possible to manage by yourself. It fits a 6 hp motor on a conveniently placed recessed transom which will have you flying across the water with a top speed of ~17 mph. Durable HDPE will hold up a lot better than fiberglass when you run into the occasional oyster bed or rocky beach. The front hatch also features inlets and can be used as a livewell for bait or catch. Hatches and rod holders offer bountiful storage for gear, while the wide open deck can be easily customized with kayak and marine accessories. The Solo Skiff retails for $1,915.

FishSkiff 16

FishSkiff 16

If you’re in the market for a small skiff, but don’t want to deal with the nuisances of storage and transportation, then the Sea Eagle FishSkiff 16 is the answer. This 16′ long inflatable skiff, the longest in Sea Eagles’ fleet, has a weight capacity of 1,765 lbs and can seat up to three people comfortably. Three inflatable sections covered in drop stitch reinforced 1,000 denier fabric provide an extremely rigid and durable build which makes for a stable and seaworthy boat. The reinforced transom can fit a 5 hp motor and you’ll hit incredible fuel economy considering the FishSkiff 16 has a base weight of only 99 lbs. The FishSkiff is the only inflatable fishing skiff out there and base packages start at just $1,999.

WaveWalk S4

WaveWalk S4
Wavewalk S4

Hailing from the rocky shores of Rhode Island the WaveWalk S4 is a rugged and lightweight twin-hull microskiff built for speed and stability. Twin pontoons are smartly joined via an integral saddle seat in a single rotomolded hull weighing only 98 lbs. At 13’ long and 38” wide it’s the only microskiff we’ve come across that’s can still be car-topped, albeit with a little muscle. 

The S4 can fit two of your friends and plenty of gear with a capacity of 600 lbs. While it’s thin enough to be paddled the S4 really shines with a small outboard; a 9.9 will provide enough power to drive you through chop and rough. 

The Wavewalk S4 is a great option for inshore boot-scooting and even offshore long hauling. You’ll sacrifice some deck-space with the saddle seat. But it’s well worth the trade-off for the gain in stability. The Wavewalk S4 retails for $2,780 plus shipping, and is proudly made in the USA.

Overview on Kayak Alternatives

Our love for kayaking runs deep. So writing about boats that aren’t kayaks brings tiny yak tears to our hairy yak eyes. We’re practical paddlers though – so we recognize that the kayak alternatives have their place on the water. Small boats of all types are awesome and excel in areas that kayaks can only make a mediocre effort. Whatever you’re looking for there’s a boat out there that will suit your needs. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below and stay tuned for more alternative featurettes in the future.