What are the best used fishing kayaks on a tight budget?
Want to start kayak fishing, but on a tight budget? Then buying used is the perfect way to save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. I have brought a lot of old, used kayaks over the year and have never been disappointed in them.
They also hold onto their resale value very well, so I might buy a boat for $400, then a couple of years later sell it and get my money back. I even sold one for a slight profit.
For the same money, I personally will buy a quality used kayak any day before considering a cheaply made Chinese boat that often tracks poorly, and is made from plastic that may or may not be properly UV stabilized.
What is the life expectancy of a plastic kayak? Just how old is still okay?
If you ever searched for used kayaks, one thing quickly becomes apparent, there are a lot of old kayaks from premium brands, but despite their relative popularity used ‘department store’ kayaks are rare. The reason why many of them do not survive the first owner.
Premium brand kayaks are usually made from properly stabilized materials, if stored out of direct sunlight they can last for 25+ years. In contrast, I have seen department store kayaks become brittle and crack within three years of use. Now, I am not saying that all department store kayaks are badly made, but some certainly are.
The first rotationally moulded plastic kayaks was made by Malibu Ocean Kayak circa 1986 (later rebranded to Ocean Kayak), in 1993 they were joined by Cobra Kayaks with their iconic fish n dive and a while later Wilderness System released their first fishing kayak.
Kayaks from the 1990s can and are still paddled. I have even seen sit-on-top kayaks with the Malibu Ocean Kayak branding still being rented out. My brother in law purchased two polypropylene whitewater kayak from the early 90s, they were in surprisingly good condition. They took a high degree of skill to paddle, so he onsold both for a profit..
Not surprisingly, some of the original boats are still ticking, I have seen a 33 year old Ocean Kayak Scupper Pro, apart from the normal scratches it was still in good condition. The hulls of some kayaks even come with a 30 year warranty, and I believe Ocean Kayaks still come with a limited lifetime warranty for the original owners. They are built to last.
What I am trying to say, Fishing kayaks that are made out of high quality materials can last for decades. Yes cheap, kayaks made out of non-uv stabilized plastic might become brittle after a couple of seasons, but buying such boats is normally a false economy.
Old boats are not always the best deals
I have seen old kayaks with very high asking prices, and nearly brand new ones being sold for a lot less.
I once brought a kayak that has only been used three times, and it come with several hundred dollars worth of accessories for half the normal retail price. The deal was too good to turn down.
Many people buy kayaks, then realize the sport is not for them, maybe the boat is too heavy, or too sluggish through the water. There are many reasons why boats get sold.
Try to avoid buying stolen baits.
Kayaks get stolen from vacation homes all of the time, so they turn up on the used market. I suggest if a deal looks too good to be true, ask yourself if it could be stolen.
One way to sometimes identify a stolen kayak is that it will come with next to no accessories, an expensive kayak without the framed seat is certainly a red flag.
What goes wrong on older boats?
When buying a used kayak, I suggest checking the hull for cracks, brittleness and distortions. It is also worth running your hand along the hull trying to feel for soft spots in the plastic.
The most common location to find cracks or thin plastic is at the bow and stern, some people drag them along the ground which can cause a lot of plastic to rub off. Light scratches elsewhere are not normally a problem. Some of mine are very badly scratched up because I slide them down cliffs to access launch spots, they paddle fine despite some deep grooves.
Another common failure point, on heavier kayaks, is around the scupper holes (drainage holes). So it is worth looking inside these for cracking.
I also check the hull for signs of fading, if one side is bright yellow, and the other is pale chances are it was stored in the sun against a wall and one side was getting backed. I probably avoid such boats.
On old kayaks, plan to replace old accessories and attachments.
Attachments such as handles can and do snap. While metal handles can and do last, fabric ones can become brittle in only a few years. I have replaced mine several times on my Ocean Kayak Elite.
Even when new, do not trust handles to hold the weight of the kayak.
It is best practice to hold a kayak by the hull, not by the handles. The handles are there to stabilize the kayak when carrying or to tow them in the water, not for picking it up. By lifting a kayak by the handles you are forcing all the weight into a couple of small bolts or rivets. Common failure point.
Other things like plastic eyelets, and strap buckles all become brittle and will snap after prolong exposure to sunlight. I seem to replace mine every few years.
Quality hatches in my experience are quite durable, all the hatch covers that come with my old kayak are still in serviceable condition. I also installed a few after market hatch covers, and those broke within a couple of seasons. I guess they were made with no UV-stabilizing in the plastic.
Premium rod holders normally survive the test of time, but sometimes the ‘seal’ that is used between the holder and hull does start to break down.
Where to find second-hand kayaks?
There are a lot of second hand kayaks on the market, and it is only a matter of time before a bargain shows up.
I suggest checking local online marketplaces such as Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. Kayak fishing group pages are also worth keeping an eye on, but people in paddling groups are normally more aware of prices so bargains get snapped up quickly.
Forums also use to be a great place to buy and sell used boats but such boards are nowhere near as popular as they use to be.
Retail stores can also have stock of used kayaks, they usually get them as trade-ins. These kayaks are normally a bit more expensive than buying them privately but they should be in good condition.
Best second hand deals?
Below I will list some of the used kayaks that I feel offer the best value for money. One hint when kayak shopping, I often find the best deals have the worst descriptions, and might even have a generic title such as “fishing kayak” rather than giving the specific model.
I also will note, that prices will probably vary from region to region, and state to state. Some models are probably more popular in some areas than others.
In my experience, Cobra Kayaks are often the best bargains on the used market. Based out of California Cobra was one of the first companies to produce plastic fishing kayaks, and they were quite innovative back in the day with their Fishndive feature large centre hatches well before it was mainstream. Cobra Kayaks are also surprisingly lightweight given their dimensions.
Cobra Fish n Dive: a surprisingly capable big man boat selling for around $300. Most are still in good condition and are a good cheap way to get out onto the water. They offer an enormous amount of storage, and while not the driest of rides they do paddle better than many more modern designs and can even keep up at cruising speeds.
Cobra Expeditions: While not a fishing kayak, more of a fast cruising kayak with plenty of storage. I have seen them being advertised for very little money as well. Cobra Expeditions use to have a reputation for being long and heavy, although by today’s standards they are not heavy. Their length also makes them feel more stable than the width will suggest. I have known a few people who have even modified them for fishing.
I also suggest keeping an eye on older Ocean Kayaks while most have been discontinued they are excellent boats. In general, they do sell for slightly more than Cobra’s but bargains do show up. From time to time,
Ocean Kayak Prowlers are an absolute classic line of fishing kayaks and I still paddle one. They come in a range of lengths, with the Prowler 13 probably being the most popular. They paddle and if you search old forums there are plenty of guides on how best to customize them. Despite their age, and lack of fancy features they are still a great design. Ride is a bit drier than the Cobra’s but still expect to get wet.
Ocean Kayak Trident. Think of the trident line as a more modern, feature rich evolution of the prowler. They have more hatches, including a rather well designed centre hatch. Heavier, but still a popular design. Recently I have seen Tridents advertised for around $600, although I also have seen them advertised for a lot more. For this sort of money, they leave any department store models dead in the water.
Scupper pro The Scupper pro was the original fishing kayak design. Some people still consider them the best fishing kayak ever made, they were built to be paddled. The ride is wet, and not the most stable. Worth considering if you do mind a less stable design. Scupper Pros are getting on a bit in years so the older ones might be a bit brittle if they spent a lot of time in the sun. Swell Watercraft are actually making a new version of the Scupper, and they seem to be selling well.
Wilderness system tarpon reminds me a lot of the Ocean Kayak Prolwer series of kayaks They share a lot in common, and are also well designed boats. Unlike the Prowler, they are still being made.
Hobies do show up quite often on the used market, but they seem to hold onto their value so bargains are few and far between. Their paddle boats are fine, but I am not sure if I personally will trust an old pedal drive. Although, I am not the biggest fan of pedal boats in the first place so probably bias against them
Perception I do not know much about perception fishing kayaks, but they do show up from time to time, the company does make some nice sea kayaks so their fishing kayaks are probably also worth considering.
Feel free, Oldtown these two companies make some nice kayaks, but like Hobie, they do seem to have a much higher resale value making bargains hard to find.