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Kayak Weight Limits (How Much Weight Can A Kayak Hold Before It Sinks?)

Nicola Burridge
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Kayaking is a fantastic way to explore the great outdoors, especially on rivers and lakes.

But wait, you might have already figured out the ideal kayak length for your adventures, but have you considered the kayak weight limit?

Choosing the right kayak weight limit is crucial, especially when you’re going on a longer trip with lots of gear. By doing so, you can ensure maximum performance and, most importantly, stay safe on the water.

To help you navigate these waters, we’ve crafted a handy guide to choosing the perfect kayak weight limit for your next adventure.

Kayak Weight Limits - Pinterest ImagePin

Quick Answer: How Much Weight Can A Kayak Hold?

Kayaks will generally hold around 30% less than their advertised weight limits without affecting the performance of the kayak.

The advertised kayak weight limit stated by the manufacturer is the maximum weight that the kayak can hold. But a kayak that’s fully-loaded to its maximum capacity will tend to sit low in the water, be difficult to paddle, and will generally be unstable.

> How much do kayaks weigh?

Loaded Kayak Ready For ExpeditionPin

The maximum capacity of a kayak includes your body weight plus the weight of all the gear you plan to take with you. But not all of a kayak’s weight limit is usable capacity.

Most kayaks have a usable capacity that is only 70% of the maximum load capacity stated by the manufacturer. This is generally regarded as the “70% rule”. So the kayak can safely handle 30% less than the stated limit to perform at its optimal level.

This means that if a kayak is rated to hold up to 400 pounds, not all of that 400 pounds is considered usable capacity. For that particular kayak to perform as expected, the capacity should ideally not exceed 280 pounds (70% of its total weight limit).

Types of KayakWeight Limit RangePerformance Weight Limit
Recreational kayaks200 to 350 pounds140 to 245 pounds
Touring kayaks200 to 450 pounds140 to 315 pounds
Fishing kayaks300 to 550 pounds210 to 385 pounds
Tandem kayaks400 to 650 pounds280 to 455 pounds
Inflatable kayaks350 to 750 pounds245 to 525 pounds

What Is A Kayak Weight Limit

The weight limit on a kayak is the maximum weight that the kayak can hold before it starts to take on water, loses stability, or capsizes. This is the total amount of weight of both people and gear.

For example, a kayak with a weight limit of 200 pounds could hold no more than a person weighing 180 pounds with 20 pounds of gear before it would possibly sink.

The size and type of kayak will generally determine how much weight the kayak can safely hold. The length, width, and volume, or displacement, are all factors in determining a kayak’s weight limit.

Kayaks vary greatly in weight limits and sizes. The larger the kayak, usually the more weight it can hold. However, this is not a hard and fast rule. Tandem kayaks will generally (but not always) have a higher capacity than solo kayaks as they are designed to hold two paddlers.

Fishing kayaks and inflatable kayaks will usually have higher capacities than other comparable kayaks. Both of these types of kayaks also tend to be wider than most other types of kayaks, providing increased stability.

Maximum Weight Capacity Vs. Performance Capacity

Capsized kayak in the seaPin

When it comes to determining a kayak’s weight limit, there is an important distinction to be made between the maximum capacity and the performance capacity. This is where the 70% rule applies (calculating 30% less than the maximum 100% capacity that we’ve just spoken about above).

The 70% rule states that the optimal weight capacity for performance should not exceed 70% of the maximum capacity rating of a kayak.

For example, if a tandem kayak has a maximum capacity rating of 500 pounds, then its performance capacity should be no more than 350 pounds (500 x 0.70). This includes both passengers and gear; the weight of both must fit within this limit for optimal performance.

If you load up your kayak to 100% of its highest weight capacity, you may find that the performance on the water is compromised.

For example, if your kayak has a manufacturer weight limit of 300 pounds and you load it up with heavy gear (plus yourself) totaling 300 pounds, the kayak will be less stable than if your total load was 210 pounds (70% of the kayak weight limit).

A heavy, overloaded kayak will tend to sit lower in the water, which can affect speed and maneuverability. It can also make it more likely that your kayak will capsize, especially in rough waters, waves, or wake from another vessel.

Paddler Weight And Volume

Some kayaks will often have a recommended paddler weight rather than a maximum weight limit for the kayak. These will generally include touring kayaks, sea kayaks, and whitewater kayaks rather than your typical recreational kayak.

The recommended paddler weight is not necessarily the maximum load capacity for the kayak. This is the ideal paddler weight based on the size and volume of the kayak.

Kayaks that state the ideal paddler weight often come in three volume categories: low volume; medium volume; and high volume.

The higher the volume, the more space there is inside the cockpit for the paddler and often the more gear it can hold. Smaller paddlers are generally more suited to low-volume kayaks and larger paddlers tend to be better off in high-volume kayaks.

> The best kayaks for large paddlers

Volume can also be used to determine the buoyancy of the kayak, particularly in whitewater kayaks that are designed for rapids.

In the case of whitewater kayaks, the paddler weight is usually the same as the maximum recommended weight limit for the kayak, as there are often no storage areas on a whitewater kayak.

For touring and sea kayaks, on the other hand, there are usually several storage compartments as these boats are designed to hold large amounts of gear for multi-day trips and long expeditions.

Touring kayaks and sea kayaks often state the kayak capacity as a volume in liters rather than a weight limit in pounds. Your body weight plus the weight of all your gear and the kayak should be somewhere between 30 and 60% of the kayak volume in liters.

What Kayak Weight Limit Do I Need?

Your body weight and the total weight of all of your gear will tell you how much performance kayak weight limit you need.

When calculating the total weight of your gear, remember to take into account the weight of your PFD, your paddle, and any other essential accessories that will be on your kayak with you.

Once you know the total combined weight of you plus all your gear, you can divide this number by 0.7. This will give you the performance kayak weight limit that you need to look for.

For example, if you weigh 170 pounds and you have 30 pounds worth of gear and accessories, you have a total weight of 200 pounds. Multiply 200 by 0.7 to get 285 pounds (200 ÷ 0.7 = 285).

This means you should be looking for a kayak with a maximum load capacity of at least 285 pounds for optimal performance.

If you already know the weight limit of the kayak, you can find out the performance weight limit by reversing the calculation.

If your kayak has a maximum weight limit of 400 pounds, for example, and you want to find out how much gear you can take with you, multiply 400 by 0.7, which will give you 285 pounds (400 x 0.7 = 285).

This means your kayak can safely carry 285 pounds of gear and people without affecting the performance or safety of the kayak.

Another way to calculate the average weight limit that you need is to add 125 pounds to your body weight. This can give you a rough idea of the maximum weight limit (or kayak weight capacity) you should look for in a kayak to offer optimum performance and safety.

Is It Possible To Increase The Weight Limit Of A Kayak?

No, it is not possible to increase the weight limit of a kayak beyond the manufacturer’s suggested highest weight limit.

On the other hand, there are some people out there who think that adding outriggers can increase weight capacity in a kayak.

Outriggers can usually add additional stability to a kayak to make it less likely to tip over, as it helps to extend the width of the kayak and provide a catamaran-style hull.

While these accessories could increase the buoyancy and stability of your kayak, they generally won’t increase the weight capacity of your kayak. Adding an outrigger to your kayak usually won’t stop your kayak from being overwhelmed with water and usually will not increase your kayak’s performance weight limit. 

However, you can increase the storage capacity of a kayak by adding additional storage compartments and accessories.

Storage capacity will vary depending on the design of the kayak. Some kayaks, such as sea kayaks, are designed to be loaded with lots of gear for extended trips and expeditions. Others may have a high capacity but not a lot of storage space, for example, some inflatable kayaks.

Once you add or install accessories and storage boxes you will need to take the extra weight into account. Adding extra storage space may mean you can bring more gear but if you exceed the maximum weight limit of the kayak, it could affect your vessel’s performance.

What Happens If I’m Over My Kayak’s Weight Limit?

If you have overloaded your kayak beyond the practical weight limit, you will probably be able to tell pretty quickly. The kayak will tend to sit much lower in the water than it’s supposed to if you’ve exceeded the kayak’s maximum weight capacity. This will likely make it much more difficult to paddle at all, let alone in a straight line.

As well as affecting the tracking performance, an overloaded kayak can be very tricky to maneuver and control, even in calm conditions. Its lower position in the water can also cause instability, which could cause the kayak to capsize more easily.

This level of poor performance could happen even if you’re close to the top end of the weight limit. You don’t necessarily need to be over the kayak’s weight limit for the kayak’s performance to be affected.

Two paddlers on tandem kayak sitting low in the waterPin

No matter what type of kayak you have, if you overload it beyond the kayak’s weight capacity, its performance will likely be affected. If you have a sit-inside kayak, overloading it could cause water to enter the cockpit and unsealed hatches. If water gets into your cockpit, your kayak could potentially sink if more water floods in and you’re unable to empty it in time.

A sit-on-top kayak may be less likely to sink than a sit-inside kayak due to the design of the open deck. But a sit-on-top kayak can still be swamped if it’s overloaded.

If you are looking for a kayak with a high capacity, an inflatable kayak will tend to have a much higher load capacity that the hardshell equivalents.

Inflatable kayaks can be an ideal option for larger paddlers and can be useful for carrying heavy loads, such as camping equipment. However, the kayak weight limit rules should still apply to inflatable kayaks. So you should reduce the kayak’s total weight limit by 30% to get a more accurate load capacity.

Kayak Weight Limits: Key Takeaways

As you’ll have discovered, it can be important to take note of the kayak weight limit when you’re choosing your next kayak.

Remember, for optimal performance (and to make sure you stay safe and dry on the water), it can be a good rule of thumb to stick to the 70% rule. This means you should load your kayak with 30% less than the stated or recommended maximum weight capacity rating.

Let us know your thoughts in the comments and don’t forget to share this with your buddies.

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