SOT vs SinK Skills

Sit on Top Skills vs.  Sit inside skills

These notes are my recollections from practicing sit on top kayak skills with others.  If you have any comments or suggestions to add, I'd be glad to know your thoughts.

SOT vs. SinK

Rolling - I think it is the same but you use a thigh belt just above the knees or thigh straps instead of thigh pads under the deck of a SINK. I cannot roll, but no one has had trouble rolling my Cobra Expedition (18’ X24”) once I show them how the straps work.

Wet Exit – For straps almost no action is needed to exit, but if they are very tight you just straighten your legs to pop them off your knees.  For belts just grab the ball or tap on the buckle and pull to release.

For staying in - Hold your knees as close to your chest as possible to keep thigh straps tight.  SOT’s need straps to keep you in. People don’t wash out of SINKs but in a SOT they will wash out when bracing or during capsize. Discuss and demonstrate thigh strap adjustment and installation. Many boats have the attachment points in the wrong place. Discuss and demonstrate the use of a lap belt.  Show its proper installation and placement near the knees 1/3 of the distance from the knees joint to the hip joint.   Different size people will need different attachment points in the boat. Nearer to the knees with work, but neared to the hips may not.

Rescues – Cowboy and paddle float rescue work for both. But with a SOT you need a hand across pulling on a thigh strap and an elbow in the seat on the close side. Kick hard and swim across. If your feet are not breaking the surface of the water you will not get across.  For those with upper body strength or flexibility problems a foam paddle float is ideal.  SOT’s have plenty of room for a foam float and fishermen do not need an inflatable.  SOT’s never seem to have the rigging for paddle float  rescue, so hold the paddle with your hand against the back rest or back band. For a paddle float re-entry, I teach coming into the cockpit from the front quarter of it with the rearward leg on the float.  Most SOT paddlers have seen the basic scramble rescue in a video but they have never actually tried it. Once they do try it most are convinced they want to do it with a paddle float.  Many expensive fishing SOT’s have fittings and seats that are in the way of any rescue.  I have very limited experience teaching kayakers and yet on several occasions I’ve had paddlers break seats and other fittings while practicing rescues.

Launching from shore - Pull the boat to knee deep water. Turn it parallel to the shore on the shallow side of you and sit down.  The ease of doing this makes SOT’s ideal for wading anglers, older people, and younger folks with joint injuries.

Landing on shore – Put your foot out as you approach the shore slowly until your toe touches the bottom. Turn parallel to shore and swing both legs to the deep side and stand up. It is much easier than a Sink.  If you have gotten yourself too close to shore, do not struggle. Push yourself back out to knee deep water and swing back to the side and stand up.

Standing up in the boat – a painter to the bow 3/8ths or larger diameter is essential to help yourself up. It is a stunt in skinny hulls and a useful tool for scouting in wider hulls

Loading and unloading from a car - A SOT is usually heaver and without a cockpit rim to hold.  Some do not have side handles.  Usually a good method is to skid it up onto the roof from the back of the car using a bath mat for the skid. Then flip it upside down and strap it like a canoe.  Composite boats need a bit of paddling or cradles.

Edging – A very important skill for fisherman in tight quarters or anyone in among the cypress knees.  Straps are not just for rough water. Most boat are wider and flat bottomed and they really need straps for edging. Have a spare set for others to try and see how much better it helps.  Outside edging works best for most SOT’s and is not intuitive to beginners. 

Accessing Stern hatches – For the stern day hatch and main hatch, swing side saddle and reach to the back as needed.  Learn to paddle and maneuver while sitting side saddle.  Learn to open the main stern hatch.  Boats usually need additional floatation bags if main hatches are to be opened off shore. 

Front Hatch access - Starts from the normal seated position and put both legs out from the cockpit into the water.  Scoot forward until you can reach your hatch. Practice opening the hatch and removing items.

Surf and sea – Thigh straps serve the same purpose as deck lines on a sea kayak. Without them you need some deck lines to stay in contact with the boat.  SOT’s rarely have surf ready bow and stern handles I sometimes add straps with a knot that hang over the boat or stern by a six inches. 

Surf and sea assisted rescue – If the swimmer is OK.  Get the boat first! A boat will blow away and can move faster than a swimmer or sometime a paddled boat in strong winds.  Then bring the boat back to the swimmer with a short tow line or have the swimmer come to you if they can easily swim to a calmer spot.

River Rescues – Get the swimmer to shore first. The boat is likely to wash into an eddy somewhere.
Rivers - In rivers you want to remove the deck lines and surf handles because you don’t want anything to catch a snag in the water.


  1. Great post, covers all the basics of using SOT's safely.

    Interesting that you should mention setting the lap strap 1/3 of the way back from the knees as that is exactly the spot I've found by trial and error in my Cobra Expedition. I would like to mount the belt inboard to get better contact with the thighs but the handles are in the way so I'll probably have to move it further forward.

    The only reason I'm hesitating on using a lap strap is exactly the point you mention regarding the use of thigh straps to stay in contact with the boat after a capsize. I also use them to flip the boat. The belt just won't be as useful for this and I'd rather not rig deck lines.


  2. Thanks for the comment Clay. I think there is no reason you cannot have both a lap strap and thigh straps. I did use a system like that before I rigged deck lines.