Not-Suzi Quatro in Concert: a review of a 4-seater Sit-on-Top & a guide to accessories
Updated: Mar 22, 2019
A chap on a Facebook kayaking group of which I'm a member asked me today what I had named my 4-seater kayak. His children had called their own SOT kayak Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock which not only pays homage to one of the quirkiest characters of sitcom history but also combines linguistic form and function in an eloquently beautiful symphony. The only thing I can come up with for my own vessel is "Suzi", because it's a Quatro-make. While this does pay homage to one of the most groundbreaking female singers of glam-rock history, it unfortunately also combines hammy puns and unimaginative wordplay in a discordant cacophony. So answers on a digital postcard to help me come up with a name for the dear, orange boat (if you thought "Orange?! Trump!! Great name; totally zeitgeist-y!" then you are Very Bad and Suzi is judging you....)
Before we go any further, a quick definition:
Kayaks come in two basic styles: Sit-Inside (SIS) and Sit-on-Top (SOT) kayaks and both are available as hard shells or as inflatables.
Sit-insides, or SIS for short, are the more traditional looking kayak. These have an open cockpit where the paddler climbs in and actually sits inside the hull of the kayak with their legs under the deck. Depending on the kayak's design, this means you can brace your knees off the inside walls of the hull, which is conducive to strong, efficient paddle strokes. Many SIS are also able to take a skirt, which is designed to be worn around the waist of the paddler and thereby close the cockpit opening. This is great for cold-weather paddling or for Scotland's chilly water. It will keep water from splashing into the kayak and onto the paddler's legs. It is not impossible to re-enter a SIS from the water, however you will need a bilge-pump, a great deal of strength and a partner to stabilise your boat from a neighbouring kayak, and even then it is pretty tricky to do.
Sit-on-tops, or SOTs, allow the paddler to sit on top of the kayak deck. Everything from the footwells to the seat back will be rigged on to the actual deck of the kayak. It is much harder to stay dry paddling on a SOT as there is no cockpit or deck area to stop water from splashing up onto the paddler’s body. However it is much, much, much easier to re-enter your SOT from the water so it is handy to slide in for a quick swim and climb back into the kayak. Overall, as they're very stable and self-draining, sit-on-tops are the most user-friendly, especially for beginners.
The following website provides a great overview of both kinds: https://paddling.com/learn/sit-on-top-vs-sit-inside-kayaks/
Suzi (until you lot come up with a better name!) is a SOT, officially the Ocean Quatro, made by a French company called ROTOMOD (which makes me think of ROTFLMFAO every time) I got her from Decathlon just shy of £600 for the basic shell. I also purchased the 4-point-fixing "comfort" seats, and you'd be hard-pushed to paddle properly without that support, although I'm not the one paddling; my kayaking role is limited to "baby holder".
Being a 4-seater, Suzi is a rare-ish beast, however the spec is for 2 adults/2 kids, and there is only room for two of the removable seats, so the other 2 seats really are just wee perches for tiny bottoms. That said, we take her out with 2 adults, a 10 year old, a 3 year old AND a medium size staffie-cross and still have room for a dry-bag containing food, drinks and a DSLR camera!
Goes without saying you also need to buy paddles, life jackets and wetsuits [the latter possibly optional for some but not for us, as we like to swim] and don't forget the cost of a roof rack unless you have a very large garden pond.
We use the following wetsuits and life jackets, and found them to be excellent; the kids' ones in particular are very snug:
For the adults, we went with an "entry-level" from Gul for around the £50 mark, although I can't find ours in stock anymore. However it is close to this without the (imho, horrible) flowery design on either mine or Graeme's thankfully! We went for cheap but from a reputable company, as it was what we could afford; you'll see from their website that it is possible to spend a LOT more but I have to say we've swum in ours in spring/summer/autumn in Scottish lochs and they've been perfectly adequate.
You'll also need wetsuit boots or you'll cut your feet to ribbons taking the boat in and out and your kids will be miserable with cold tootsies.
Same company as the kids' wetsuits: TWF....good value for money and good performance, in so far as we've had to test them, which was limited to the 10 year old swimming alongside the boat. But the reviews are also good ;-)
The adults I simply can't remember and they're packed away....but something similar to this.
I also bought this one for the dog and although I'm happy for a dog-expert to tell me I'm wrong, I think it is as important as for the humans: he jumps on and off the boat, and swims alongside it and I'd hate to think what would happen if he got cold or tired.
Bear in mind there are folk far more expert than me on the Babble Rock Facebook page, so do ask on there for up-to-date recommendations for kayak accessories.
But the point I'm making is that you can't just spend £600 on a hard shell....by the time you have bought....
wetsuits and wetsuit boots
....you've added a few hundred on top, depending on the size of your family. However after you've paid that out, this is a boat that you should get many, many years of use out of, as it won't spring a leak like an inflatable. In the long term I reckon I've definitely saved money as the kids are never bored of going out for day-trips and longer camps all over Scotland with the boat. So I find I'm not forking out for stuff like soft play & theme parks as often, and last year we forwent a holiday abroad as we did so much camping with friends and boats.
I was so excited at the idea of purchasing not only something that was big enough for 4 people but also a hard shell that would be impenetrable to the dog's claws, that I forgot to measure my house. For a month it stayed in the entrance hall while we used the back door and I Googled sheds that I couldn't afford to buy. Then Graeme came up with the utterly brilliant idea of affixing pull-up bars to the walls and it is now stored above our heads.
I purchased it at the end of last season, so it's only been out in two locations. The first was the kayak camp at Chon last year, and the second was at Castle Semple Loch two weeks ago. Chon, which was excellent, has its own post, but Castle Semple was also fab and deservedly popular with yachts and kayaks. The water was pretty busy but not so much so that you're bashing into each other (this was February, but a beautiful sunny day).
I was impressed with how stable Suzi-Or-Not-Suzi is: my two kids were moving around (my 10 year old was standing at times!), the dog was jumping off the boat and being hauled back on, I was scrambling around to get good pictures, and yet we never once came close to capsizing and no one got particularly wet
If you're not sure whether kayaking is for you, perhaps go for one of the inflatables: this, my previous one, is probably one of the cheapest-but-still-good you can get, but as I said even in that post, you could spend a tiny bit more and do better, especially if you go pre-loved. But for us, kayaking has been one of the best things we've ever got ourselves into: between this boat and the previous one, we've had 3 years and numerous camping trips with friends, who have shown us parts of Scotland - particularly loch islands that can only be reached by water - that we may never have seen otherwise. I love the outdoors but since my accident I often feel sad for all the things I can't do, particularly climb munros with my friends, so it's been wonderful to find an outdoor activity which, provided Xani's dad is happy to paddle, just involves me sitting and taking in the scenery.
Above is a good view of the boat from the shore at Loch Chon.
The pics below are from Castle Semple Loch.