Buying Used Kayaks: Step-by-Step Inspection Checklist

Score the best used kayak deal with our step-by-step guide! Learn to choose the right type, where to buy, and what to inspect before you purchase.

buying used kayaks

There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it: kayaks are expensive pieces of gear.

Although many of us dream of becoming the proud owner of a shiny new kayak, doing so isn’t always within our budget. As a result, buying a used kayak is often our best bet for getting out on the water without breaking the bank.

But it can be tricky to know when you’re getting a good deal. So to help you find that perfect second-hand boat, we’ve put together this guide on buying used kayaks. 

We’ll discuss what you should look for and what you should avoid as you start the process of getting the kayak of your dreams.

Deciding What Type of Kayak is Right for You

how to choose a kayak

The first step in buying a used kayak is deciding what type of kayak is right for you.

There are dozens of different types of kayaks out there, and we can’t describe all of them here. But some of the major kayak types that you’ll encounter as you shop include:

  • Recreational Kayaks – Designed for the casual paddler, recreational kayaks are crafted with comfort and convenience in mind, even if that comes at the expense of performance. There are many sub-types of recreational kayaks, too, such as sit-on-top kayaks, fishing kayaks, and pedal kayaks, so there’s a boat out there for everyone.
  • Touring Kayaks touring kayaks offer a mix of comfort and on-the-water performance for long days of adventure. They generally offer more storage space and performance-centric features than your standard recreational kayak, but they’re not as fast and sleek as a sea kayak.
  • Sea Kayaks Aptly named, sea kayaks are crafted for expeditions in coastal waters or on the open ocean. They’re usually long kayaks that offer ample gear storage space for extended outings. But, all that performance comes with a higher price tag and a design that’s not as easy to paddle for a new kayaker.
  • Whitewater Kayaks Whitewater kayaks are specifically engineered to provide ample maneuverability in turbulent waters. There are many types of whitewater kayaks, but they all tend to be reasonably short and wide. This gives them exceptional responsiveness in rapids but a not-so-great tracking ability over long distances.

As you can see, there are many kinds of kayaks out there, so the key is narrowing down your options so you find the one that’s right for your needs. That said, figuring out what type of kayak you need can be a challenge, especially if you enjoy many types of paddling.

To help you decide what kind of used kayak you should buy, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I new to kayaking, or am I a confident and experienced paddler?
  • Do I prefer to spend time on flat rivers and lakes, or do I enjoy getting out onto the open ocean?
  • Will I ever find myself paddling through rapids, or do I generally stick to flat water environments?
  • Are most of my kayaking trips short adventures, or do I want to try my hand at more extended paddling expeditions?

Ultimately, there’s no one best kind of kayak out there. Instead, the best kayak for your needs is the one that matches your paddling style. So, asking yourself these questions can help direct you toward the type of kayak that will be most useful to you in the long term.

Where to Buy a Used Kayak

kayaks stored for winter at Toronto harborfront

Once you’ve decided what kind of kayak you want to buy, it’s time to start your search for a used kayak. Your next task is to find reputable listings for second-hand kayaks.

Nowadays, there are many places to shop for a used kayak, each with its pros and cons. Some of the best places to find used kayaks in-person include:

  • Paddlesports centers & rental shops – Most paddlesports centers and kayak rental shops sell their fleet at the end of the season. Although some of the kayaks that you’ll find at these paddlesports centers are, shall we say, “well-loved,” you can often find kayaks that are in pretty good shape. In addition, most paddlesports centers also replace their boats every year, so you can usually get a good deal on a relatively new kayak.
  • Kayaking specialty stores – Although most specialty shops primarily sell new kayaks, many also have a small section of their store dedicated to used kayaks. Some shop owners run a small consignment business out of their kayak store, too, so they’re good places to check out if you’re looking for a high-end used kayak. Plus, the staff at these stores are usually experienced paddlers themselves, and they can help you decide which kayak is right for your needs.
  • Paddling clubs – If there’s a local paddling club near you, it’s worth asking if they have any used kayaks for sale. Many paddling clubs have rental kayaks available for new members to check out, and they often sell these at a good discount during the off-season.
  • Garage sales – You can find nearly anything at a garage sale, including used kayaks. Of course, your likelihood of finding a second-hand kayak at a garage sale is much higher if you live in an area with good paddling opportunities. But, it’s always worth scoping out any neighborhood yard sales to see what might be on offer. You never know what you’ll find!

If you’re not having much luck with your quest for a used kayak, it might be time to take your search online. There are plenty of good places to find used kayaks online, including:

  • Paddling & kayaking forums – There are dozens of online forums for paddlers, many of which also have a dedicated section for used kayak sales. If you’re looking for a specialty kayak or just want a good deal on a quality boat, these forums are well worth checking out.
  • eBay – The original online marketplace, eBay is a popular choice for anyone looking to shop second-hand. eBay might not seem like the first place that you should look when buying a used kayak, but you’d be surprised with what you can find. Many kayak specialty shops will also list their used kayak inventory on eBay, so there’s no harm in seeing what’s out there.
  • Facebook marketplace & craigslist – If you’ve exhausted all other means of tracking down a second-hand kayak, consider looking at sites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. Both of these sites have gotten a bad rap in recent years, thanks to scammers trying to make a quick buck. But some due diligence goes a long way in scoring some sweet used gear—including kayaks—on these marketplaces.

That said, if you do choose to shop online for a used kayak, be sure to thoroughly vet any listing before you send anyone your money or meet up in person. 

Most people in the kayaking world are awesome and would love nothing more than to see their kayak go to a new home. But a healthy amount of caution and vigilance can help you spot the difference between a good deal and an outright scam when shopping online.

What to Look For When Buying a Used Kayak: Step-by-Step Checklist

With so many different used kayaks on the market, finding the right one for your needs can be challenging. Therefore, it’s imperative that you know precisely how and what to look for.

While every situation is different, there are five key steps in the process that can make your second-hand shopping experience much more pleasant. Here’s what you can expect as you shop and what you should look for during every step of the buying process.

Step 1: Preliminary Research

When you’re ready to begin your search for a used kayak, your first step is to conduct some preliminary research on all of your options.

Unless you have a specific kayak model in mind, chances are pretty high that you’re going to have a lot of different options available to you. Therefore, as you do your initial shop for a used kayak, your primary focus should be on the features that a given kayak offers. 

In many ways, this part of the process is no different from shopping for a new kayak. Whenever you see a used kayak for sale, either online or in-person, you want to do some research and see what that kayak model has to offer. Your goal here is to see if a kayak’s features align with your paddling style.

At this stage, you’ll want to read up on the specs and features of any kayaks that have caught your eye. The manufacturer’s website is an excellent place to start, but don’t overlook the power of Youtube videos and blogs that give you further insight into what features you can get with a specific kayak model.

Read any first-hand reviews of specific kayak models that you can find, too. Take note of what other paddlers have said about how a given kayak performs and if it has any noteworthy drawbacks. Doing so will help you decide if it’s worth your time to reach out to a seller for more information about their kayak.

Step 2: Researching the Seller & Previous Owners

Once you’ve identified a potential kayak that might be right for your needs, your next step is to do some research about the seller and previous owners.

If you’re looking at kayaks in-person, this part of the process is pretty straightforward. You can simply talk to the shop owner or garage sale host and get a sense of whether they’re a decent person to do business with.

Where this step gets tricky is if you’re buying a used kayak online.

Anyone who’s ever purchased anything used online knows that not everyone is who they claim to be on the internet. So, as you shop for a used kayak online, do as much research as you can into potential sellers. 

Now, we’re not necessarily talking about getting a full background check on them, but it’s worth taking the time to do a bit of research on someone before you send them money. For example, if you’re looking at kayaks on eBay or Facebook Marketplace, read through the seller’s profile. This is particularly important on sites like eBay, where you can read reviews of a seller’s past sales.

There’s no magic recipe to finding reputable sellers of second-hand kayaks (or anything else for that matter) online. But if any red flags pop up during your research, don’t be afraid to walk away and shop elsewhere.

Step 3: Pre-Visit Questions to Ask the Seller

As soon as you’ve found a kayak that you want to buy and a seller that you’re interested in working with, it’s time to reach out and ask the seller some questions.

If you’re at a kayak shop or garage sale, you can ask these questions in person. But, if you’re shopping online, these are the types of questions that you want to ask before you even make plans to meet up:

  • Are you the original owner of the kayak?
  • When did you buy the kayak? Do you know how old it is?
  • Is the kayak still under its original warranty? Is the warranty transferable?
  • Why have you decided to sell your kayak?
  • Where do you usually store your kayak? Inside or outside?
  • Are there any accessories that come with the kayak?
  • Does the kayak have any damage, or is it in need of any repairs?
  • Do you have any other photos of the kayak that you didn’t include in the listing?
  • Finally, how much are you selling the kayak for?

You don’t necessarily want to bombard a seller with all of these questions at once, but these are all topics that you should discuss before you even consider meeting in person. 

Also, as the seller answers your questions, be sure to compare their responses with the facts that you can gather from any photos of the kayak. For example, if the seller says that the kayak is in mint condition with no damage, but you can clearly see a large indent in the hull in one of the kayak’s photos, the seller might not be the most trustworthy person to do business with.

Step 4: In-Person Inspection

At this point, you already know a whole lot about a given kayak. So, your next step is to meet up with the seller in person (if you haven’t already seen the kayak in a store or at a garage sale) so you can do a detailed inspection of the kayak.

This part of the buying process is all about identifying any potential issues that a kayak might have. You’re mainly looking for signs of wear and tear that might signal that a kayak isn’t worth its asking price. 

This in-person inspection should be a complete bow-to-stern investigation of any problems a kayak might have—no matter how minor. Things to look out for include:

  • Obvious hull damage – Every used kayak will have some scratches, so you’re not looking for superficial stuff. But any obvious signs of damage to a kayak’s hull that’s more than a small scratch should be a red flag. Look for cracks, warping, UV damage, and overall hull deformation with a critical eye to ensure that you buy a kayak that is safe to use on the water. Be sure to look for holes in an inflatable kayak, too!
  • Signs of previous repairs – Even the best kayak might need to be repaired from time to time, and that’s not necessarily a problem. But if a kayak has been repaired in the past, you want to be sure that these repairs were completed correctly. If you see any signs of previous repairs, ask the seller when they were done and who did them. This will give you a better picture of the overall condition of the kayak.
  • Hardware & rigging lines – Give the kayak a good once-over and take a close look at all of its various hardware and rigging lines. Some wear and tear is expected, but you want to be sure that all of the kayak’s components are fully functional and in good condition.
  • Kayak seat & cockpit – Kayak seats are usually made from soft fabrics that are more prone to wear and tear. Knee pads and thigh braces are also usually made from foam, which deteriorates over time. These things are all replaceable, so they’re not necessarily a deal-breaker. But if you need to replace a whole kayak seat, you might be able to negotiate a better price from the seller.
  • Skegs & rudders – If a kayak comes with a skeg or a rudder, inspect them for excessive damage or deterioration. Be sure to test the mechanisms that control the rudder and skeg, too, to make sure they still function well.
  • Bulkheads & hatches – These parts of a kayak often get overlooked, but they’re essential to your experience on the water. Check to see if a sit-inside kayak’s bulkheads are in good condition during your inspection. Also, be sure to physically open and close each of a kayak’s hatches to ensure that they seal correctly.

During the inspection, you might also ask the seller if they’ve personally made any modifications to the kayak. For example, some paddlers add after-market accessories, such as fishing rod holders or track mounts to their kayaks. These can increase the value of a used kayak, but you want to ensure that they were correctly installed.

Step 5: Take the Kayak Out for a Test Paddle

The final step of the buying process is optional but highly recommended. If you can, try to meet up with the kayak’s seller somewhere where you can take it out for a test paddle.

There are few better ways to see how a kayak performs than by actually paddling it. So, a test paddle is your time to decide if you think a kayak is worth the money. 

A test paddle might not always be possible depending on where you live and how much time you have available for research. But if you have the time to do a test paddle and a seller that’s willing to let you take their kayak for a spin, seize the opportunity. You’ll go into the sale much more confident if you know how a kayak behaves on the water.

How Much Should You Pay for a Used Kayak

If you’re in the market for a used kayak, you’re probably keeping a close eye on your budget throughout the buying process. Naturally, you may be wondering how much you should pay for a kayak so you can quickly tell if you’re getting a good deal.

Unfortunately, there’s no golden rule that will tell you precisely how much you should pay for a second-hand kayak. Every kayak is different, and there are so many factors that affect how much it is worth, including its age and condition.

But, the general guidance is that you shouldn’t pay more than about 75% of a kayak’s retail price when you buy used. You can often get a used kayak for much cheaper than this (think 50% of the kayak’s retail price) if it’s been particularly well used. 

However, we’d be wary of any rock-bottom deals on used kayaks from sellers you don’t know personally. That’s because these super-low prices might be a sign of hidden damage to the kayak.