Sharon in her Avocet LV. With nothing in the front or back hatches,
it sits nicely in the water.
When we began paddling seven years ago, there weren't many serious sea kayaks for seriously small paddlers. Our first boats were a Valley Avocet (Alec) and a P&H Vela (Sharon). They were terrific boats for the early part of our learning curve, but too high-volume for our low-volume selves. (Alec is 5'4" and about 140 pounds; Sharon is 5'1" and about 110 pounds.)
We think of that time as preLV. Since then, several boat manufacturers have come out with true low-volume kayaks--boats specifically designed for smaller paddlers. They are narrower (typically less than 21 inches), have lower decks (typically less than 13 inches), are lower volume overall (so they have an appropriate amount of freeboard for a low-weight paddler), have more aggressive thigh hooks (better for shorter legs), and forgo some of the cockpit volume by placing the front bulkhead further back. Because they are truly designed for smaller paddlers, many of these boats make up for their shorter length by having comparatively longer water lines, so they aren't slower than their regular-volume siblings. And because they're shorter and lighter, they are easier to move around on land as well as on the water.
Today's low-volume boats--meaning those that are actually well-suited to paddlers who weigh as little as 140 pounds--include:
SKUK Pilgrim Expedition
SKUK Explorer LV
Valley Aquanaut LV
P&H Cetus LV
P&H Scorpio LV
P&H Quest LV
Eddyline Fathom LV
Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 or Tempest PRO 165
These boats are good down to 110 pounds (unloaded), in our experience:
SKUK Romany LV
Impex Force 3
Valley Avocet LV
Valley Avocet RM
P&H Capella 161
Current Designs Rumour
Many low-volume kayaks perform better for smaller paddlers with some weight in the front and/or back hatches. And, of course, personal fit and paddling skills and preferences have a large effect on boat choice. There's no substitute for test-paddling, preferably in the conditions you prefer.
We're currently paddling the Pilgrim (Alec) and the Avocet LV (Sharon). At our weights, these boats allow us to do the full range of things we want to do in our kayaks: teach, surf, play, paddle long distances, and keep up with the pack. But we're also spending as much time as possible in other people's low-volume boats to become more familiar with the range of options for smaller paddlers.
Have a low-volume sea kayak you love? Let us know! Post a comment or email us at bpfamily (at) gmail.com.
Alec in his Pilgrim. (Yes, it says Romany LV. The label was attached before Nigel Dennis named the new boat.) After seeing this photo, Alec decided to move his seat forward and carry a bit of weight in his front hatch.