How Many Boats Do You Really Need?

Every kayaker dreams of having an amazing kayak quiver. But can you have too many? Read along as I am forced to tidy my quiver with a move and struggle to figure out how many boats you actually need to spark joy. 

Jonny's Shed

Great painters have a quiver of brushes. Talented chefs have a number of knives. Professional cyclists have a number of bikes. It would make sense that serious kayakers will need a quiver of boats too. Or do we? You have probably seen the memes or heard the joke N+1. (The correct number of boats to own is N+1, where N = the number of boats you currently own.) It's a silly way to justify taking up more space in the basement. 

Over the years of working in the industry, my fleet ballooned to seven kayaks. I used to brag about it. I felt as if I achieved celebrity status and had a different boat to paddle each day of the week. Then while moving it hit me, it is way too many boats. Seeking simplicity in my life, I decided to purge. Through a somewhat painful process, I discovered the ideal number of boats is actually much less than seven. 

The answer is three. You only need three boats. Here is why!

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 Which boat for the Gauley?

I seriously thought that owning seven kayaks was the ideal number, a boat for every day of the week, once for teaching the Nantahala, the Green, playboating the Pigeon, Smokies creeking, big water on the Cheoah, attainments on the Tuck and flatwater workouts. But I discovered that I kept gravitating towards the same few boats and the others collected dust, one even had a birds nest in it. I simply did not have the time to paddle every boat, let alone rinse the dust off them. 

I'd compare boats to kids. If you have one or two, folks will not bat an eye. Perfectly normal and manageable, if you have a third, it is a lot but still doable. But have 4 or more and the in-laws start requesting time off from babysitting. I am not saying have no more than 3 kids, as I can only relate to having one, but boats... to regularly paddle and stay sharp in that many, you'd need to on the water 250-300 days a year. 

My perfect three-boat quiver

Creek Boats Long Boats Play Boats


With these three boats, I cover every paddling discipline I enjoy - Fitness, Falling, and Fun. It is enough range to stay sharp in each discipline and have a craft for racing, chasing rain and running rapids I am comfortable in. Plus, the wife I stoked by how much room I have saved in our new basement!

"Zen of the kayak quiver is three. The right amount of boats necessary to accomplish my primary paddling goals" - Jonny Ortiz

Depending on your boating preferences, your combo could look a bit different than mine. If you are comfortable on the steeper venues in your area, you may prefer a half slice over a creek boat. If there no playable options you may opt for a full slice. If you simply do not enjoy going fast and taking chances, give up the long boat and put a half slice there to spice up life a little. 

No matter what, I find it hard to imagine that anyone could get full use out of more than three kayaks. Even when I was not taxed by a career, fatherhood, and tending to this newly acquired lawn, I'd constantly gravitate towards these three options. 

Seriously, if a boat hasn't seen action in a month or more it could be worth throwing it on FB marketplace. 

In summary, owning different boats is a lot of fun and definitely the hardest addiction I have tried to kick. After doing a lot of purging, and becoming sure I;d only ever need three boats, I ended up relapsing and buying a surfski. So the quiver is back up to four. At night, I sometimes find myself shopping the site for another. 

 What your boat quiver says about you

The number of boats any kayaker needs is highly subjective. I've experienced the full spectrum of owning zero to seven kayaks. Here is my take on what the size of your quiver says about you as a paddler. 

0 Kayaks - Are you really a kayaker? Unless you are in between seasons in North America and South America and the Pyranha container hasn't landed yet. Call me, I'll get you hooked up with a loaner. 

1 Kayak - Sick, you can call yourself a kayaker. Every conversation somehow turns into kayaking. With one boat, life is simple. Boat the crap out of it, but be easy on those boofs, because it is all you have.

2 Kayaks - Send it, Congratulations! You are clearly dedicated to the sport and depending on the venue, you have options to get more intimate with the river. 

3 Kayaks - Hey, look at you with three kayaks. You have a quiver many dirtbag boaters would only dream about having. You can send it all. 

4 Kayaks - Hmm, having trouble paying for gas to Gauley Fest? It is quite the collection, but do you really need four?

5 Kayaks - Did you not read the article above? Five is definitely too many kayaks. Quit making all the other boater jealous with the options you have. You cannot be worried about boofing onto rocks with a replacement boat at home. 

6+ Kayaks - You may be on the brink of bankruptcy. We heard Jackson just released the easiest rolling creek boat of all time in the Flow and you've got it on pre-order! Your family and friends will have to sit on the quiver for Thanksgiving Dinner. 

Need help deciding which boat, check out our Buying Guide!

All kidding aside, I wholeheartedly think now is the best time to be a paddler. With so many options to choose from, beginner paddler to advanced athlete, there is a boat or seven out there to dish out smiles as you glide down the river!

What is your take? What does your perfect quiver look like? How many boats do you really need? Let us know in the comments!




12 is the correct number. Full slice, play boat, long boat, slalom boat, half slice, quarter slice, self support creeker, shit runner creeker, plus like four back ups. Buy more boats, it will make you happy.

Dustin Wood

Dustin Wood

7 boats that’s it? Lol I been paddling 2 years and I’m up to 17 counting a fee boats for the kids I can’t use myself but still 😅



Sure, three boats is enough until your kid starts paddling. Then your kid will need 3 boats. Then, a slalom race boat. My daughter learned how to roll at 8. She took her first SWR course at 11 and started running class 4 at 12. My spouse also paddles. Of course, she and my daughter don’t agree on which boats to paddle, so we have 14 boats. They all get used. We paddle together 100+ days a year. Family paddles are my favorite days!

Don Read

Don Read

I had 7 canoes when I met my wife, so I have a seven boat limit. Doesn’t matter what they are, sailboats or canoes. In many ways I am very fortunate and lucky. If I narrowed it down to just one segment, whitewater, sailing, or flat water, it would be easier. I would
Like to add a couple of canoes, a few paddle boards and maybe a sailboat or two.



Well, three is good for YOU then. I presume the only paddling you do is whitewater kayaking. Some of us do other things. I really only have two whitewater kayaks. One is for day paddling, and the other is for self-support multi-day. I actually have a third – a copy of the day boat that I can loan out. But alas, that’s not enough boats. I have a whitewater canoe because canoeing is just plain fun. I also have a tandem canoe that is very good for some specific purposes, like doing river clean-ups. I also have an expedition sea kayak. It carries more than my multi-day whitewater boat, and it can cover more miles much more easily. Then there’s the touring canoes. They are both solo canoes. One is an ultra-light that is bomber seaworthy and can haul a month’s worth of gear. The other is also seaworthy, but a little less so. It would be good for a week or two trip, and it’s just plain a joy to paddle. I like to do 15-20 mile days, and this canoe makes it easy.

Oh. Yeah. Then there’s the raft. I can support a group of paddlers from the raft.

I had another canoe that was a really fun boat, but I had to sell it because of limited storage. That boat is a rocket ship. Super fast. Wouldn’t hold a lot of gear, and if you lean it the wrong way you’d be swimming. I still maintain a small share of that boat so I can paddle it from time to time. If I had space, I’d really like a much higher-performance tandem canoe. Then my fleet would be closer to complete, but I’d also like a smaller raft for rowing on day-trips or using as a paddle raft. My raft is too big to paddle, and it’s set up as a gear hauler. Two of my kayaks and the raft have each been down the Grand Canyon. I can’t see getting rid of any of my boats, not even the wooden sea kayak I built that I didn’t even mention. Nope. Not too many.

The real question is: How many PADDLES do you need? I use different paddles for whitewater kayaking and sea kayaking, and I use different paddles for whitewater canoeing and flatwater canoeing. My flatwater bent-shaft weighs 13 ounces. It’s dreamy. I don’t even want to say how many paddles I have. It’s probably too many, but I’m keeping ’em all.

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