Best Ocean Kayak: Top 8 Sea Kayaks For Conquering Open Water

Do you feel ready to leave behind the calm waters and try something different? Or are you simply after an adrenaline rush? 

Whatever the case, hitting the open waters and giving ocean kayaking a try will leave you a changed person.  

The open sea will provide you with a brand new outlook on kayaking, and the best ocean kayak is a much-needed companion on your next adventure. 

However, finding one isn’t as simple as it sounds, as there are many options available out there. 

I hope to make the process of choosing your ideal sea kayak as carefree as possible with this guide!

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In A Rush? The Winner After 43 Hours of Research :

Wilderness Systems Tempest 165

Wilderness Systems Tempest 165

  • Our Rating: ★★★★★

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Why is it better? 

  • Sit-inside kayak design that fuses stability, maneuverability, and efficiency for a safe ocean touring experience
  • The hull’s shape makes it glide seamlessly through the water, optimized for speed and stability
  • TruTrak adjustable skeg lets you switch from maneuverability to straight-line tracking with ease
  • Conveniently placed bungee rigging, three dry storage hatches, and a reflective safety line
  • Phase 3 AirPro XL seating provides you with the ability to stay in your ‘yak out in the open sea as long as you want without compromising your comfort 
  • Integrated bulkheads for added buoyancy 
  • Easily adjustable footrests and padded thigh braces give paddlers greater control over the kayak in challenging conditions
  • Built-in recess for a kayak compass  

Best Ocean Kayak: The All-Encompassing Guide To Your Marine ‘Yak

2 red best ocean kayak for beginners

Do you know that some of the most beautiful nooks and crannies of the world can be reached by ocean kayaking?

The virtually endless horizon, seagulls, and even the stunning coral reefs – if you decide you are feeling brave enough to exit your kayak and take a dive – are only a part of the deal.

Paddling in a Living Sea

When it comes to kayaking in the ocean, the experience is more than rewarding – but it also requires thorough preparation.

As a seasoned paddler, I’ll do my best to introduce you to the charms of ocean kayaking.

But if you’re new to open water paddling, I’d suggest reading my guide to sea kayaking for beginners.

Do You Need A Special Kayak For The Ocean?

The open sea offers an entirely different perspective on kayaking. With strong currents, frequent ocean sprays and the wind, there are many aspects to this thrilling and oh-so-rewarding experience.

And yes, one of them is inevitably the danger. Hence, you do need a unique kayak that can deal with it:

Ocean kayaks need to withstand and handle the strong currents, changing tides, and everything else open waters might throw your way. That includes the waves, as well – something that you won’t encounter paddling in rivers

Pointe du Raz, Rough Water Sea Kayaking

Make no mistake about it; an inadequate kayak in the ocean can result in total loss of control and, yes, even capsizing.

As a rule of thumb, a kayak for ocean will be longer and narrower than your average ‘yak to withstand the not-so-gentle currents and waves. 

Next, it should have abundant storage space – and weight capacity to boot – because you have to be prepared for the unexpected. Sudden changes in water and weather conditions can have terrible consequences when you’re far from the coast and don’t have the necessary gear.

Lastly, efficiency and spot-on tracking performance are must-haves for ocean kayaks. Open waters will try their best to throw your ‘yak off course; a rudder system or skeg can help keep you going in a straight line. 

What Kind Of Kayak Is Best For The Ocean?

When it comes to hitting the ocean, some kayaks are better than others

Generally speaking, touring kayaks – also referred to as “sea kayaks” – tend to be your best bet because they’re designed with open waters in mind. A longer, sleeker hull is optimized for hard-to-beat efficiency on longer journeys, exceptional control, and tracking performance. 

Recreational kayaks are a viable option, too – but only if you plan on paddling in calm bays and coastal areas, where the waters aren’t particularly rough.

Whereas an inflatable kayak can be incredibly convenient for other conditions, they are not a good idea for the challenging ocean waters. 

You could, in theory, use any kind of kayak in the open sea, as long as it:

  • Measures at least 14 feet in length and has a 20- to 36-inch beam
  • Has a V-shape hull, emphasizing secondary stability, and a less pronounced rocker
  • Has a lower center of gravity 
  • Features integrated bulkheads – sealed compartments that improve buoyancy – and water-tight storage hatches
  • Has good tracking performance and is equipped with a rudder system or a retractable skeg 
  • Features thigh braces and footrests for additional support and control

Sit-On-Top Vs. Sit-In Kayaks: Are Sit-On-Top Kayaks Good For The Ocean? 

Both styles of kayaks have their pros and cons; the factor that will ultimately decide which type of ocean kayak you’ll get is: 

Where will you use it?

Sit-inside, or SIK, kayaks have the upper hand in challenging water conditions, mainly due to the streamlined hull, lower center of gravity, and enclosed cockpit. It’s the improved efficiency, handling, and control – and a drier ride – that make sit-in kayaks the superior choice for ocean kayaking. 

In fact, a higher center of gravity, wider beam, open deck, and lack of control in choppy waters are all complete opposites of what you want in an ocean kayak.

So, with that said, the answer is:

In general, a Sit-on-top kayak isn’t built to withstand the not-so-gentle conditions of open waters; 9 times out of 10, you’ll be better off with a sit-in kayak.

With that said, you will still find the occasional fisherman braving coastal waters in a specialist sit-on-top ocean fishing kayak, like those from the Brooklyn Kayak Company (BLC website) – complete with their tri-form hull design and flush mount rod holders.

However in the open ocean, you would be safer fishing from the comfort and protection of a boat.  

It’s not so much a matter of sit-on-top vs. sit-in kayaks, though. It’s about the kayak’s design and features – which brings me to my next point. 

Factors To Consider Before Choosing The Best Ocean Kayak 

4 yellow kayaks on beach - How to choose a kayak for the ocean

Now that you’ve got some idea of the kind of kayak you’ll need, let’s go over some additional considerations for choosing an ocean kayak

Ocean Kayak’s Length & Width

One thing you’ll notice is that the length and width of ocean kayaks are usually longer and narrower than your average recreational kayak. 

In fact, you’ll find that most ocean kayaks measure anywhere from 12 to 18 feet in length – and up to 24 feet for tandem models.

As for width, they’re noticeably slimmer than most other kayak types, sticking to the width of 20 to 36 inches wide. Sure, you’re giving up the stability of a wider beam – but you’re getting efficiency in return.

When you come to choose a kayak, you’ll hear from fellow paddlers – the longer the ocean kayak, the better. 

And while I can’t argue with that, I think it’s important to consider the added weight that comes with that length:

Think about where you plan to store the kayak, you will need not only the space but a practical kayak storage system. And how you’ll get it to and from the water? You’ll likely have to invest in a kayak trailer – unless you’ve got a large enough roof rack – and a cart for this exact reason. 

Take Note Of The Hull Shape

Ocean kayaks tend to feel too tippy in flat water – but that’s a good thing:

You want a kayak that feels unstable in calm waters and offers less-than-stellar primary stability because that usually indicates a higher degree of secondary stability

If you’re paddling in choppy waters, your ‘yak should be able to stay stable and retain its balance even when the ocean waves have it tipped on its side.

Good balance and stability in ocean waters will depend on several things, including weight distribution, design symmetry, and hull materials. Hull shape and rocker – the hull’s curvature – are arguably the most crucial factors to consider, though.

On that note, look for an ocean kayak with a V-shaped hull, which allows for improved secondary stability, and a less pronounced rocker for better tracking performance.  

Optimal Weight Capacity 

Sea kayaking often ventures into long-distance touring, which calls for more gear and supplies than your average kayaking trip:

  • Personal flotation device (PFD)
  • Tow lines
  • Spray skirt
  • Kayaking helmet 
  • Basic first aid and repair kits
  • Pea-less emergency whistle
  • Navigational kayak lights
  • Paddle leash and floats
  • Bilge pump
  • Secondary, or backup, paddles
  • Flotation bags (if the kayak doesn’t have built-in bulkheads)
  • Navigation devices such as a GPS and Compass

Don’t get me started on the food, high-energy snacks, water supplies, and other personal gear. 

That’s why it’s essential to get a sea kayak with an optimal weight capacity.

The tricky part is that you can’t fill your kayak “to the brim” – not if you want it to stay afloat, that is. It’s advisable to keep the total weight of everything on board, you included, at about 70 percent of the kayak’s maximum capacity

Comfort & Control: Make Sure It Fits You

Here’s a piece of advice:

Look for an ocean kayak that fits you like your favorite pair of jeans.

You want it to be comfortable and fit you “just right.” In that sense, the cockpit size, available legroom, and well-padded, supportive seat system matter more than you think – especially on longer excursions.

What’s more, you also want to have control over the kayak and how it “behaves” on the water – and that’s where adjustable footrests and proper-fitting thigh braces play a crucial role. These will be the primary points of contact with the kayak whenever you’re on the water.

Enough Space For Your Gear 

You’re going ocean kayaking; consider how much gear and non-paddling stuff something like that requires. I already listed some items that every sea kayaker must-have, but I’ve barely scratched the surface there.

Remember:

The sea can become turbulent in a matter of seconds – and you want to be ready when it does.

ULTIMATE OCEAN PADDLING FILM - PART I - SOUTH AFRICA

Less is more” doesn’t apply to ocean kayaks. You want as much space for paddling equipment as you can get.

That brings me to my next point:

Built-in bulkheads, commonly found in sit-in ocean kayaks, will benefit you in more ways than one.

For starters, integrated bulkheads – internal “walls” that create sealed compartments within the hull – add to the kayak’s buoyancy. The air trapped inside the hull ensures the kayak remains afloat even when the cockpit’s swamped.

Even more so, bulkheads often go hand-in-hand with water-tight storage hatches, which allow access into these spaces, turning them into sealed, dry storage areas. 

A Quick Word On Tracking & Steering Alternatives

Longer and leaner hulls of ocean kayaks ensure improved tracking in and of themselves – but never underestimate the power of waves, wind, and currents. Getting dragged off course on open waters is much easier than you think.

That’s where “steering” alternatives – mainly rudder systems and retractable skegs – might come in handy, helping you paddle straight and stay on course.

Remember, you don’t want the skeg to be a fixed one. Not being able to fine-tune the corrective component will only have a negative impact on the kayak’s handling.

Paddling Solo Or Together?

Tandems make kayaking even more fun, cost less than two separate ‘yaks, and are much safer than heading out to sea alone

But it’s going to test your teamwork skills and require many compromises and cooperation, too. 

Tandem Kayak in the Surf

Also, tandem kayaks are heavier and longer than solo ones; consider this when deciding on the best ocean kayak.

Best Ocean Kayaks – Top 8 Reviews & Recommendations 

1. Boreal Design Baffin P3 PE Skeg Sea Kayak

Boreal Design Baffin P3 PE Skeg Sea Kayak

  • Best Ocean Kayak For Bigger Paddlers
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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Let’s start things off with Boreal’s Baffin – a 17.5-foot ‘yak for taller paddlers who frequently have issues finding enough commodity and legroom. 

With the size of the ‘yak taken into consideration, it’s surprisingly nimble and agile. The retractable skeg allows for better tracking performance, and overall, greatly improves handling.

It also provides you with multiple storage options and a 300-pound capacity, and you still get to feel comfortable and roomy while inside of it. 

With Baffin P3, you have the maximum control – it allows effortless acceleration and great turning and is quite responsive to the paddler’s body movements. It’s going to cost you, though. 

Technical Specs 

  • Sit-inside kayak 
  • Polyethylene construction
  • 17.5 x 2 feet 
  • 65.8 pounds
  • 300-pound capacity

Pros

  • Multi-chined hull improves stability 
  • Cockpit-operated skeg 
  • Tracks well without compromising maneuverability
  • Comfortable seating and enough legroom for tall paddlers 
  • Bungee rigging and multiple storage hatches 

Cons

  • The skeg jams easily and may not hold up over time
  • It’s a bit susceptible to weathercocking
  • The P3 model is on the pricier side

Safe, stable, versatile, and predictable – in a good way – Baffin P3 is an excellent choice for taller paddlers looking to get out on the open sea.

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2. Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 

Wilderness Systems Tempest 165

  • Overall Best Ocean Kayak 
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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The first Wilderness Systems ‘yak on the list is Tempest 165 – a sweet 16.5-foot sit-inside option with the oh-so-comfy Phase 3 AirPro seating. That alone makes you want to stay out on the waters for as long as you can.

Integrated bulkheads add extra buoyancy, as well as additional dry storage space. On that note, you’re getting a 300-pound capacity, multiple domed hatches, and lots of bungee tie-downs. 

I wouldn’t recommend this as a beginner’s kayak. But in the right hands, Tempest 165 shows unmatched speed, tracking performance, and maneuverability.

It features the signature TruTrak adjustable skeg system, too, allowing for seamless transitions from maneuverability to tracking, depending on the waters. 

Technical Specs 

  • Sit-inside kayak 
  • Polyethylene construction
  • 16.5 x 1.7 feet
  • 55 pounds
  • 300-pound capacity

Pros

  • Multiple water-tight storage options and bungee rigging
  • Phase 3 AirPro seats for ultimate all-day comfort 
  • Delivers addictive speed and maneuverability
  • Retractable skeg for better tracking 

Cons

  • It’s not a good pick for beginner paddlers 
  • Not the most budget-friendly kayak 
  • It might be somewhat hard to maneuver, depending on your skills 

Tempest 165 needs a firm hand and patience to give you its maximum. But if you’re ready to paddle like a pro, its versatility and speed will match the ambitions of all the adrenaline junkies!

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3. Perception Carolina 14

Perception Carolina 14

  • Best Recreational Ocean Kayak
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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Are you looking for a yak that can take both the ocean’s calmness and its rough waves? Well, you’re going to love the Perception Carolina 14.

For starters, this 14-foot sit-inside kayak weighs only 49 pounds, making it a more manageable option than my previous two picks. 

It’s still loaded with comfort-oriented features, including a spacious cockpit for easy entry and quick-adjust footrests. 

It boasts built-in buoyancy, which is always a plus in sit-inside ocean kayaks, and front and rear dry storage hatches, with a 300-pound capacity to boot. 

With all its advantages, the extra comfy DLX seat failed to impress me, though. Long-distance paddling requires all the comfort you can get – and I’m not sure this one has what it takes. 

Technical Specs:

  • Sit-inside kayak 
  • Polyethylene construction
  • 14 x 2 feet
  • 49 pounds
  • 300-pound capacity

Pros

  • Rugged construction with built-in buoyancy for added safety
  • Suitable for beginners and intermediate-level paddlers
  • Tracks well without the skeg 
  • Lightweight and reasonably priced for an ocean kayak

Cons

  • Not comfortable enough for longer paddling trips
  • Turning can be tricky and requires some getting used to 
  • It doesn’t come with a rudder

Carolina 14 is an all-around kayak that you can depend on as a beginner or intermediate-level paddler. It handles calm waters better, though, so I’d suggest it for casual paddling near shore. 

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4. Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125

Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125

  • Best Ocean Kayak For Beginners
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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If you saw Tsunami 145 on the water and fell in love but figured it might be too big for you, allow me to introduce you to Tsunami 125. 

It packs all the features of its bigger sibling, the 145, but in a smaller format. 

It’s 12.7 feet long – which is slightly below average for ocean kayaks – and weighs 51 pounds – which is “just right.” As a result, it’s incredibly agile and maneuverable and a breeze to paddle. 

Moreover, designed with all-day touring in mind, this kayak features the adjustable Phase 3 AirPro seat and a spacious cockpit. 

With its 300-pounds capacity and two dry storage hatches, you’ll have no problems loading up all of your equipment. Plus, it features two removable on-deck mesh storage bags. 

I do think taller paddlers might find it a bit cramped, though. 

Technical Specs

  • Sit-inside kayak 
  • Rotomolded polyethylene construction
  • 12.7 x 2.1 feet 
  • 51 pounds
  • 300-pound capacity

Pros

  • Great for both novice and experienced kayakers
  • The spacious cockpit allows easy entering and exiting
  • Ultra-comfortable Phase 3 AirPro seat
  • Terrific secondary stability due to its design

Cons

  • Taller paddlers may not have enough legroom
  • Doesn’t come with a rudder system 
  • Somewhat hard to reseal the hatch covers on the water

Tsunami 125 is a day-touring kayak that prioritizes paddler comfort. Add stability and smooth tracking to the equation, and you’ve got a reliable partner on the open seas.

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5. Pelican Sprint 120XR 

Pelican Sprint 120XR

  • Best Budget Ocean Kayak
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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If you’re ready for some rough sea fun, Pelican’s Sprint 120XR is the right choice to face the challenges of rough waters. 

You see, it’s designed with a deep V chine hull, which significantly improves the kayak’s secondary stability while still ensuring responsiveness and a good return on effort. 

However, it’s that same responsiveness that makes it a not-so-suitable sea kayak for beginners.

Sprint 120XR is also the right stepping stone for intermediate-level paddlers as they become more confident and comfortable with their paddling skills. Moreover, a stern bulkhead adds some much-needed buoyancy. 

Given the 12-foot length and 50-pound weight, it’s on the smaller side, making it more manageable on and off the water. Surprisingly enough, it still boasts a 325-pound capacity. 

Technical Specs 

  • Sit-inside kayak 
  • Polyethylene construction
  • 12 x 2.3 feet 
  • 50 pounds
  • 325-pound capacity

Pros

  • Bungee deck rigging, rear quick-lock hatch, and a 4-inch day hatch
  • Stern bulkhead adds buoyancy 
  • Built-in keel extension for improved tracking 
  • The deep V chine hull adds secondary stability 
  • Budget-friendly 

Cons

  • The responsiveness to all body movements might not work for beginners 
  • It can be a bit hard to drain the kayak 
  • No paddle included 

The increased amount of secondary stability and responsiveness to movements, the beautiful design, and the affordable price tag all work in favor of Sprint 120XR.

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6. Perception Kayaks Expression 11.5

Perception Expression 11.5

  • Best Ocean Kayak For Short Journeys
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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Perception’s Expression 11.5 is the jack of all trades among ocean kayaks. Its versatility, forgiving handling, compactness, and comfort make it the ideal ocean kayak for simple day trips on the open sea.

At 44 pounds, it’s effortless to transport and carry. So, if you’re of smaller stature, this 11.5-foot ‘yak is ideal for you. 

The cockpit is relatively spacious and easy to get in and out of, even from the water. However, it’s a bit tricky to adjust the seating while paddling; I’d do it before embarking on the journey.

Storage and capacity-wise, this ‘yak is a bit limited, offering a 250-pound capacity. It will hold your boating essentials for a shorter journey – but don’t count on it for long-distance touring. 

Technical Specs 

  • Sit-inside kayak 
  • Polyethylene construction
  • 11.5 x 2.1 feet 
  • 44 pounds
  • 250-pound capacity

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact, easy-to-carry design
  • Spacious, easy-entry cockpit 
  • A retractable skeg for improved tracking performance
  • Enhanced built-in buoyancy 
  • Affordable entry-level kayak for beginners

Cons

  • Tricky to adjust the seat while on the water 
  • Limited weight capacity not suitable for longer trips
  • Experienced paddlers might not find it challenging enough

As far as entry-level kayaks go, this could be a safe bet. The old saying, “best things come in small packages,” certainly applies to Expression 11.5.

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7. Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135

Wilderness Systems Pamlico 135

  • Best Tandem Ocean Kayak
  • Rating: ★★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★

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Yes, Pamlico 135 is the third kayak from Wilderness Systems to make it on my round-up of best ocean kayaks. It only confirms what should be evident by now – these guys know how to design top-notch kayaks. 

If you happen to have someone to share your love of water with, Pamlico 135 – a two-person sit-inside with a 500-pound capacity – will be the perfect fit for you two. 

Best of all, it converts to a one-person kayak when needed, although it tends to be slightly harder to maneuver that way. 

As for storage, it does have a rear dry storage hatch, but you’ll have to share the cockpit with the rest of your gear. 

Again, I genuinely appreciate the comfort and back support offered by the Phase 3 AirPro seats. The added adjustability allows you to find that “sweet spot” for longer trips. 

Technical Specs 

  • Sit-inside tandem kayak 
  • Polyethylene construction
  • 13.5 x 2.5 feet
  • 72 pounds
  • 500-pound capacity

Pros

  • Phase 3 AirPro seats ensure back support and comfort
  • Can be converted to a one-person kayak
  • Stern bulkhead foam for added buoyancy 
  • A relatively spacious cockpit

Cons

  • A bit challenging to paddle solo 
  • A single dry storage hatch and minimal bungee rigging
  • It’s on the heavier side 
  • Doesn’t include a rudder

If you intend to share your ocean adventures with someone, Wilderness Systems’ Pamlico 135 is a stable and comfortable two-person ocean kayak worth considering. 

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8. Perception Conduit

Perception Conduit

  • Best Ocean Kayak For Day-Touring Coastal Waters
  • Rating: ★★★★
  • Price: ★★★★★

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What if you’re only interested in day tours in relatively calm coastal waters? In that case, this 13-foot kayak could be the perfect fit for you: 

Conduit 13 boasts a spacious cockpit for easier entry and exiting, with enough wiggle room to make day touring trips comfortable. The extra-cushy seat and quick-adjust foot braces only add to the experience.

Storage-wise, it has two water-tight hatches for dry storage, and front and rear bungee rigging, with a 295-pound capacity. 

Moreover, the chined hull adds some stability, while the bulkhead flotation foam boosts the kayak’s buoyancy. 

The responsiveness of this ‘yak is admirable, too. However, I wish it came with a skeg or rudder system; tracking could be better. 

Technical Specs 

  • Sit-inside kayak 
  • Polyethylene construction
  • 13 x 2.2 feet
  • 51 pounds
  • 295-pound capacity

Pros

  • A spacious cockpit and reasonably comfortable seating area 
  • Sufficient storage options for day-long trips 
  • Bulkhead flotation foam for improved buoyancy 
  • A beginner-friendly balance of stability and maneuverability

Cons

  • It feels a bit unstable for larger paddlers 
  • The high bow makes it susceptible to weathercocking
  • It doesn’t track as straight without the rudder 

Comfort and maneuverability are the focal points of Conduit 13. It has all you could need for day touring expeditions – as long as you stay in the coastal waters, that is.

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Best Ocean Kayak: Final Words

Kayaking in the open sea is bound to create moments so memorable that the mere smell of salt while cooking will be enough to evoke them.

But the ocean waters can be unpredictable – and require a unique ‘yak.

While you cannot go wrong with any of my top picks, Wilderness Systems Tempest 165 deserves to be crowned the best ocean kayak.

Why?

Industry-leading Phase 3 AirPro seating system, TruTrak adjustable skeg system, multiple dry storage hatches, and hull shape that glides through the water without compromising stability; need I say more?

Ultimately, it’s your golden ticket to experiencing marine life in all its glory – without any worries about your safety.