Kayaking on the Hudson

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Carolina 13.5 by Perception: Review

Carolina 13.5 by Perception
The Carolina line is one of the most important series of kayaks ever made.  These were the first mass-produced “Day Touring” boats that bridged the gap between recreational kayaks and longer sea kayaks.  There are lots of Carolinas out there on the used market, and they come in different sizes.  I got to try out a Carolina 13.5.  The one I paddled was an older model, 2002, and had no options (rudder, adjustable seat, adjustable thigh bracing, etc.).  As the Carolina matured, Perception added more features and options, so the age of the kayak does matter as far as outfitting is concerned.  Although my Carolina is old, it is still in great shape and has many more years of great paddling left.

I read the reviews on this kayak on and was a bit confused when several people said that it tracked well but is hard to turn.  Then I realized that they all came from paddling 9-10 ft. recreational kayaks.  I paddle sea kayaks mostly, so I will be comparing it to other kayaks that are similar in size.

After talking to many people who paddle Carolinas, I expected this kayak to be very stable and quite sluggish, sort of a glorified recreational boat.  I was pleasantly surprised.  This kayak was nimble, with only moderate initial stability (compared to an Acadia or a Pungo) and it has very good secondary stability.  The 13.5 Carolina is only 22.5” wide, so it handles like a small sea kayak.    The cockpit is tight (I am 5’7”, 150lbs and it was uncomfortable for me.  I don’t see how anyone over 5’5” and 135lbs would be comfortable in this boat.)  The thigh bracing gives good contact with the boat and allows for some great control when edging a turn.
Newer Carolinas have better outfitting, especially the seat, but still no deck lines.

I suppose that compared to recreational kayaks it tracks well and is hard to turn, but compared to anything in its class (like a Tsunami), the tracking is pretty weak and it turns on a dime.  So it may be a bit of work to keep in a straight line, but it is really fun to paddle.  The flat hull makes this a fairly slow kayak (it actually throws off a bow wave as it plows through the water), but for most casual day-touring, it is fast enough.  The total lack of rocker means the kayak will submarine into oncoming waves, but it says right on the kayak that it is intended for flat or slow-moving water only, so expecting it to perform well in big waves is asking a bit much. 

By today’s standards, the outfitting is sorely lacking.  My Carolina had only 1 adjustment to the seat back, no adjustments to the thigh bracing, no rudder or skeg, no day hatch, and no deck lines.  Later Carolinas did add more features, but no deck lines (a big oversight for a touring kayak).   With the poor tracking, I can see where someone might want a rudder on this boat.

Bottom line: Compared to a modern day-touring kayak, like a Tsunami, the Carolina seems old-fashioned.  It has neither the outfitting nor the performance of a Tsunami.  But, it is a comfortable, fun kayak to paddle and you can pick one up for about half the price of a Tsunami.  Another plus of my Carolina is that it only weighs 47 lbs. because it doesn’t have a rudder or other extra outfitting to add weight.  If you are looking for an all-purpose kayak that will take a lot of abuse, give this boat a try.  If you are over 5’5” and 135 lbs., try the Carolina 14’.  Though I suspect it is a bit more sluggish than the 13.5.


  1. Good review, and excellent points regarding reviews from those that have experience from one end of the spectrum as they progress to longer or shorter kayaks. Also appreciate the note here about how this kayak, while a significant in its own right is now dated compared to better more modern touring kayaks.

  2. Good review! I have 2 - 2001 Perception Carolinas. I bought them new. We really enjoy time out on the waterway in them. I also use them for camping. My kayaks came with the retractable rudder and deck lines. I have been contemplating installing a 6" dry hatch (on each one) to the front for keys, camera, snack, etc. I just don't have the guts to start drilling in my kayaks!

    I have tried other people's kayaks. I will agree that the tracking is a bit off and it cuts through the water a little slower, but, I'm not a competitive kayaker, neither is my wife. We love the Carolina! (We live in North Carolina so we're biased!!)