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Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5 Review

A super solid and stable all-around kayak great for any age or ability level at a modestly affordable price
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Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5 Review (Ocean Kayaks was one of the original brands to bring sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks to the masses, and they still know how to...)
Ocean Kayaks was one of the original brands to bring sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks to the masses, and they still know how to make an affordable, durable, and playful kayak that suits all levels of kayakers.
Credit: Sara James
Price:  $800 List
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Manufacturer:   Ocean Kayak
By Sara James and Dan Kramer  ⋅  Jul 25, 2023
71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 12
  • Glide and Tracking - 30% 8.0
  • Stability - 20% 8.0
  • Maneuverability - 15% 7.0
  • Ease of Transport - 15% 4.5
  • Comfort - 10% 6.0
  • Construction Quality - 10% 8.0

Our Verdict

The Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5 stands out for its blend of performance, versatility, and affordability. This kayak's stability and sit-on-top style makes it suitable for all ages and sizes. It is incredibly easy to get in and out of on the shore or even from the water. In addition, paddlers won't feel constricted like they might in many of the sit-inside kayak designs. The Malibu is one of the easiest to paddle, and it tracks and glides superbly while maintaining more maneuverability than other top kayaks at this length. All this comes at a mid-range price, making this a popular choice for paddlers everywhere.
REASONS TO BUY
Extremely stable
Great tracking
Very durable
Comfortable
Stackable
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy to carry
No internal dry storage
Editor's Note: We updated this review on July 25, 2023, after adding new kayaks to our lineup and reassessing some of our testing metrics.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Best Buy Award  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award 
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$1,059 at REI
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$799 List
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$650 List
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Bottom Line If you are looking for a fun and safe kayak that the whole family will enjoy, then this boat offers a great bang for your buckThis is a comfortable and exceedingly fun boat to paddle no matter what kind of adventure you chooseWhether fishing, swimming, taking photos, or just exploring your favorite body of water, this kayak won’t let you downAn all-around popular and stable boat that is fast and tracks well in various conditionsIf paddling comfort and affordability are your priorities, then this may be a great option
Rating Categories Ocean Kayak Malibu... Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Perception Tribe 11.5 Old Town Vapor 10
Glide and Tracking (30%)
8.0
7.0
7.5
7.0
6.5
Stability (20%)
8.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Maneuverability (15%)
7.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
6.0
Ease of Transport (15%)
4.5
6.0
5.0
6.0
7.0
Comfort (10%)
6.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
Construction Quality (10%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Specs Ocean Kayak Malibu... Wilderness Systems... Wilderness Systems... Perception Tribe 11.5 Old Town Vapor 10
Length 11' 5" 10' 6" 10' 6" 11' 5" 10' 0"
Width 32" 29" 32" 30.5" 28.5"
Weight 59 lbs 48 lbs 57 lbs 57 lbs 47 lbs
Height 12" 15.5" 15.3" 12.6" 16.8"
Weight Capacity 360 lbs 400 lbs 325 lbs 350 lbs 325 lbs
Material/Construction Singler layer polyethylene High-density roto-molded linear polyethylene Polyethylene UV, impact and abrasion resistant, high-density rotomolded polyethylene Single-layer polyethylene
Features Tri-form hull with an integral keel and sponsons, AirGo molded in seat and seat pad with adjustable AirComfort backrest, molded-in foot wells and calf rest, paddle holders, side/stern/bow carrying handles, molded-in oversized bow and stern tank wells with bungees, splash resistent QuickStash dry hatch, 2 molded in fishing rod holders, 3 water bottle holder, replaceable skid plate. Phase 3 Air Pro seat with mesh streched over contoured foam perferated pad, leg lifters and adjustable seat back angles, thigh and knee pads, adjustable slide locking foot braces, rear bulkhead compartment with Orbix stern hatch, shock cord bow and stern rigging for extra storage, rugged bow and stern handles, molded dashboard with gear tray and drink holder, replaceable skid plate and retractable drop down skeg. Quick-park paddle holder, rigid carry handles, SlideTrax accessory rails, magnetic water-bottle strap system, removable DryTec dry box, sectioned storage tray, phase 3 AirPro seating system, dog-friendly deck Adjustable framed seat, padded seat, molded-in footrests, molded-in bow and stern well with bungees, replaceable stern skid plate, 6" central cockpit hatch with liner, 3 drink holders, side handles, front and rear toggle handles, drainage scupper holes, draing plug, skid plate, Adjustable comfort flex seat, glide track foot brace system, stern day well, molded-in cockpit tray with cup holder, molded-in paddle rest, built in carry handles, thigh pads, drain plug, skid plate

Our Analysis and Test Results

Ocean Kayak brought sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks to the masses, and they still know how to make an affordable, durable, and playful kayak that suits all levels of paddlers. The Malibu 11.5 is an 11-foot, 5-inch, sit-on top-kayak with self-bailing drain holes. It has a tri-form hull and is 32 inches wide.

Performance Comparison


ocean kayak malibu 11.5 - ocean kayak's very durable malibu 11.5 offers an excellent value and...
Ocean Kayak's very durable Malibu 11.5 offers an excellent value and is sure to make for some long-lasting memories.
Credit: Dan Kramer

Glide and Tracking


At first glance, the Malibu 11.5 may look a bit bulky and sluggish. At almost 11 and a half feet long and weighing around 59 pounds, this kayak does resemble a large plastic barge at times. It's not until you sit in the cockpit and push off from shore that you start to feel the incredible stability and smoothness in this kayak's tracking and glide. The overall length, combined with the long keel and pontoon-style tri-form hull, keeps this boat extremely stable while gliding fast and straight across the water in even the windiest and waviest conditions.


The weight of this vessel has its share of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to glide. On the one hand, its 59 pounds helps to hold its heading and track better than a lighter boat. On the other hand, the heavier weight causes you to work a bit harder to get it up to speed than with a lighter boat in the same conditions. Overall though, this boat offers decent tracking and glide.

ocean kayak malibu 11.5 - nothing like a smooth, glassy water days to get the most out of your...
Nothing like a smooth, glassy water days to get the most out of your kayak's glide.
Credit: Tracy Viegener

Stability


The length, width, and low seating position make this an exceptionally stable boat. We could even stand up on the deck and paddle it around, maneuvering it just like a paddleboard. If kids want to move around on a kayak, play games, load up toys, or generally mess around, this is a great option.


As the Malibu has drain holes carefully positioned in the hull, if you take on water, it is easily drained away and won't bother your overall stability and performance.

ocean kayak malibu 11.5 - the malibu 11.5 is wide and, impressively, stable enough to stand up...
The Malibu 11.5 is wide and, impressively, stable enough to stand up on and paddle it like a SUP.
Credit: Val Viegener

Maneuverability


Normally, boats with behemoth dimensions like the Malibu 11.5 don't maneuver very well, but thanks to the tri-form hull, it is not that bad. Even though it has a very long pontoon-style hull and pronounced keel that would typically make turning harder, this kayak maneuvers surprisingly well, considering its size.


It's not until you lean the Malibu 11.5 over onto its side using the hull's secondary stability that you really notice how balanced and competently it holds an edge. This helps it turn much more easily than other boats this size. This maneuverability works well in any condition, from fishing on a nice calm pond to kayak surfing on ocean waves.

If you were to tip this kayak somehow over, it does take effort to re-flip it, and this is a skill kayakers should practice if they expect to leave sheltered conditions. Once you have got the kayak the correct way around (thanks to the self-bailing holes), as long as you can haul yourself back onto this craft, you can quickly continue on your way. Overall, this is much easier than in a sit-inside kayak.

Ease of Transport


What can we say? Many boats on the market are much easier to

transport and carry than this one. The overall weight of the Malibu, combined with its 11-foot, 5-inch length, makes it challenging to wrangle on and off vehicles, to and from water access points, and when portaging around obstacles.

Ocean Kayaks did their best to make up for this by adding two molded-in plastic handles on the starboard and port sides right by the cockpit. There are also the standard handles you see on most boats at the bow and stern. This, combined with the replaceable stern skid plate, at least offers up a couple more options for trying to move your kayak around. The Malibu also has two built-in fishing rod holders for trolling on the lake, space for coolers, gear, or the small family dog.


Another feature we like and haven't seen on other boats is the patented YakLock locking bar at the stern. This is a great feature when you are traveling with your boat on your car and want to lock it to the roof. You can also lock it up to a tree, fence, or other boats when you store your boat outside. And if you decide you really like the Malibu 11.5 and want to invest in a couple of them, it's nice to know that they're brilliantly designed to nest on top of one another for efficient storage.

ocean kayak malibu 11.5 - the generous amount of storage space and the boat's high capacity...
The generous amount of storage space and the boat's high capacity weight limit makes the Malibu a great vessel to load up for long day trips or even overnight camping trips.
Credit: Tracy Viegener

Comfort


The low side walls and open nature of this kayak make it one of the easiest to get into. Once comfortably seated, this vessel's sheer length, width, and openness make you feel like you are on your own floating island. You can lay down lengthwise on this kayak and take a nap without feeling like you'll tip over and fall out. Its seat pad and adjustable padded backrest give you a place to brace yourself comfortably when you press your feet into the molded-in foot wells. These newly-designed molded-in foot wells also give you several convenient options for the best foot placement, along with calf rests for added leg support.


In addition to the two bow and stern toggle handle grips, two sturdy molded-in handles on either side of the seat give you an added place to brace yourself when getting in and out of the boat. They also give you another option for lifting and carrying the kayak. A conveniently located splash-resistant QuickStash dry hatch between your legs and three molded-in drink holders round out some of the Malibu 11.5 creature comforts.

ocean kayak malibu 11.5 - the cozy cockpit of the malibu 11.5 has a decent seating system with...
The cozy cockpit of the Malibu 11.5 has a decent seating system with a conveniently located drink holder and QuickStash dry hatch as well as molded-in side handles.
Credit: Dan Kramer

Although the drain holes help keep the kayak drier in the long run, they do allow some water in, and you should expect to get your lower body a bit damp when paddling this kayak. As always, when recreating in water, dress appropriately. If you really want to stay dry, consider one of the sit-on-top kayaks with a raised seat.

ocean kayak malibu 11.5 - the large stern well of the malibu 11.5 comes equipped with scupper...
The large stern well of the Malibu 11.5 comes equipped with scupper holes, a retention bungee, two extra drink holders and carrying handle.
Credit: Dan Kramer

Construction Quality


One good thing about the Malibu being a heavier boat is that it suggests the Ocean Kayak manufacturers didn't spare any expense, using thick layers of plastic to create a remarkably rugged and durable vessel. Everything about the hull design speaks of long-lasting endurance, no matter how many rocky shores and sandy beaches are ahead. The seat pad, backrest, and adjustment straps all feel solid. The brightly colored tank well retention bungees appear to be tough and reliable. We also felt good about the material and design used in the water-resistant dry hatch.


Large wells on the bow and stern offer loads of storage space for anything you want to bring along on your adventures, including a kid or a furry friend. These have a durable bungee cord running over them, enabling you to easily lash down dry bags or other gear. When it comes to storage, the Malibu shines.

ocean kayak malibu 11.5 - the ocean kayak line spares no expense in making some of the most...
The Ocean Kayak line spares no expense in making some of the most durable boats on the market that are equipped with very respectable outfitting.
Credit: Dan Kramer

Value


The Malibu 11.5 is one of the cheaper boats in our test fleet, but don't let the price fool you into thinking there are inferior manufacturing materials. This is a very strong, well-designed, and fun boat that will make you feel like you got your money's worth. Dollar for dollar, this is one of the best-valued boats on the water, which is probably why you see so many kayak rental companies using them in their fleets.

Conclusion


The Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5 is the perfect family-friendly boat for hot summer days. It paddles exceptionally well in all conditions and makes for a great floating island for the kids. The long hull and loads of storage make for a great long-distance day cruiser and a decent overnight kayak. Other than being a bit bulky, the Malibu 11.5 is just about everything you could need in a sit-on-top kayak. It has plenty of storage space, decent outfitting, excellent glide and tracking abilities, and great overall performance. This vessel shows off its versatility and performance, which rivals similar, more expensive boats at a lower cost.

Sara James and Dan Kramer