Ocean Kayak's brand-new Malibu 11.5 is making waves around the recreational kayaking world with its all-around versatility and affordability. Although it is one of the longest and heaviest boats in our fleet, it is also one of the easiest to paddle and most functional for kayakers of all ages and sizes. Ridiculously stable and maneuverable, it tracks and glides superbly and is comfortable and easy to paddle. Its stability makes it extremely easy to get in and out on the shore or the water. The Malibu has two built-in fishing rod holders for trolling on the lake, plenty of space for coolers, gear or the family dog, and the toughness and sturdiness to surf waves. All this comes at a mid-range price, making this a popular choice for paddlers everywhere. Coming in at third in our tests, the Malibu is the second cheapest boat out of the six we examined. It was an easy choice for our Best Buy Award for a sit-on-top kayak.
Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5 Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Extremely stable, excellent tracking, very durable, comfortable, multifaceted
Cons: Heavy, slow to get up to speed, burdensome to load and carry
Manufacturer: Ocean Kayak
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Ocean Kayaks updated a version of its old Scrambler 11.5 kayak by giving some improvements and added features while keeping the same great handling and classic hull design that gave these boats their distinguished reputation in the first place.
The resulting Malibu 11.5 scored very well in our testing and proved to be an excellent choice for paddlers of all ages and abilities. 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. And at such a great price point, it is also very easy on your wallet.
At first glance, the Ocean Kayak Malibu 11.5 may come off looking a bit bulky and sluggish. At a little over 11'5", and weighing in at around 59 pounds, the Malibu 11.5 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 of this vessel does come with its share of advantages and disadvantages when it comes to glide. On the one hand, its 59 pounds helps to hold its heading and tracking better than a lighter boat would in gusty weather. On the other hand, the heavier weight causes you to have to work a bit harder to get it up to speed and gliding than with a lighter boat in the same conditions. Overall though, this boat offers some of the best glide in the test.
Normally, boats with these behemoth dimensions don't maneuver very well, but Ocean Kayaks longtime designer Bob McDonough destroyed those stereotypes with a time-tested tri-form hull. Even though it has a very long pontoon style hull and pronounced keel, which would typically make turning harder, this kayak maneuvers surprisingly well considering its size.
But 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 its size. This maneuverability works well in any condition, from fishing on a nice calm pond to kayak surfing on ocean waves. We were even able to stand up on the wide, sturdy deck of this boat and paddle around, maneuvering it like a paddleboard.
The sheer length, width, and openness of this vessel make you feel like you are on your own floating island. You can lay down lengthwise on this kayak and take a nap on it without feeling like you were going to tip it over and fall out. Its broad AirGo seat pad and AirComfort 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.
What can we say? There are many more boats on the market that are much easier to
transport and carry than this one. The overall weight of this kayak combined with its 11'5" length make for a challenging 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 that 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.
Another feature that we liked and haven't seen on any 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.
We have been speaking a lot about how the weight of the Malibu 11.5 effects many of the different metrics of this kayak. One good thing about it being a heavier boat is that it means you know the Ocean Kayak manufacturers didn't spare any expense and used 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 it scrapes over. The AirGo seat pad, AirComfort 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 their new water-resistant dry hatch.
The Malibu 11.5 is the perfect family friendly boat for hot summer days. The kayak paddles exceptionally well in all conditions and makes for a great floating island for the kids. Its long hull and loads of storage make for a great long-distance day cruiser and a decent overnight kayak.
Ocean Kayak's Malibu 11.5 was the second least expensive boat in the test fleet, but don't let the price fool you into thinking they cut corners or used 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 the first day you christen her on any body of water. Dollar for dollar, this is one of the best-valued boats on the water, and it is probably why you see so many kayak rental companies using them in their fleets.
If you are looking for best bang for your buck, look no further. Your ship has come in. Ocean Kayaks has improved on their already proven design to offer a new product with lots of upgrades and additions without pricing too many people out of the market. Other than being a bit bulky, the Malibu 11.5 is just about everything you could need in a sit-on-top kayak. This kayak 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.
— Dan Kramer