“A real kayak doesn’t need a rudder”, “Kayak makers add rudders to compensate for design flaws” and such statements are only a few of the many things you’ll hear in a debate about kayak rudders which has been going on for decades. Certain kayakers are considering themselves purists, and, even though they will acknowledge the benefit of using a skeg which is retractable, they have a solid “no” when rudders are being considered. Skegs, unlike rudders, are a non-turning fin usually located near the stern, and it helps improve tracking in some conditions, such as with rockered kayaks, off-the-wind legs and quartering seas.
If you’re a beginner and you start asking yourself whether you need a rudder, the first question you should get answered is what is a rudder, and what does it do? The term by itself, rudder, will have you thinking of a device that steers the boat. Even though this would be correct, rudders are instead usually used to keep the kayak on a straight path, rather than helping it turn. However, there’s much more than “a part that keeps the kayak going straight”, so let’s dive into the details and see what parts the rudder is composed of, how do they work, their pros and cons, as well as those of a skeg, and will you need or want one for your kayaking experience.
What Parts Does a Rudder Consist Of?
When you’re in open water, you will notice that the wind, waves and currents will try to push your kayak around, altering your path and direction. To combat this, a rudder blade is used, and it acts in many ways similar to the feathers of an arrow that allow it to fly straight. The rudder is a blade located at the stern of the kayak, and is made in such a way that it pivots from side to side, and that is controlled by foot pedals in the kayak’s cockpit. Those foot pedals are connected by cables, usually made of stainless steel, or made from super-strong cordage materials, such as Spectra. In order to turn the rudder, you push on one of the pedals, on the side you want to veer towards, and you relieve the pressure on the other pedal.
This action turns the rudder blade and compensates for the wind or wave or currents’ attempt to try and steer you away.
Another important thing that most of the rudders available today usually employ is a so-called lift line. This allows the paddler to deploy the rudder, as well as pull it back inside the stern, and all this while he or she is sitting in the cockpit. While you might think that this is nothing more than a gimmick, you will find that it’s actually very useful when you’re landing or launching, and especially when you’re crossing shallows which would otherwise hit the rudder and either damage it or break it off completely. The lift line is usually a long loop which is knotted near the cockpit. There are a few knots, and the one to pull is always the one which is farthest back, and this is important to remember because the knots change their position each time you raise or lower the rudder. You should also remember that the rudder may come with a keeper cord, which is meant to lock the rudder down to the deck for storage and transportation, and this should be off before you launch. This option of the rudders to be lifted or lowered also means that when you have any kind of submerged obstacle, the rudder can lift itself over it when you’re going in a forward direction. Keep in mind that this can’t happen when you’re going in a reverse direction. Some kayaks, however, such as surf skis, will come with a through-hull rudder. This is mounted close to the stern, and not at the far end, and protrudes from the bottom of the hull. The cables are on the top of the back deck and usually concealed with a cover plate. What you should know is that this kind of rudder can’t be raised and lowered, and you should take special care when in shallow waters, as well as when you’re launching and landing.
The last part of the rudder are the foot control pedals.
They usually consist of a foot peg, which is mounted on a rail with graduated slots in order for you to be able to adjust the pegs. This allows for a variety of leg lengths to be able to fit. That rail is mounted on a track which lets both the foot peg, and the rail, slide forward and back and pull the cable. To make the rudder turn, one peg goes forward and the other one goes back, as mentioned above. This system of movement has one fundamental issue, and that is that it requires the paddler to bend, and then straighten the legs,
which affects the paddler’s grip and fit on the kayak. If you’re paddling in a sit-on kayak, you will feel your knee straps getting loose, and if you’re paddling in a sit-in kayak, you will notice less contact with thigh brace pads. All in all, both types of paddlers will inevitably feel a decrease in control over their kayak, as well as the ability to lean and brace. This is one of the key factors when looking at rudders, and has a lot of paddlers avoiding rudders due to the fact that a loss of lean control can lead to a tip over, which is a problem for the paddler. This problem, however, has actually been solved, as we’re seeing more and more kayaks being equipped with toe-control foot pegs which means that you only need to move your toes and not the whole legs, thus maintaining your control over the kayak.
How does a kayak rudder work?
The mechanics of a kayak rudder are very simple. The foot pegs pull or release the cable, thus making the rudder turn on one side or the other, depending on which peg you’re pushing on, and which one you’re releasing. However, there’s a little more to it than just the pushing and pulling. When you turn the rudder on one side, you create more drag on that side of the kayak, and consequently you slow the side down. The other side maintains its speed. This causes the kayak to turn towards the slow side, and compensate for the change of direction caused by either winds, or currents, or waves. While this kind of “steering” is easy, you will notice that it consumes a big part of your hard-earned, forward-moving momentum, and requires more strength and paddling to get to where you’re going. A good comparison would be power steering in your car, it draws some power from the engine in order for you to not have to muscle the steering wheel, but you will get less miles per gallon. Another reason why this is a good comparison is that, like power steering, you will find that loss of strength to be a well-worth tradeoff, especially when you consider the benefits.
The rudder itself is a fairly new innovation, as the originators of the kayak, the Inuits, didn’t use rudders. As mentioned earlier, there is a significant number of paddlers that go along with the simplicity of going rudderless, and prefer saving some strength that would otherwise be wasted on drag when the rudder is in the water. And, even though most kayaks don’t actually need a rudder, and proper paddling strokes can provide more control than you need, it is a fact that having one can be of great assistance in many situations. You will find that a lot of today’s commercially available kayaks come with a rudder option, or have a rudder included in the standard package, while some come with a skeg. The skeg is an interesting alternative to those who prefer going rudderless, as it helps keep the kayak on a straight course as well.
What are the pros and cons of a rudder, and what are those of a skeg?
If you find yourself at this point where you need to get a rudder, you will undoubtedly have certain paddlers, those mentioned at the beginning, that will either try to steer you away completely from such a solution, or get you to use a skeg instead of a rudder. In order for you to be able to make the final decision on your own, here are the most important pros and cons of both rudders and skegs, and hopefully they will help you decide what works best for you. We’ll start with the rudders first.
- They make the kayak much easier to control, it requires much less edging in order to maintain the course, and it’s a lot easier to turn the entire kayak.
- A rudder will give you more space in the stern compartment of your kayak.
- Many rudders can be pulled up and made retractable
- When surfing, you get much more control, as the rudder does the steering, and not the paddle.
- They cost more than a skeg to find and install.
- Rudders come with a lot of moving parts, and losing one of them, such as a nut or a screw, and you’re left to rely completely on your skill. Even worse, you might have to fight a rudder you have absolutely no control over, which can be very bad depending on the conditions.
- When stowed, they might act as a small sail and provide drag.
- If you forget to unlock the keeper cord, you will need another paddler to do that for you once you’re inside the cockpit.
- Can be easily damaged and if struck while moving backwards, they’re very susceptible to damage.
A skeg, unlike the rudder, is a fixed blade which is found at the bottom of the hull, usually behind the cockpit. Skegs can also be deployed using a control cable and actuator, and they’re usually added to a kayak in order to compensate for poor trim or give some newer paddlers added assistance. A skilled paddler, however, can compensate for the stern being pushed sideways by deploying a skeg, because the skeg itself adds a lot of resistance to the sideways motion. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of such a system.
- Less moving parts and connection points than a rudder.
- When stowed, it doesn’t affect the wind.
- No muscle groups are required to steer.
- If you strike something, they usually fold in the skeg box.
- They’re cheaper to install.
- They don’t provide any yaw control.
- Skegs take up too much space in the storage compartment.
- A skeg box will create more drag than a clean hull.
- They’re not good for novice paddlers as they require skill in order to be able to turn and control the kayak.
- Rocks and pebbles may jam them if you drag the kayak down the beach.
- They’re easily damaged if something strikes them sideways.
Aftermarket Kayak Rudder/Skeg Options
There are a few options out there for people that already have a rudderless kayak and want to install their own. Usually these do require some installation so you can do one of two things, pay a professional handyman or do it yourself. There are a few reputable brands out there and kits that offer a clean install, these include sets from Pygmy, Kayak Sports, Sealine, , Wildwasser, Feathercraft, Mirage and Ocean kayak as well as other less known brands. A final option is creating your own, this is usually much easier with skegs, with rudders you may battle a bit since you have to include the moving parts of the foot pedals for rotating the skeg.
Here are some options of universal kayak rudders if your in the market off amazon.
|Crack Of Dawn Kayak Universal Rudder Kit||This is the most popular Universal kayak rudder kit we could find online that is repurposable to any kayak.
Check Price And Availability
FYI: Alot of different kayak models such as Hobie, Native Watercraft, Ocean have their own rudder kit designed specially for your kayak.
Hobie Kayak Rudder, Watercraft Rudder, Ocean Kayak Rudder, Advanced Elements Skeg, Seyvlor Skeg, Wilderness Systems Rudder Kit
Aftermarket Tracking Fin
Another option if you don’t want the retractable option and are looking for something fixed or easy to install is the tracking fin. These can be easily mounted on the bottom of your kayak and will make your kayak track totally straight like a flat water boat. This is definitely the cheaper option for a kayak and is great for fisherman that know the turmoils of having their boats face the wrong way! The one downside of a tracking fin is that once its mounted its there forever and can cause some issues with storage and dragging the kayak into the water if your launching from an awkward position, but the trade-off is easy installation and great tracking.
Here are some options of tracking fins if your in the market off amazon.
|Hanperal Kayak Skeg Tracking Fin
Dimensions: 1.7 x 6.1 x 9 inches
Weight: .3 lbs
|This skeg received 4/5 star reviews on Amazon most of the reviewers say it improves tracking however it is not detachable which is a large negative.
Check Price And Availability
|Lanyar Kayak Skeg Tracking Fin
Dimensions: 2 x 7 x 8.5 inches
Weight: .7 lbs
|This skeg received 3.5 stars on amazon. The main benefit of this skeg is that it allows you to take it off at a moments notice.
Check Price And Availability
|Hanperal Kayak Skeg Tracking Fin
Dimensions: 2 x 7.9 x 8.5 inches
Weight: 1 lbs
|This skeg received 4.5 stars which was the highest among all the skegs reviewed, although it is a larger skeg it is more durable then the others improving tracking to a large extent and alsoo having the added benefit of being removable.
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Conclusion: do you want, or need one?
While rudders are undoubtedly of great assistance in a number of situations, you will find that whether you need one usually depends on what kind of kayak you use, how you use it and in what conditions. Other factors that may affect this decision are your skill, and last but not least, your personal preference. If you’re paddling on open water, where you’re usually exposed to both wind and waves, you will most likely want a rudder to help you with keeping your direction.
If you have a longer kayak, a rudder is very likely to come as a standard piece of equipment, as longer kayaks require much more skills for you to be able to paddle them and a rudder is a good thing to help you with this. However, if you invest much more time in learning the paddle strokes, as well as improving your skills, chances are you might not need a rudder after all. The best thing to do is to check in real-life conditions, both with and without a rudder, and decide for yourself whether you can use one and if it helps you in what you need it for. At the end of the day, it’s your hard-earned money that buys the rudder.
How To Create Your Own Kayak Rudder and Skeg Resources
Instructables Make your Own Kayak Rudder Step Guide – http://www.instructables.com/id/Kayak-rudder/
Make a Kayak Rudder Paul Larsen Youtube Guide – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nsk6ydMnGrA
Written Do It Yourself Rudder Guide From Trails (No Pictures) – https://www.trails.com/how_12710_do-yourself-kayak-rudder.html