Considerations When Buying a Kayak
Choosing the perfect kayak for you shouldn’t be complicated but rather fun, exciting, and educational. To choose the proper kayak, you must first make an honest evaluation of your intended needs and uses. To do so, ask yourself some of these basic questions:
What types of kayaking activities will you be participating in most of the time? Will you be paddling alone or with family or friends? Will you be taking day, weekend, or extended trips? Will you be paddling calm lakes and ponds, or big water conditions? Will your kayak be used as an all-purpose craft, or do you want to excel and be more efficient in your main paddling choice? Will you be carrying a large amount of gear, children, or pets? How important is carry-weight, will you need a lightweight kayak which can be easily loaded on vehicles and portaged?
There are 4- main categories of flatwater kayaks: Sea Kayaks, Day Touring Kayaks, Recreational Kayaks and Fishing or Sportsman Kayaks. (Please refer to the Kayaks Page on our website for in-depth information on Kayak Types).
Given two kayaks of equal width, the longer kayak will be the fastest. Why? As the kayak moves through the water, the hull must separate water at the bow and allow it to return to the stern as smoothly as possible. The longer the waterline, the smoother transition. A shorter waterline will result in a less streamlined passage through the water.
Longer kayaks have a number of advantages: They are faster, glide farther, track better, are more stable, carry heavier loads, and are easier to paddle. If longer kayaks are more efficient and use less effort why would anyone want a short boat? Shorter kayaks are lighter, less cumbersome, are easier to transport, and are often less expensive. A shorter hull will also turn and maneuver quicker in narrow streams or tight places.
The primary function of width or beam is stability. A wider kayak will be slower and requires more work to paddle as the hull pushes more water. Wider kayaks tend to be more stable but sacrifice handling abilities. Narrow kayaks are more efficient because they bring the paddlers strokes closer to the center-line of the kayak.
Deeper kayaks deflect spray and waves better to provide a dryer ride, but are more susceptible to cross winds. If the deck is too high it begins to impede the stroke of the paddle, another reason to try before you buy. A depth of 13″ to 15″ is common for quality recreational & touring kayaks.
The overall shape of the kayak from front to back. Symmetrical kayaks have identically shaped halves front to back with the widest point at the centre. Symmetrical boats maneuver quicker and provide a more predictable behavior for rough water conditions, or paddling narrow rivers or streams.
Asymmetrical kayaks or Swede form have a longer more slender bow with the widest point behind centre. Asymmetrical kayaks tend to be more efficient and track better but do not turn as quickly. Swede form kayaks provide more volume behind the centre to offer easy touring speed and maneuverability. Fish form kayaks provide more volume ahead of the centre to increase tracking, even in adverse conditions.
The degree of curve along the hull from bow to stern as viewed from the side is called rocker. Kayaks with a lot of rocker can pivot more easily as their ends sit higher in the water and offer less resistance. Kayaks with less rocker track (go straight) more efficiently as the boat naturally resists the turning forces of paddling strokes.
Flat bottom kayaks have the greatest wet surface and provide the most initial stability when paddling in calm water. However, when leaned or in rough water, a flat bottom kayak can quickly become less stable. Flat bottom hulls best suit beginners and leisurely day paddlers who want a user-friendly feel and paddle in calm waters.
Vee bottom kayaks have the least wet surface and may feel less stable initially in calm water. They provide however, the most secondary stability to resist tipping when leaned, in rough water, or adverse conditions. Vee bottom hulls are fast, efficient, track well and provide a lively feel with a comfortable level of stability for experienced paddlers or those aspiring to be.
Rounded Vee bottom kayaks are a compromise of the two hull shapes mentioned above providing a good blend of both initial and secondary stability. Rounded Vee hulls provide well all around performance and suit a wide range of paddlers and skill levels that desire all-round performance.
The area between the bottom of the kayak and its sides is called the chine. Three main types of chine’s exist: rounded sides are referred to as Soft Chines, single angled sides are called Hard Chines and multi-angled sides are referred to as Multi Chines.
Hard & Multi Chines sides provide predetermined areas to which paddlers can edge their kayaks. As Soft Chine sides are more rounded they offer no predefined areas to edge a kayak so aggressive edging may take longer to learn BUT when learned offers more infinite degrees of edging. Confused, don’t be… we’ll show you when you arrive at Frontenac Outfitters On-Water Paddlesports Centre.
There are 2- basic bow shapes: Greenland style bows are distinctly long and narrow with up-swept ends. This gives the kayak the ability to slice through big waves in rough water conditions for which the East Coast is known. Designs originating on the West Coast where conditions are not as rough are opposite. They tend to have a lower profile, which provides a longer waterline to maximize hull speed and reduce the negative effects of crosswinds.
The amount of space the interior of the boat provides is referred to as its volume or capacity. Unfortunately, various manufacturers define “capacity” using different terms such as litre, cubic inches and maximum capacity. Frontenac Outfitters chooses to use “Optimum Paddler Weight”. We derive our “optimum paddler weights” from extensive test paddling, customer feedback and 29- years experience.
Note: Our weights are always less than the manufacturers weights, which are often vastly overstated… so use our Weights! Better yet, we invite YOU to test paddle kayaks at On Water Paddlesports Centre to determine capacity… which boat best meets YOUR needs!
Rudder & Skeg Systems
Do I need a rudder? What is a retractable skeg? Why does this kayak not have either?
These are questions often asked! We will briefly try to explain each:
A rudder can be a valuable addition to your kayak. When the blade is in the down position, footrests positioned in sliding tracks enable the paddler to turn the rudder from side to side. This devise assists the paddler in steering and tracking. The rudder can be raised giving the paddler the option to paddle without it.
Retractable Skeg Systems
A skeg is a fin that drops down from the boats hull close to the stern of the kayak to enhance tracking. Unlike a rudder system a skeg can only be moved up and down (not side to side). When not in use, a skeg can be retracted completely within the hull into a watertight skeg box. Although a skeg doesn’t turn left or right, by raising or lowering the skeg or decreasing or increasing how much of the skeg is in water you can track / steer accordingly.
Advantages & Disadvantages
Rudders make a kayak track or go straight with less effort. A rudder may also make a kayak turn easier for novice paddlers. Negatively, rudders may only work marginally in adverse weather conditions. Sliding rudder systems also forsake a degree of bracing… so look to purchase superior “smart rudders or gas peddle style rudders.
Skegs have fewer moving parts so tend not to break down and may cost less than rudders. Skegs only enhance tracking, so paddlers should have knowledge of basic paddle strokes like sweeps and draws. A skeg is positioned almost two feet from the stern and releases from inside the hull, so the skeg tends to stay submerged longer than a rudder to keep you on track.
Some paddlers prefer to improve their paddling skills and control or turn their kayak by edging (tipping their boat onto its side) to steer rather than depend on a steerable rudder system. Others prefer the ease of a rudder-assisted turn. Whatever you decide is right! As it all boils down to personal choice!
Overall comfort is essential in kayaks as you may be sitting for hours. Remember you do not have the freedom to move about as much as in a canoe! Seat shapes, back bands, thigh braces, foot pedals and seat height all vary from model to model. Recreational seats tend to have higher backrests, while sea kayak back bands are much lower to enable greater paddler movement.
Your size will largely determine the size of the cockpit opening you require. Recreational cockpits tend to be largest and roomiest, while sea kayaks will have smaller fitting cockpits for advanced bracing, steering and rolls, day touring cockpit sizes are mid range.
Note: To do it right, find the best model for you on-the-water by trying a number of kayaks!
Hatches & Bulkheads
Recreational & lower end kayaks may or may not have hatches or bulkheads in their craft. Further, even if they do they may ‘NOT’ work, which is a huge liability as your boat can fill up with water. Higher quality day touring kayaks and sea kayaks come equipped with sealed compartments made watertight by hatches and bulkheads. This feature provides positive flotation as an added safety feature. How important is the air floats safety concept to you?
Is There a Perfect Kayak?
Of course not! By now you have already guessed that a kayak designed to excel in one area must compromise its performance in another. As for finding the right kayak for you, we can promise one thing at Frontenac Outfitters On-Water Canoe & Kayak Centre YOU will have fun trying! Come for a visit and try out a kayak first hand – on the water!
If you have any questions or recommendations on how to improve this article, please call 613.376.6220 or email [email protected]
Come Paddle With Us!