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How low should a kayak be in the water?

I’m curious, now that I’ve tried a few different boats, and noticed I sink some of them lower than others, if there’s a “right” position a kayak should be in the water. Can you tell if you’re a good weight for it by that means? And how does how high or low the boat sits in the water effect how it behaves? Thanks.

Comments

  • I don't think there's a general rule for that. Some kayaks (I'm talking about sea kayaks) sit very low by design. I've loaded one of mine with a week's worth of camping gear, and it got just about up to the gunwales in the water, and what I noticed was that it was slow to accelerate/decelerate, and very stable. But that is probably different for every design.

  • Thanks. Yes, I’m talking about sea kayaks, too.

  • Canoe companies have typically done this better in describing their boats..

    For a kayak, what matters is where it sits in the water compared to its control edge. In some cases that is a murky thing, the rounder the boat gets the harder it is to see that so you just have to feel it. The best way to do that is to drop it onto the edge and see whether you can find that kinda resting point in its progression over easily or if you have to do a lot of gyrations to get it there. If it is the latter the boat is probably a bit bigger volume than you need.

    Which is not fatal, it goes to the decision about how much extra safety compared to how much quick responsiveness you want. For paddling alone in Maine I use a boat that is actually a bit big for me. But it has a lot of characteristics that also make it the safest of my boats. So I tolerate the bit of extra work to get those advantages.

    For a hard chined boat if is easier. For example the diamond chining in the old Necky Elaho in my basement called it very clearly. My husband would sink the boat so it was sitting right on a chine, he could get the boat to maneuver by doing fairly little. When I was in the boat I was between and inch and two above that line. So I had to do more to get the boat to that edge to turn etc. It was too big in volume for me.

  • I think Celia's feedback is spot on. In the canoe world if the weight is too low for the boat you will feel more skin friction which makes the boat feel harder to paddle plus the wind will blow you around more since the ends aren't really in the water to help hold you in place. As you approach the upper weight limit the waterline width gets wider so the length/width ratio decreases and the boat loses performance since the shape becomes less sleek in the water. If you sink the boat enough to get the widest part underwater you're screwed and will fall out (or get spit out) when you lean.

  • I agree that it's by feel. The advantage of minimizing freeboard is that it minimizes the surface area that the wind gets to push against.
    You also can have hulls that are designed to have a low back deck, but have an upswept bow, and/or significant rocker. It's very difficult to define how much freeboard there should be on a sea kayak.
    At around 200 lbs, I've found in a number of instances where lighter folks will find a shorter sea kayak more maneuverable, and find that it still feels quick in speed, compared to a longer one. And I'll jump in those same two boats, and the longer one will be just as maneuverable for me, and the shorter one will feel quite sluggish.
    Another advantage to low freeboard is that waves, especially whitecaps and broken waves, don't push your kayak around as much, all other things being equal.
    So it's all about how a particular hull design performs for you under your weight given its length/width/shape both below and above the waterline. But it's very difficult to define as a standard among so many varying designs.

  • OK, thanks, all very interesting, and confirming to what seems to be the rough answer to most all kayaking questions: “It depends.”

    So, given that, is it generally preferable to be at the higher or lower end of weight recommendations for a given boat? Or does it still always depend on the individual situation?

  • I love the research & diving into reviews and forum posts when getting into new hobbies, activities and purchase decisions. The two geekiest arenas I have found this far (due to so many variables and differing user opinions) are kayaking and high end home espresso...

  • Being at the lower end of weight means more freeboard and more being pushed around by wind. Being at the upper end means you may feel the boat is much more sluggish than someone who is less weight. It comes down to the performance you want. No hard and fast answer.

  • LOL. I can’t deal with geeky foodie-ism but turns out I like boats.

  • @Wayne_Smith said:
    I don't think there's a general rule for that. Some kayaks (I'm talking about sea kayaks) sit very low by design. I've loaded one of mine with a week's worth of camping gear, and it got just about up to the gunwales in the water, and what I noticed was that it was slow to accelerate/decelerate, and very stable. But that is probably different for every design.

    You might find Greenland boats rear decks sit lower in the water.

  • If you can, try out as msny different boats as you can and eventually you will start to recognize the traits that feel right to you. However, it might take a lot of paddling experience before you are ready to make meaningful evaluations.

    There are quite a number of boats that I thought looked like they were right, but they were very disappointing to paddle. I won't go into naming them, but other paddlers must have agreed with me, because they didn't last long on the market. I will name one that was a great boat to paddle, but didn't make it and that is the Eddyline Raven. I think it was the best boat they ever made, but it got dropped for some reason.

    I will also name a boat that should be on everyone's list to try out; the CD Prana. Okay a couple more; the Stellar Intrepid and the P&H Cetus. One more; the Valley Nordy.

  • @magooch said:
    However, it might take a lot of paddling experience before you are ready to make meaningful evaluations.

    Yeah, I’ve already discovered that. Basically I don’t know enough yet to figure out why one boat feels better to me than another. That’s what I come on here and ask questions whose answers seem to be “it depends.”

  • @Overstreet said:

    @Wayne_Smith said:
    I don't think there's a general rule for that. Some kayaks (I'm talking about sea kayaks) sit very low by design. I've loaded one of mine with a week's worth of camping gear, and it got just about up to the gunwales in the water, and what I noticed was that it was slow to accelerate/decelerate, and very stable. But that is probably different for every design.

    You might find Greenland boats rear decks sit lower in the water.

    Many of them are very low. Some of the newer ones friends of mine have make my Anas Acuta look like it's high out of the water on the stern.

  • @Doggy Paddler said:

    @magooch said:
    However, it might take a lot of paddling experience before you are ready to make meaningful evaluations.

    Yeah, I’ve already discovered that. Basically I don’t know enough yet to figure out why one boat feels better to me than another. That’s what I come on here and ask questions whose answers seem to be “it depends.”

    Well it actually does depend on what feels right to you and what feels right is most likely going to change with your experience. My favorite boat felt very hard to manage when I first tried it, but I knew it wasn't the boat, it was me that had to learn and advance my skills. The boat forced me to learn totally new techniques (new to me) and had I not chosen this boat, I probably would still be stuck with what I thought was good enough. At some point, you will probably develop a short list of boats that appeal to you. You have to assume that if these boats have been successful in the market place, they probably are well proven performance wise.

  • If you are in the typical weight range that most kayaks are designed for 160 to 200 lb range and talking general touring kayaks (not rolling or Greenland style kayaks or recreational kayaks) in the 16' to 18' range and about 22 inch width most are designed to have a draft of about 3.5 to 4.5 inches. An additional 80-100 pounds will generally add about 1 inch of sinkage. If you are heavier or lighter than the weight I quoted you will want to look for high volume or low volume boats. The the draft for your target boat should remain about the same, 1 inch sinkage will be more or less and relative to the boat design which will have more volume for a heavier paddler and less volume for a lighter paddler. As indicated above the deeper the boat goes as a general rule the more primary stability it will have and the more drag from frictional drag it will have. Almost all kayaks state target weight range, if you are within the target weight range you will be in the parameters the kayak was designed to perform in.

  • For an example of "it depends", here's a shot of what my 18' x 20 1/2" Greenland skin on frame looks like with a paddler on the low end of its optimal design weight range (140 to 180 pounds). With a paddler nearer to 200 pounds the stern deck is nearly flush with the water. This is a multi-hard-chined kayak (has one more chine than most). It has a deep vee-shaped keel that provides the displacement volume under the water line. The basic principal of buoyancy is that the boat will displace a volume of water that is equal in weight to that of the load.

    "Archimedes' principle states that the upward buoyant force that is exerted on a body immersed in a fluid, whether fully or partially submerged, is equal to the weight of the fluid that the body displaces and acts in the upward direction at the center of mass of the displaced fluid."

  • @willowleaf said:
    For an example of "it depends", here's a shot of what my 18' x 20 1/2" Greenland skin on frame looks like with a paddler on the low end of its optimal design weight range (140 to 180 pounds). With a paddler nearer to 200 pounds the stern deck is nearly flush with the water.

    Given those dimensions and the multichine steep V greenland design I would think 70 to 80 lbs would sink that boat about 1 inch. It is hard to tell from the picture but you seem to have about 2 inches of freeboard on the stern.

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