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Suggestions for best "rough water" kayak

Dear Folks:

I live in Michigan and want to purchase a kayak capable of the rough conditions on the great lakes. Which kayaks are recommended for rough conditions? (I am looking for something for only 1 day trips, so storage capacity is not a concern). Thanks to all who respond.



  • To go straight in rough conditions
    and make mileage or to play and manuever in rough conditions is something that will help narrow it down.

    You did say day trips but that can still mean different things (3 miles, 20 miles ?) to different paddlers.
  • more info needed
    Best for me, my size and abilities might not be best for you.

    This reminds me of the farmer at the stand yesterday where I was buying corn. He takes a look at the two boats on the roof, a P&H Capella 161 and a NDK Explorer. He then asked are they sea kayaks? My answer is yes. He then asked how are they different?

    I wasn't in a particularly chatty mood as I had too much to do and so I responded with "different than what?" He didn't mean from each other, but different than whatever he thinks is a kayak... It could have been an hour long Q + A period as his next question was - they don't have rudders - what's that?"...

    So, in order for people to answer your question, you need to provide more info.

  • Old favorites
    -- Last Updated: Aug-06-07 1:49 PM EST --

    The NDK Romany and Explorer are widely considered to be good rough-water touring kayaks, as are the VSK Avocet and Aquanaut. There are many other good candidates such as the WS Tempests, the P&H and Impex boats, the Necky Chathams, and others -- depending on your intended use, anything from a surfski on down could work for you. It all comes down to personal preference and fit. Every boat is a combination of tradeoffs.

    Look at the boats that are used by the guides and instructors on the waters you'll be paddling. That's often a good starting point.

    If you're only planning on day trips I'd focus on the lower-volume boats.

  • Rough Water Day Boats
    Among the boats that are widely considered to be capable and enjoyable day boats are:
    NDK Romany
    Valley Avocet
    WS Tempest 165
    Necky Chatham 16
    P&H Capella 16something
    Impex Montauk

    These are among the boats most often referred to as 'day boats.' While some folk use longer boats for day paddles, these boats are all around 16'
  • Options
    Add one
    I paddle a pintail in the great lakes, here in Northern MI. Not the fastest boat in the bunch but it's made for rough seas; maneuverable and also roomy enough for weekend trips (longer if you ack like a backpacker). And in reality, in rough seas it can keep pace with most other boats.
  • CD Sirocco
    My Sirocco is great in the rough stuff.
  • Guillemot Petrel
    Designed for day trips in rough water. Nice video:
  • the ones made for rough conditions
    Your question is a little like going to a shoe store and asking which ones are best for running and there's a dozen to chose from. Ok,,now what.
  • Lets look at variables
    Lots of good kayaks, some listed above. But many more lesser know boats around the mud ball are also excellent.

    I say look to a shorter kayak of 17 or less down to 14. You'll want a decent amount or rocker, as well as reserve stability which is hugely important in clapotis, rock gardens, surges etc., as it allows you maneuver more effectively against that buoyancy. Balance in wind, a decent amount of volume in the bow, a snug, comfy fit, and a deck that allows for spirited paddling, rolling, bracing etc.

    A true rough sea boat will tend to be designed specific to that objective, so you will see common traits of full chines, rocker, decent, but not excessive beam / reserve buoyancy etc. These traits make the above boats and others like them excellent in big water. These traits make these craft less effective for long distance flat water efficiency, but they still do fine at touring speeds.

    Other brands to examine: Kajak Sport, Mariner, Pygmy, Impex, Foster's boats, etc.

    Cult mentality can be powerful, especially with the Brit boats, which are good, but I say paddle many in big water...take your time. Buy the one that just does it for you, and believe me one will call out to ya. Buy that boat regardless of the logo on it. Then go beat the hell out of it..OK! Good paddling.
  • rough water kayaker?
    Without your profile, we have no idea your background/experience, but getting a "rough water capable" kayak won't make you "rough water capable." Generally, the better boats for such purposes will require more skills to be mastered to get the full potential out of the kayak. The same kayaks with an unskilled paddler can be dangerous.

    More of the "more info needed" - what is your skill level? How much time/effort do you want to put into skill-learning? How rough is rough water?
  • Options
    you're overanalyzing
  • Eskia on Lake Erie
    I paddle a 16 ft. Necky Eskia in rough stuff on Lake Erie. It handles chop and waves very well.

    However, it may be too big for some people. Depends on your size. My friend paddles a Necky Chatham 16 right alongside me in the same conditions (she's smaller) and she handles it all just fine, too.

    We purposely bought these boats to use on Lake Erie conditions, which means -- it could change from flat water, to 3 ft waves, very quickly.
  • If you need to ask this question...
    I don't think you are ready for rough water yet
    I am not trying to be sarcastic, just telling it like it is.
    Rough water kayakers work up to it, and when they are ready for a kayak that will do what they want it to, they know the models to choose from.

    Just my take,

  • Options
    My Opinion
    Paddling in rougher water is 90% the paddler and maybe 10% the boat. I have paddled more than once in fairly rough conditions offshore when I was at my limit, my boat was far from its limit, and watched better paddlers in lesser boats paddle circles around me.

    Happy Paddling,

  • How are Manitou & Recluse by Betsie Bay?
    As long as this question is being asked I would like to know how the Manitou and Recluse models by Betsie Bay handle the rougher Great Lakes comditions.

    In my "horse trading" I ended up with two almost finished composite Betsie Bay kayaks. So of course am wondering if they are worth finishing and the rough waters question is a biggie.



  • And, A Good One At That. :)
  • Options
    I don't often find myself agreeing with Jack, but the safest rough water kayak is the kayak sitting on the beach when it's too rough to go out.

    If/when you do get caught out in rough conditions, it is your skill and experience that will save your ass, and most skilled and experienced boaters do not intentionally go out in rough weather because it's not really a wise thing to do.
  • Options
    boats to consider:
    NDK explorer
    Valley Nordkapp
    Seda Ikkuma 17
    seda swift 17
    Prijon kodiak
    CD solctice GTS
    CD Sirroco
    P&H cappella series
  • Options
    "most skilled and experienced boaters do not intentionally go out in rough weather because it's not really a wise thing to do."

    I think there are a lot of skilled and experienced boaters who would be very quick to disagree.
    Also rough weather is a little hard to define as it dependes a lot on the perspective of the observer. Most skilled and experenced boaters know the difference between rough and too rough.

    "Only by pushing our limits can we expand our limits."
    "Risk is necessary to growth"

    "A ship is safe in harbour but thats not what ships are for" William Shedd

    "Danger and delight grow on one stalk."
    "A smooth sea never made a skilled mariner."
    English proverbs

    " A man who is not afraid of the sea will soon be drowned, for he will be going out on a day he shouldn't.
    But we do be afraid of the sea, and we only do be drowned now and again."

  • Options
    My BBK valkyrie handles Lake Superior fine. Sometimes it's a struggle to keep the boat from broaching on steep following waves, but that's not unusual. I've never paddled the larger BBK boats, but my guess is that they're not that different, assuming your size is within their intended uses.
  • Options
    there is hope !!!
    You and your friends will be glad to learn that a portion of our tax dollars go to a federal agency called the Coast Guard.

    Their primary mission is to rescue people who get caught up in bad weather.

    Sadly, they spend most of their time rescuing people like yourself who find pleasure in taking risks that a wiser person would not endeavor.


    “Every man is a fool in some man's opinion”


    “To the wise, life is a problem; to the fool, a solution”


    “The best way to convince a fool that he is wrong is to let him have his way”


    “However big the fool, there is always a bigger fool to admire him.”


    “You can educate a fool, but you cannot make him think”


  • Options
    Spare us
    Anyone who takes more risk than I do is an idiot. Anyone who takes less risk than I do is a coward.
  • Options
    "you are
    a turkey"


    oops, no, that was me.

    i agree with whomever posted that you come to understand the answer on the boat as your skills and experience increases BUT to espouse YOUR thinking rwven, we'd all be at home in a puff of wind lest we involve the CG and if we don't stay home then we're wrong and foolish.

    withouth having ever met me, YOU can decide what's appropriate? you're one smart fella - most folks wouldn't presume to do that but you seem to have some insight.

    it comes down to ME making a decision based on MY experience, knowledge and skill as to what is too rough for ME to paddle in. while the cg is on the sharp end of the stick and does have the capacity to deem any voyage as "manifestly unsafe" it comes down to ME keeping ME safe, not you or any government agency in this regard.

    if i am taking appropriate precautions and weighing conditions and risk against experience and judgement...well, that sounds like the decision making process, doesn't it?

    personal responsibility...one of the things i enjoy about kayaking and being an adult.

  • what is bad weather?
    that could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
    Many paddlers on this board thrive when bad weather brings good paddling.
  • Options
    Taking the advice
    It is now raining outside and forecast for electrical storms so I'm still in the office as driving home in these conditions would potentially create problems for the emergency services.

    So while I was stuck here I got to wondering about
    "If/when you do get caught out in rough conditions, it is your skill and experience that will save your ass," Kinda curious how to get that skills and experience without going out and practicing in rough weather?

    Might be interesting to know how many rescues by CG or other emergency services involved people who regularly practice in rough conditions and how many involved people who generally avoided rough conditions but got caught out. I suspect its similar to the statistics for Mountaineering.
  • Options
    that's not really so
    Going out ill-prepared, significantly inexperienced or above your skill level isn't smart. Legions of kayakers ply rough waters to enjoy paddling in it and increase their abilities. See the distinction?
  • Rough water....
    To address the issue above about not paddling in rough water I disagree...I look for the days with small craft advisories. To me that is the first indicator that it may be a good day to go out on the water. Some people actually seek out storms and rough water, but are still safe about it.

    But to address the question the poster asked....I would say we can make some inferences about his skill level and experience level. I think his question has enough information for us to make some recommendations.

    This guy probably can't go wrong with an Explorer, an Aquanaut or a Romany. Those are probably perfect for him....outstandingly seaworth boats that are easy to paddle for all skill levels. I might add the Chatham to the list but not too many others based upon my assumption that the paddler is probably not very experienced and wants something seaworthy and confidence inspring.


  • Rough water boats
    I think there are a few boats that excel in rough water in the right hands but are kind of tender for many paddlers. But there are plenty of kayaks designed for rough conditions that are very well behaved, relatively efficient, and fun to paddle in mild conditions. For example I know people who use Tempests for beginner teaching boats.

    So I think the original question is a reasonable one, since you can't really assess a boat in rough conditions until you learn to paddle rough conditions. A little more info would be nice, to be sure. My recommendation for someone starting into rougher paddling would be to find a boat that knowledgeable people you trust consider to be good in rough conditions, that feels comfortable edging and turning on the flat and in whatever conditions you can test in, and that brings a smile to your face. There should be any number of them out there.

    Good hunting.
  • Options
    nope ...
    what I've seen in my life are risk takers taking needless risks ... sortof like practicing having a head on collision at 25 mph to better prepare yourself for the real thing at 60 mph.
  • Options
    Manitou & Recluse
    -- Last Updated: Aug-08-07 9:56 AM EST --

    I've paddled with paddlers in those boats in some pretty rough conditions and like someone else said, they handled it fine in the hands of good paddlers.

    What makes some paddlers feel more comfortable in rough conditions are rocker and shorter length as wilso-2 said.

    Here's why: Picture a 20 ft kayak in an area where there's 3 ft peaks spaced 10 feet apart. The long boat gets bridged or held up on ends and can feel a lack of stability. A 14 ft boat with a flat bottom, shaped like a banana, sits on it's belly in the trough of the wave and you can eat your lunch there. That's the basic reason why highly rockered, flat bottom boats make their paddlers feel more comfortable.

    The trade is speed (hull efficiency) and directional stability. It's not as black and white as my example and good paddlers paddle all types of boats in any conditions.

    Product endorsement and advertising also is a big player in people's perception of what is supposed to be good.

  • Options
    -- Last Updated: Aug-08-07 9:04 AM EST --

    The distinction is needless vs. calculated risk.

    I was out this spring in the a.m. on a calm Lake MI. While I had a drysuit, pfd, vhf, etc., I was paddling solo and for my first time of the season. The water was below 40 degrees. Winds picked up and waves built to a sloppy 4' with dumping surf on shore. I decided to stay near the launch since I was alone, and when conditions worsened I got off the lake, before I reached a point where landing in dumping surf would be necessary.

    Last week I went out with a friend and our trip ended up with 3'-4' following seas with a quartering chop. Actually similar to the first instance above, but I was familiar with the conditions, the water was very warm, and I had a competent partner versed in rescues.

    Let's use your car premise. It would be dangerous to push your limits on public roads to get used to driving in snow and learning corrective measures (some of which can be fun). But it's a lesser risk to do the same thing on a closed course or large parking lot.

    If you view risk on a sliding scale instead of an either/or option you can assess your appropriate level of risk. Get out in conditions using good judgement and increase your comfort by practicing and you reduce your risk.

  • Don't forget
    to look for a used plastic Skerray or Avocet.
  • Options
    Once one begins grading risk (i.e. needless vs. calculated) you've crossed a line in order to rationalize risky behavior.

    Quick question: does the Coast Guard practice and drill in bad weather?

    Quick answer: not on purpose.
  • Really?
    "To support those missions, training is a big part of the job as well, said Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Gordon Muse, who is the base's top enlisted man. "If we are not doing missions, then training is very big," he explains. "If there's nothing else to do, then we do training."

    It's especially important to train in bad weather, Muse said, particularly with the 47-foot heavy-weather boat that's seen in the commercial. The boat is nearly indestructible, and designed to handle 30-foot seas and a 20-foot breaking surf.

    "You want to train in the environment you're going to be in," he said. "In other words, you don't want to wait until it's 2 o'clock in the morning in a storm to be out in 6- to 8-foot Seas. So when you get the opportunity you try to go out in it."

    However, around the Chesapeake Bay, the weather is fairly good and the seas relatively calm most days. And, Harper said, the opportunities to train in rough seas are few. Even in bad conditions, the waves reach only about 8 to 10 feet, he said.

    "That's not bad," Harper said, sounding disappointed. "You go to the West Coast and you've got 20- to 30-foot seas. Cape Hatteras in North Carolina has got big seas, too."

  • Options
    Artic Tern on Lake Erie
    On the flip side to Ness's boat, the tern (and Ness will attest to this) simply rides way too high in the water. The high volumn on this hard chine design is a bear to deal with in sine and swells. Go with a lower volumn (maby multichine?) if you can get away with it.
  • Options
    nice try
    The son of a good friend is a BM1 and is the skipper of a 47-foot MLB on the Oregon Coast.

    He says they only train on milder days and have strict orders not to do any rollovers when training because too much stuff gets broken (antennas, etc.).

    Sure they train in weather that is not optimal for boating, but their "rough" weather training is in conditions that are well below what their vessel is rated to withstand, so it's not really rough weather training from that perspective.

  • Options
    And by that standard of "mild"
    none of us are out on rough days, either.
  • Options
    you're wrong
    -- Last Updated: Aug-09-07 2:12 PM EST --

    "Not optimal for boating"? That statement presumes some level of risk. You're breaking your own rule.

    You have to assess risk in order to determine that it is risk. You're talking in circles to validate your argument.

  • That is not true....
    I have a friend who is a Coastie who practices in life boats at the mouth of the Columbia river in Hellacious wind/ swell events. The waves there are enormous.
  • Options
    too much fun
    You guys are having way too much fun with this and I can well understand how important it is to you all to continue living in your alternative reality.

    I would imagine if we went to a sex club in the nearest big city and admonished those in attendance for not practicing safe sex we'd get a similar response to what I'm getting here.

    For the record, I have no objection if paddlers like yourselves enjoy taking risks. That's why my (and your) tax dollars support the Coast Guard and your local search and rescue.

    Those that work for these agencies also get off on adrenaline rushes and without you folks challenging the elements their jobs would be quite boring; sortof like the Maytag repairman.
  • Options
    you replied to your own post
  • Why not others?
    Definitely the Chatham's, but also Impex models, Foster models, Kajak Sport, Valley's, Tempests other models, etc.

    I gave up my NDK for a non-Brit boat that "for me" outperforms it. Bowler, don't get too star struck OK. There is a planet full of superb water craft, and I'll add that there are some other "waterpeople" of astonishing capability around the globe other than Brits.

    You're just infatuated and that's understandable. I think you'll grow out of that.
    You'll retain the well deserved respect, but your world will expand...I hope for you.
  • Options
    a lot of people on this forum demonstrate a great deal of respect for your understanding and advice regarding boats and paddling in general.

    but for crissakes, read your last post. leave out the condescension- it's bloody rude you go too far!
  • How????
    Look, I have huge respect for Dennis!! The man has done a lot for the sport and he's the real deal. I believe he would agree fully with me here that his boats, though excellent examples, are NOT the only options for rough water kayaks!!
    All I am saying is there are many choices, many of which i dont even know about, that would be excellent. Bowler is a BCU follower and gave predictable advice. I say it's a very small portion of the market, and very narrow minded, and biased. That's all.
  • There Is "Predictability..."
    to certain answers to certain questions by certain people. But, in fairness, it ain't just the "star strucked" crowd though. I think if one has a different opinion, or info of additional value, then just post it up.

    I think we all have a "koolaid" flavor that we favor. I've come to the conclusion that actively trying to convince someone that his/her koolaid isn't the only flavor is a waste of time. Besides... Do I really want a lot of folks "lining up" aat my favorite store and drinking my brand of kool aid...? ;)


    Pink koolaid is the bestest flavor. :)
  • British boats...
    -- Last Updated: Aug-10-07 5:22 AM EST --

    I was not trying to imply that the other boats that Salty mentioned are not excellent rough water boats....
    but given that the poster appears to be a beginner I think that that makes a huge difference.

    I did have the Chatham in my list....but on certain boats like the Nigel Foster boats I would agree that they are great boats, but not really for a beginner.

    You are right that perhaps I should have mentioned Impex as well. Definitely the Tempests (I overlooked those).

    However, my point was that for a BEGINNER who needs a boat that is easy for him to paddle with his skill level and wants it to be unlimited in rough water capability, and wants something that will inspire confidence (my own assumpition based on his experience), I would argue that it would be hard to beat an Explorer.

    That is not becuase of being infatuated with British boats, but because I think it is pretty true and probably fairly well accepted. Regardless of where it is made it is truly a good boat for an advancing beginner who wants to be comfortable and capable in rough water.

    I also agree with the poster above who states that there are lots of other rough water boats that are great in the hands of the right person, but not right for a beginner (Nordkapp LV for instance I would think). My Greenlander Pro does quite well in rough water, but probably not good for this individual.

    It just would be hard to beat an Explorer in this particular case. Not being biased. I think that boat is one that almost automatically comes to mind when one looks at the criteria this individual is looking for. Definitely it would be on the short list.

    Oh and by the way....about the Koolaid....I have owned a Chatham and a Dagger Meridian....and very nearly bought a Nigel Foster boat. Would own an Impex any day (and probably will someday at some point I would think), also would be happy to own a Kajaksport. Also very nearly bought an Azul Sultan now made by Riot. So for the record, I am not as British bound as you might think.


  • Not That I Care (My Favorite Line)...
    -- Last Updated: Aug-10-07 5:58 AM EST --

    but if we are to surmise that the orginial poster is a "beginner" -- quite possible given the "generality" of the question and the lack of specifics, wouldn't it be better to ask for clarification i.e., what do you mean by "rough", what boat do you paddle now?, how does it work for you in what you consider to be "rough" conditions?, etc. It may well be that he already has one of the "rough" water boats being suggested. The issue is perhaps not with the particular boat but with the driver. Then suggestions for a "rough water" boat become moot unless we think a boat can grant magical powers to a beginner to paddle "rough" water. Heck, some of the "rough" water described by some here, I consider benign. While other may consider likewise my "rough water" as benign. What I do know is that in my "rough" conditions, I don't care what boat you give to a "beginner" it ain't going to "inspire" any confidence in him/her, or take care of him/her. In my "rough" conditions, a beginner is going to get trashed, regardless of boat.

    And, if the original poster is not a beginner, than s/he should understand that the more specifics given, then then more "helpful" folks (with "rough" water experience) can be with their suggestions.


  • Salty responses...
    -- Last Updated: Aug-10-07 8:14 AM EST --

    For whatever reason, Salty usually sounds in writing as though anyone who likes NDK boats at all has been consumed by a cult rather than just has an appreciation for that boat. I've been assumed to think a number of things that I don't (I suspect the tendency is stronger with women), and you'd never know that I have a Vela under the porch as well and have quite decent respect for a number of other boats many of which are not British-made. Same way about the BCU, despite various notes on the quite pragmatic reasons for having something on paper. (for traveling in retirement).

    I don't know if the person comes off the same way as the writing, but I wouldn't spend a lot of time trying to clarify to Salty that you have not been mind-melded by Nigel Dennis. It doesn't seem to have much impact, and aside from that particular quirk he has substantial advice to offer.

    As to the original post, I agree that a better discussion of what is meant by rough water might help. I've had difficulty recommending anything on this one because of confusion about what is needed.

  • Design Intent
    -- Last Updated: Aug-10-07 10:23 AM EST --

    "With the Romany Explorer, we aimed to produce a user-friendly intermediate-to-advanced sea kayak that an average paddler can paddle in advanced conditions." Nigel Dennis.

    I think it fair to say they met their design intent. I also think it fair to say those traits enable good paddlers to explore increasing rough stuff with confidence.

    As to whether that means it is a great rough water boat or a high performance boat for rough water I do not know. Personally, it just does not appeal to me, even if it can make me look good doing all the BCU stroke stuff.

    I have no idea what people mean here when they say "rough water", "performance", etc. All I think I may know on this issue is that if I spend enough time is almost any decent boat, I can use it in most any conditions or venues of interest to me or which I may find myself confronting. Some have been barge like, some have been comfy, some have been fun, and some have had a very "exciting" edge; but they all "work" once you know how to use them. As a result, some very different boats ( Force4 v. Anas Acuta) have felt like great boats for "rough" water to me, but for different reasons.

  • Which side of the state are you on?
    If you are on the east side, Riversidekayak.com is your best bet.

    If you are in SW michigan, Leesports.com is your best bet. Or Jim mulder at Gun Lake Paddle Sports.

    If you are in GR outpost or bill and paul's, (talk to John Holmes) are great shops.

    If you are up north, I think it is backcountry that carries valley.

    Which boat fits you is a good question. Email me if you want and we can talk.

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