Advice: Chatham 16 or Looksha IV?


I’d appreciate your advice in deciding between a used Chatham 16 and a Looksha IV. I learned to kayak and self-rescue last year and did approx 15 half-day trips. I’m 5’10" and 160lbs - I fit both kayaks well. I like both boats but I find the Looksha IV to scary tippy in large waves.

As my paddle skills progress will I likely learn to control the Looksha in large waves?

What differences between the two boats I can use to make my choice? I’m interested in day and multi-day trips.

Thank you in advance,


Gibsons BC


– Last Updated: Mar-23-15 6:14 PM EST –

Chatham 16 is a much more maneuverable and fun boat than the Looksa IV. The Chatham line is a newer design ethic than the Looksha IV, by over a decade. While the Looksha IV might go a little straighter and be a smidge faster on flat out paddling, the Chatham 16 should respond more easily.

The Looksha IV is not more tippy in waves, and at that size you are certainly not overloading its paddler weight assumptions. Its stability chart would show it was fine. But it is a stiffer response than the Chatham 16 and it is a chined rather than a fully round hull, so it will feel more like it is knocking from point to point than the Chatham which slides more smoothly between the heeling points. The instability you are feeling is likely your reaction to that difference between the boats, though of course you could be adding some of your own if you are not comfortable.

It sounds like you get along well with the Chatham 16. Take it and run.

2 different boats all around
The Looksha IV is meant to be a tourer - carrying gear over long distances. Many say it was designed for the Salish sea back when Necky was based in Washington. It does well with wind waves and the like, but not as much fun on open water conditions. Pretty much requires a rudder in windy conditions. It has hard chines, which often make it feel tippy as the chines catch and release (though in reality it isn’t tippy - as the actual flip over point is past the where the chines catch).

The Chatham is more of a British design, with more rocker, day hatch, skeg, etc. - made for open water and larger conditions. I differ from Celia when she says it is slight slower - I think it is significantly slower than a Looksha IV. But it turns easier and deals with waves easier. Smooth bottom, so doesn’t have the chines grabiness.

(full disclsure - I have never paddled a Chatam 16, as I don’t fit in it. So these comments are form my experience paddling similar boats and from what others who have C16s have said, including my significant other, who had one the same years I had a LIV).

If going long distances at speed with gear is not a big concern, go with the Chatam. Just a more fun boat. But if you plan to do long expeditions, the LIV may be better for you.

some differences

– Last Updated: Mar-23-15 7:12 PM EST –

You've not said whether these kayaks are composite or rotomolded - they come either way. If you plan on rock garden kayaking, that will make a difference. Rotomolded takes more abuse, but is said to be harder to repair.

If you plan on much camping, the Looksha IV would have more room for gear. As a ruddered boat, there is no skeg box taking up space in the rear hatch. The Chatham 16 is a skeg boat and of smaller volume as well.

The early Looksha IVs had the dreaded sliding foot pedals for rudder control, which I would replace with something like the SeaLect Design system. I've heard that the Chatham 16 skeg box leaks after some weeks of use, but have no experience to verify that.

Neither my wife nor I find the Looksha IV tippy, so I suspect that feeling will vanish with time. I prefer my skegged Boreal Design Ellesmere, but like the Looksha just fine. I've not tried the Chatham 16, but expect it is nimbler than the Looksha IV. But the latter has enough rocker to qualify as maneuverable.

If you are just starting out, there is a special virtue to the skeg over the rudder. With a skeg you have its help to cope with crosswinds, but must otherwise develop and rely on technique. With a ruddered boat, it's too easy to use the rudder as a crutch and fail to develop technique. On the other hand, if you have the discipline to not deploy the rudder until truly necessary, your technique can develop while your need for the rudder will be pushed to harsher sea conditions. Skegs and rudders are mechanical devices and subject to breakage etc.

If you have a chance to try these boats over an extended period, that would be optimal. They both sound like good choices, albeit very different from each other.

Echoing those that say that Chatham is meant to be a play boat (and it surprises me that you write about the Looksha being tippy because the Chatham can be very much so!). Chatham 16 is my instructors favorite boat. I have really big feet/long legs so I don’t quite fit in it, but it can be a fun boat, but isn’t usually regarded as an ideal boat for longer trips.

Chatham 16 hands down

– Last Updated: Mar-23-15 11:18 PM EST –

I used it for five years as an instructor after retiring a well used Mariner Express. No better kayak for high winds. Comfy, boring and slow on flat water.

More comments,
OK, others have filled in some stuff better than I did, and I did my first reply when I had to run out.

First as to speed - above is correct, in a straight paddle the Looksha IV should have noticeably higher hull speed than the Chatham 16 that you would notice. If you are gifted with no wind… when you would quickly find out that the Looksha IV enjoys weathercocking a lot. Not just that one, many of the older dolphin nose designs from Necky. The Chatham would also weather cock to a degree, but corrections might be easier.

Personally I am not sure this is a tie breaker, my go-to boat now has a distinctly stronger tendency to weathercock than the sea kayak I first spent time in. But it is all balances. Over time I found I preferred being in a more responsive boat that weather cocked easily over a less responsive boat that gave me less weathercocking to handle.

If you add waves/textured water, there is a real argument that the Chatham 16 is a better choice because while it is slower it is also more fluid thru the waves. The Looksha IV takes a more aggressive heel at times to get it around than the Chatham because it is more of a tracker.

But again, it comes down to where you put your own priorities.

As a comparison - Nigel Dennis put out basically two version of the same boat some years ago. The Explorer was the tripping boat and the Romany its more playful sibling. Most people looking for a serious tripping boat opted for the longer and trackier Explorer… but there were some that never left the Romany because while it had an even slower hull it also had a level of easy maneuverability they liked.

I can tell you the Chatham rolls easily - I took it out at a demo and was impressed with how responsive it was in a circle. Not as zippy a roller as the Nordkapp LV but a solid second.

Skeg leak
A previous comment mentioned skeg box leakage. I’ve had 2 Chatham 16’s, both rotomolded, both had an average of 750 miles per year paddled in them, both gave 5 years of service. Neither ever leaked so much as a drop of water into the skeg box. The current one I have has developed a crack where the coaming transitions to the deck directly behind the backband. Unfortunately, got zero satisfaction out of Johnson Outdoors as regards the crack, and that sort of pisses me off. But the design of the Chatham is outstanding in big water. Can pack enough to do a 4-5 day trip including tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, stove and vittles and wine. No water.

Chatham 16
Thank you all for the quick and highly detailed replies! I’m amazed - this was my first post :slight_smile:

The majority of my time this summer will be paddling after work (roughly 4hr paddles). A few times I’ll go with my fiance on day trips, and maybe once a 5 day trip of the Broken Group or something similar. In the future I’d like to take courses on rolling, surfing, other kayak skills.

Regarding the Looksha IV: I agree with rsevenic that the sliding foot pedals are dreadful, and that I would replace them with pivoting pedals. In response to Peter-CA, you’re right, the catch and release between the hard chines is what intimidates me. Thank you for letting me know it’s not actually easy to tip past the chine.

Sounds like the Chatham is preferable choice for me. If this summer I could do 15mi/day I would be very happy as this would get me to the mainland from Gibsons. (I believe this is reasonably obtainable no?). Also my fiance and other friends I’ll be paddling with will much less experienced and also renting their boats - the speed of the Looksha IV would be lost.

For multi-night trips the Chatham has plenty of storage for the 5-ish days I want to do as I backpack a lot and have gear that packs down well. In a few seasons as my skills develop and I may meet people who love long trips and perhaps I’ll upgrade to a speed/tracking kayak. Thank you all for the help choosing!

Now to choose between the 3 models of Chatham 16…

  1. $1200 - Used Plastic (considerable scratches from being part of a rental fleet for a ~3 seasons)
  2. $2000 - New Plastic
  3. $3000 - New Fiberglass

    If anyone would like to offer advice on how to choose between the 3 it would be much appreciated! The price tag of fiberglass is intimidating unless it really lasts longer. Also since it’s my first kayak, seems like a good idea to play it safe/cheaper with plastic?

    By the way the Looksha IV is fiberglass, missing a few gel coat chips but generally in nice condition, and is $1500.

    Thank you!

plastic scratches are nothing
Plastic scratches are nothing. All plastic boats get them.

Plastic is heavier, almost impossible to wreck, and cheaper. But if you do find a way to wreck it (punch a hole through and the like), almost impossible to fix. Plastic is generally the preferable material for rock gardening due to its durability (not something you have much of there - more of a coastal activity, so outer coast of Vancouver Island).

Composite are lighter, a tad more efficient going through the water (I doubt you would notice), and repairable, but more expensive. Most people with composites take more care when launching and landing on sharp areas (rocks, barnacles, etc.), and often avoid going near sharp stuff/rocks, as this will wear down the outer layer over time and require maintenance.

Our plastic Necky Chatham 16 had no problems with skeg box leaks, that someone mentioned are common. We did have leaks at the plastic rim that sealed the hatch covers, which was fixed by removing, cleaning, and resealing.

On the open water crossing you mention, just make sure your other gear and skills are up to it. I have paddled your area a few times, and it isn’t super dangerous. But you can get strong winds, currents in areas, fast ferries, cold water, etc. Some adventure racers died out there on a paddle portion of their training due to storm and cold a few years back.

Just out of curiosity
Are you choosing between those two because they’re the only ones available?

Yes, they’re readily available.

I’m new to choosing a kayak for purchase. I really enjoyed the Chatham during roll/brace training.

If there are other similar boats out there anyone thinks I should consider please let me know… there’s a lot for me to learn! phew


Lots of boats out there
But the plastic Chatham would make a great first boat, and you could keep it once you get a season or two under your belt and decide you want something different. Would make a great rock garden\surf guest boat.

Go over the boats carefully. Problems like frayed deck lines are easily addressed, so look for things that will be hard to fix. In particular note that if not stored properly or left on a car rack in hot weather etc., the plastic kayaks can deform. So inspect the hull for such deformation, not only oil canning (caved in noticeably), but sight down the keel line axis and make sure it’s straight bow to stern.

I’ve never had a plastic boat, so maybe others here could chime in on more things to look for.

Just purchased a new plastic Chatham 16 in “sunrise” colour :slight_smile:

Thanks for the advice everyone!

A well thought out choice. You’ll always remember the first kayak in your multi-kayak fleet fondly.

Sam - good choice!
I was a co-designer of the Chatham 16 with Spike Gladwin, who resides in BC BTW! Of my time with JOI (some years ago) that boat along with the Eliza composite stand out as personal favorite projects. At the time we both enjoyed the Greenland styles a lot being ocean paddlers, surf kayakers etc. Boats like the Romany, Avocet, Pintail etc were fun to paddle as well the Mariner Coaster! So the CH 16 was our take on that type of hull with some notable departures which turned out to be what we’d hoped. Of the Chatham’s the 16 is by far the favorite rough water touring kayak. To this day It’s my choice of the mass market kayaks Necky or otherwise for coastal paddling. Necky went through a period where the composite versions had some quality issues but the later boats made in Thailand were superb! I hope they remain so, though I don’t know? Based on my time in Thailand with the builder I’d guess they are great.

The Looksha IV had it’s own following but it was never a favorite among the designers. Lots of nostalgia exists around the sharp edges, which really were an attempt to stiffen poly hulls, as was the “diamond” hull in the Elaho’s.

There are many good kayaks out there and in the end it’s what “feels” right for you and aligns with your paddling needs / goals etc. The 16 is a boat I’d paddle to Alaska without question. Plenty of room and just super fun in big seas, tide races etc. Enjoy and be safe…

Fun to visit here every so often and read about stuff you did years ago that is still bringing pleasure to folk.