BAD rudder experience?

I was just curious if anyone here has had a bad experience with a jammed or stuck rudder on their kayak in a dire circumstance? I have a 18ft Heritage Expedition solo XL SOT composite kayak that I really enjoy. I was out in the Gulf of Mexico about 500ft from shore on a vacation last summer when one of my rudder lines came loose and jammed the rudder to full starboard. Luckily I not alone and my daughter in her canoe was there to come along and raise it out of the water. I could not do so myself while sitted since it was so far to one side. I realized that it was not that serious in my case being a Sit-on-top where I could easily exit the boat and fix it then re-enter but I began thinking that a solo Sit-Inside kayak paddler, alone far from land in rough water and/or weather (where deploying the rudder is most likely) would be in pretty dire circumstances had this happened to them. Jammed rudders have historically doomed many vessels both military and pleasure while at sea but was wondering if any kayakers out there have (or heard of) this happening?

stuck in bad position
my 1st paddle up the east coast of Australia (many years ago) -

pre-dawn launch through a very splashy surf from Cape Bowling Green (about 40miles ESE of Townsville)

about a hundred yards offshore - going through another set of breakers - I flipped.

I tried several times rolling on each side - unsuccessfully. Finally, I did make it back up. (reason for difficulty in rolling was a loose gear bag on deck). - however, in the ‘commotion’, the rudder (paddling a Caffyn designed ‘Arctic Raider’ ( ) became dislodged and partially deployed.

From the cockpit - I could not re-adjust the rudder - it was stuck in that position.

Rather than going back in (landing) through the surf (again, predawn darkness), I decided to paddle across the upcoming bay (Bowling Green Bay) with the partially deployed rudder.

The wind was out of the SE, I was headed in a NNW direction, and the rudder was stuck in a position that was opposing the direction it should be in. I had to paddle on one side most of the time - a very difficult, long crossing of the bay (25+ miles).

(don’t want to get into the argument, but I do prefer a skeg to rudder, though, for my ‘daily’ paddle, I do use my EPIC 18x (ruddered) most of the time, weekends something else)


There are conditions
where a rudder can save a paddler a lot of work. Some hulls, particularly tandem hulls, may actually be virtually unusable without a rudder.

I have only paddled a handful of boats with rudders and learned that, for the most part, I disliked them. Problems I had with rudders were as follows:

-stickiness and lines catching

-unstable foot placement (rudders move with pressure) which impacts boat handling to a very large degree

-very difficult to un-deploy

-very difficult to secure (fix in place) or deploy from it’s secured state (addendum to stable foot)

-cable fouling inside the hull

-extra weight + the rudder made carrying awkward

-(for novices) an impediment to skill development and a dis-incentive to learn said skills

I haven’t paddled any boat with a rudder in a great many years (20+) and I hear the mechanisms are much better now. They even let you have a stable foot placement on the pegs, I hear, but I still don’t like them, even when my boat is wallowing in a following sea.

A boat with a rudder is a lot like a car with an automatic transmission - it’s a single point of failure that can ruin everything. Give me a car with a clutch and I can go up and down through the gears without a clutch cable. Something fails in an automatic, you are stuck with tons of dead weight. A person who has learned to paddle with a rudder probably will lack needed skills should the rudder fail.

I’ve had lots of minor disagreements with others over this. I understand their point-of-view, I understand that the rudder adds some value and ease to paddling. I just don’t agree that the added valued is worth all the additional hassles.


avast the rudder !

a Wenonah Solstice rudder here. Lubed cables with Finish Line wax with Teflon, shock cords with Aero 303.

Never fail running rudder aground when landing.

always inspect for damage$

always carry a knife. incase we battle with a shark.

I can always raise it
Not sure about the boats discussed here but I can simply raise the rudder on my kayak if it was stuck to one side. I wouldn’t want a ruddered boat I cant simply raise it out of the water from the cockpit. Pick a different boat.

story in a magazine
Matt Krizan paddled the entire coast of California a few years back. At the start, he had a rudder cable let go, in conditions. Caused him to do an emergency crash land on a beach, which damaged the boat.

Rudders can fail. Skegs can but the result is usually not as catastrophic for the paddler as when a rudder fails. On a long trip rudders can save you energy and also be more of a bear to fix if they fail.

Like said above, there are situations and places and paddlers for whom rudders are a good fit. It is just than anything you depend on out there can fail. So a lot of long boaters go with skegs to reduce the fuss. And anyone who is serious should be able to paddle in difficult conditions without a tracking device if need because shit happens.

There are many paths…

Not a design issue
Actually the rudder does have haul-up/down lines from the cockpit but I had not practiced with it under these circumstances and the lines were very difficult to operate the rudder when at each extreme position until I replaced the block. I had to make a new rudder block from delrin because my old one had cracked and failed due to age/exposure. This is the mechanism that the rudder mounts onto the kayak AND has grooves cut into it that guide the haul up/down lines. That little sucker took about 5 hours to fabricate from a rectangular block stock. I LOVE this boat and am now very happy with the rudder operation now,… although I only use it about 10% of the time only when absolutely necessary.


– Last Updated: Mar-29-16 7:54 AM EST –

Have 3 Current Designs boats with rudders and seadog pedals and never had a problem. You do need to inspect the cables from time to time as they can fail. You also need to be able to control you boat without the rudder. I practice when conditions are bad so if cable breaks I won't be in shock. Free sliding rudder pedals like older yakima's can leave you with no where to brace your foot. Even a tandem can be controlled with no rudder although harder to do. Skegs jam up also.

A third option
There is a manufacturer that uses no rudder and no skeg and their boats don’t need either. Novus Composites of Tacoma, WA.

I’ve had my NC 19’-2" Expedition for going on 8 years and I would choose it in any conditions anytime–even surfing. This boat tracks like it’s on rails and it still can be turned just fine with the real steering device–your paddle.

Ok so it was a maintenance issue
So you can normally just raise the rudder if stuck to one side but there was some kind of maintenance issue on your boat. Glad to see you have fixed it.

The boats that have sliding pedals for rudder control I just wouldn’t consider at all or convert to sea dog peddles. Sliding pedals are just a horrible design period.

It comes down to maintenance
Skegs can fail if it is not rechecked and maintained, depending on the mechanism (cable or rope), no different than rudders. And it is best to depart the beach stern first lest you acquire a rock in just the right place leaving. Though that is an easy on water fix if paddling with others and the owner has put in a short rope on the skeg. Another paddler comes by, grabs the rope to pull down and it is fixed.

But the reason I walked away from rudders had more to do with its use than maintenance. I had one on my first CD boat, found I hated it every time I dropped it and pulled it up anyway (had SmartTrak pedals). For minimal to no use to me, the cable cut someone’s leg once, got caught in the toggle with another boat while gathering up before a paddle, and made climbing around on the back of the boat for anything like a cowboy impossible or at least extremely dangerous to my dry suit. In my case it was mostly a hindrance.

That is not everyone’s experience.

My preference: No rudder, no skeg
I purchased my first boat three months after I discovered paddling (sea kayak paddling, that is). By that time, I had spent an entire Summer paddling as many different boats as I could. As my skills began to develop during that time, I ventured into as many different conditions as I could find as well. By the time I got that first boat, I already knew that I’d have nothing to do with either rudders or skegs.

A boat with as few holes and moving parts as possible, some good paddles, and a paddler inspired to develop skills (me) was my preferred formula then, and remains so today, nearly twenty years later.

I’ve spent most of these past twenty years paddling coastal waters, having lived right on the coast for most of this time. Surf, swell, currents, waves, winds, etc. Never felt the need for rudder or skeg. I’m happy to have never had to even think about any of the potential issues with these devices. During these years, many friends and acquaintances with rudders and/or skegs have had to deal with all sorts of issues, including jammed and bent rudders and skegs, broken cables, etc. Sometimes, in the most inopportune moments.

Finally, though paddling for me is about so much more than the paddling itself, I do love the “art of paddling” as well. I find all sorts of joy in exploring and refining ways to move through water efficiently, silently, and as competently as I can manage in any given situation. I find many beautiful and fascinating parallels between paddling a kayak and playing a musical instrument – both physically and spiritually. With a Greenland boat, and Greenland paddle, I’m a very happy camper. :slight_smile:

she’s correct though
A skeg is less prone to this instance than a rudder.

Many experienced paddlers agree, no rudders, no skegs. Less stuff to break and you really shouldn’t need the crutch.

Bill H.

Yes I realize the advice
I am a very experienced canoe paddler but very novice in regards to my Sea Kayak. Probably only have 50 hours and 150 miles experience with it. I rarely use the rudder and may consider removing it in the near future as I gain experience with the boat and practice with trim and stroke technique. Thanks to all!

Many other "experienced kayakers"
would disagree with you and say keep the rudder.

Make sure it is in good working order.

Paddle all day long with out it, but then when the winds are quartering at 15 or 20 knots, you’ll be glad you have it and those other “experienced kayakers” will be struggling to keep up with you because they will be working so hard doing corrective strokes.

I don’t post too much on P-net any more, but when someone is giving bad advice I feel the need to chime in!

Jack L


– Last Updated: Mar-30-16 7:48 AM EST –

I can paddle without a skeg if I need to. Try getting a Romany across an open passage with a decent amount of wind and wallowing variable 2-3 ft waves on your quarter beam - you will find that the skeg really doesn't help, it is all in the paddling.

But my last such trip was towards the end of an already very long day, with a meetup group that had misgauged that part of the trip because the area was new to them and the leader had decided I didn't know as much as someone who was pushier than I felt like. So they started island bagging. Happily they only lost track of one paddler on the way back who did find his own way back (I guess staying within reach of each other was a foreign concept). And the paddler who got freaked out and had to be towed thru the last of the bumpy stuff managed to stay upright.

For the last mile or so in, on easy water where we still had some wind to our quarter... yeah, I dropped the skeg and and I do not feel like a wimp that I did. I was beat, that was the longest and roughest paddle I had been on since before my husband died.

And for really long distance tours, while I don't personally like them I know very solid paddlers who would not do it without a rudder. Not because they can't paddle without it, but because having it makes the long days physically easier to manage.

There is a difference between using something that makes your life a little easier physically and using it as crutch. With all respect, you do seem to lump the two together. They are not the same.

agree on that
rudder in heavy winds makes it a joy to paddle. Friends with skegs are doing many corrective strokes and I concentrate on forward motion with stronger strokes.

I think that’s a simplistic view
Rudders and skegs allow for design specialized toward a specific purpose. No kayak is going to be the best at everything: tracking, playfulness, maneuverability and speed are all influences that can work counter to one another.

Among other things, skegs allow maneuverable playful hulls to hold a course in rough water or high winds. Rudders can help faster hulls stay on course or turn. A boat without rudder or skeg has to be a jack of all trades (a compromise) if you’re using it as a playboat and an expedition boat.

They’re only crutches if you allow them to be crutches.