Balast in a kayak

-- Last Updated: May-14-06 9:52 AM EST --

Are kayaks made to carry extra cargo other than the paddler as part of their design. I paddled today in my sirroco with 15lbs. in the front hatch and the rear hatch and cannot believe the difference it made. What was once a innitially for me a tippy boat became rock solid. Is this just a bandaid for my lack of experience or was this boat designed to be paddled with a load. Any ideas? Should you be able to paddle an unladen kayak in rough water as easily as a loaded down one?

Most sea kayaks are designed to carry some amount of gear/load. Therefore most are more stable with a load. Look at the stability curves in Sea Kayaker reviews.

Many sea kayaks are fine without a load including day boats (Romany, Avocet, Chatham 16) and a number of expedition length boats (e.g. Aquanaut, Explorer, Chatham 18 etc…) some are very demanding unladen such as the traditional Nordkapp.

The best solution to kayak balast

– Last Updated: May-14-06 12:17 PM EST –

is to kill two birds with one stone. Forget the shot and sand bags because they are not neutral and will drag the boat down if swamped.

Good solutions to the problem are water bags like a series of dromidary bags, though somewhat expensive they are worth having if you do much camping. They are extremely tough (made of cordura with a food grade liner) and will not leak or tear like vinyl bags. One of mine is over 10 years old and still like new after many trips. They come in different sizes from 2 liter to 10 liter and will fit in different size hatches. they lay flat and also provide a good neutral ballast if the boat is swamped, and you will always have fresh drinking, hot shower and cooking water on a trip.

2 liter = 4.4 lbs.
4 liter = 8.8 lbs.
6 liter = 13.2 lbs.
10 liter = 22.0 lbs.

I use these on canoe trips because they last forever, are fuly intended for drinking water that will not taste like plastic, and it's easy to adjust ballast by just throwing a bag or two forward or aft to adjust for wind conditions.

I like the black ones best because if you set them in the sun you always have hot water.

Another solution is dry bags with gear in them that will add weight but also flotation in a swamping situation.


Wilsjo and others gave me some great ballast advice in this current thread. Good luck.


– Last Updated: May-14-06 3:27 PM EST –

Were these kayaks designed to be loaded all the time or just in rough water.Would it be considered strange to bring some balast along to a test paddle. I am just surprised how much of a difference it makes.

Most boats are designed to carry …
the paddler and cargo. If you are at the upper weight limit of a boat then any cargo you add might make the boat more sluggish. Without additional weight some boats are like corks. Sometimes it can be noticible in the construction materials as well. The ultra light carbon boats may seem more corky than the fiberglass or poly version of the same hull. Ten pounds can make a big difference. By all means take along some ballast on your test paddles. You should try to simulate the weight of the majority of your paddling. Water makes great ballast as mentioned above. Take some water jugs and you can adjust the amount of you ballast to simulate day paddles and camping trips. Try placing it in different locations as well - all in the rear or front hatch or evenly divided.


Note to self: Bring water jugs for test paddle this week.

Hull Shape
As weight is added to a kayak the boat will displace more water and sink further into the water. The shape of the kayak hull which is under water will change and the change will result in several things happening. One of the things that will happen is that the boat will likely pick up additional stability. The added stability is similar to the added stability that the boat hull picks up as it is leaned, leaning also changes the wetted shape of the boat hull. Another thing that will change is the amount of wetted surface and that will increase. The boat will tend to be slower and may handle turns and rough water differantly with a change in wetted surface.

Adding ballast could be good if your initial boat and load was under the design optimum of the boat. On the other hand if added ballast brings the boat, operator, equipment, and load over the optimum load that might not be a great thing to do.


Lamar at Berrier Island Kayaks taught me to always bring a jug of water to adjust the trim of my boat. It is simple to wedge the jug in place with a dry bag or floatation bag and it works great.

For me I find that most boats paddle best when the decks are lower to the water. Try really loading yours up and see how you like it.

Ballast in a kayak
Skeg boats definitey handle better with a bit of weight distributed. I’ve found a bit of weight especially forward in following seas helps when surfing the swells but hurts on the top of the swell unless there is a bit of weight in the aft as well. I use what I consider necessary for even day paddles such as a full med kit, two days of rations, and mimimal camping gear to get me through 48 hours. Showing up with this type of gear to test a new boat is never an issue. I would suggest carrying emergency gear is a no-brainer for anyone paddling rough open water regardless of duration.