Boat tracking

Since it comes up all the time I was just wondering to myself what does it mean that a boat tracks well and when does it matter? So I thought I would throw out some ideas and see what others think.

For WW boats it is not at all a consideration. They are designed to turn and learning to paddle them means learning to use and control their tendency to not track. In fact a WW boat that tracked well would be a dog.

For sea kayaks it seems to me that without use of a rudder or skeg the following should be true if the boat tracks well:

  1. In calm conditions without wind the boat will not veer on its own when paddled in a normal correct way or when you stop paddling.

  2. In wind and/or waves it is easy to correct and control any tendency to turn by edging and/or by non-taxing correction strokes.

    By these criteria a “rudder dependent” boat (like, e.g., the Looksha IV) would not be a boat that tracks well. On the other hand a boat like my Eddyline Falcon 18 would be a boat that tracks very well.


My non-expert take

– Last Updated: Jan-11-07 11:35 AM EST –

(looked at last night's reply and after a correction or so it was gibberish...)

Part 1 of what you wrote works for me. I'm not so sure about part 2 - in fact a super strong tracker like my Squall could be a bear to alter direction in once she was set up to ride swells. However, in the same conditions I had much less trouble holding her on a direction than my husband would be having with his dropped skeg Necky Elaho, squirreling all over the place with every swell.

I also am thinking of my Vela, which can be a strong tracker when traveling the correct direction with the wind. On a high wind day once (steady and gusts 29-36 mph) when I was 45 degrees to events the boat was holding direction just fine - but when I wanted to turn tail to the wind I had a very hard time.

In both these cases, it was easy to get the strong tracking boats to a position where they'd hold direction. But manuvering them out well of it was much tougher than it would have been with a more rockered boat.

Maybe what I am thinking is that in wind/waves it is easier to set a strong tracking boat on course in the first place and have it hold direction, but not so easy to make big corrections/course changes once there.

“rudder dependant”?
Interest though about “rudder dependant” boats, but not sure I agree.

I paddle a Looksha IV. The only time I use the rudder is in serious cross winds or waves coming from the side. In the last 5 paddles I can think of (over 10 hours total of paddling), I only used the rudder for about 30 minutes. All of these paddles were in the SF Bay, including one that went out past the Golden Gate Bridge.

Never heard of a rudder dependant boat. I think tracking is more a case of length of boat in water. So British style boats (where bow and stern curve upwards) may not track as well.

I think…
…you nailed it.

Why play with semantics?
I don’t think your (2) is at all what people mean by “tracking.” Rather than play definitional games, why not just note that a boat that tracks strongly may be more difficult to keep pointed where you want it when it starts getting pushed around by waves? (Which is pretty much the received wisdom anyway.)

Who is the you?

– Last Updated: Jan-11-07 12:24 AM EST –

Never mind...

The original post
That’s why I posted in response to it. :wink:

Definitional games?
Don’t know what you mean. I am just trying to understand what people mean when they say a boat tracks well. I don’t see the same consensus that you apparently do.

Length of boat
I think this is sort of a common misconception. Waterline length in itself may make a boat difficult to turn, but doesn’t necessarily make it a stable tracker. Consider how difficult it is to throw a yardstick and have it maintain orientation parallel to its trajectory. It’ll want to turn sideways, for the same reasons a long kayak would, aerodynamic or hydrodynamic forces in front of the center of gravity.

Boat designs can have subtle or not-so-subtle hull shapes to affect this behavior, in the extreme case like the integral skegs on some boats, acting like the feathers on an arrow. Other ways to go about it, many not obvious just by looking at the hull shape.


I did a little Googling
and found the following:

I think it helps clarify the various ideas.

Great link
Just looked at it. He says it much better than my muddling, here:

“…An easy to control boat will be well balanced. It is just as likely to be subjected to forces that turn it in the way you want to go as to opposing forces. Balance has very little to do with how easy the kayak can be turned, instead it relates to how likely it will be turned…”

We can agree to disagree on that.