Having issues keeping my kayak going straight

Learn your strokes. Find someone to help you.


Your very first task should be to determine if the boat is in anyway warped. Take a very good look at the keel line if it has one. Obviously It must be straight from stem to stern. This isn’t always as easy to determine as it would seem. I have seen boats with a straight enough keel line, but with an uneven contour in the bottom of the boat. Sometimes very hard to detect. The fact that the boat always wants to turn to the right when you aren’t paddling is telling you something This might be very troubling if your wife’s boat doesn’t act the same for you. If it turns out the hull is asymmetrical; trade boats with your wife, or use that as an excuse for getting a new boat. A boat that will not glide straight is not fun. The exception might be white water boats.

I think that all recreational kayaks should come equipped with an adjustable skeg–not like a regular adjustable skeg like on skegged sea kayaks. It should be a fixed skeg screwed on the bottom of the boat that could be adjusted a few degrees right, or left. On second thought for most people it would only last as long as the first time they dragged their boat on land.

Hey Aschamne. Welcome to the forums. That’s probably the best thing to do right now. Get yourself on video ton see what your paddle stroke and body movements are.

so I’ve been working with an individual who has a tendency for his boat to spin out after several strokes (ww kayak designed to spin). We emphasized “slowing everything down”, clean crisp strokes with no splash. One drill that really helped was having him paddle with his eyes closed. He really started to get the feel of the boat and make subtle corrections so he could continue to go straight. Make sure that your stroke entry and path are parallel to an imaginary center running from the bow to the stern. Sometimes folks have a tendency to follow the contours of the boat rather than staying parallel. I like the idea of shorter strokes with clean exits right at the hip.

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It’s one of 3 options: you, the boat, or you in that boat.
The various suggestions above should help you isolate the issue(s). Try different positions ( butt, paddle angle, etc), different person padding same boat, and you paddling another boat.

Check videos of a correctly done paddle stroke online. The way to look at a forward paddle stroke is that you are planting the paddle right next to the bow. In an ideal world, the paddle is going to stay relatively fixed in the water as far as front to back. Then you pull the kayak past it. Assuming you are using a low angle style, which most people use, the paddle will travel at about a 30-45 degree angle out from the boat and will exit cleanly about at your hips.

Observe the paddle closely throughout the stroke. Are you planting the paddle at the same place relative to the bow. Is the paddle leaving the water at about at your hips on both sides and at the same distance from the boat. Are you using the same amount of effort on both sides. Any asymmetry can cause the boat to turn.

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Oh, all right, I’ll put my two cents into it. First, I have digested far too much marine engineering in the past 40 years… Let us begin with,

A canoe cannot be towed. It is symmetrical, it will immediately begin to hunt and peck left and right and even up and down if you try to tow a canoe with a power boat. Except, I have several times towed my canoe behind a power boat (at modest speeds.) The difference is, and there are several other very wise men and women in this series of answers to you, the loading of the canoe was not symmetrical. Answer, you certainly cannot tow a canoe by the heavy end, you must only tow the canoe by its light end. I have been offered a tow on Lake Mead when both a sunset and an impending storm made getting the 7 miles into port an imperative.

I did two things. First, I backed the canoe to the stern of the power boat and exited the boat and tied the stern line, all the gear and ballast were still in the forward portion of the canoe. The second thing is not important to you, I took the bow line and threw it well to the rear to trail in the water, a tail on the kite on a too windy day.

IF your boat always turns, These are mass produced boats, it would not surprise me a bit to see an irregular shape that is contributing to the problem, Inspect for symmetry.
Second, if the boat always turns, the bow is too heavy, move the seat back or throw some ballast in the stern, or to test my stupid ballast related theory, paddle the boat backwards… does it paddle straighter when you are backing? Ballast.

More to the point. You are 200 pounds, your bride is 100 pounds why would you buy the same size boat?

My example, shudder. I am 300 pounds, I like a 20 foot canoe in white water. The fore aft balance of the boat is CRITICAL to being able to maneuver. CRITICAL. My normal ballast, aside from locating heavier gear toward the center line and forward. I carry between 180 and 250 pounds of drinking water in large jugs in the bow, 75 pounds of barbell weights flat on the forward floor and strapped hard to the bottom. (Don’t want those moving.) AND as I consume the water over a 2 or 3 week span, I load rocks into the bow to replace the weight I have used in my coffee, and pasta sauce. If the bow is too light, I cannot maintain control into the wind. Can’t do it. So I stop and load a few more rocks into the bow so I can paddle into the wind.


More to the point. You are 200 pounds, your bride is 100 pounds why would you buy the same size boat?

My wife is 215 lbs and I am 235 lbs, so why wouldn’t we buy the same boat, also when you go to rent a kayak they are all the same no matter the size of the person renting it

My bad, Sorry Still chuckling at my stupidity. I am quite good at that. Look for an irregularity in the hull. It could have been pulled from the mold too quickly, stored out in the sun for a time.

Difference in seat position? If it is not an irregularity in the hull, I still would first suspect ballast, balance port starboard or fore and aft. Annnnd some boats are just not designed to travel straight. I am very familiar with Pelicans. I think I saw that mentioned. Old Town built the Loon and the Otter, both as singles and tandems. I really liked the tandem Otter. owned one for years, traveled straight and easy, 14 feet long.

In a canoe, fore and aft balance has everything to say about maneuverability. So I go looking there first. When I hauled out after 2 weeks gone, late August, I’d bet I threw 12 or 15 rocks out of the bow as I de-rigged.

I’ve found that I tend to lean & Im pushing harder one arm than the other. If I look ahead instead of right in front of the boat, it helps me out.

We just got into canoeing and kayaking this year. Last year she was going out with a couple of her friends and they had better rec-kayaks and they had a Pelican 10 footer she was using that was her friends kids. The weight capacity IMO on the $200-300 boats is a little overrated and the bottoms of the hull are shaped more flat with channels, more to add strength and stability and not for tracking. She did ok but would complain if she wasn’t constantly correcting she would track off.

When we were looking this spring for our own boats Covid had limited things and I wanted something better than what Wal-mart had. I found Dicks was about the only place that had something ready to ship out and had nothing in the stores here. So I ordered the Old Town Trip 10 fishing sit inside kayak for her. It is more of a real kayak IMO has a sealed bulkhead in the stern and I added flotation to the bow along with removing the few fishing things that got in the way.

The first words out of her when we put it in the water was look it goes straight. She could do a double stroke and glide out tracking straight an impressive distance. Just the saved energy was worth the extra cost. I have an OT 14’7” canoe set up to be a solo and she will out glide me stroke for stroke in the 10’ kayak.

IMO you get what you pay for in this case and with time you will learn to paddle straighter if you keep working on it with the Pelican, but there will always be an energy penalty. That is no different than if I were to compare our rec-boats to say a sea kayak. You pick a level that works for what you are doing. Here there are 1000s of 10’ Pelicans and people float down river on them. If the river is moving 3MPH they are moving 3MPH. Most of the people just paddle enough to have it pointing roughly down stream. We like to go out on lakes and in some wind or even paddle up stream and float back and that’s where a little better boat starts to become appealing.

If it’s zig zagging I doubt it’s the hull it’s your strokes.

I am curious as to why you use rocks to replace your empty water jugs… why not just fill them with pond water or sea water instead? Seems rocks could damage the inside of your canoe hull while jugs would not.

I was having an issue similar to this as well and thanks to the feedback in this thread, slowing down my stroke rate and using less power mostly fixed my “zig-zag” issue, although I feel like my speed also dropped off too. I’ve no doubt that my issue is due to stroke technique/form.

Very simple answer. The water jugs are drinking water. The interior of the jugs is, maybe not sterile, but really close to it. I could use river water and pour some bleach in each time. That would work. I’ll keep the idea in mind. There may be a day that is the simple solution. Thanks !!
The canoe? Is a custom, custom layup and layout, built for me for the 2016 trip. A bunch of rocks in the bow is no problem, not even a scratch. The boat is a tank.

Hmmm you just raised an interesting possibility. The marine engineering concept is ‘hull speed’. Every boat has a maximum speed that is determined primarily by waterline length. Formulae (I think) Square root of waterline length X 1.37 Quick, envelope calculation 9.5 waterline square root 3 X 1.37= 4.25 (?) knots If you can paddle your boat to 5mph or near it. It should get much tougher to go faster and it should get squirrely. On a sailboat, the term is broach. It will want to turn right around. You only go faster if you can get it up on plane. Very interesting idea.

Very interesting indeed. A few weeks back I did 6.5 miles in around 1.5 hours, which puts me well below the 5mph limit. I did keep pulling the phone out to take pictures, but I doubt that would add back in enough to get me to 5mph.

I’ll play around with distance/times and try to note when it starts to zig-zag on me.

What you will be watching for, When displacement vessel moves through the water it creates a bow wake. The bow wake immediately implies a positive and negative. The bow wake being pushed by the nose, a trough and then the secondary wake which is trailing along the side at some point. You reach hull speed when going fast enough that the rearward wake is stretched to the stern of the vessel, the entire vessel is sitting between the bow and stern wakes. As you try to go faster, the stern drops into the trough and you are paddling uphill. Horsepower requirements to paddle up that hill grow by the cube, rapidly.
You may also experience another hull speed characteristic. In a kayak it may not be easy to spot. When you reach hulls speed, for 10 foot Pelican Kayak that is 4.5 to 5 mph, you may find the kayak does not turn easily. there is a spot there.
The reason I am aware of this, water has some VERY interesting physics at play. I paddle a large canoe so the craft floats high and light, so maybe mine can just barely plane out in steep rapids. One thing I do know, if going fast enough in the rapids, the boat will not turn. NOT. I turn only by back paddling as hard as I can on one side or the other. And I think it only turns then because I have slowed it to below hull speed and the rocker of the boat is finally in contact with the water again. The other REALLY odd effect. GPS over the ground speed. Really steep rapids, Big Drops in Cataract, Hance, etc. Maximum speed in my canoe has always been the low 18s. 18.2, 18.4, 18.1 Never 18.5 or anything above. Sounds too fast, and the speed limit is , Huh? Why? , but the GPS speed includes water speed and boat speed. I have no explanation. I just know it is seriously weird.
There is a lot of physics concerning water that I do not know.

In a river, in order to turn using any form of rudder style, The canoe or kayak needs to be either going faster than the current or slower than the current. WW kayaks {other than for racing} are designed to move slower than the current for this reason. It is much much safer to be moving slower and have decision making time. Back paddling and picking your way down a difficult stretch is generally a good idea.

I like and agree with part of this- but sometimes it is okay to just drift and steer. if you are trying to move a boat around then you should be going faster or slower than the current, on that much we can agree.

Virtually all ww kayaks are designed to go faster rather than slower than the current. While the hull speed is limited (particularly in creek boats and playboats) the ability to go faster than the current can help negotiate holes, eddylines, and clear drops. Sprayskirts keep water out.

ww canoeing- it really depends upon the boat, tripping canoes tend to go slower than the current while many ww solo canoes charge hard through features and just pump or bail to remove water

reaction time is good in rockgardens and I often find myself slowing down on creeks

The reality is that it can all be good- you can paddle aggressively through a drop and then back ferry in a kayak and even purposely backpaddle through holes to slow down and increase reaction time to make future moves when reading and running. Sometimes it is good to charge hard in a tripping canoe to clear a feature and other times backpaddling will give the bow time to float up over waves rather than plow through them.

Hit the gas to get across squirrelly eddy lines, bust big holes, and clear the base of drops. In general speed helps with executing crisp eddy turns and peel outs. Sometimes you go into an eddy slow if you think there are rocks in the eddy.

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