I can't paddle straight!

I’m a newbie with one basic lesson under my PFD. I’ve been out maybe 8 times on flatwater in my Dagger Specter (16.5’ Airlite touring sea kayak). I jut can’t seem to paddle straight (no rudder).

Now it’s not like I’m zigging and zagging all over. Rather, I seem to favor one side and make a slow turn towards it regardless of how hard I dig in to go the other way. The favored side changes from time to time.

I know I must be missing some little piece of technique like not putting equal pressure on both thighs. I will be taking lessons next month before I head out for anything serious (for one thing, I won’t even consider using my spray skirt until I’ve had lessons with it) but I thought some of you could offer simple advice in the meantime.


typical for a beginner
you just need instruction and practice.

Even strokes. Torso rotation.
Keep the blade as straight up and down as possible on each side of the hull as you stroke. One practice I was taught strictly to demonstrate torso involvement was to hold my paddle out in from of my chest with arms bent. Without moving arms, rotate and bend torso to get a (very) rudimentary stroke going on each side of the hull. Remember to lock your arms and not use them for this demo. Do this a few times to feel your torso’s role in paddling, then unlock your arms while still doing the torso thing and gradually start adjusting your arms to improve paddle placement in the water until your arms are putting the blade in rather than your torso bend. Then stop the torso bend entirely and use torso rotation coupled with arm placement memory to establish blade insertion on each stroke. For a clean up and down paddle shaft on each side of the hull your opposing arm will be across your chest horizontally and your paddle shaft will be as perfectly vertical as is possible without banging the blade against the side of the hull each stroke.

Kinda hard to verbalize… Works though.

Have fun Tom!

Steer From the Rear
A “sweep” stroke with a twist at the rear

The Other Possibility…

– Last Updated: Apr-04-05 3:55 PM EST –

is that you're weathercocking... and you have "no rudder" (or skeg) to compensate. And the fact that you said that the "favor" side switches indicate that it may depend on which way the wind is blowing rather than anything you may be "favoring" inherently.

Weathercocking is a boat's tendency to turn into the wind. Most boats have this tendency to varying degrees. Folks generally drop their rudder and skeg to compensate. You will have to learn to edge/lean a bit to fight the tendency since you don't have those tools. If the boat wants to turn towards the right, pick up your left knee to tilt/edge to the right to turn the boat more to the left. You need to try varying amounts of lean/tilt to figure out how to much use depending on the amount of weather cocking. You may also incorporate some amount of sweeping stroke on one side as well. The other thing is to change your "trim" (the boat's balance point). To fight weathercocking, you can put varying amount of weight behind you to lock in the rear keel for better tracking.

Of course, you can always improve your forward stroke. But, if weathercocking is the main culprit rather than your forward stroke, than you have to do some or all of the above. Or, add the darn rudder in because the boat is designed to NEED one.


Some more thoughts
Try looking off into the distance when you’re paddling, not at the bow of the boat. Focus on a distant object and it will become apparent quite quickly that you are veering right or left. You will soon be making the slightest corrections as you go along. This is like driving. Focus in the distance and you go straight. Focus at the end of the hood, and you’re weaving all over the place.

Pay very close attention to how symmetrically you’re paddling. You may find that you’re pulling the paddle in toward the boat at the end of every stroke on the right, or left. Perhaps you’re taking a slightly longer stroke on one side, or a quicker stroke. These tiny inconsistancies will pull you off course.

One more thought.
Make sure you are sitting in your boat in the same position each time and that the boat does not lean to one side or the other.

If the boat is not sitting level, that will cause a turn - in fact that’s how we steer kayaks, by leaning or edging them to the side away from the side you want to turn towards.

What Michigansnorkeler Said

– Last Updated: Apr-04-05 5:03 PM EST –

Look straight ahead. I see folks looking at their paddle blades. Don't do that.

One lesson?
Do you know what a ‘sweep stroke’ is? A sweep stroke starts as far forward as possible. Instead of pulling the paddle straight back along the side of the boat, you ‘sweep’ the paddle out to the side, as far away from the boat as you can, while you pull back to the mid-stroke, then ‘sweep’ the paddle back in to the stern during the last half of the stroke. By moving your paddle in this arching motion, you will turn the boat toward the side opposite the stroke side. This is a good technique for course correction while underway.

Practice paying constant attention to your direction of travel (by focusing on a far point as mentioned already). Once your boat starts to turn off course, correct immediately or the rate of turn will increase, necessitating a more aggressive correction. Before you know it, you will be doing minor, unnoticable correcting strokes while underway, looking like a pro.

Thanks for all the suggestions!
Can’t wait to get home tonight and try them out.

can’t go straight?
Consider weathercocking, boat lean, boat trim (all already talked about), or maybe equal hand placement on paddle shaft. Make sure each hand is the same distance from each paddle blade.

Correct Assessment And Process Of
elimination would help. Going through systematic check of the suggestions would help determine whether it is a stroke, boat or combination problem. Don’t just assume.


(Who had a boat that weathercocked like crazy.)

One other thought
Take two strokes on the side that your kayak wants to turn for every one on the other side, and if necessary three

Several others mentioned make sure you are sitting in the center of your kayak and that it is balanced.

If your are constantly turning left, do a slight lean on that side and vice versa for right.

Sooner or later it will all gel and you will chuckle at your no longer being a newbie.



An early fault of mine
. . . was carrying my forward stroke way past my hips. Pull the blade out as the paddle gets to your hip; beyond that point you are pulling the stern around more than propelling the boat.

I think experienced kayakers
I think experienced kayakers are constantly making subtle course corrections through leaning, paddling a bit harder on one side, or with a bit of a sweep. Don’t realize you are doing it most of the time.

Once your boat starts to turn it will generally keep turning until you do something to stop it. Correct as you are approaching the heading you want, not after you go past it. Like others said, aim for a spot far ahead.

Mostly it comes with practice.

Dagger Specter Paddling
Last year, I tried out my husband’s Specter(I own a Cortez) and I noticed the same problem with his yak. I had to make a lot more corrective actions than in the Cortez. Wonder if it’s something intrinsic with the design? However, after really getting up to full steam, the Specter did track well.

It looks like no one
that posted has been in the Specter except one. I have one and tried it several times and ended up putting a rudder on. There was no way I could keep the boat straight AT ALL. I tried ballast in different locations to no avail. If there was even the slightest breeze the boat would weather (or lee) cock (I don’t remember which anymore). It would turn so fast if felt like I was eddying out. Edging isn’t an option because that won’t keep the boat straight and you would be on edge 100% of the time. So I would say that it isn’t your problem. This wasn’t my first boat and I have been paddling about 5 years.


That’s What I Strongly Suspected…
When his “favored” side switches from side to side.


what sing is trying to explain
is your kayak’s tendency to “skid out” in the wind. Edging the kayak into the wind, or the beam side that is most directly effected by the wind, locks the kayak into the water a bit more, and thus stops it from skidding out. A great video that demonstrates this, is Nigel Foster’s DVD’s I think numbers 1-3 do a pretty good job. I would recommend buying them, or better yet, take some lessons.

Ah! good
I haven’t spent any boat bucks in at least 48 hours so perhaps a rudder is appropriate :slight_smile:

I will try the other suggestions about hand placement, etc first just to make sure I get a real good feel for the boat but I will certainly keep the rudder option in mind.

Thanks for all the responses