Importance of Boat Fit!!!!!

Ok I have been criticized lately for asking too many questions that people don’t like…so I am going to start to provide some information to others in return.

From all the dozens of boats I have owned in my quest to find the boat I like best one thing that I have learned is the absolute criticality of boat fit.

I have found that the most minute changes in seat height or width, in the same kayak, can totally change the handling characterisitics and feel of the boat and its performance for you on both flat and rough water.

Perhaps the biggest mistake I think people make is to try to make their boat fit TOO TIGHTLY. I originally though that you really needed a boat to fit snugly to perform well. This is the mentality I gained from whitewater paddling and from the Greenland types.

I would say that a boat that fits too tightly will hurt your performance in both flat and rough water. Too tight of a fit at the knees and hips hinders your forward stroke. You need just a bit of looseness to allow you to pump your knees and rotate just a bit at the hips.

Furthermore, and perhahs more importantly to me, it hinders your rough water performance.

A boat that fits too tightly at the hips will make you feel uncomfortable in really rough water. When the water moves your boat underneath you I feel that the tight fitting boat then engages your hips too tightly and upsets your center of gravity more easily. Of course we remain loose at the hips but a little bit of looseness of boat fit on your hips helps as well.

In this instance I am referring to really rough water. I messed around with a Romany Surf last year at Sullivans Falls in Maine. This is a fast and grabby tide race. I had a foam seat and had the boat fitting quite snugly at the hips. The boat felt great on flat water for rolling and maneuvering but when I got in that grappy water it felt less stable than I preferred. Shaving down some of the added foam padding on the sides made a big difference and the looser fitting boat did not feel as if the grabby water was upsetting my balance as much as it allowed the baot to move under more more freely.

Furthermore in playing around with foam seats in that boat and with an Explorer I found that the tightness of fit of the baot at the hips also made a huge difference in the feel of the boat’s stability profile adn subsequently affected the handling of the boat. Seat height obviously affects the sability profile and handling of the boat drastically as well.

A change in as little as a 1/4 inch in seat width or height can make a noticeable difference in teh feel of the boat so the fit is a very sensitive issue in my opinion.

So in getting a boat that fits you I think that first off I think that the design of the boat has to fit you well and that certain molds are better suited to certain individuals…like the thigh braces may just not hit you in the right place, the deck height may be too low for you (can’t raise the deck obviously but you can foam out a deck that is too high), etc.

However, a lot can be done to make a boat fit you if the basic mold is pretty good for you.

I found that one of the best things you can do when you get a boat is to cut the seat out and install a foam one. I really like the Valley foam seat.

This allows you to better customize the fit for you. You can add layers of foam under it and you can add layers on the sides of the boat under the hip pads of the seat in order to “adjust” seat width and fit on your hips.

I use layers of foam as thin as 1/8 inch. You can get self adheasive rubberized foam online from I think that is what it is called. Just google rubberized foam.

This stuff is great. You can paddle and add or remove layers of foam at the hips easily by just pulling to the shore and adjusting. This is the only way to get the right fit in my opinion.

This is a lengthy trial and error process but it does make a huge difference and I think it is critical for you to get the most out of whatever kayak you own.

Fit is critical and it makes sense really given the fact that we “wear” our kayaks and that one of the keys to effective paddling is the union of body and boat with the water.


Totally agree and preach.

Good analysis Matt. I agree with you about the fit, however, I prefer a seat that is made to fit anatomically in the first place. Secondly, what I don’t like about the foam solution is that it is not slippery allowing the paddler the rotate hips without friction. I have included a URL from my blog with a drawing that illustrates my point.

Can’t read the text …
Do you have a link to a larger image?

I agree as well…
I’ve been fortunate in that my Artisan was a perfect fit for me from the get go. Only issue I had was the back band. Finally changed it to a hard seat back that flexes and it’s made a big difference.

Tight fit is too confining, snug is fine, but on long paddles it’s nice to have a little room to change your leg position.

: >) Boat fit can cause many purchases

As mentioned I really like foam seats for their ability to be “adjusted” top fit the user. I also have to say that I really believe firmly in foam back rests.

The one that Dale Williams markets to fit NDK boats is great in that the angle is just right when fixed to an NDK bulkhead.

I find the foam backrests really help you with better rotation, are more comfortable, and easier to get in adn out of the boat.


Good post Matt…

Good post Matt…

Agreed, good post. The concept of “wearing” a kayak is unfamiliar to a surprising number of paddlers. I’m a good weight for a Romany but my legs are a little long, so I’m thinking a Surf but may need to pad it out a bit.