Improving My Stability

-- Last Updated: Jul-01-15 8:21 PM EST --

You've all been so helpful during my kayak purchasing. Now that I've purchased an Ocean Kayak Venus 11, I need some technique advice and maybe a bit of a pep talk. My maiden voyage in my new kayak was also a kayaking class. It was 4.5 hours long and included (among many other things) how to recover from a possible roll, how to roll intentionally, and how to get the kayak righted and get back on after rolling. (BTW, "roll" may be incorrect terminology - I'm talking of flipping it over and ending up in the water with your kayak face down).

Here's the issue: I was surprised (after lots of people said SOTs are very hard to tip over) at how easy it was to tip my kayak over!! While it was relatively easy to get it turned upright and get back on, that was in quiet and shallow water. Now, I'm finding myself a bit nervous about going out by myself.

Is the Venus 11 less stable than other SOTs or am I just a newbie being a bit intimidated?

What do you suggest? I'm thinking the logical thing to do is to go back to a shallow and quiet part of the Bay (Sarasota Bay, to be specific) and practice the intentional roll and the techniques for stopping an accidental roll until I have more confidence. Is there anything else I should do or know about?

By the way, the technique I was taught for preventing a roll was to slap the water with a flat paddle blade (on the side to which I was beginning to lean) then quickly turn the paddle blade upright to bring it out of the water (so as not to pull up through the water with a flat paddle, thereby actually causing a roll).

It might also help to know I'm no spring chicken (in my late 60s and never paddled before) and am 5'3" and 130 pounds.


Capsize versus roll

– Last Updated: Jul-01-15 10:29 PM EST –

Sounds like you practiced capsizes and re-entries, which is pretty much standard for all introductory classes, as well as a low brace. Excellent that you took the class.

A roll is righting a capsized kayak while the paddler (wearing a spray skirt to keep the water out) remains inside the cockpit.

Great that you found it easy to get back in your boat. That's one of the benefits of a SOT. Any boat can be capsized if you move all your weight to one side or another. Heck, if you keep leaning over while standing on the beach, you'll tip over as well. Keep your weight centered, your hips relaxed so you can move with the boat, and you'll be fine.

Continued capsize practice in calm water would be good to do until you gain confidence in yourself and in your boat. Then practice with a bit of wind and waves. And make sure you hang on to your paddle (easier said than done sometimes). Naturally you would never, ever paddle without wearing a kayaking PFD, so if you go off, you'll just get wet.

If you're in good physical shape, your age is just a number in your head. Your attitude and willingness to learn new things are what count in life.

Lots of seat time paddling close to the shoreline will allow you to develop your skills and get to know your boat.

Finally, check for paddling meet-ups in your area; you may feel more comfortable paddling with other folks.

Have a great time with your new boat - and remember, ALWAYS wear that PFD.

paddle for a while
The Venus is a women specific boat, as such it is designed for a smaller person. Your weight sounds perfect for it.

I would suggest just going out and paddling the boat. Stay in safe areas (close to shore, etc.). You should start feeling more and more comfortable with a little time in the boat.

The slapping the water is called a brace.

You have learned
that the most important aspect of kayak stability is…

the paddler.

Any boat will capsize once you exceed it’s performance envelope and, surprisingly, that envelope isn’t greatly improved by changing the hull (usually making it wider) to increase stability. Generally making a boat wider hurts its performance more than it improves stability.

Braces, balance, fit, and experience increase stability more than hull design. That said, really tippy boats do exist and these skinny hulls require an increase in boat handling skills. Once a paddler learns to control same, these boats are at least as seaworthy as any other hulls.

In really tippy hulls (some of the original Inuit baidarka hulls) will capsize easily, even in the hands of experienced paddlers. Once sufficient forward momentum is applied, and conditions worsen, these hulls are claimed to have improved stability and excellent responsiveness (I doubt the inuit would have used them otherwise). There are few of these designs on the water as they don’t sell well, but there was a National Geographic special on these (called, I believe, Baidarka) where an experienced paddler documented his learning process with such a hull.


primary and secondary stability
Your boat, at almost 29 inches wide, has very high primary stability, meaning as long as you keep your balance centered it is highly stable. But because it has a very low hard chine (the angled edge that you see along the lower part of the sides), it has lower secondary stability than most skinnier boats with a higher chine. So if you do lean out far or suddenly, as you were doing to produce the capsizing for your self-rescue practice, it is going to tip over more abruptly. My kayaks are much narrower (20 to 22 inches) so they feel more tippy in the primary stability than yours, but when I lean in them, they have a broad area between the keel line and the higher chine that acts as a second surface that the boat can lie on, so it will not go completely over as easily as yours does when leaned.

You will also probably notice that it tends to be a little dicey in rough water and waves – that is a characteristic of wide and flat bottomed boats, the trade-off for higher primary stability. So it’s good that you have practice in bracing for those conditions and know how to re-enter after a capsize because you will be more vulnerable to that in certain conditions than you would be in a touring or sea kayak. That’s one reason why kayaks designed for the sea are narrower and vee hulled – they will ride over rough water more easily.

Seat time
Keep paddling and you will quickly become much more comfortable. Having said that - paddling alone in any boat and for any skill level does increase the risks associated with paddling quite a bit. Most of us do paddle alone from time to time but when we are alone we are more careful about avoiding poor weather conditions, staying close to shore, etc. This way the risks of being alone are minimized a great deal.

A big part of feeling stable in a small boat is just getting used to the normal motion of the water and of the boat on the water. Water is rarely perfectly calm and flat, and small boats don’t spend much time perfectly upright.

Beginners tend to panic and go rigid when the boat tips a bit. This just makes things worse.

With time, you’ll learn to relax and let the boat move under you. Your hips will roll with the boat as your upper body stays loose and centered.

Start slowly, and expect to capsize as you learn. Capsizing is not a mistake – it’s part of learning. If you treat it as a game instead of a crisis you’ll have a lot more fun.

stability and stuff

– Last Updated: Jul-02-15 4:00 PM EST –

First, congratulations on taking that class and getting wet. Way too few new paddlers do that.

The two biggest things you need are time getting used to the boat and company to paddle with for anything that might be on the risky side. Risky for you right now is pretty much any waves, even small ones, until you have learned how the boat behaves. I recall that you have a transportation issue, so you might want to look for guided tours or groups around you where you could rent a boat to try out new areas to paddle.

Yeah, what you did was capsize. A roll is when you come back up without getting out of the boat. You can roll a sot, or even a canoe, with thigh straps. It is usually more difficult than rolling a skinny round sea kayak.

You don't really want to try to improve the boat's stability. It is built in and you can't change it. You do want to improve your own ability to handle it's behaviors. And be ready to handle a capsize. Safe paddling is not about staying dry, but about knowing how to handle that which makes you wet.

You are not too old for any of this, including getting a sea kayak at some point and learning to roll it. One of the guys in my last class was 80 yrs old and got a roll, at least in the pool. I am in my 60s and have to get mine back. I am most of the way there on the right but the left will take some time.

I am also paddling solo now. So until a couple of Paddle buddies can join me in maine or I find a good meet up group, my paddles to further out islands are not happening. It is annoying but the right accommodation to paddling solo.

Just spend time getting used to the water and the boat for now, and do consider getting into other boats via guided tours or groups as well.

To Start What Kind Of Conditions
Will you be paddling in? A kayak like yours may never flip in your lifetime. It’s built for primary stability.

Ocean Kayaks are a favorite around here. Possibly out numbering all other yaks combined. Odds are you will never flip if you stay on inland waters. To flip those puppies you have to work at it

Stay alert but avoid being overly cautious.

OK - Practice & Have Fun!!
As always, you guys are the best - I feel more confident and ready to get back out there and practice capsizing and the low brace.

Getting wet is actually a pleasure here (water temps are close to bath water this time of year, but are still cooler than the air temps). So, as suggested, I’ll make it a game to practice my skills and get wet doing it.

Again, thanks for your advice and support as I get into my new sport.


Catching and riding waves – even small ones, including boat wakes – is great fun and good practice. A wave only has to be a few inches high for you to feel a boost.

If you’re riding waves at a beach, be careful of swimmers between you and shore in case your kayak decides to proceed without you.