Is it me or the boat?

I have been paddling for right at a year now and just upgraded boats from a Dagger Zydeco to a Dagger Spectrum 15. The new boat is very stable and pretty fast(the reason I upgraded). The lone problem I have is that when not using the rudder, I have bad to severe tracking problems. I will have a tendancy to turn to one side or the other (usually the left). It’s bad enough that without major correction (ruddering with paddle or rudder) I will go in circles. Is this bad technique or the boat? I had no tracking problems in the much shorter Zydeco. I do not want to depend on the rudder all the time. Any help or advice on this would be appreciated.

For the most part it is you. The boat
is reacting to your style of paddling, you now have to change to accomodate it. Are you a lite person? If so, a little ballast might help. Is the seat adjustable fore and aft? If so, try moving the seat to balance the boat out. Does your new boat have more freeboard? If so, the wind will tend to round you up. If you force yourself to stop using the rudder, you will teach yourself how to keep the boat straight. Sweeping strokes, paddle shifting (more right or left depending on which way the boat is turning), and greater power on the turning stroke will all help to guide the boat. Make sure your strokes are slower, reaching, and deliberate. Find your balance, quite literally, punch forward from your ear while pulling on the water side with the same effort from each hand, ie. balance. Good luck grasshopper!!

Careful how you lean, and how your
weight is distributed, in the boat. And maybe you expect too much. Even a good-tracking boat will have a bit of a tendency to veer when you stop paddling.

I suggest taking the rudder off entirely. Unless you paddle only on large lakes and very open rivers, I can’t think of any reason why you should need a rudder in KY.

I had the exact same problem going
from an America 11 to a LL Stingray 14. It’s you, not the boat, as I found out too. I could have sworn it was the boat.

I don’t have any magic numbers for you, but it’s just going to take seat time. Trial and error, and try to learn to paddle it differently than you did the Zydeco. I learned some new technique inadvertently by grabbing two halves of two different paddles when I was in a hurry and they didn’t match. I had to paddle about 4 miles with a single blade. My wife brought me a matching half after that, and the remaining three miles I paddled were 1000% straighter than I had ever paddled it the half dozen times I’d been out with the new kayak before that.

Also, you didn’t say where you were paddling. If in current or wind, a longer boat is going to react much greater to wind or current and will take some further adjustment from you.

Good luck. It will get better.

should have typed specter, sorry
should have mentioned, I am 5’10" 160lbs. I have not had the boat in any wind yet. The rudder will come in useful for the times on the larger lakes and the wind gets up.

It’s You
I have paddled my Specter 15.5 for 3 years… Had the same issue and found that it was how I was sitting in the boat … For some reason I would sit leaning to one side you may be doing the same, This boat is fast, wants to track but will respond to the slightest movement from you… It also likes to weather cock and responds to current the same way… As for the rudder, when I got the boat I used it all the time my technique suffered so now I only use it when on the ocean or doing the back bays on windy days …

One fix
I have a buddy who had the same issue with his first kayak. I paddled it, and it was fine. So, I gave him my whitewater kayak to paddle for a week. Talk about no directional stability!

He capsized it 4 times the first day he paddled it, and by the end of the week, he could paddle it on flatwater almost as good as I can. He got back in his own boat, and problem solved.

So my point is: Give it some time. You need to get the feel for it, and correct your technique to suit it. Ideally, your technique should become good enough with practice that you can paddle anything.

What color is the new boat?
Red boats always track funny.

Also, pay attention to how you end your strokes and the angle of your paddle blade. Try intentionally changing them to see if that is having an effect.

If you go out with an experienced buddy, have them follow you and see if they notice a lean or anything that is obvious.

Otherwise, it’s the color.


Probably you, but …
… You can check the boat, just to make sure … if it has a keel that is. Flip it over, stand at one end, and look straight down the keel … should be straight. You could tape one end of a string where the bow curve meets the bottom of the hull, run it along the bottom to the stern, and tape that end where the curve meets the bottom at that end. String should run through the center of the hull. If not, could be the boat.

Once you’ve done that, then you can take away any doubt about the boat … and know it’s you.

Went through something similar what I changed paddles (larger blade, higher stroke) … suddenly I could paddle in circles.

If you can, ask some one who knows a good stroke watch you paddle. Blade should enter and exit the water on each side of the boat in the same places. Torso rotation is also important … if you’re using your arms (which I discovered I was doing), your stroke might not be even on each side. For me, developing good torso rotation made a big difference… also improved speed and distance.

Check the seat
It is probably you but check the seat position carefully. I accused my wife of strong siding her boat but found the seat had been improperly installed. Her problem ended when I reinstalled the seat properly.

Email me (off topic)
KYPaddler, shoot me an email. I live in KY as well and we are always looking for more kayakers to meet and paddle with.


It could be the kayak
I demoed that kayak a few years ago, and liked it overall. At that time I weighed around 235# and it was recommended as a good boat for a bigger person.

The one thing I did not like was that, with it’s high deck and capacity of about 325#, that it weathercocked quite a bit. I had a very difficult time tracking in even a light wind. At the time, I did not know how to counteract that tendency.

With your much lighter weight, it might tend to weathercock even more. Since you are newer to the sport(?) you may not even be aware of what this is. It refers to a boats tendency to point towards the wind (weather) and is very noticeable when the wind is abeam. A boat should weathercock some, and how much depends on a lot of things, such as weight, trim, etc. But I recall that boat as being a handful even in a light wind for me.

You can counteract this force by edging into the wind, but it could be that you would be happier with a lower kayak, esp. in the foredeck.

Take up the offer from the other Kentucky paddler, and you will learn a lot, including something from swapping boats with others. Also, get a lesson or two. If it is weathercocking, there are ways to minimize it.

check the hull
not just the center line, but the hull on both sides of the center line. Look down the hull in low light conditions, and look to see if there are any shadows due to depressions in the hull. Can also wet the hull and then run your hand down it to feel for depressions. A depression on the right side will make it turn to the right since that side of the hull will have less resistance in the water.

Are you right handed?

– Last Updated: Jan-20-08 6:15 PM EST –

Gotta go with the idea of checking your paddling first, if you are.

That said, it may also be a boat that is a pain on tracking in certain conditions, so you need to be a little pickier about form than with another boat. Don't know the boat.

Me or the boat?
Rudders are just plain great for keeping a boat on track. Some will argue against using a rudder, but for non rapids conditions, rudders are just great (IMO). The reason they are so great is that they allow you to focus on moving forward, and not get distracted by the constant sweep strokes and such that you are having to do. There is a pretty good discussion of this on the Epic website - . Many will disagree with me - yes, rudders can fail and so forth, but they rarely do. (given reasonable care and attention).

Some paddlers have almost an almost dogmatic objection to using them. (Because they jam, drag, and can break…). A reasonably cared for rudder almost never fails. While it does add some (a little) drag - It allows one to put all the force into moving forward, and not using sweep strokes to stay on course. If you look at marathon kayak and surfski, they all use rudders. Those crowds care only about getting to the finish line fast.

Well a rudder
down (like a aerodynamic SmartTrack rudder) costs 10% in efficiency, that has been measured. The loss in glide is very noticable on my QCC700 when I drop the rudder, as is the extra effort to keep my pace. With a wing paddle you are pretty much stuck with having to use a rudder, but not with a euro paddle. You just have to learn to make minor corrections “in time” (before the boat gets too far off track) on every stroke with your hips, after a while it becomes natural!

Hate to ask this but . . .
do you understand the way a lean impacts tracking? It is the opposite of what happens on a bicycle. If you lean slightly left, the boat tracks right, lean slightly right, the boat tracks left. The impact is more pronounced when you have a sharper keel line–and I’m assuming your new boat has much more keel than the flatter rec boat does, so you wouldn’t have had the same responsiveness as this boat does. It is counter-intuitive to lean left to go right, and I’ve seen paddlers who lean right to “correct” leftward tracking, thus making the boat turn even more sharply to the left. In a highly responsive boat, the slightest of leans will cause it to carve a turn in the opposite direction.

rudder loss?
10% sounds pretty high. Degreed engineering types in the industry have said about 1-2% for a well designed rudder on a racing hull. This is 1-2% more wetted surface - which on racing boats is about 50% of total resistance. The other half is wavemaking.

The rudder bracket on the qcc700 does seem like it really drags in the water. A friend had one for a few years, and it left a nice wake to ride for me on many a workout. So, with sweep strokes, one loses almost 50% of forward effort, whereas with a “bad rudder” one might be losing up to 10% - probably a lot less.

it’s the earth’s rotation