What’s more maneuverable in a quicker river, a 12 foot kayak or a 14 foot with a rudder?

Thank you

“Quicker river”?
If you are talking about class rated whitewater, the rudder won’t matter for long because it’ll get knocked off or hung up on rocks. There is a reason WW boats don’t have rudders.

Perhaps if you described the river a little better, someone here may know the one you are thinking of.

up to class 2
Mostly rivers that are calm but fast and sharp turns but a few small class 2s

hull shape matters
Length is just one of the criteria. Longer could get jammed first in the hands of the unskilled.

What two kayaks are you considering?

purpose of a rudder

– Last Updated: Sep-28-16 6:53 PM EST –

Contrary to what many people seem to believe, rudders on kayaks are NOT for turning the boat. A rudder is primarily for improving how straight the boat tracks and is used to counteract forces like wind and currents that move it off track.

As far as length, as has been said, it depends on the boat. A narrow 14' touring kayak with a lot of rocker (curve in the keel line) would be able, in the right hands, to turn faster to zigzag through a rock garden of rapids than a wide flat-bottomed 12' fishing or recreational style kayak would.

I've done narrow winding class II streams like you describe in my 15' British style touring kayak which has no rudder but turns pretty well on an edge. It also fits me snugly enough and has good enough thigh hooks that I can steer it through lumpy water with lower body movements.

There are many factors in kayak design that affect maneuverability including the hull profile and volume, soft or hard chines, plumb or extended bow, just to name a few. 40 years ago standard whitewater boats, even those used on Class V and VI, used to almost all be around 13' long with round cross sections and pointy ends. But modern versions are 5' to 9' with a stubby look, flat planing hulls and snubbed ends. Both styles work but are paddled differently.

More on the downside of rudders

– Last Updated: Sep-28-16 8:04 PM EST –

This isn't a reply to WL but a supplement to what she said.

What's also contrary to what many people think, is that the very process of turning need not be limited to steering your boat like a ship. I see alternate forms of steering a lot more often among canoers than kayakers (reason described below), but when using a non-whitewater boat in twisty streams with lots of obstacles, what's usually the best way to suddenly alter where your boat travels is with a side-slip of some sort, often combined with back-paddling. If there are a bunch of rocks in front of you but there's a clear passageway 10 or 20 feet to one side, and you only have a few feet of forward travel before you get there, just go sideways instead of changing which way the boat is pointed (you need to adjust your actual maneuver to account for the current so you end up going sideways). If you tried to aim for the passageway, or even upstream of the passageway by steering, you'd be sideways or diagonal to the current while maneuvering and would drift that last few feet into the rocks before you accomplished anything. By going sideways while your boat remains pointed downstream, the profile of your boat that faces the rocks (and the passageway) is always at its narrowest, and you can hold your own against the current instead of helplessly drifting downstream. This makes the maneuver a whole lot easier (and prettier!). You can NOT do this with a rudder.

One reason you don't often see kayakers do this kind of maneuver is that those who want to maneuver that sharply have usually already chosen to bring a boat that can literally spin like a top, and momentarily being sideways to the current in such a boat while they paddle cross-current to get upstream of a small passageway is no big deal. In a kayak with more conventional tracking, there's no reason you can't use side-slips combined with ferries a lot more than plain old steering, so forget the rudder.

Adding to what willowleaf said - a ruddered boat would actually be less maneuverable. As WL said, the rudder isn’t made to turn the boat. If you want to turn the boat, you should use proper strokes. The basic one being the sweep stroke. But then there are a bunch of rudder strokes and draws that also do it.

Using a rudder and not turning strokes is a very slow turn (as the boat moves forward and the rudder then slowly turns the boat - what guideboatguy called turning like ship). Using a rudder with turning strokes is faster. Keeping to the ship analogy - these are liking having bow or stern thrusters. But that rudder is hanging off the back as a fin in the water, and fast turns involve moving the stern sideways. So that rudder slows the turn. So the fastest turn would be a non-ruddered boat with turning strokes. Plus rudder pedals are often sloppy (as compared to solid foot pegs), which could also limit the ability to edge the boat, which improves the ability of your sweep/rudder/draw stroke to turn the boat.

In general on length, a 12 foot boat would turn faster than a 14 foot boat. But there are a lot of other things that come into play than just length, such as waterline length, rocker, hull design, etc.

A 14 foot boat is fine
for maneuvering on rivers, and probably better for flatwater sections. As others have said, you can skip the rudder

Most paddlers
Probably haven’t played around with forward bow ruddering, or brace turns, prying, sweeps, sculling or anything but stern rudders. With enough practice, these things are mere reflexes and don’t require any thought.

In my experience, the length of the boat in general only matters in boats approaching 18’, or more–with exceptions.

I attended the 2nd annual Sunset Beach Paddlefest this past weekend here in NC. Once again, a great event, with a food tent, a beer tent, bands playing, and a variety of events.

We entered the 9.5 mile race. A great course, through the intercoastal waterway, winding through salt marsh creeks, out through the inlet around a buoy, back into winding salt marshes, and a final straightaway through the ICW to the finish.

I had a very lovely partner in my 21’ tandem Unity. I dropped the rudder a ways into the starting straightaway in the ICW to hold off a little weathercocking. In general, I don’t use my skegs/rudders, but those little corrective efforts that I don’t even notice during regular paddling - they take so much away from a racing stroke. And you’ll never notice it so much as when you’re matching cadence with the racing motor out in front of you. And I didn’t want to disappoint. Did I mention that I had a very lovely partner?

Shortly after we made our first turn into the winding salt marshes, I pulled up the rudder. As above, unless you can angle that rudder in quick maneuvers enough and properly, it’s as likely that it’s hindering a quick turn as helping it. We found it hindered.

I dropped it again paddling out of the inlet. We had some beam waves reflecting off of the sides of the inlet. And sea kayaks often have a way of conforming somewhat to just off-beam waves. Nothing out of control, but again, the rudder eliminated any need for any corrective action with the paddle.

After re-entering the salt marshes, the rudder was up the rest of the race, even the final straightaway it wasn’t needed.

There was some fun maneuvering through the marshes. We used edging, bow rudders, and stern rudders. Only a few times were we performing a bow rudder and stern rudder at the same time to make sharp turns. Otherwise, at least one cadence was never broke. It was a lot of fun. We were first to cross the finish line, but we were also the only tandem entered. It still somehow feels good to be way out front, even if it doesn’t really mean much of anything.

In any case, I thought this would be a good example of what was mentioned above. Rudders work great for directional control, and I would say fine for wide gradual turns. When you get into quick maneuvering, we found getting it out of the way seemed to work best. When you’re trying to spin the boat from center, significantly skidding the bow and stern, it seems pretty tough to keep the rudder in a position where it’s helping more than hindering. That’s one where the days of sliding foot pegs may have worked better to get quick sharp angles on the rudder blade. But that ends up hindering your forward stroke for different reasons - lack of solid footpegs.

So in short, I would have my rudder up for quick maneuvers in a river. I don’t believe you will find that it aids in that particular piece of paddling.

rudders for steering
I have seen instances where beginners (especially in tandems) are taught to use the rudder for steering. If I see someone in calm water using a rudder, I assume it’s a beginner. If I see someone who only drops the rudder in more gnarly water, I assume it’s for directional control and that the paddler is more likely an intermediate or beyond … or about to get there.

The prevalent use of rudders by beginners inhibits their improvement as paddlers. Rudders and even skegs are prone to occasional failure and must be routinely inspected. Although I have paddled ruddered kayaks, I’ve only owned skeg boats until now. My current kayak is designed to use neither and appears to live up to that promise.

A septuagenerian beginner.

I’ll throw my two cents worth in here
If you are asking because you are thinking of buying;

get the 14 footer and get it with a rudder.

You will be much happier in the long run.

Regardless of what others here have said, a rudder is used for steering.

If you have it and don’t want to use it, you can keep it up and steer by using leans and your paddle.

But there are many times on flat water where you might just want to drift, lilly dip and take pictures and it comes in very handy for that.

Then there are other times if you are in large bodies of water such as the ocean or large lakes and you have strong quartering winds, it is a great aid along with your correction strokes.

As a twenty year paddler with kayaks with and with out rudders, I would never get another without a rudder.

Jack L


– Last Updated: Sep-29-16 5:57 PM EST –

Well, I'm not a beginner, but in one of my boats I often use the rudder in calm water if I want to change direction quietly to look at wildlife while coasting along. The boat doesn't need a rudder, per se, but tracks much better with it deployed (like a skeg).

I also have a QCC Q400, aka Caspian Sea designed by John Winters. It was specifically designed NOT to turn when heeled, as a way of giving more predictability in confused conditions (his words). It does turn with paddle strokes, of course.

However, when banging along at speed in rough conditions, using the rudder to turn is highly preferable, as making offside turning strokes can be problematic or even destabilizing when things are dicey, especially confused chop or high winds.

The blanket statement that 'rudders are not used for turning' is simplistic, as it really depends on the boat in question and whether it was designed to function with a rudder or not. At the risk of offending purists here, naval architects I work with would consider that statement to be nonsense without the proper qualifiers.

All that being said, the OP wants to know about a rudder in a quicker river, which seems like a bad idea. WW hulls are almost the definition of a boat designed to turn without a rudder. However, I have to lean in the direction of JackL's comment below, having a rudder gives more options than not having one.

Racers use rudders to turn.
At least JackL does.

quiet gentle direction changes
carldelo says “Well, I’m not a beginner, but in one of my boats I often use the rudder in calm water if I want to change direction quietly to look at wildlife while coasting along.”

Good point. Fishermen may also want to chime in.

no rudder
Jack L says “As a twenty year paddler with kayaks with and with out rudders, I would never get another without a rudder.”

To my knowledge there are very few designs that can do with neither rudder nor skeg. An interesting exception are kayaks once made by Mariner Kayaks in the Seattle area. Their web site ( still exists and makes interesting reading. These kayaks are hard to find with the Mariner Coaster being perhaps the most cultish.

"The blanket statement that ‘rudders are not used for turning’ is simplistic…"

This is true, but in kayaks, in a current (class II is cited), rudders are pretty much useless and can possibly be considered risky.

A rudder turns a boat when the hull speed exceeds the water speed (by a significant amount). We have 4-5 knot tidal currents where I live and the large ships (speed limited due to harbor rules until they exit the strait) come equipped with tugboats on a tether whenever the tide matches the direction of travel as they simply cannot turn sharply enough to avoid the other craft in the (relative narrow passage).

At the speed of casual kayaking, rudders provide very little purchase, even in calm water. Thus, they don’t help a boat make rapid course corrections (in my experience). Any basic paddle stroke (or edged turn) will exceed the turning performance of a kayak rudder.

And even in class II water, the rudder is likely to be destroyed when one must make a major course correction in water where the rocks come within a few inches of the surface. They simply are not (and probably cannot be) designed for this type of usage.


no rudder
There are few few kayaks without rudder or skegs is one. I prefer a rudder especially in the rough water and heavy winds. I do practice in all conditions with it up in case cable snaps I an ready for it.