min. freeboard for sea kayaking

I saw this question come up some time ago, and now regarding Nate’s question regarding a good guide kayak. I know I’ve paddled my boats loaded to where the water was up to the deck/hull seam at it’s lowest point. It was sluggish but rock-solid in rough conditions.

I know there are no hard and fast rules but what are personal experiences regarding minimal freeboard in sea kayaks?

The more load the better
In rough water and wind I like more load in a boat. It hold momentum through waves and glides longer. Also winds have much less affect on the boat the deeper it is in the water.

For playing instead of straight ahead touring a longer distance more weight is awful. I accelerates more slowly, will not turn, doesn’t want to stop and is sluggish in flat water.

Depends on the boat

– Last Updated: Jun-02-10 1:57 PM EST –

Some boats paddle fine with minimal freeboard some don't.

I've often paddled my Romany with about an inch of freeboard at midship and it has been fine and still responsive. A loaded Explorer seems notably more sluggish than a loaded Romany. Of course for an Explorer to be loaded to only an inch of freeboard it is carrying a lot more weight than a Romany.

In general I prefer less freeboard. The less freeboard, the less windage.


– Last Updated: Jun-02-10 7:40 PM EST –

I'll tell you a couple things I've noticed when overloaded.

When surfing standing waves, I more often end up with solid water over my lap. When that happens I usually get pushed back off the wave because of the resistance. Sometimes that's just goes with the territory, but when my boat is lighter that happens less.

When leaning to the outside of a turn, the flat, sharp-cornered aft deck of the Pintail scoops up a bunch of water as the back of the boat slides sideways, especially if that flat deck is pretty close to the water to begin with. I've occasionally "tripped" over that buried deck-edge and tipped over or had to do a high-recovery.

I don't think there's a particular measurement of freeboard that fits for all boats though. It's more about the reserve that the boat has for handling rescues, and how it performs at various capacities. I want to be able to carry my basic load with fewer performance ticks, and I want to have more capacity for rescues, and carrying another paddler if needed.