P&H Aries--Very Cool Boat!!!

I had previously asked a question about this boat here on pnet and decided to pull the trigger and get one. I did not get too many responses to my question and found little information online in the way of reviews so I am going to provide my thoughts about the boat and its performance.

I found a great deal on it at the River Connection in Hyde Park, NY. They were having a closeout on the models without the day hatch. It was too good of a price to pass up.

I was looking for a more playful boat for paddling in the surf, and need a boat that can accommodate a 200 pound paddler. Most of the 16 foot boats are aimed at lighter paddlers. I had also heard a lot of good things about the Aries and Delphin.

I got the boat out in the surf for the first time last weekend in the Triangle down at Tybee Island—a great testing ground for such a boat.

In all it is a near boat and a blast to paddle. I have owned a lot of boats, but have never paddled one quite like this. It is drastically different from any sea kayak I have paddled. I think the boat is a keeper. It is super maneuverable, very playful, a great surfer, easy roller and surprisingly fast for its length. It is a fun boat that I would consider to be almost radically different from other sea kayaks. Probably is not a good general purpose boat, but is a lot of fun for playing.

The fit of the boat is nice and feels somewhat between a Romany and an Explorer in fit. I usually paddle an Explorer and the Romany is too small for me with the stock seat. I found the Aires to be a nice fit, but I had to take off the hip pads which I felt made the boat way too tight at the hips.

The stern feels somewhat like the stern on a slicey whitewater boat. When you get it to unlock it feels almost as if it were slicing under the surface of the water, allowing the boat to spin 90 degrees in an instant, even when sitting stationary you can spin it. Very cool…and very different. I found this to be useful in the surf. When paddling out into oncoming waves, I was able to adjust my course accordingly to hit the shoulder of the oncoming waves and avoid the breaking portion of the wave. More significantly though, it allowed me to spin the boat around to catch an oncoming wave, and to do so with minimal effort. I find that I generally expend a large amount of my energy in the surf attempting to quickly turn my boat to catch on oncoming wave or to avoid getting hit sideways by an oncoming breaker. Being able to do so much more quickly and effortlessly is a welcome change.

On the other hand, this handling characteristic is a little quirky and took some getting used to. I still have not gotten the feel for when it will break loose. It seems that in dynamic water it will break loose instantly. In flat water it seems to hesitate in breaking loose and then suddenly just skid out sharply. I have not been able to figure that one out yet. I also found myself on a couple of occasions getting side surfed and then having the stern slide out and turn me back towards the sea such that I was getting back surfed. That was a little different and I have never had that happen before.

The high volume and high rocker bow is a great attribute in the surf. I found that it rode up and over oncoming waves or punched through them at top of the waves thus preventing you from getting pummeled and back-surfed by oncoming breakers. It also helped to prevent the bow from purling. In the one or two instances where it did start to purl I was able to lean my weight back and have the bow quickly re-surface.

Surfing the boat was a blast. It picked up waves pretty easily and surfed them very fast due probably to the flat hull. I also found it was the easiest boat I have paddled to avoid a broach by straightening the boat out on the wave, as long as you were reasonably high on the wave. Pulling a boat out of a pending broach is usually pretty difficult. I also was able on one occasion to change direction completely on the face of the wave from carving to the right to carving to the left. I was not able to repeat this but think it was largely due to changing edges. I will have to work to be able to repeat this. I have never had that happen before with a sea kayak. I also found that the boat would carve easily off the face of a wave rather than broaching. As a result I rarely got side-surfed.

The stability profile of the boat is different from other boats as well. It has high primary stability and good secondary, but I found the secondary to kick in pretty quickly and then give out pretty quickly as well when the boat is edged over farther. I am used to edging boats very deeply and aggressively. I found this boat requires more subtle and shallower edging. I initially found myself edging the boat too deeply and past the boat’s secondary stability. The stability profile of the boat was not necessarily to my liking, but it was effective in the surf and in clapotis. I only had to roll once and it was due to a rather stupid mistake. Rolling the boat is also very easy, partially due to the nice snug fit.

Tracking and speed of the boat was not too bad. It actually felt quite fast for its length and did not feel like it was pushing a big bow wave like a Romany does. In textured water the boat was very playful and fun and seemed to accelerate over small choppy oncoming waves while we were paddling out to the sandbar. After getting used to the boat I was able to maintain any course relative to the wind without a problem; although the winds were mild. My first time paddling the boat on the James River on a windy choppy day produced different results where the boat was all over the place for me, but I think it was largely due to not being used to the very unique characteristics of this boat. That being said though, this would not be my choice for a long open water crossing on a windy day (but that would seem to go without saying).

Gear storage (as you may have seen in one of my previous posts) was slightly problematic given the lack of a day hatch. The wide and flat rear hatch compartment allowed loose items to shift from side to side when edging which slightly upset stability on edge. As others have pointed out I can remedy this by inserting an inflated paddle float or floatation bag to secure items in place. A minor inconvenience that I can overcome.

Overall—a really cool boat for playing in rough water, fun and capable, super maneuverable and a keeper in my opinion.

Sounds like a cool boat…
Have fun. I’ve been enjoying a Delphin for the past year, and an Aries is on my wish list…

I greatly enjoy my Delphin and I think you’ll find that design “quirks” become assets, once you adapt. There may be one modification you will consider, depending upon how the Aries is outfitted. My Delphin came with the plastic slider footpegs, not the bulkhead (found in the Surf edition). They tend to jump the track with strong foot thrusts and I’m evaluating replacements.

I agree that the quirks can become assets. I am seeing that already. I also strongly believe this boat takes some getting used to and has a bit of a learning curve. I usually paddle an explorer in rough water. Its a very neutral boat. The Aries is anything but neutral. I have owned many many kayaks and am pretty quick to get the feel for a new boat. This one is taking longer to get used to but I am liking it more and more. I have to admit that I really didn’t like it the first time I paddled it.

Also agree on the foot pegs. They are comfortable but fleet and my feetslide on them a bit. I prefer yYakima foot braces.

Aries vs. Island Expedition

I know you didn’t paddle the Expedition for long, but how would you say the two compare? Was going to send you an email, but others may benefit from your further comments.

Hope to get on the water soon.


In the interest of full disclosure
I informed P&H of my concerns. They acknowledged that the plastic sliders with the black control rods are a little too flexible and shipped me replacements.

On the Delphin I had red …
… Twist handles for the foot pegs. I never had an issue with the pedals coming off and in fact thought they felt quite stable. I did a lot of whitewater and river surfing in mine as well as pool rolling - not an issue at all. The only “modification” I found very useful was to glue 1/4" minicell padding on the foot pegs - very comfy for barefoot use and slippage of the feet is minimized too.

I must admit, for my large feet the foot pegs were a bit too small, but still a lot better than the tiny Yakima on some other boats…

I’m giving them a fair trial before going in a different direction.

Comfortable Cruising Speed?
Have you ever measured the cruising speed in the boat?

Interested how it changes in head wind, tail wind, waves vs flatwater. Obviously not a racing boat, but it looks like it might plow a bit of water.

I have not measured the cruising speed. Given that speed is not much of an issue for me with a playboat I did not bother to take my GPS out with me…but that’s a good question. I will try to do it sometime just to see.

From a purely subjective point of view it did not feel significantly slower than my Explorer, yet paddled with greater efficiency at lower speeds due to the lower wetted surface area–just as you would expect. While I did not try to push it very fast, it did not have the noticeable and visible bow wave of a Romany. I find the Romany creates a bow wave that you can see and even hear being pushed along in front of the boat. I did not notice this boat doing that. Also the Romany and similar boats very noticeably “hit the wall” at about 5 mph. While I don’t know how fast I was paddling the boat I did not feel as if I had hit the wall as with a Romany or Avocet. The boat felt efficient and I did not feel like I was plowing through the water like with most shorter boats.

To address Jamie’s question about how this boat compares to the Island Expedition–that’s actually a great question. For those of you who are not familiar with that boat it too is extremely unique and has an incredibly loose stern which makes the boat unbelievably maneuverable for an 18 footer. It is a unique design with a very low volume stern that skids out easily.

The Aries is similar to the Island in that it is highly maneuverable and has a loose stern, but those are the only similarities.

I found the Island to feel fairly conventional in terms of its stability profile and overall feel on the water (when going straight). The Aries is much different from any other boat. It’s stability profile is unique, given its flat bottom. Perhaps it is more like a cross between a sea kayak and a whitewater boat with a planning hull in terms of its stability. The Aries also has a tremendous amount of rocker at the bow which makes the bow very loose.

The Aries will turn MUCH sharper than the Island. Unlike the Island the Aries will turn where you want it to go and not “oversteer.” I found the Island would just keep turning long after you wanted it to stop. The Aries is not like that. On the other hand the precise instant that the stern will break loose on the Aries is less predictable. I am not saying that it doesn’t start to turn quickly, but rather that it will suddenly start to turn MUCH more quickly once the stern is completely unlocked. When this happens it spins around at an accelerating speed. On flat water it is almost disconcerting at first and caused me to place a light brace above the surface of the water on the outside of the turn–it turned that fast. In the surf this turning felt more natural. I think the boat feels more at home in that environment.

Additionally, when the stern on the Aries does break loose it really does feel like it is slicing under the surface of the water. I asked my paddling partner to watch and he did say that water was up very close to the top of the deck in the stern when it was turning. It is an odd feeling.

Also, the Aries will actually spin in place with a good sweep, just like a whitewater boat will do. Pretty much all sea kayaks need some forward momentum to turn. Even the most maneuverable ones will largely carve a turn with some stern skidding and not truly spin in place. Not so with the Aries. Particularly if you time your sweep when the boat is on top of a wave or swell the boat will spin around 90 degrees which is pretty cool.


had to modify my foot peg slilders
I too had them derail. I finally put a zip tie around the peg slider and the part it slides on which seemed to help.

Something I did not address in my other posts which I probably should have is that I am really impressed with P&H as a company. The quality of this boat and the one other P&H boat I had which was a very old Bahiya were both outstanding. Both had a nice and neat build, and seemed quite strong. The Bahiya was apparently strong but was super light still as well. The Aries is not so light. I don’t know the measured weight but it feels about as heavy as my 62 pound Explorer. It’s solid though for sure.

I also like P&H’s forward thinking. The design of the Cetus impressed me as being rather unconventional and now the Aries is quite a bit more unconventional. Details like the forward day hatch and a quality seating arrangement are pretty nice as well. Frankly I also like the oval Kayaksport rear hatches. Of course that is a matter of preference, but I prefer kayaksport hatches over Valley hatches.

One characteristic I have noticed with both the Cetus and Aries is that they have high primary stability and secondary stability that kicks in fairly early. As such they feel to me like they don’t need to be edged as much to turn. That is something that I am not used to and I am not sure that I like since I like to edge boats deeply; however, I think it will appeal to a wider range of paddlers and that they have satisfied the market’s demand in this regard.


What’s so unconventional?
I look at the pictures and scratch my head. It looks like a sea kayak.

How is the Aries Unconventional?
Well that’s a fair question I guess.

I would say that the handling, design, and intended niche are all unique. First my comments on handling are comparing it to the boats I have owned or paddled. For the purposes of perspective this includes several shorter boats such as the Romany, Romany Surf, Avocet, Chatham 16, Nordkapp LV and Dagger Meridian (and a slew of longer ones–Explorer, Greenlander Pro, Bahiya, Legend and others.). I have not owned or paddled a Pintail or Anas Acuta which may be the only boats to compare to the maneuverability of the Aries. I also have not owned a Cetus but did paddle one once and I thought it too had a little bit different stability profile.

The Aries is much more maneuverable than anything I have paddled and turns differently than most sea kayaks in that the boat will actually spin, also is the somewhat odd characteristic of the “slicey” stern. Not conventional for a sea kayak. The stability profile is also quite different. If you paddled one then you will likely agree that the boat is “unconventional.” It is unlike any other sea kayak I have paddled.

As to the niche of the boat—I believe this boat is really aimed specifically at play and not to be good at both play and touring like many of the 16 footers out there. That is somewhat unique and perhaps unconventional. Most sea kayaks are really touring boats that we play in, rather than boats aimed at playing. My understanding is that they tried to incorporate some characteristics of a whitewater boat into a sea kayak. I think that they really aimed to create a maneuverable and playful boat and were not concerned about tracking or load carrying, etc. which would be important considerations for an all-around boat, which this boat probably is not.

Last are the differences in design. The boat has hard chines at the bow and stern and a rounded chine in the middle along with a very flat bottom. The chines are fairly unique in this regard and that combined with the flat bottom probably explain the stability profile differences. The boat has extreme rocker at the bow which is very out of proportion to the rocker at the stern, and the cockpit is set back fairly far.

I would describe it as being fairly unconventional. Perhaps unique is a better word—either way though the boat is quite different.


Thanks Matt
great insight as usual.

paddled some ww with Marshall
who owns ‘the river connection’, and I gotta’ say the guy is smooth and very competent. Nice to see you gave him some business, and I’d recommend any yakkers, sea/ww/whatever, looking for experience behind the sale and good answers to any questions to look him up. He’s on this forum from time to time.

Hey Matt!
You and I go a ways back - as we seem to share taste in boats and often get the same ones!! (literally)

In this case - I actually just got the “other” P&H Aries that Marshall had for sale…yea, the all-yellow with white keelstrip/trim - so thanks for leaving me this one!! Still haven’t picked it up from Marshall yet (waiting till I move to my new place) so am loving this writeup and thread!

It sounds as if this boat shares characteristics with the Tiderace Xtra and it’s flat midsectioned hull, hard chines, etc etc. Will be fun to learn more about it and will pick it up in the next 10 days or so.

Paddle on, Matt!


Aries/Delphin unconventionality
I’d agree with Matt that the Aries and Delphin are quite “unconventional” in the world of sea kayaks. Seeing a picture of one may not tell you much, but look at one in person, and paddle one, and I think you’ll agree. Concave sections under the bow, the flat stern sections, and the volume distribution are unusual. The way it handles is unique enough that I don’t generally teach in it, because it doesn’t provide a good model of what students are trying to achieve with their conventional boats. It skids sideways across eddylines like a ww boat, rather than tracking across the way other sea kayaks do. And the loose stern makes it respond differently to some strokes.

Not the perfect boat for everything, but I think it the aries and delphin are great additions to the kayak designs that are available.


yeah that’s kind of funny. Glad you are getting the boat. I would love to hear your thoughts when you pick it up. I really think you will find it to be radically different from anything you have paddled. You may not like it at first–I didn’t. It takes some getting used to in order to appreciate its attributes.

I have actually hear good things about the TR Xtra. When I was down at Tybee some folks down there were saying very positive things about it and described it as Tide Race’s best design so far. I would imagine that may be one of the few boats that might compete with the Aries for a playboat, but I have never paddled one.


I would add
It has whitewater outfitting from their Pyranha line, creating a solid bond with the paddler. I’d like to have that in all my sea kayaks.