P&H Delphin - a quick review

This is a quick (but long) take on the P&H Delphin 155 kayak, based on just over an hour paddling in swift white water (class II, II+). Will submit to the review section soon too.

I have been paddling the Wilderness Systems Zephyr 15.5 (plastic) for the better part of a year now. And having paddled it many times on the rapids of the Potomac below Great Falls (at levels ranging from 2 to 8 feet at the little falls gauge), having learned my first hand-rolls in it, and being generally quite comfortable in it, I thought it was time to see if the P&H Delphin can offer something different in the same conditions.

Me: 185lb male at 6’4” with US size 15 shoe and 36” inseam (hard to measure, but it seems a bit longer than most folks my height), waist 35-36” but apparently my hip bones are a bit wider than my waist line suggests. I’d say I’m an intermediate in that I feel comfortable in WW and surf and wind and waves and have taken a few classes along the way to show me that my technique needs work -:wink:

The Delphin is supposed to be a lot of things if we are to believe P&H’s marketing. On paper (or rather on-line), it is supposed to offer some unique handling characteristics. And if true, this can potentially make it a preferred choice for my kind of paddling: mainly moving water paddling (class II/III) on a wide and relatively easy to navigate section of the Potomac river, some windy days on the Chesapeake Bay with nice sized wind chop, and the occasional short day trip on open or protected flat water with a group of local kayakers at a slow to moderate pace.

So what did I find after a little over an hour at my favorite play spots? The short answer: in my opinion, the design seems to live-up to its stated goals, for the most part. And, if there ever was a mass-produced sea kayak that can claim it can surf, this has got to be it.

Below is a summary comparing the P&H Delphin 155 (the “D”) to my WS Zephyr 15.5 (the “Z”).

The D has higher and unmoving primary stability compared to the Z. It starts solid and grows into a good secondary stability. The Z seems to have light primary, which immediately begins to progressively and smoothly grows into solid secondary (higher final stability than the D). I can lay-back on the deck of the D and (even though I have to lift my butt to do it), it would sit square on the water with no effort needed to balance it (e.g., using only its primary stability), where with the Z if I shift a little, it tilts sideways and the secondary stability kicks-in. So, a rather different feeling.

Speaking of layback, the Z is one of the nicest boats for this – very low rear deck and the seat is far away from it. The D feels like it has a slightly higher deck but mainly the seat is closer to the rear edge of the cockpit rim, thus interfering with a full layback. I can’t lay-back flat on the D without lifting my butt off the seat a bit, where it is no problem at all in the Z. Regardless, the D is not difficult to roll but the Z I find is marginally easier for me (especially for laybacks).

The bow of the D is easier to move side to side with a bow draw/rudder (due to the relatively flat bottom and that the sharp front edge is out of the water on flat water). The stern is harder to slide (without edging). In contrast, the stern on the Z is easier to slide in turns, where its bow is harder to shuffle left or right with a bow rudder (still easier than most other kayaks of similar or longer water line, due to a decent amount of rocker and full ends that reduce lateral resistance).

Speaking of the D’s bow, it is noticeably less affected by cross-currents compared to the Z, which in turn is quite civilized in that regards. I did not expect it (due to the more vertical sides) but in fact, the D is more reassuring and stable in moving water than the Z. Both the bow and the stern are less affected by currents and eddy lines. So much so that a peel-out does not result in the expected sweeping action and hull rotation downriver and thus requires less attention and less speed to clear an eddy line.

The cockpit is longer and I can paddle with knees together even better than in the Z. There is a bit more foot room (the deck at my feet is narrower but taller than the Z) – I can wear shoes! Still a bit lower than ideal for my size 15 shoes, it should be plenty big for most “normal” sized feet. For me the D is a tighter fit (seat feels narrower), with a more connected feeling (less room on the outside of the knees). The width also feels narrower at the catch (where the paddle enters the water).

The D is faster by a little bit compared to the Z (confirmed by my GPS). Not a whole lot in terms of maintaining a speed over a distance, but may be 0.2 mph or so for the same effort that would allow me to paddle for miles on end. However, it seems to have a bit higher top speed due to full ends and longer waterline and more pronounced swede form of the hull. Bringing it up over 6mph with my short white water paddle was not a problem and I could go faster (did not try since I did not really care – it is not meant to go fast for long).

Flat water speed is not the D’s strength. For me it is a 4.5mph cruiser, may be a bit faster if you put the power down. However, I found that I could attain against currents on lumpy rapids much easier in the D than I can in the Z. On the first try I managed to climb over one particular section of a rapid that I have never before been able to do in the Z at the same water levels. I tried it an hour later with the Z and could not do it by a long shot. So no question, the D is capable of higher bursts of speed. The D can do that and the Z can’t due to a difference in the hull shape – on the D the rear is wide and buoyant with a flat bottom and does not sink down nearly as much as the rear of the Z when climbing over a pourover for instance. The bow does not lift as much either (unlike the D, the Z feels like it is climbing up-hill on the same water and stalls – the rear sinks down and the bow lifts up).

The D also planes easier so less of the hull goes through waves rather than over them. It has cleaner and faster release of the stern when surfing/submerged, which seems to make it more nimble and more eager to jump on a wave.

The D surfs better: catches waves easier and is faster down the face. In fact, it feels so fast that it can be more difficult to keep on top of the foam pile because as it wants to slides down the wave face.

The stern is well planted so stern rudders on steep short period waves felt ineffective. But bow rudders worked better than in the Z and were in fact effective in changing direction even when surfing small standing waves (about 1-2 feet high), as long as the bow was not cutting into the front wave.

The nose is harder to submerge underwater compared to the Z, but in steep waves suitable more for short WW playboats, it was not a problem to bury it all the way to my waist and it would have gone deeper was it not for hitting the river bottom. The Z gains volume faster from the bow back and has more dynamic lift at a steeper angle (the D has more vertical sides), so while it submerges easier and goes deep, it does not seem to have much problem coming out of the water nicely either.

The D has the famous P&H 4th hatch b/w knees. On some other models it has been in my way but in the D if is not in the way of knees together paddling. Still, my legs need to be positioned just so or my shins will make contact in a rather unpleasant way. But the convenience of a front hatch is undeniable.

The hull is stiff. But it is heavy! The tight braces do not appear to be adjustable, but maybe mine were just stuck (I did undo the pair of bolts and the braces wobbled, but they would not slide fore and aft – maybe I just don’t know how to do it, maybe they are not movable). They were mostly in the right place for me anyway.

The Kajaksport hatch cover (large) I thought was harder to close than the current WS design with the hard plastic center. I also felt like the D’s hatch covers were softer and yielded more easily in the center. Still, neither kayak had leaks in the hatches at all after an hour and a half each in the rapids with several rolls each. The D seems to have more storage room in the stern area due to more square profile and the smaller skeg box.

Speaking of the skeg, I found it hard to operate (depending on position). Very difficult to rise back up from fully deployed position (even with “proper” push action/no pinching). Worked fine from mid-way (maybe tension maybe friction prevents if to work smoothly from all the way down). Because the bow is so lose, dropping the skeg did not feel like stiffening the tracking as much as expected on flat water (but I could tell it works and makes the stern even less willing to release)

Without the skeg I thought the D tracked just fine. It felt balanced and would go in a straight line if I stopped paddling.

My WW-style full neoprene sprayskirt with a sticky rubbery layer at the rim, and that is watertight on the Z, leaked quite a bit on the D. That was from the two front sides (due to cockpit rim angle against gushing green water when the bow was submerged or I was deep in a foam pile on a wave).

There are fewer elastics on the front deck. They also start farther forward by several inches, which some may find too far (just fine for me - I still could hit my fingers on the sides, the only difference being that on the Z I hit the second set of fittings and on the D I do it on the first).

So did I like it enough to replace my Z with a D? Hard to tell. For the kind of paddling I described above, the D is slightly better in almost all respects: surfs better (I can imagine it will be even better on longer smoother faster waves), it attains better, is more reassuring/less affected by currents. The leaky skirt can probably be remedied with a different skirt design/manufacturer. And if the D was 10lb lighter, $500 cheaper, and the rear deck as comfy as the Z’s, I’d say yes, I’d buy one on the spot. As it is though, I won’t do it immediately but am still thinking about it. However, I more and more begin to question if I should transition off paddling WW in a sea kayak and increase the use of my dedicated WW boat for this. It just makes sense – the WW boat is more enjoyable and easy to carry to the put-in. So I am beginning to question if I even need a heavy plastic sea kayak to play in. But that’s another topic…

Thanks for posting
Great information. Am getting ready to sell a Capella and the Delphin is on the list for a more maneuverable, shorter boat. Haven’t paddled one, but did lift one at Appomatox River Company and was struck by the weight for its length. Anyway, thanks again.

Thanks for posting
Great information. Am getting ready to sell a Capella and the Delphin is on the list for a more maneuverable, shorter boat. Haven’t paddled one, but did lift one at Appomatox River Company and was struck by the weight for its length. Anyway, thanks again.

Great insight!
Thanks for a good report.


Anyone care to share their thoughts?
Curious to see what folks who actually have or have paddled the Delphin more than I have think of it. I have not seen too many reviews that I would consider “unbiased” for it (most Ive seen read like P&H commercials and I have no idea of the poster’s backgrounds…)

I guess I might also be interested in any differences in fit and feel compared to the composite version the Aeris.


my thoughts…

– Last Updated: Sep-22-11 4:04 PM EST –

My biggest plus is that it's a lot of fun in the surf. It's not a surf specific short boat of course but for a boat that can cover some distance when needed it's also fun to surf. I can nearly do a 180 turn using just a bow rudder which makes it easy to get positioned for a wave. It's hard chines make side surfing very solid. Normally with a boat new to me it will take a few tries in the surf to feel real solid, but with the Delphin my very first side surf ride felt rock solid. When actually riding a wave I can maneuver left or right an extra 10 degrees or more either way before a forced broach compared to my Aquanaut.

When side surfing the boat has an interesting tendency to get turn off the wave either to shore or out to sea. This can be handy but one needs to get the hang of controlling it since a few times I've gone from a side surf to a backward surf when I wasn't planning on it. This only happens as the foam pile mellows before eventually reforming into a swell before a second break.

With the skeg it tracks okay but I don't think I'd want to paddle more than ten or so miles before wishing I had my Aquanaut instead.

The back deck is pretty low which makes rolling and cowboy re-entries easy. Otherwise I consider the forward volume a bit high -- I thought maybe too high but it hasn't really been a problem in practice.

The plastic is so-so. It seems to be an outer layer of soft plastic and an inner layer of stiffer plastic. The outer plastic does gouge easier than my old indestructible Prijon but not too bad. The inner, stiffer plastic does tend to crack when the hull deforms from landings or hitting rocks. It would be nice if the inner plastic were stronger or thicker but that might raise what is already a bit of a heavy boat given the length.

I wouldn't want the Delphin as my only boat but I'm very happy I got it.

Have You Paddled the Alchemy?
How does it compare to the Delphin?

I can’t say I have …
… although I have -:wink: Just a few minutes during a Demo, so that does not qualify as paddling. I don’t even remember the fit of the Alchemy since I was immediately thrown-off it from how slow it was (plowing water at moderate speeds and increased resistance at speed). At that time I was looking at several day touring options and among the various choices I liked the best the Cetus MV (among Tempest 170 composite, Impexe Force 4/5, Venture Esky, and the 3 sizes of P&H Cetus). Was not looking for a playboat at the time so did not pay much attention to the Alchemy. Perhaps I would have through different if I had paddled it on river rapids, but I do not plan on that…

The thing is that unless one paddles both back to back in the same conditions (ideally the “target” conditions, e.g., surf, moving water, rock gardens, whatever), it is very hard to tell how they will behave in reality. I was somewhat surprised at the difference b/w the Delphin and the Zephyr, and IMO, just looking at the hulls, the Alchemy will probably behave more like a Zephyr, except it may be a bit more maneuverable. But I’ve been wrong before -:wink:

Same Here
I paddled the Alchemy at a demo recently. Slick calm water. I didn’t take the GPS with me but it felt SLOW. Hey, your thread about long vs short Greenland paddles got me curious. I’m doing some ‘side by side taste tests’. I’ll let you know what I find.

My thoughts
I’ve had a Delphin for a few months now, and paddled it (and other Delphins) perhaps 15 days. Trips have ranged from 3 hours at tidal falls to an overnight trip covering ~15 miles/day. Conditions up to 20 knot winds, 3-4 foot surf, maybe 8 knots current (not all at the same time!)

I’d say my experiences agree with much of what you said in your post. It’s suprisingly fast, easy to maneuver, tracks tolerably without the skeg, and surfs like no other sea kayak I’ve tried. When surfing breaking waves at the beach, the Delphin handles best when you line up just where the wave is cresting, and then drop-in with a single paddle stroke. Don’t paddle out in front of the wave - this boat rides best right up on top of the crest, and catches rides like no other sea kayak.

I have not found it particularly responsive to bow rudders. In fact, I think my experience is that the Delphin has a looser stern than bow, and stern draws or pries work better than bow draws. (The Pintail by contrast had a loose bow, and spun quickly on a bow draw.)

Like you stated, I have found that the Delphin is very stable crossing eddy lines, and if you end up pointing across the current too much, the Delphin cuts back really well with a deep edge and stern pry. It’s a dream in a tide race.

It’s not the easiest boat in the world to roll, but that’s the trade off for all that reassuring WW-boat stability. It’s got a very boxy profile, and full volume, so it’s not going to roll like a log. That said I’ve not had any problems rolling it in tough conditions. I use more of an upright-finishing roll, so the back deck hasn’t bothered me, but I’d agree that the back deck is higher than boats like the Zephyr or Tempest 165.

The knee-tube-hatch is fine, but I’d prefer a proper day hatch for safety equipment. I keep a water bottle clipped to my seat back, and also end up wedging more safety equipment behind my seat, since it won’t fit in the knee tube.

On 10-mile days, the speed has felt fine, and I have no issues keeping up with my partners. It feels faster than the Pintail. The Delphin also handles strong winds without complaint or weather cocking, although I learned not to keep much gear in the bow compartment. When trying to make miles on my own, my Aquanaut is very noticeably faster, and I’ll always choose that one if speed is a primary goal.

If I HAD to have one boat, I could think about choosing the delphin. It’s tolerably fast, and really fun. I think there’s a lot to be said for developing boat skills in a boat that’s not so easy to push around though. You learn to turn better in more of a touring sea kayak, so I’m not sure the Delphin is the best skills-development boat.


agree about not first learning in Delphn
I could imagine if I started in my Delphin then later I’d think some other boats just weren’t built to turn ;).

btw, nice choice in boats you have :slight_smile: I generally prefer my Aquanaut most times except bigger surf and rocks - it’s hard to describe but it just feels great to paddle.

Yep, great pair!
I agree about the Aquanaut. I thought I’d paddle the Delphin some when guiding and for short paddles, but the Aquanaut is just such a joy! The Delphin gets to come out for surfing, rocks, tide races, etc. They complement each other wonderfully.

"the Delphin has a looser stern"
A P&H design tradition: Cetus, Scorpio, Vela, et al have looser sterns. Valley and NDK boats (e.g. Pintail, Romany) often have looser bows.

It was not stiff by any means
but compared to the Zephyr there was a difference. The Z, when edged (and at speed), seems to make a circle around its nose quite wilingly. So does the Delphin. But when I try to just swing the boat around without edging and when not in motion, it is easier to swing the Delphin’s nose than the Zephyr’s. Basically, it is a relative thing. Both have their sterns lose compared to their noses. But the Z’s nose feels more planted compared to it’s own stern (when swinging the boat around without much edging and when not at speed). The D’s nose is also more planted than its stern but too but the difference is not so big, if I’m explaining it clearly. Could be just the way my trim works in either boat, but the D feels a bit more “balanced” for me in this regards.

I did not have a chance to paddle the D in winds to see how that translates in terms of weather-cocking. On the Z I get noticeable weather-cocking and deploying some or almost all skeg is necessary to balance it (which is to be expected from most kayaks, it’s just a gradation of how much; plus being so maneuverable it is really easy to correct too).