P&H Delphin - first thoughts

-- Last Updated: Nov-22-11 5:58 PM EST --

It has been a couple of weeks since I sold my WS Zephyr 15.5 (the Z) and bought the P&H Delphin 155 (the D). During this time I only paddled the D 3 times: open water in strong winds and steep short-period waves, pool-session rolling, Class II white water. Below are some notes as my first impressions, in case someone else cares -;)

My first outing was at the Chesapeake Bay in about 30mph winds and 3 foot steep breaking waves. I was somewhat underwelmed by the D in this environment compared to the Z: the D was more affected by winds when on top of steep waves and it was pushed a bit more by the "surf" making it harder to maintain my heading. The D felt faster down wind waves but not any easier to control than the Z and in fact due to its added weight and more solid stability did not feel nearly as agile as the Z.

My second "outing" was actually indoors ("ining"???), during a 2 hour pool session for rolling. While the D is easy to roll, I felt the Z clearly had an edge over the D for me in terms of easy rolling: especially easier to hand-roll, easier to lay-back.

However, my main use of the D is on the Potomac river in Class II and III rapids. I took it there today and as expected (and tested during previous test-paddles of a rented boat) there the D performs very well. In rapids the D is giving me a bit of edge compared to the Z. The D surfs better (catches waves more easily and is more controllable), attains better, has higher initial stability, and is less affected by currents.

Mind you, the above differences b/w the D and Z are not huge but I feel are enough to chose one or the other kayak, depending on the primary use for it.

Below are some additional notes of what I have found so far...

Summary: the Delphin 155 is first and foremost a sea kayak created for playing in rough and moving water. It can be used just fine to get you to the play spot and back in comfort. With its great stability and maneuverability it can be used for teaching and learning. The WW-style outfitting provides good contact with the paddler and is somewhat adjustable for fit. It will also work as a day boat or for short (a few days) touring. But it feels more than a little boring and is relatively slow on flat water and should not be your top choice if you only play in moving/rough water occasionally. For just paddling in waves and wind, as opposed to playing in surf or moving water, I feel there are better boats out there with less hull slap and windage that track better in demanding conditions and that are faster. The bow has significant yaw at each stroke even with the skeg down. Cruising speeds are relatively low compared to some more slender and round-bottomed craft, however top speed (short sprints) feels higher than the chubby design would suggest at first glance. The heavy weight makes the kayak feel sluggish to accelerate. The 3-layer plastic construction offers decent scratch-resistance but does not feel any sturdier and is heavier than a comparable single-layer boat I own. The high-volume bow catches wind gusts when on top of waves and demands a bit of extra effort compared to lower volume and better-tracking kayaks to keep pointed where you want it. Workmanship and overall quality can be good or not so good (my first D had serious defects, enough to get a replacement) – check yours when taking delivery.

About me: 6'4", 185-190lb, size 15 feet, 35-36" waist.

(+) Positives in more detail ==========:
Flat planning hull makes catching and staying on waves easy. Side-surfing in a WW hole feels like doing it in a planning-hull WW boat – the hull actually planes over the water and maintains maneuverability/ability to spin around while in the foam and being pushed over the fast moving green water sideways. I was able to control the D to maintain position on top of the wave or to zig-zag left to right on a relatively steep overpour play wave where several WW playboat folks (in 6 foot boats) also front-surfed.

The strong rocker and flat-ish hull profile make the D very maneuverable.

Turning into eddy lines requires less attention to perfect edging (fewer instances of upper edges of the rear deck catching the still water in the eddy as you exit the main current).

Strong initial and secondary stability – important when things get squirrely. It comes from the wide flat hull section and decent above-water volume.

Long cockpit – room to paddle with knees together and to enter seat-first (carefully, one leg at a time for someone with extra-long legs that only wears XXL size garments)

Backband ratchet system offers secure grip on the backband straps and they stay put after adjustment (see also negatives). The thigh braces feel solid and P&H has glued (but not very well) soft cushions on the hull for comfort.

Good volume – does not submarine easy and when on edge surfing, water does not wash over the side of the cockpit or rear deck too much.

Good foot and leg room for even tall paddlers. Comfortable seat. The seat width may not accommodate extra wide-hipped paddlers (the hip supports may need to be removed).

Front center hatch compartment is very convenient and can hold a 16oz water bottle plus some other small items.

Watertight front and rear hatches (small hatch leaks a bit), large size rear hatch makes loading easy.

Very neutral in currents (does not catch edges easy). Bow/stern can slide over currents due to flat bottom (softens the abrupt grab by the current when peeling-out from an eddy).

Easy to balance brace and roll for me. Full rear deck layback is possible without lifting my rear end off the seat, but only barely so and only with a PFD that sits high-up and the move requires good flexibility in the lower back to do it (shorter folks may not be able to layback flat on the rear deck).

Outer plastic appears to be a bit more scratch-proof than the single layer boats I've had (WS Zephyr, Wave Sport Fuse). Where I would see a deep gauge on my single layer boats from sliding over a submerged rock, I got small scratches or scuff marks on the 3-layer.

The skeg is easy to use and effective to plant the stern (except as noted below).

(-) Negatives in more detail =============:

Cockpit rim has straight sections on the sides and on the rear. My guess is that there is not enough smooth curvature to tension the spray skirt evenly. I have two neoprene skirts that don't let any water in on my two other plastic boats with similarly sized cockpits: the D is not as water-tight as it could be and I get small leaks when green water rushes over to my waist or during rolling.

Foot pedals mounted too low for large feet. The actual pedals are good size but the rails are mounted lower than optimal for me (again, take it in prospective - size 15 feet). Still more room than in the Z - I can wear my white water shoes in the D where I can't in the Z even with rails moved forward on it. The foot rails on the D are bolted 1” closer to the seat from where they could be (there is a 1"inch area where they could be screwed and they are screwed in the rear of this area instead of the front).

Non-vertical rudder holder hole on my particular Delphin (luckily, not many would put a rudder on a Delphin).

The thigh braces are a bit too forward - with long legs I feel they are about where they should be for me, but I imagine for shorter-legged folks they may fall too far forward and over the knee instead over the thigh. While they are adjustable fore and aft, the range is relatively small and they are not adjustable sideways or for angle (as are the ones on the Z), thus giving relatively limited options to adjust to your liking.

To retract the skeg into the hull completely requires attention. It is relatively easy to miss the last notch on the slider and then the skeg would hang about an inch below the hull instead of being fully retracted. THe skeg is non-kinking so not a big deal, unless you are being slid sideways or backing-up against something underwater. Adjusting the skeg rope off the water is a pain in the neck (but luckily, this is a one-time task, I hope). The knots have to be tied very precisely in just the right place for the skeg to retract/drop down as desired and I don't see this being an easy task with cold hands on a remote beach somewhere.

Flat front bottom causes slap against steep wind waves. While P&H would like you to believe their 3-layer plastic is stiff, I find the single layer plastic on the Zephyr both lighter and stiffer. The stuff in the middle layer is actually somewhat squishy and flexible compared to the outer layer (there was a large shaving in my D from manufacturing so I could see what's in the middle layer). Perhaps a function of hull shape and size to some extend, but the Z in plastic is at least 6-8lb lighter while it feels at least as solid if not more so in terms of overall hull stiffness on the water and when handling it off the water.

Front center hatch leaks a small amount of water (not much, but enough to get things wet inside).

Very stable when upside-down. Hand rolls are more difficult in this for me for this reason but also due to slightly more volume above water. Rear of cockpit rim is also a bit closer to the seat back than compared to the Z and thus makes laybacks more demanding (you need a low profile PFD, a flexible lower back, and a tall torso to do it well).

Tall bow with flat bottom is affected by strong winds (30+ mph with steep waves on relatively small bodies of water). The result is that the entire kayak is being pushed downwind, creating a feeling for lee-cocking in waves and wind that requires extra effort to counter (even with skeg fully retracted). To be honest, such winds and choppy seas will blow around most kayaks and I did not really struggle much with the D, so this is not a huge thing and should not be taken out of proportion. But in the Z, with a skeg fully retracted, I would end-up with slight weathercocking and with some skeg I would go downwind, or I could balance b/w the two; where in the D I felt I had to work extra to keep it pointed at an upwind angle with the skeg fully up.

Backband ratchet straps can slip out during adjustment and are hard to put back in place without looking carefully (effectively, no backband while out of the ratchet mechanism).

Heavy hull (close to 60lb). Susceptible to deformations from its own weight when stored on stands or on the floor. I had to work with heat at home to bring my D back to shape, after it was displayed over some padded kayak racks in the store.

Does not track particularly well (zig-zag/yaw), so somewhat inefficient to paddle in a straight line for a long time. Takes effort to maintain high speeds (even though top speed is good for short sprints). But the D is not intended for such use, so not really a huge thing here.

No day hatch behind the seat, so items that do not fit in the small front day hatch that I would typically like to have at hand during day paddling but protected from water in the cockpit (more water, food, celphone in case etc.), will need to be placed either directly behind the seat (where they could possibly get lost) or in one of the large compartments (so they are hard to access on the water).

Great observations
Thanks. Good to hear your first impressions.

Please update as you paddle it more.


Please dump your reivew into the review section for properity. In the message boards it will eventually drop out of sight.

I will… (n/m)
No message

Thanks for such an in-depth writeup!

I had been mulling over one of these for my goto rough water boat - but am now having second thoughts as some points in the (-) negative column are important to me.

Thanks again…

wow. great work
I always enjoy your reviews kocho. If you don’t write these professionally you ought to consider it.

If you got questions, let me know
It maybe a long list of “negatives” but the overall package is pretty good. I’ll edit a few of them, because I think they misrepresent the boat - for example, when I said the foot rails favor a shorter paddler, what I really meant that size 15 feet on a 6’4" person with 36"+ inseam (that does not fit in an Epic V12 comfortably for instance) could use that extra inch if the rails were mounted forward of where they are. The reality is, that someone with the same leg lenght as I but “normal” shoe size would fit very well there…

So, let me go back and adjust a few things to make them clearer. One reason I did not post to reviews first - I know I’d think of more to say or to remove once folks chime-in -:wink:

Great review -
Might want to include your height and weight etc. Also, in the roll department - how is it for lay back rolls?

I updated the review with that info
Laybacks are fine for me but only if I wear a PFD that is not bulky near my low back (one of my rescue PFDs keeps me a bit hither off the deck than ideal, another one that stays high-up allows me to lay back well). For a shorter person or someone with a stiff lower back may not be able to do a full layback. Still, much better than many other boats out there. The Z is more conductive to laybacks though - the rear end of the cockpit is farther away on it and the deck itself I think is a bit lower to the water too.

Someone posted a short video of the pool session - you can see the D in “action” there. I’m the one with the orange-red helmet. We swapped boats with the guy in the Yellow Tempest 165 so watch carefully which one is the D as the two boats are the same color): http://youtu.be/_v0gIELzc90 The “tempest” guy is also a lot shorter than I am and you can see that when he was in the Delphin he did a pretty decent layback so what I am saying above means that a full/flat layback may be difficult, but you can still lean back pretty deep even if you are short or not overly flexible. And on the positive side, standard sweep/screw and forward-finishing rolls work very well in the D and probably should be preferred anyway…

One more video …
Oh, well, let me post one more video of myself in the pool so you can see how the D rides with just under 190lb in it. This one is really bad now that I watched it carefully for the first time: I can now see why I kept missing my hand rolls in the D… I guess the Z rolls so easy that it had spoiled me into a poor hand-roll technique. I got something to work on next time in the pool… http://youtu.be/rCTDRxntuU0

Thanks for the excellent review
One question - have you ever paddled the Zephyr 16.0? I paddled both the 15.5 and the 16.0 and settled on the 16.0. My decision was based on my physical size and mostly my weight. I did fit in both cockpits which surprised me. But my weight turned the 15.5 into something akin to a squirt boat. There is a fairly significant difference between the two boats. I wonder also what the upper end of the practical weight limit is for the Delphin. I have to say that right now I am extremely happy with the Z 16.0 given my situation right now and so I’m just thinking ahead a little to a time when my weight get down some.


– Last Updated: Nov-20-11 7:26 PM EST –

The Delphin has a bit more volume than the Z 15.5 above water. Just yesterday I went to the river in some large waves (3-4 feet pushy standing waves on a fast rapid) and I felt it stayed above water a bit higher than the Z does in the same mess. Not sure how it would ride with you in it thought in terms of playfulness, but the 155 is the "big" version with the 150 being the smaller version (I have not tried that). For instance, the Cetus LV sinks down too much with me in it and loses its maneuverability, the regular Cetus rides too high and gets blown about by wind a bit more than ideal, while the MV is just right - both still playfully maneuverable, yet rides deep enough to not be aproblem in winds... I paddled the 16.0 Z only for an hour and I thought it was great - the only reason I got the 15.5 instead was that it felt a bit more maneuverable and a bit more slender (and maybe a couple of lb lighter). But for your weight the 16 may actually be more maneiverable and probably would give you a bit more stability too.

To be honest, for paddling (as opposed to surfing) the Z is probably a nicer boat than the D. But the D really planes-out on top of waves for surfing more easy and the flat planing hull allows me to slide sideways better than the rounder one on the Z. It is surprisingly unaffected by currents too. Since I mainly play in white water rapids (for flat water I got the surf ski or for more WW - a WW playboat), the D works a bit better for me than the Z. For bobbing up and down in confused water (clapotis) for instance or to paddle currents and do eddy turns, the Z is just as good if not better.

SIngle Layer
As an FYI, P&H has come out with a stiffer, reinforced single layer version of the Delphin called the Delphin surf.

From their website:

"Due to popular demand the Delphin is now available with a top end surf specification. The single layer construction and full white water outfitting gives a solid white water spec sea kayak ready to take on the most extreme of environments. "

Yes, link below

– Last Updated: Nov-20-11 7:15 PM EST –



I'll be sure to check that out when it comes to stores in my area. But when it does, it will be full price, likely for a while and from P&H I hear it will be close to $2K, a bit too much for my pocket (I had a great deal on the 3-layer this Fall so I got it, but unfortunately, it will be at least a year until something similar comes for the single layer, if at all)...

I’d be willing to bet

– Last Updated: Nov-23-11 1:02 PM EST –

the "surf spec" weighs even more, with its extra-thick plastic and additional hardware/outfitting.

enjoy your Delphin, I love the lines on it! I'll take good care of your Z and show her a fun time! :)

((edit)) update yesterday straight from the factory rep:
"I think that the weights are pretty similar to the existing Corelite Delphins. They aren't any lighter, and don't seem to be much heavier"

I’m told lighter
A dealer told me the Surf spec is lighter than the 3-layer boat.

Could be that …
Due to the reinforcements, they can get away with thinner and lighter plastic… My WS Zephyr 15.5 is about the same dimensions but is 5-7lb lighter than the Delphin and no flimsier by any means… the area that needs it most is the flat bottom … wait and see I guess…

Front Center Hatch Compartment
Doesn’t that get in the way? Knees bang into it entering and exiting the boat?

Front compartment

– Last Updated: Nov-22-11 5:55 PM EST –

It is the shins banging into it if not careful.

In practice it seem not to be a big problem. The thing is high-enough and there is enough room on both sides of it that I can get my legs in one at a time seat first (I got long legs, 36" inseam). I can also paddle with knees in the center rather than under the thigh braces (for more rotation during forward stroke, if the conditions allow).

It also appears easy to remove if desired, but I find it useful - I can have 2 16oz water bottles in there (a tight squeze and they should be flexible to fit) plus some other small items. A single 16 oz bottle fits very easy but rolls in there making noises, plus I like to have at least 2 bottles for short outings as I tend to sweat quite a bit -;)

I have to place my shin on the side of it or I can't put my leg inside seat first, so yes, there is some interference with re-entry ...

great review1
I enjoyed reading your review.

I liked how you compared two boats, that’s usually omitted in other reviews.

If you ever have chance to try other boats, please post your impressions