Paddling stability tips

I’ve recently purchased a cheap kayak from a sporting goods store as my first and beginner kayak. It has no foot braces and my first trip on the water was exciting to say the least. Very tippy. Can anyone offer any tips to help maintain a more stable kayak?

Also, will the addition of foot braces help in this respect?

I have bicycled for many years and to improve cornering one needs to weight the outside pedal and push against the saddle with the thigh of outside leg. Does pushing on the foot brace on the side you are paddling achieve a similar control?

Very big subject

– Last Updated: Apr-27-14 10:16 AM EST –

I suggest that you find some instruction or purchase a good DVD instructional video. I think you will be a lot happier and shorten the learning curve if you do that right away. If you get off to a good start as far as paddling technique including body rotation, involvement of the legs, bracing (high and low), edging, etc. you will be soooooo much happier. I got a lot out of the Nigel Foster multi DVD sea kayaking instructional. Worth every penny in my opinion. Some feel a live person is important and they may be right in most situations. For me the reality of the situation is that live instruction isn't going to happen so I did the best I could with DVDs. But, I had been paddling canoes (and some C-1) for 30 years when I started in with Kayaking. The Nigel Foster DVD set is sold here at There are other resources here as well. But my feeling is that the earlier you start ingraining good paddling technique the better. The tippy feeling will disappear. Also, once you start paddling you may feel that you need a better kayak with a good seat and foot pegs. No need to spend a fortune. There are many good used Kayaks out there. I should add that I understand that DVD package is very expensive and while I do think that it is excellent - you could find less expensive DVD's I am sure.

Once you learn some basics - must importantly how to brace with your paddle out to the side - it will all become very easy and second nature. Bracing makes your boat extremely stable.

My first impression…
… from you post leaves me thinking of two things. First, kayaks from sporting-good stores tend to be wide and stable, though often extremely short.

My first guess is that you simply aren’t used to small boats, and the feeling of tippyness will go away in time. Also, you really NEED foot braces, no ifs ands or buts. If you can’t install foot braces, you need a different boat. In any case, if you are new at this, you may be a lot more stable than you think you are.

My second guess is that you might be a big person who bought a very short boat, and you might be overloading the thing. How much do you weigh and how long and wide is the boat? A boat that’s severely weighted down in the water will be a lot less stable than when carrying the load it’s meant for.

Foot braces and balance
Foot braces help with getting to a better forward stroke by pedaling, nothing to do with stability.

Guideboatguy got to my thought first. Basic boats like you likely got are short, fat and wide… unless there is something different about what you got than the basic old Perception Swifty. Unless you take them places they are not supposed to be, like places where waves regularly approach 3 foot in height or surf or whitewater, are not normally going to capsize.

It could be that you are large and are really overloading the boat as already suggested.

Or - you could be expecting unrealistic flat, non-moving behavior from the boat. If the water under the boat is moving or choppy, the boat is going to move with the water. Unless you have an instant ice machine around you to stop the water from being bouncy, the boat can’t not wiggle around. But that does not mean it is going to capsize. It does mean that you have to loosen up and let it do its job, let it move side to side under you.

I know of a couple of people who stiffened up because their instinct was to try and stop the boat from doing all that wiggling. But the water always wins that one - both eventually capsized in calm stuff. They wouldn’t if they had been relaxed.

Some rec kayak makers go the
minimal outfitting route because, in the store, the kayak seems so “open” and friendly, easy to get in and out.

Outfitting for a sea or whitewater kayak can seem off-putting, restrictive. But when the right outfitting is achieved, you’ll feel real secure once in, and getting in and out can feel like donning and doffing a comfortable old slipper.

Foot support, foam here or there on the seat, around the hips, some foam stuck on so your knees and thighs contact the boat.

You can even try sitting in an appropriately sized whitewater or sea kayak in a good outfitting store. Will give you ideas for now and a plan if you decide to move to a more specialized boat.

Celia, you may have hit on part of the problem. I probably was expecting an unreal feeling of flatness. I have only paddled a sit on kayak once before some years ago and this is very new to me.

It was windy on the lake and the water was a bit choppy. I was trying to counteract the wind and digging in the paddle to go. Hence the tippy feeling.

weight and length
Thanks to you and all posters for your input.

I never thought the weight would be a factor in tippiness although it was a concern when I bought the kayak. I am 5’8" and 200 lbs, the craft is rated for 270 lbs so I am within the accepted range by a slim margin.

My kayak is indeed very short, 8 feet.

After reading these posts it seems as if my expectations are a bit out of line with the nature of a kayak.

I’m working on getting some aftermarket braces to install and am waiting to hear back from the manufacturer if any are available.

Foot braces, thigh braces and a seat
that provides hip support, or contact will give you a lot more control and stability. Without the proper body contact the kayak is not in your control and will feel tippy. Get the proper outfitting and you’ll be able to develop skill to control the kayak and feel much more comfortable. Getting some lessons will help a lot also and they can help you with some outfitting suggestions. Enjoy.

Another thing about weight ratings
There is no consistent method for deciding what is the maximum load for a kayak or canoe. Depending on the maker, the specified load rating might be quite reasonable or it might be pretty crazy. I would expect an 8-foot rec kayak to “act” overloaded with 200 pounds on board, regardless of what someone decided the load limit should be, but of course I don’t know enough about your particular boat to be sure of that. It’s just my hunch.

hmmmm red flag
When i hear the word "cheaP’…a red flag goes up…Cheap usually does not equal “stable” Its helps to have a stable boat to begin with then work on the skills to keep it more stable with paddle strokes, leaning etc.


Nitpicky answer
In actual fact, “cheap” usually DOES mean stable, as is the case for any boat that’s flat-bottomed and/or disproportionately wide. But as Celia pointed out, such a boat gets tossed around a lot more in choppy conditions, and as has also been pointed out, a truly tiny craft like this one is will reach the overload point if a fairly big person gets on board, and a lot of that natural stability of any flat-bottomed boat really decreases once it’s been pushed deeply into the water. But the bottom line is that wide, cheap rec kayaks are nearly impossible to tip over if not overloaded and if conditions aren’t terribly rough, and that meets most people’s definition of “stable”. Too much stability is not an attribute though, because other performance characteristics suffer as a result, and THAT is where the penalty of “cheap” actually comes into play (slow, less secondary stability, too easily tossed back and forth by steep waves, etc).

Stability comes with paddling!
There isn’t a canoe or kayak padder here that didn’t feel their boat was tippy the very first time they ever got in one.

If any one says otherwise, they are a liar!

Sit in your boat close to shore in shallows and play around a bit. Eventually you will be fine.

And yes foot braces do help

Jack L

Yes. learn to brace
Eventually you will learn to brace and to use the paddling stroke as a brace as well as propulsion. What seems tippy now will seem like a barge in a few months of paddling. Plenty of videos on Youtube on bracing and paddle strokes.

More thoughts
Having disposed of the most likely culprit… the inevitable movement of the boat in response to water, there are a couple of thoughts.

First, foot pegs and in general outfitting help with your control of the boat, which helps with the paddler’s feeling of stability by making the paddler better able to get some speed and allowing more control when doing things like turning. In general a kayak gets more solid as it moves faster.

But… there is nothing you can do to make an 8 ft long boat put out for people to muddle around on small ponds into a boat that is apt for learning real skills. You can make it a more comfortable version of what it is by adding outfitting, but it is still a pond boat intended for people who are not going to try to learn skills.

My concern is that, on a quick reread of your post, you talk about this as a “beginner boat”. Do you have bigger plans for your paddling, like bigger water, water with real waves etc? If you do, you may want to start poking around for a used boat that is already intended for that use rather than going nuts trying to outfit this one.

Beginner as in learning the basics and getting on the water solo instead of in a tandem canoe. I have no plans for big water as in ocean or anything like that. I like flat water or slow rivers for the scenery and wildlife and the “getting close to nature”. I have thought about a guided trip on Lake Superior in Michigan, they follow an old fur trapper route. After my first trip I realize I am waaay to new at this to attempt that sort of trip.

I had my heart set on an Old Town Loon, or Heron 10 footer but the money was not there. I plan on using this summer to gain and sharpen my skills and upgrade to a better, bigger kayak next year.

Once the water warms up I’ll try to tip it over to see just how far is too far, that ought to help me gain confidence.

As a kid my grandfather built a canoe by hand, bent the ribs himself, fiberglassed it, the whole works. My brother and I tried and tried to tip it over and could not. That went a long way toward my confidence in a canoe, seemingly that would work with a kayak too.

I’m approaching this as a learning experience and have already learned that I should have saved a bit longer and gotten a craft with braces. lol. Anyway thanks all for the input. I’ll keep in mind about the outfitting next time.

My boat is a Sundolphin Aruba 8 SS. I knew it was a cheapy going in.

Here is an idea
And by the way, an Old Town Loon was not going to get you any closer to a true skills-enabling kayak. Best that you didn’t spend even more money on that.

I have a suggestion for how to get really solid in a kayak for cheap. Do what you need to with the present boat to make it better to use, since it might take you some time to find what I will suggest.

But if you want a boat that will help you learn a good paddling stroke, brace and even roll for a couple of hundred bucks, look for a used whitewater river runner. Not a creeker, not a playboat - for reasons that you don’t need to grab right now, they might not be as apt.

But the whitewater folks change designs on these boats very frequently and the paddlers churn boats fast, and of course they are all plastic, so used prices tend to be lower than on the longer boats.

Fit is of more import on these boats than what you just got - for example a well fitting whitewater boat can easily be tight enough that you ditch paddling shoes for neoprene socks. But as far as skills go, there is little that you can do in a sea kayak that can’t be done as well in a WW river runner. They are a very different critter than the rec boat you just got.

Ask for advice from people here about what older, likely cheap and available somewhere boat models you should be considering. I am more of a shrimp so I don’t know your size boats well.

Modification to whitewater-boat idea
The thing with searching for a whitewater boat for general paddling is that you need one of the OLD-SCHOOL ones. Trouble is, they can be hard to find. Any of the recent models require a very skilled stroke to make them go straight, and they are just incredibly slow. A modern crossover kayak might not be so bad (still slow, but not dreadfully so), but they are noisy as heck due to constant splashing at the bow, something that would drive me nuts (I’ve paddled alongside quite a number of these).

One old-school boat I’ve seen a few times is the Perception Dancer. That boat moves very cleanly and quickly through the water, and yet it will out-turn any touring or rec boat, meaning the paddler will naturally have to learn to paddle correctly to go a straight line without wig-wag. My understanding is that many of the old-school whitewater boats were quite similar to the Dancer.

Interesting thoughts from many posters.

I pulled up the specs on the boat you bought - 8’ long x 28"" wide. This actually is not as wide as I expected, and is short as we knew. The Home Depot site (was the first on my Google search - didn’t even know they sold kayaks) says it has a max rating of 260 pounds, not the 270 you listed. A boat’s flotation is based on how much water it displaces. In general, a shorter kayak would need to be wider to maintain the same floatation (unless it wants to go deeper). I was expecting to see that this boat was 32" or more wider. It is very possible that this boat is undersized for you.

I don’t think you ever said what you mean by unsteady? Where you flipping over left and right, or the boat just didn’t feel steady but you were able to keep from swimming? If the latter, it is quite possible that you will learn how to deal with it in short order. If the former, you might want to check into the return policy on the boat before you drill holes or otherwise modify it.

Didn’t take a bath
It was tipping side to side with every paddle stroke. I did stay dry except for the dripping off the paddle. The biggest contributor to my unease was I knew the water was cold, probably in the 40 degree range. I stayed in water that was no more than waist deep in case I did tip out.