Problems with rec kayaks

I know that it is an extremely ignorant and foolish thing to take rec kayaks on the ocean, but how much can they stand? Obviously not the ocean, but how about large lakes? Also, why are rec kayaks (besides their lack of bulkheads and perimeter lines) unsafe in such rough water? Is it their inability to be edged? Thank you!

Have you tried an on-water self-rescue?
And have you tried loading the boat up at least half full of water to emulate the effect of waves dumping into that very large cockpit?

The reality is that the hull design is not appropriate for big water - the barges are actually more unstable in waves than skinnier sea kayaks. But if you had ever tried an on-water self-rescue on a nice cool day in waves with a big cockpit/no bulkhead/no perimeter line rec boat… you wouldn’t need to ask this question.


– Last Updated: Feb-06-13 10:00 PM EST –

There's really not much point in saying "besides bulkheads." If your kayak does not have bulkheads and you go over, your kayak will fill with water and even if you right it, it will be virtually impossible to bail out and get started again, assuming you can get back into it at all. This sort of kayak should only be used in calm water, preferably within swimming distance of shore. Large lakes can easily get too rough for an inexperienced rec kayaker.

The exception is if your kayak carries two large inflatable flotation bags, which very few rec kayaks will be equipped with. You may (with practice) be able to right it and bail. But even then, a rec kayak really has no place in rough water. As mentioned above, the additional stability they offer on flat water actually works against you in high waves. The hull is more likely to be flipped over than a narrower sea kayak which, with a little practice, is much easier to keep upright.

Isn’t a lack of bulkheads & perimeter…
…lines enough of a big flashing “NOT SEAWORTHY” sign already? =0

As Celia said, take such a boat out in even moderate conditions (stay NEAR SHORE though), capsize it, and try to self-rescue.

Ooh, it’ll be a fun ol’ time, I guar-an-tee it. =)

The problem isn’t with the rec kayak
And it’s not a matter of how much a certain hull shape can “take”.

The key issue is how good are your paddling skills in the hull you’re paddling in the wind and wave conditions you’re in.

No matter what kind of hull you are in, if you tip over and can’t self-rescue, you are irrevocably in the drink. If the water is freezing cold and you are not properly dressed, you die. If you are too far from shore to swim to safety, you die.

Canoes have much larger cockpits and hold much more water than rec kayaks. Yet there are canoeists who paddle whitewater rivers, on big lakes, and on the ocean.

It’s a matter of your paddling skill and preparation in the wind, wave, temperature and other climate conditions at hand and expected during your journey – all guided by good judgment.

Let’s get more specific. Most canoeists, even ones with good paddling skills, cannot self-rescue in a solo canoe. Thus they are in the same figurative boat as most rec kayakers. If any of these boaters tip over, they are in the irrevocable drink.

So here’s what you do:

– Never go out in wind or wave conditions that are, or are expected to be, more than your skill level can handle.

– Never go further from shore than your ability to swim back. This distance will vary with your age, your physical condition, and the temperature.

– Always dress for water immersion.

– Carry a ditch kit with rescue and signalling devices.

– Paddle with someone else if possible.

– Wear a PFD.

– Have your hull equipped with safety gear such as lines.

Most of all, use good judgment as to when, where and how far from shore to paddle.

Of course, the problem is that one can’t get good paddling judgment from a book, a video, a chat site or social media. Good paddling judgment only comes as the result of a cumulative series of bad paddling judgments, either personally experienced or directly observed.

In the meantime, get whatever affordable hull pleases you, and use conservative common sense.

except canoes and rec kayaks
are different beasts to empty of water. Rec kayaks typically have one bulkhead open, sometimes two. Even if you have a partner in an accompanying boat, your rec kayak if it has one bulkhead will fill with water at the unsealed end and point to the sky. Its very difficult to empty one of those hulls with water… with two unsealed ends the boat will be level and perhaps underwater, but its still darn near impossible to empty of any water.

Having had to fish people out of capsized rec kayaks twice in calm water nevertheless, it’s not an experience I want to engage in again.

Cleopatra’s Needle effect

– Last Updated: Feb-07-13 12:51 AM EST –

Rec boats go up-an-over every wave, not slicing
thru much of anything, while broaching, pearling,
and all to often capsizing due to the large big flat hull bottoms.
It can be physically exhausting controlling the boat.

The big flat hull gets all the force/energy of the wave.
A less wide, slightly elliptical hull, acts more
like a weeble toy - wobbling a lot ,but not going over.

There is a condition where sooo much water fills
the rec boat it becomes essentially like buoy in the water

Water weighs 8 lbs a gallon, lifting anything out of the
water becomes extremely strenuous and needs careful thought.

Float Bags help this issue tremendously,
by keeping the water out to begin with, via pure displacement

Canoeists will do a move called Capistran Flip
basically turning the whole canoe upside down, first,
letting the water fall out and then flip it mid-air.
Takes a bit of practice and is usually done with 2 people.

guess I don’t fully agree witt…

– Last Updated: Feb-07-13 1:55 AM EST –

I guess I don't fully agree that it isn't a boat problem, but a skill problem. Rec boats are meant for flat, protected water, and whether skilled or not, if they flip away from shore, they are near impossible to get the paddler back in and boat dry. Added skills just minimize the chance of the paddler getting in trouble (hopefully the skilled paddler knows what to avoid more than the unskilled).

The way I see it, rec boat designers are trying to take the best of touring and SOT and bring them together. SOT are wide, stable, etc., but you sit on top so are exposed to the elements and generally always wet. Touring you sit inside, so are protected from the element, but in a narrow boat that many think are tippy.

Rec boats are wide and stable, but you sit inside so get some protection from the elements. Unfortunately, the trade off is that should you find a way to flip the rec boat, it is nearly impossible to get back in while on the water. A wide boat should be less likely to flip, but it can happen. And using them in larger conditions (like waves) increases the chance of flipping.

Actually, on that - a wide boat will want to sit flat on the water. When the water is flat, the wide boat feels very stable (very high initial stability). But if the water becomes wavy, that wide boat tries to stay parallel to the surface, but these waves make more vertical surfaces. So the wide boat gets vertical. Narrow boats, like touring kayaks, don't have that super high initial stability, so are better able to let waves roll under them without the boat getting vertical.

On deck lines and all, truthfully that isn't a rec specific thing. I still remember touring kayaks that didn't have deck lines (though it seems that most now come standard).

Not sure there’s any real disagreement
If a rec kayak paddler has insufficient skills to stay upright in wind-wave-current-rapids condition X, and if that rec kayak paddler has no roll or any other ability to self-rescue, he’s not going to be better off in condition X if he’s in a touring kayak or a whitewater kayak. He’s in the drink regardless of hull because condition X is beyond his skill and self-rescue ability.

I’m assuming a solo paddler, alone, for the sake of argument.

It doesn’t matter that a canoe can be shaken out by him easier than a rec kayak because, by my assumption, he’s not able to get back in either one of them even if he can empty it. (I, for example, haven’t been able to get back into my solo canoes for 20 years now.)

So, therefore, this paddler should stay in calm, protected waters and fairly close to shore no matter whether he is in a canoe, rec kayak or touring kayak. He shouldn’t think he can take bigger risks in a touring kayak – which can “take” more than a rec kayak – because, by assumption, he doesn’t have the skill stay upright or self-rescue in any hull in condition X.

Conversely, if the paddler increases his skill and develops a reliable self-rescue method in condition X, he can then confidently paddle in condition X. Now if he’s in a touring (or whitewater) kayak with a Conan roll he can go into even worse conditions.

In fact, if he becomes an advanced kayaker, he can probably customize a cockpit skirt and flotation for a rec kayak, and go paddle and roll in the almost the same conditions as in his touring kayak. It wouldn’t be a preferred or efficient hull for those conditions, but he could be safe and confident. By that time, if he’s taken by the sport, he’s already out of a rec kayak and into something sportier.

Some people encourage newbies to start directly with touring kayaks, proper instruction, etc., and I don’t have a problem with that viewpoint. However, I think starting in a rec kayak is just fine and makes a lot of sense for most newbies, as long as they realize that they should limit the conditions in which they paddle until their skills and equipment improve.

In other words, I don’t like to dissuade newbies from rec kayaks. Just get a boat and start paddling. If you don’t take to the sport, you won’t have spent a lot of money. If you get addicted, you’ll get a touring kayak or 12.

And, of course, if you want the ultimate in paddling elegance and sophistication, you will become a kneeling canoeist. My one day a month as a kayaker is now expired.

Rec kayaks are as safe as the user …
makes them!

Jack L

Thank you
I had realized that the absence of bulkheads would mean that the kayak would fill up with water when it is flipped, and that I should not try anything above my skill level.

I have a Perception Sport Conduit 13 (Dagger Catalyst 13), and it has bulkheads and a smaller cockpit than most rec kayaks, though larger than touring.

I have only paddled calm lakes with it, but after reading many articles here and watching multiple Youtube videos, I had thought that, with a buddy of course, and not feeling overconfident because of my new knowledge and lack of experience, I would be able to brach out into rather larger waves (NOT the ocean)after practicing self-rescues and braces in calm water.

I know the Conduit is more “reccy,” but with the proper precautions, are 1-2 foot waves (max) plausible?

Those things are really only for swimming areas.

Paddler not the boat

– Last Updated: Feb-07-13 8:07 AM EST –

I was on vacation in FL a year ago and my brother and I rented these rec boats and did some mangrove paddling and ventured out into the Tampa Bay where it was rocking and rolling. No skirts. We have good skills and played around a while and headed back. When we were back we were putting them up on their sides sculling with the water just under the coaming lip. Lots of fun and we were showing some renters that you can do a lot once you know how to paddle but never forgetting the shortcomings of the craft. The problem with rec boats is that most of the time the paddlers know nothing.

The basics

– Last Updated: Feb-07-13 10:56 AM EST –

First, do you or the potential buddy know how to do rescues or braces properly? If neither of you does, even finding out how much won't work is a good way to get hurt. Hauling this boat up and over to empty out the water in an on-water assisted rescue is a very good way to hurt the rescuer's shoulder or have a bungie snap and the boat slides back into the swimmer's head. Braces done wrong are not nice to joints either.

If you want to find out how this stuff should work, find some pool sessions if you can near you. Then figure out what can transfer.

As below, people have added perimeter lines to a boat like this. Your choice there - whether to work up this boat or get some seat time and figure out if you want to look around for another.

As to the wave thing - people focus too much on height by itself. If you are caught in a sudden weather change on open water one foot may be more than you can handle and you capsize, on a calmer day with less wind long three foot rollers in an ocean bay could be no problem at all.

The biggest factor in avoiding capsize is the paddler. If you think that 1 to 2 foot waves are big, you are more likely to stiffen up which of itself can take a boat over. I know a guy who finally managed to capsize his Pungo, all by himself on a calm day, just two weeks after we paddled with him and I told him he was going to capsize himself because he was so stiff. I still don't think he understands what I meant unfortunately.

That said, a boat's hull is designed for a given purpose, and boats like the Conduit are NOT designed for dimensional water. This is something with which the maker agrees - from Perception's site: "A great boat for touring lazy rivers or doing some exploration on smaller lakes."

Note that in both of the above-mentioned cases, the shore is not going to be too far away for a decent swimmer to reach.

I get the sense that you got a boat which has capabilities less than your goals. Go get some basic skills, then consider moving up thru used boats.

And you seem to be looking for a hard and fast answers here - not likely to happen. My husband and I spent a few summers taking Swifties out into the middle of a small bay at dusk to look at things like an eagle's nest - that trip was absolutely dumb but we got away with it. However, we were never dumb enough to try crossing a channel to go a half mile out to a different island, other renters from this set of cabins did try and capsized. A few years ago a young man on his honeymoon in Bar Harbor went out in a Swiftie, and very likely never got more than a football field away from shore. They found his body a couple of days later.

The difference between the tragic accident and getting away with it on the water is how close you are to shore, the temperature of the water and the blink of an eye where something gets away from you. And a hell of a lot of luck - we have at least one moment where a simple change in the wind direction would have turned a messy but recoverable situation into a newspaper story. Anyone who paddles long enough has one of these, or more. So being able to recover from a problem is huge.

In defense of rec boats
…one of which I paddle happily in not always flat conditions, it’s three things that make it unsuitable for big wave action:

  1. flotation, which CAN be cured with float bags front and back;
  2. wide shape makes them subject to much more force in wind and tide or opposing waves, so harder to handle, which you cannot cure;
  3. flat bottom makes them very unstable when hit from the sides by wave action, and that’s the kicker that turns them over and turns “unsuitable” into “unsafe”.

    I do not agree that you can’t self-rescue. And I added perimeter lines to mine (not all can do that BTW) to help.

    Float bags front and back DO take care of the swamping issue if capsized, pretty much the same as for SOF kayakers, and remember that some of those are among our heartiest paddlers!

    But you cannot get away from the fact that the shape is subject to capsizing in wave action.

    Paddler skill is the big FIRST limiting factor people fun into, not the boat itself.

Your kayak is FINE

– Last Updated: Feb-07-13 9:38 AM EST –

Your particular kayak is perfectly fine for taking out in the ocean. It is not as fast as longer sleeker kayaks, but it is more stable without being a barge. Has 2 bulkheads and a decently sized cockpit that allows easy re-entry while not being too big to be hard to protect well with a skirt. The lack of skeg might make you work harder in winds, but because of the short length of the kayak, unlike with longer kayaks, you will likely not run into too much problems trying to control where to go in strong winds. But, you have to try it in controlled conditions to make sure you can manage it.

You can roll it, you can re-enter it, etc. like any other "real" (non-recreational) kayak.

Does not have perimeter lines but has lots of points to hold on to. You can add a line between the rear carry handle and the rear bungies and similarly on the front. Or if you like install full perimeter lines - paddling stores sell the necessary hardware and it will cost you probably only $20 bucks or so.

Shorter boats like this can be a lot of fun in shore break and short-period steep waves.

I paddled for a couple of years a Perception Sonoma 13.5 and (other than the lack of a front bulkhead) I did not feel I was missing much compared to longer kayaks. I did add a line between the bow and the cockpit and I did not need that in the rear as the stern is so short and there are already bungies there for storage and can hold onto them if needed or the rear handle. I mostly paddled it in rough water but it goes without saying it was fine in the flat too. That was 22.5" wide so not as stable as yours and very fast for its length but otherwise probably a similar experience...

So, if you can handle the conditions, this particular boat of yours will not be an issue for general use.

Oh, and flat bottom and wide beam does not automatically equal unstable in waves. If the paddler skill is lacking, a wider boat will be much safer for them than a narrower one with a rounder bottom. Some of my white water kayaks (say Axiom 9.0 at 27.5" wide) are wider than the OP's boat and with just as flat bottom (the Axiom is as flat as they get, for surfing and planing). Yet I have not heard anyone say that they need a 19" white water boat for added stability in rough water - just the opposite. You will find that WW boats generally have a LOT more stability than most sea kayaks because they need that stability in rough conditions; they are very similar in stability to rec boats, in fact. The key is to let the boat move with the water and to not be afraid to capsize from time to time...

All of the above - my opinion, so take it as that and it might or might not hold water for anyone else's situation :)

Bulkheads are a compartively recent
addition to kayaking and even to sea kayaks. I think if you were to look back 20 odd years or so,you’d find examples of bulkhead-less, long and thin boats intended for the sea and touring use.

When I first kayaked, ~40 years ago (with the Scouts) there weren’t even float bags readily available. That didn’t stop us from filling the front and back of our kayaks with polystyrene and/or plastic containers (properly secured of course).

Oh no,
I was not thinking of long trips or kayak-over-kayak rescues. I would only go out for about an hour, and not more than (maximum) half a mile out. I had thought that I would be able to pump out my kayak before I got back in. I would be close enough to shore to retreat if the conditions suddenly change. I know it says that about calm lakes in the description, but I thought that it was a Dagger Catalyst under a different name, and a reviewer states that he weathered 20 foot waves (I know, probably not) in his.

I just wondered how the hull would act, and if it would be very dangerous.

Sorry to not clarify this at the start, but I am knowledgable, though not experienced. I taught myself how to paddle forward (torso rotation, ideal feather angle, using foot braces), edge, and do sweep/draw strokes. There are no classes that I can take without a good deal of traveling. I have been reading and watching the videos for about a year now, and I thought that I would be able to pick up experience pretty quickly. I intend to go from low to moderate skill levels, so to speak.

Thank you very much for all your help so far!

Sorry, but you are not capturing this

– Last Updated: Feb-07-13 5:40 PM EST –

What the hull can handle is irrelevant if you can't handle the conditions or fix a problem. Working on a correct forward stroke is admirable. But it is not remotely related to doing an on-water recovery nor is it going to provide you comfort if the boat starts moving side to side more than you are used to. Those are other realms. It sounds like you have not been willing to actually try any of this out, instead you are "thinking that you could..." do a number of things.

You might be able to pump it out on the water, though your arms may easily fall off before you have the thing emptied out. There are steps in an on-water recovery that can help dump water out of the cockpit without adding to exhaustion - in fact that is why assisted rescues involve boat over boat. That's how you get the water out, and it beats the heck out of pumping.

Only you can answer the question of being able to swim that far back to land. Personally, I'd rather stay with the boat and be able to get back in for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that you are safer from power boaters sticking up in a boat than being a little head swimming out in the middle of a lake.

I am sure that this boat in the right hands can manage some pretty severe conditions. But I would wager that anyone who took it into the extreme stuff you are talking about has a number of other skills that I am guessing you lack - like great comfort in waves, a solid brace and likely a roll, and time practicing a variety of self-rescue options so they know exactly what they can do when things get dicey. They are not depending on theoretical options, but ones that they have tested and know they can execute.

That is really the crux of this. Rec boats or even transitional boats with big cockpits make recovery from a problem more challenging. In some situations the combination of the boat and the problem could make it impossibly exhausting, in other cases the situation could be more manageable. The tragedies related to people in rec boats are usually the result of the paddler not having a pragmatic understanding of those limitations, and given that rec boats appeal to beginners there is a lot of that to go around.

It is entirely possible that things could go wrong and you'd manage a recovery OK. It is entirely possible that you would find you have unusually good balance and don't capsize when others would. It is equally possible that things could go wrong and you would find out your ideas were not going to work in the event of a real capsize.

The problem is not what might work for someone else, but your own apparent reluctance to get wet to find out what works for you. If you have been working on the forward stroke, you've had plenty of opportunity to capsize this boat and do this.