Question on kayak size and seaworthiness

Newbie question, please forgive. I have a Manitou 13, which is a classified as rec (tho I prefer calling it a hybrid) boat, due to length, width, and cargo capacity. I am just curious about what it is about the larger sea kayaks, such as a Chatham 16 or 18 that makes them more seaworthy in big, open water. Cargo capacity and length to tracking aside, is it just that the length makes them more controllable instead of getting tossed about? Does the width on the 13 make it harder to roll back over if it capsizes? They say the 16 is better for rough water play due to rocker and shorter length, so wouldn’t a 13 be even better, assuming it had enough rocker? Answers don’t have to be Necky specific, those are just the boats I know the most about.

You touch on a lot. Your Mantou 13 is in fact an outstanding rough sea boat. It was designed by a world record holding shaper! What keeps it from being classified as a legit coastal play boat is it’s large cockpit, and lack of front bulkhead. Length is not an issue. It is possible to outfit that kayak with Whitewater thigh hooks and a backband, along with aditional front flotation. The result is a very capable rock garden boat etc.

Sea kayak tourers have been told that longer boats are more seaworthy and faster…both comments are not necessaily true.

The Chatham 16 is a better rough sea compromise than a Manitou all round for sure, but lot’s can be done in so caled “rec. boats”…Necky or otherwise! Beware absolutist comentary…the mark of a newby…

I’m no expert

– Last Updated: Jan-15-08 10:39 PM EST –

But I've paddled my 17 foot Arctic Tern and a 12.5 foot Walden Vista in the same confused seas where a river runs into the ocean. The water pushed the short boat around a lot, and it was much more work keeping it straight and moving it forward. The 17 footer handled the same conditions with relative ease. Didn't need a rudder, just a little knee-hang leaning. Lots more goes into sea-worthiness than length. But other things being equal, I think it matters.


– Last Updated: Jan-15-08 11:25 PM EST –

I'm actually the dude that e-mailed you a couple months ago after reading a post of yours talking about outfitting the Manitou 13. If the cockpit is too large does that just mean its easier for water to knock the skirt out of place? Oh and whats the advantage of backband? You didn't touch on that in your email reply

What are the dimensions of the cockpit opening? What flotation does it have in the bow? Does it have deck perimeter lines?

Don’t remember the inches measurement
It takes a 2.2 size Seal Skinz skirt, and it does have perimeter deck lines, and a big block of foam in the bow that doesnt create a sealed chamber

The difference between a rec boat and a
seaworthy sea kayak has nothing to do with length. I paddle a 14’ Impex Mystic. It is totally seaworthy. The difference has to do with the size of the cockpit and whether it has sealed bulkheads and perimeter deck lines. If you capsize in a Manitou, it would be difficult if not impossible to get it emptied and righted. And while it may be possible for someone to roll a Manitou, it would take someone who already has a strong roll. It would not be easy for someone to learn to roll in. As a rec boat, the Manitou is a fine boat. In calm big water, it would probably be fine. It would be a mistake to take it in big, rough water. It’s about having the right tool for the task.

Interpretation of “Seaworthiness”

– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 10:27 AM EST –

There really are multiple things being talked about here.

One is what most people first think of as "seaworthiness". That is how the boat's hull design handles being hit by a wave or swells in open water. Salty's post is mostly on that, and yes the boat itself may behave well and tend to stay upright in those conditions as long as the paddler stays centered and relaxed.

Another discussion of this kind of thing can be found in the thread titled "Stability" - I forget what board it was on - a couple of weeks ago. You'll see a preference among many (myself included) for less wide sea kayaks that hit a clear wall of what is often called secondary stability. Some of the conversation is that these boats are not really more stabile in the physics sense, but that they are more responsive to paddler control in those conditions. Both of these things tend to be interpreted as seaworthiness.

Another point mentioned above is how easy it is for the paddler to proceed forward in conditions. There's a point that a longer boat is a better tracker and makes it easier to get somewhere without killing yourself paddling in waves etc. Since people paddling in open water conditions are more likely to be trying to make significant distances than people who go out for a paddle around a small pond, this starts to matter. And while there are 16 ft boats with so much rocker that going straight is as challenging as in any much shorter boat, overall a longer boat will probably go forward thru waves with a few less paddle strokes.

Finally, there is the issue of how easy it is to for a paddler to get a boat upright and emptied of water, and themselves seated back into it, in the case of a capsize. That's maybe seaworthiness, maybe safety, maybe both. And that's where the boats like the Manitou 13 have more serious problems. Without the paddler doing things like adding floatation and learning strong skills, the size of the cockpit and the limited control surfaces can make it much more difficult to recover from a capsize in waves and chop than many full sea kayaks. As the boats get shorter they also tend to have less deck rigging and perimeter line to hold onto, which enhances the likelihood that the paddler can be separated from the boat.

Two odds and ends - in waves etc a neoprene decked skirt rules because they stay put. Someone who HAS (oops when I said not) become comfortable with sculling and deep braces and rolling, the stuff that makes this boat safer in big water, has usually graduated to a neo skirt.

And yes, the combination of boat width and looser cockpit of the Manitou make it a tougher roller than many 17 ft sea kayaks. But it's not just the width, it's the allover design. It is also a tougher roller than many wider WW boats, but the latter are much lower volume and the entire hull is performance tuned in a way that you don't see in most longer boats.

a bit more
As salty said, size is not the only thing that matters.

Here is one kayak, that is short and definitely seaworthy:

All good points

– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 10:05 AM EST –

And it all goes back to how you define the term. You could argue that a whitewater boater running big class 4-5 water is "handling" rougher conditions than most sea kayakers ever will, in an 8' boat with no bulkheads or perimeter lines.

The reason I wouldn't call it "seaworthy" is that you couldn't make much progress against wind and current, and your self-rescue options would be very limited. But upwind of a safe shore it might be an entertaining trip.

That said, the most important component of survival at sea is the one sitting in the cockpit. A skilled paddler in a Manitou would be much better off than a novice in a Chatham.

Yup - Rockhopper

– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 11:21 AM EST –

Great example of the varying approaches. The Rockhopper is probably on the physics of it better at handling waves than most full length sea kayaks.

But as above self-rescue options may be limited by lack of rigging, and it's not a boat that you'd want to paddle over a long distance crossing or stuff a weekend worth of camping gear into.

So - seaworthy, yes. A boat that you would take for an ocean tour - probably not.

two different questions

– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 11:08 AM EST –

one has to do with the amount of flotation compared to water in the cockpit in the event of capsize. Rec kayaks have a lot more cockpit water compared to flotation than "sea kayaks". That means assisted and self-rescue are complicated or more dificult in rec. kayaks compared to sea kayaks. In that sense it's less seaworthy.

The other question has to do with handling/hull shape. That really is a big variable considering the range of hull shapes in the rec. category and paddler skill.

My $.02 is that the Manitou 13 can be more "sea worthy" than some sea kayaks. The critical point comes to capsize. If your legs aren't long you might consider adding thigh braces to the Manitou13 if you feel you need more control in waves, I've heard of some people doing that.

As mentioned the problem is having a vague definition for "sea worthy" when it's really whether the boat is "worthy" for your skills and the conditions. A crappy handling sit-on-top could be 'sea worthy' and a tippy skin boat with marginal floatation can be "sea worthy". Both of which might dump you in choppy water.

Back when I was looking for more maneuverable sea kayak than the Solstice I was trying to decide between the tippier Arluk IV and Swallow. I went with the Swallow. This was while I was learning to roll so I had no bracing skills. For me the Swallow was more sea worthy because I'd be less likely to capsize in it. Sure enough I went into conditions where other folks with the same or fewer skills capsized.

There are some long skinny sea kayaks with crappy response with waves from the stern,Necky ArlukIII for example,than a shorter round bottomed hull which will provide a less abrupt transition as the wave moves underneath the hull. For me that makes the ArlukIII less seaworthy than another design.

Deck Rigging

– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 11:47 AM EST –

Well the Manitou 13 has full perimeter lines, that's one of the reasons I picked it. So what exactly is the deal with cockpit size and recovering from a capsize? Just the amount of hard surface for you to move against or does it have to do with water coming in? And the Manitou 13 does have a sealed bulkhead in the back, just not the front. When I talked about seaworthiness, I meant ability to handle big water, say for surfing, not going on expeditions. I'd like to be able to outfit my boat to surf if I could, afterall the design and dimensions are very close to the Mariner Coaster.

…the skirt should stay on and never pop off accidentally and the flotation should be good enough for you to re-enter and paddle the boat (full of water) in conditions.

Larger cockpit

– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 3:32 PM EST –

This comes down to the specifics of how you fit in the Manitou 13, your contact points in the cockpit and your willingness to learn skills. (oops on the rest)

In general, the larger cockpit rec/touring boats aren't put together with rolling in the forefront of design considerations as much as for some other boats. The contact points aren't usually as good as in a smaller cockpit boat because of the sheer size, the boat allover may be harder to roll than others and it may need more aggressive thigh braces added to provide the right kind of control. Obviously this varies a bit depending on how tight you fit in there.

Rolling is the only reliable recovery from a capsize once conditions get big enough - a paddle-float re-entry won't work because water will be coming in so fast that you'll just re-capsize again even if you do succeed. This is true in most any boat. As the cockpit gets larger, the water can come in faster.

So - if you in this boat don't have a roll, you are limited on your self-rescue options. If you are surfing near shore, and are in benign enough surf to be able to take a swim to shore in a capsize, this isn't such a big deal. If you are way out from land in a sudden squall, or are trying to surf in a spot where coming out of the boat could be quite dangerous, lack of a roll can get fatal pretty quick.

You are getting a lot of the replies you did, including from me, as much because it doesn't seem that you have a roll as because of the boat itself. For the use you are talking about, the burden of qualifications shifts heavily to the paddler themselves.

I outfitted my Manitou 13.
Just thigh braces and foam, no backband.

(I like the extracomfort seat for when I’m just poking around and not logging miles as fast as one can.) Shoved some small floatation bags into the bow. (Yes, I cut away some of the foam block.) Originally practiced rolling it on a calm lake, but I’ve had alot of experience with whitewater boats close to the same beam and weight, so no problem. Re-entry is not as tricky as many here would like to paint it. Been surf riding in the Atlantic and have taken it down my local Class III streams numerous times. Wouldn’t want to do a weeks long “expedition” but overnight camping with light gear is okay.

As to sea worthiness, I figure my chances in a modern plastic “rec boat” are as good as anyone who was living a hundred years ago that was paddling a wood dugout or a skin on frame without bulkheads.

Call Necky and
have them send you a set of WW thigh hooks with the mounts along with a backband. Take a half hour and mount the hooks and backband. Buy a snug deck, and it should hold a decent pounding.

The backband allows for more body movement, leaning back on drops, rolling, etc. I’d also add some foam up front on either side of the pillar, just to enhance flotation.

Do the above, and you’ll have yourself a really fun coastal play boat that handles very big water nicely. Like the Coaster, it does very very well. I do not own this boat, but paddled a modified version in some big water and had a blast! The longer traditional kayaks were behind me as well… It is never about length, it’s about power to drag ratio’s. Longer can add directional stability, but a more directionally stable boat is typically harder to correct once diverted, so as always it’s a balance.

Lots of commentary on this stuff, and at some point you just have to paddle and enjoy the boat you have, which is a very capable craft. Sure, down the road you’ll enjoy a different type of boat for different uses.


– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 3:47 PM EST –

now that i rigged up some deck lines i would have no worries taking my rockhopper out in the stink....
be fun!!!!!!!
13' long....but wide enough to be stable in most conditions........and fun enough for me!!!!!!!!

btw: next fix is adding a front hatch to fill the bow with foam for extra flotation....then mebbe putting in a full bulkhead...shall see...

put one in!!!

big issue is: you come down a wave face…you purl your bow hard…drive it into the sand…and then you physically bounce around in the cockpit…having a backband in there will stop you from driving your spin against the edge of the cockpit coaming…that would HURT!!!

sure lots of people say that they never use a back band…but in surf you want to be tight in the cockpit with as much contact to the boat as possible…the tighter you are in the better your movements translate over to the boat…that equals better surfing once you get used to that…



– Last Updated: Jan-16-08 4:24 PM EST –

(End of the world announcement coming next. I always seem to come off to one side of what Salty says.)

Seriously, I absolutely agree that at some point you need to get into this boat and get seat time. And properly outfitted in terms of thigh braces and a backband you can stay more than busy. If you are thinking of surf though, do yourself a favor and get a roll and find some people who can give you some pointers about how to read and handle that environment.