Rec to Touring Kayak Advice

I have been Kayaking for about 18 months. I have graduated from a Carolina 14 with Rudder, and got a great deal on a Necky Chatham 18, due to the owner moving. I live in Puget Sound region, and wanted to start making trips around the San Juans, once I got my skills improved. However every time I take out the Chatham 18, its low initial stability, throws me for a loop. I have probably spent 12-15 hours in the boat now, and it seems to me I sweat bullets the entire time; that i would lose it and baptize myself in the most beautiful Kayaking region of the world. My question is there better initial stability in a WS tempest, or Explorer. I want to develop better skills, but I think I am gun shy in the Chatham at this time.

Also are there any balance exercises out there to help with Kayaking?

Thanks in Advance!

Seat Time
24.5in to 20in is a fairly substantial step down in width. It might just take more time in the seat to get used to it. If you are persistent, you’ll eventually get there though.

As for things to help, you could build a “kayak balance stool” to help improve your balance while not in the kayak, but time in the actual kayak is more meaningful.

I would just take your time practicing basic things like braces, edging and whatnot in a safe area. It will help you learn the personality of the kayak and improve your confidence in it at the same time.

I have a 22in kayak and a 19.5in kayak. When I bought the 19.5in one, I probably felt similar to how you feel now. I stuck with it though and have slowly become more confident in it. Actually recently I’m starting to feel like the 22in kayak is too stable, hard to edge and not as much fun as the 19.5in kayak.

I would say that you should give it some more time before you give up on it.

Several ideas

– Last Updated: Jun-24-15 8:51 AM EST –

Is that an early year Chatham with the relatively large cockpit or is it a later year? It could produce more challenges in outfitting than in subsequent years, where I think they scaled it back a bit. We had a good friend who started out with one of those as her first sea kayak. She is an excellent, strong paddler from a long WW background. But it did not give her an easy start.

I agree that more seat time would help, 12 to 15 hrs is not a lot. But...

.. one of those who occasionally posts on this board will likely disagree with me with far more expertise than I possess. But if you have the option of going to one of the very beginner-friendly sea kayaks while you get your skills and your confidence down, I think it is a great idea. You aren't going to learn as well if you are tensing up waiting for the boat to dump you, and there are boats that will cut you more slack than the Chatham 18. Plus you can have a second shorter boat to haul out for a shorter paddle on a hot day.

On the Explorer - it will get your confidence up and you out on the water. I know, the household includes an Explorer and a Romany. It is also quite slow and logey compared to the Chatham 18. The Chatham 18 is a fast, responsive boat but the one in the family that most wants a more skilled paddler.

There are a bunch of shorter boats that are very skills and beginner friendly that tend to tunr up cheap in plastic. Avocets or Tempest 16's if you fit the latter. Or the WS Alchemy 14 or 16. They don't go fast but go slow and play very well. There are more along this line.

On improving balance -

Go get help from someone and start learning to roll. You simply need to get accustomed to a capsize in order to progress for sea kayaking. You'll have plenty of practice at that, and wet exits, while learning.

Learn to scull, as an adjunct to getting a deeper brace. This gives you a longer shot at recovering than a single stroke brace.

Get out in shallow water (so you don't exhaust yourself dragging you and the boat back to shore) and practice literally climbing forward to back and turning around on top of the boat. Get in and out again of the cockpit. Start this without a skirt because the loop tends to get caught on deck rigging and complicating things. Fine once you have it down but a distraction to start.

Again, the Chatham 18 is a great boat. It is just not the most forgiving one out there when you are new at this.

While on land,
balance on one leg while waiting in line, brushing your teeth, or doing other mundane things that require you to stand in one spot.

I might look goofy in the line at the grocery store, but figure at least I’m doing something positive while waiting.

In my case, I think balance exercises helped me easily transition from a 26" wide rec kayak to a 22" boat. On the water, I sometimes paddle with my legs straddling the cockpit or sidesaddle. In shallow water.

You are in luck.
You happen to live in just the right area to go take a look at the kind of kayak that will solve your stability issue. NC Kayaks are built in Tacoma, Washington. I highly recommend the Expedition, but only if you’re looking for a fast, stable and beautiful touring kayak.

sort of agree with this
I actually took two steps forward before receding back to a more stable boat. Finding my balance wasn’t a problem but I think this process is dependent on the individual, I’ve known others slow to adjust to something more tender than say an Explorer.

Maybe the OP should get some demo time in a more forgiving boat, to see if the problem is indeed the Chatham, before continuing to struggle with it.

Not familiar with these boats, but a kayak with a vee-bottom will have more initial stability than one with a rounded bottom. The rounded bottom has a lower wetted surface area though and so is more easily driven.

Not my experience
I’ve paddled V-bottom kayaks that felt unstable at rest because they wanted to flop from one chine to the other. Once on that chine they felt solid, and at speed they were fine, but they did not want to be straight upright at low speed.

Fear of capsizing makes you tense, which makes you more likely to capsize. Learning self-recovery techniques can change a capsize from a disaster to a minor annoyance, or even something fun.

If the outfitting isn’t solid, you won’t feel that you have good control, and you can’t feel what the boat is telling you.

One of my favorite exercises for stability and edging: Sit with the paddle parallel with the water, just in front of your shoulders, elbows down. keep the paddle parallel, use your hips, legs, and torso to lift one edge of the boat and then the other. You can vary the height, speed, and pattern of edging – alternating sides, 2 or 3 on one side before switching, lift and hold, etc. Start small and work up to higher angles as you get comfortable.

I’ve done it to reggae music, but salsa might also work well…

It’s time to get wet…
Your problem is not the boat.

Your problem is you are afraid of capsizing.

You tense up and are uncomfortable.

It’s summer, find a protected cove on the open coast and practice paddling in knee high waves, practice wet exits in the small surf, turn the boat so the waves are hitting you from the side and learn to let the waves roll under you. Learn to do high and low braces in small waves. Learn to dance with the waves, to brace, and flow with moving water. Learn how to roll.

depends on the angle of the v
if it’s subtle, yes. But if it’s more extreme, the boat tends to want to rest on one plane or the other. But some rounded hull boats can be pretty unstable as well. And a number of other variables that makes me appreciate a good kayak design.

Specifically the 18
The Chatham family covers a big range. The 16 is quite turny and maneuverable, actually a good skills learning platform, and slow. The 17 is their version of the NDK Explorer and the Valley Aquanaut - one all around tripping boat that does everything OK. Faster than the 16.

The 18 was where the designer got the closest to making “his” boat. So it is the fastest, and tends to do best with a better paddler.

Just to reiterate one thing…
I just reread your original post. Seadart got to one crucial point a lot more efficiently than I did. You need to learn to capsize and recover, not assume you will stay upright. Doesn’t matter what boat you use, if you want to make it to the San Juans you have to be willing to do some swimming.

is located right there in your backyard. I picked up a Fathom at REI (on closeout for $2100.) two years ago and it’s a kayak I plan on keeping for many years. You owe it to yourself to paddle one. Marvelous kayak.

Altho I have the sit on top version, I do things with my Eddy that I routinely see others cannot get away with in their rec boats on the river, and that thing is wonderful for handling waves and silly power-boater wake.

No one should be sweating bullets or be afraid of their kayak. Cautious, yes, but I really agree that you and this other new kayak don’t seem to be a good physical match somehow. Maybe try another make/model or two and see if that helps clarify it. Sort of reminds me of the time I went and purchased a fancy pair of ski boots, the fitter screwed up, and I spent the next trip repeatedly falling over sideways - literally could not keep upright, and I never do that- plus they HURT after an hour, so back they went to the store. Too old for that nonsense. Fit trumps fashion.

A vee is not a chine
Stability isn’t isolated to a single characteristic. It’s a combination of how the shape of the bottom, sides, ends, depth of the vee, etc. work together.

I find that a kayak with a very deep V WITHOUT OTHER STABILIZING FEATURES is unstable in rough water. Calm water is fine, but waves from the side want to push it onto one plane.

My current kayak has a deep V combined with wide width behind the cockpit, high volume in the bow and stern, and hard chines. It’s very stable.

Merrimack17, beyond the beginner level and calm water, the main concern is secondary stability. The secondary stability has to be well matched to a paddler’s skill. The OP seems to be expressing that this isn’t his case, and so I support a change in kayak for him with, next time, a better understanding of the hull characteristics of what he’s buying. I don’t blame people for not being able to read the hull they’re purchasing. Many manufacturers give little or no information about the shape of their hulls and how this is going to affect stability, and dealers don’t seem to dwell much on this in the course of a sale. For me hull shape is the first thing I want to understand about a kayak (learned from hard experience). Manufacturers’ statements about stability can be meaningless. Claims are made about high stability without offering any information at all on the shape of the hull. Why is this???

More specifics, please
What is the shape of the Fathom hull and how does that shape contribute to stability?

Shapely Bottoms…
and their various appeal:


Who cares?
The person who posted that apparently has found the Fathom to be very kind in terms of stability in actual practice. And they are not a boat designer. That is what I have heard from a number of people about the Fathom. It’s not my boat, but it seems to work in terms of getting people on the water safely and enjoyably.

No one should have to defend why they are comfortable in a boat.

Some people might
I do. I’m very interested in hull characteristics and how they contribute to stability. Just trying to learn more.

Are only boat designers interested in hulls? I sure hope not.

No one “has to defend why they’re comfortable in a boat.” But if they would care to share more specifics I’d be interested in hearing it.