retractable skeg or rudder


I am looking at purchasing a sea kayak and was wondering about other folks ideas regarding the benefits/drawbacks of getting a retractable skeg vs. a rudder. I’ll use the boat for shorter ventures up to several days and primarily on Flathead Lake which can get very windy and have 3-4 foot waves. Thanks for any inputs

at the risk of being shot, as this has been debated a ZILLION times. I say go with a GOOD rudder that does NOT have sliding foot brace control. Also learn to control the Boat first WITH OUT THE RUDDER!!! Then it’s a great asset. Instead of a crutch!!

a shot across the bow
Also at the risk of taking fire . .

Buy the hull / boat that performs given your requirements and learn to handle it with and without what ever device it might have to control weatther-cocking.

You wouldn’t buy a car because is has a particular brand of tires as standard would you? Then don’t buy a boat based on how the designer chose to deal with the weather-cocking issue.

Cheers and good luck!


Check the Archives
There have been several threads on rudders v. skegs, and you will find equal vigor on both sides of the debate. Take a read if you have a couple of days…

After and before doing that, take the above advice and decide to paddle with the rudder/skeg as optional as possible. They are both tracking devices, some boats need more help than others, in the end the paddler’s skill will make the biggest diff.

What ever boat you buy, get a rudder and use it. Simply put, a rudder increases control and reduces corrective strokes which improves efficiency. A rudder greatly reduces the negative effects of contrary wind and waves.

flathead lake has 3-4 foot waves?
that’s some set of waves. Maybe I’ve asked this before, while I’ve seen up to 11 foot waves on lake superior i’ve never seen a 3-4 foot wave on an inland lake? Is this exageration or extreme situation?

I’m trying to decide this also.

– Last Updated: Mar-08-05 1:47 PM EST –

I'm fairly new to kayaking and I'm planning on trading in my recreational kayak for a touring one this spring. So I have also been struggling with buying a kayak with a rudder, or a skeg, or with no trimming device at all. (I never would have guessed that picking out a kayak could be this complicated!) Anyhoo, this is what I've learned in the last couple of months:

Ok, the main thing seems to be that this mostly comes down to your own personal preference. Some people apparently love rudders, and some love skegs. And some don't like having any devices at all.

I mostly fall into the non-device category, but skegs do appeal to me somewhat (probably since they're simpler than a rudder).

I've also learned that a kayak really needs to be designed properly for a skeg to really be effective. They need to have some weathercock (they will tend to turn into the wind) when the skeg is up. One advantage of a skeg over a rudder is that in rough water, skegs stay in the water more, since they are under the kayak (near the back), and not way on the back end.

This site was a great deal of help to me, as it explains the use of skeg very well:

The thing that bothers me the most about rudders is that most are controlled by movable footpegs. And I push against my footpegs when I paddle, so I really wouldn't like having them move around on me. I guess that some rudder systems have footpegs that lock down or something, when the rudder isn't needed. There's also a toe-controlled rudder system, which is what the QCC kayaks have, shown here: If I was going to get a kayak with a rudder, this is the system I would want.

Good luck in your personal decision. I hope that this helps a bit.

~ Arwen ~


Rudders and skegs
This is a personal choice. I paddled a Perception Eclipse with rudder for 2 years, and now have a Current Designs Caribou with a skeg. While I prefer the latter BOAT, I would certainly recommend a rudder system that still allows for solid foot braces. Otherwise you will have poor boat control. But beyond that, it’s simply what works for you.

Depends on the kayak
and also a bit on your intended use.

Figure that out first and it will usually answer the question for you. Most kayaks have what works well for that design. If there is an option of rudder or skeg on whatever kayak you decide on - then ask again about that specific model - and owners of that boat who have either/or may comment.

Not too many offer both options on the same boat (often for good reason - as many with rudder are designed to have a rudder). With those that do offer choice, it comes down to you and how you will use the boat.

Beyond that, it’s a fools argument - as you may see in the responses here - and general answers about how they work and what others like on completely different kayaks are not likely to be all that useful.

I currently have 4 boats. All very different. 2 skeg, 2 rudder. 3 of 4 would not really work at all if they had the other device. They have what’s right. The other one would be fine with either (and on that one most get rudder, I got skeg - and it’s been good for my uses).

Wind on inland lakes.
The two lakes that I kayak on the most are Squam Lake (in central NH) and Moore Reservoir (a dammed up section of the Connecticut river in northwestern NH).

These lakes are not really large, but I’ve been out in at least 3 foot waves on both of them. (And I’m not exaggerating at all.) This tends to be a windy part of the country, and since Moore is formed by a dam, it is up high in the valley, where it’s very exposed to wind.

~ Arwen ~

wave height
is a function of wind speed, duration, and fetch. The longer a strong wind blows over a large distance, the larger the waves will be. Thus, a large lake, even inland, given the right wind conditions can produce big waves. The lake bed geography will impact the wave height during wave break at the shore.

flathead lake has 3-4 foot waves?
that’s some set of waves. Maybe I’ve asked this before, while I’ve seen up to 11 foot waves on lake superior i’ve never seen a 3-4 foot wave on an inland lake? Is this exageration or extreme situation?

Get 4-6 ft waves on Tahoe
frequently. The wind will funnel through the mountains and make conditions interesting.

I’ve seen 8’ waves on Lake Champlain in Vermont. There’s a good 7-8 mi. fetch at the widest part at Burlington and some wicked waves build there from the winds that come out of the Adirondacks.

if you say so,

– Last Updated: Mar-08-05 3:19 PM EST –

but I think i'd need to see a picture to believe it.
an eight foot wave on a little inland lake there would wipe out houses on the side of the lake no?

Should take between 20-30 kts …
…to get 3-4’ (20-24 for 3’, 25-30 for 4’) there depending on direction, according to this simple wave height calculator (just input windspeed in knots and fetch in NM):

Flathead is about 23.5 x 13.5 NM. Long axis is N-S. Fetch is measured along wind direction, so would usually be somewhere in between.

Interesting to note the area is windy enough to prevent the lake from freezing over most winters.

sounds to me like
you would need a windspeed of 60-80 knots sustained to get an 8’ wave on that lake then?

is 125 mi (108.6 nm) long and from 0.5 to 14 mi wide.

If the wind is blowing lengthwise (and it funnels there), it would only take a steady 28 knot wind to reach significant wave heights of 8’ at the downwind end (a 100 nm fetch). Narrowness will inhibit this some (wind likely has to exceed simple formula) - but also make it a lot gnarlier.

Not ordinary conditions, but surely it happens from time to time.

7-8 miles is
hardly enough of a fetch to get an 8 foot wave

and if that is the prevailing wind direction it sounds even more doubtful.