Rudder or Skeg which is better?

I wouldn’t want to get…
my cowboy stuck in that contraption.

rudder v skeg

– Last Updated: Aug-25-09 11:47 PM EST –

I think skegs are for those who worry constantly about falling out of their boats and having to do a "cowboy" reentry. Rudders are for those who like to stay in their boats and have something to fall back on when the 25 knot wind starts blowing from the stern.

Of course, my friends who paddle Mariners think that both are silly.

rudder vs. skeg
They both do the same thing if used correctly, keep the boat going in a straight line in the wind. Skeg is less complex and has less things to break.

The rudder is “not” used for steering.

Bill H.

Rudder Vs Skeg
Personally, I started out learning to drive a stick and every car I’ve owned except for one was a manual. It adds more driver involvement and skill into the equation, in addition to the transmission being a tad lighter, cheaper, and simpler to maintain.

I started out canoeing, then using short rec kayaks without rudders or skegs, then to longer rudder equipped ones and now full circle back to a skegged touring boat. I’m not saying people using rudders are lazy or anything, but it takes just a tad more involvement and paddling skill to use a skeg. Rent boats with both on a windy day and pick which one you like. A totally new teenage driver would probably pick a slush box transmission at first. But once they are used to traffic and if they really enjoy driving, they might want to learn to row the gears eventually…

Better for what?
Too many variables for a simple answer.

If you like poached or scrambled, skegs are best. If you like over-easy, then a rudder is the way to go. If you are a hard-boiled type, neither.

They can be used that way
but rudders are often used (and intended) for steering as well. For a really long boat, anything over 18 feet or so, a rudder helps tremendously. Yeah, you can turn without one, but it’s much easier to turn using the rudder.

If they were really used for the same thing, rudders would have gone extinct by now because they are more complex and more likely to fail.


I have both
My CD Nomad has a rudder. My WS Tempest has a skeg. They are both better…than nothing…imo.

Are they necessary? No.

Would I take a boat out in wind without one? No.

Can I paddle without either in the wind and control my boat? Yes.

Is that fun? For about 3 minutes, yes. After that, no.

get a strap-on
You can buy a kayak without a built in skeg and then get a strap-on (Feathercraft makes a hard rubber one with 4 adjustable straps that slip to your deck rigging OR you can build one to screw on – see for a photo of an example).

Skeg makes a big difference on days when you need to correct weathercocking but you can keep it stashed when you don’t want it. I have 4 kayaks, 2 with rudders, one with neither (with which I use the FC skeg at times) and a Greenland SOF with a moderate skeg built into the keelson. I generally paddle with my rudders out of the water because they create noticeable drag, UNLESS there is a large amount of crosswind and chop. I don’t use them to steer, just because it feels lazy and I like the sense of controllng the boat with my body and paddle (I’ve actually disconnected the cables). So, skegs I like, rudders I tolerate.

I didn’t choose to have the ruddered boats – they were just incredible deals I picked up and now that I’ve used all the boats for a while i doubt I would buy one deliberately in the future.

But it really is a personal choice – no right or wrong about it.

Steering vs.tracking

– Last Updated: Aug-28-09 8:10 AM EST –

The rudder is a steering device whereas the skeg is a tracking device. The assumption of the skeg is that you can steer your boat with corrective strokes, leaning etc. The rudder allows you to steer the boat with the foot pegs. The rudder is always in view and has apparatus that sticks up on the back of the boat whereas the skeg is not in view and has no apparatus on the deck. Early American rudder designed boats used it as a sales tool for new buyers who liked it because they could immediately steer their kayak. The british who went to the drop down skeg relied more on kayak skills to turn the boat and it's intention was to stiffen up the tracking when needed like following seas or beam winds. Many paddlers who roll don't like the spongy feel of the foot pegs on ruddered boats. Many boat manufacturers don't offer rudders on their models. Almost all manufacturers have some kind on tracking rudder or skeg these days. (Notice - like many, I'm staying out of which is better)

I’ll bite
I can’t believe I’m contributing to this string. I disagree that rudders are steering devices. Both rudders and skegs are weathercocking deterent devices.

I’ve never seen a skeg or ruddered sea kayak snap off a 90 degree turn. Both kinds of kayaks require proper paddle and edge placement to “turn” or change direction. Even with a ruddered boat, they make big sweeping turns, just like a skeg boat. Plus how often does a paddler in a sea kayak have to turn quickly? We have to edge away from submerged rocks or knife through swells. All good kayakers I know can change direction pretty quick without the use any extra mechanical devices. Drop an edge, sweep stroke and away we go!

We all have to change direction or stay on course with the use of our boat edges or items like a skeg or rudder. The skills are basically the same. I used to own a rudder boat, but I sill used my edges in quartering wind. I’ve sinced switched to skeg because I prefer a clean deck and didn’t appreciate the mini-sail on the back of my kayak when the rudder wasn’t engaged.

I think rudders have been mis-marketed or beleived to be steering devices. If you want to change direction quickly, move to whitewater kayaking.

I don’t
…because you left out the variable of hull shape and rocker.

My only kayak has neither. I’ve paddled in almost every wind imaginable. After practice I’m almost unaware that I’m compensating for wind and waves.

Meanwhile there is nothing to break.

If it’s just the clean deck…
there’re integrated rudder design that doesn’t come up to the deck at all!

Rudder CAN BE used for steering. Just because you can steer without it doesn’t mean it can’t be used as such. In fact, you can make minor course change without changing your stroke at all, by using the rudder!

As for combating weather cocking, you don’t even NEED a skeg/rudder AT ALL!

1st of all, it’s against the pnet Rudder/Skeg post rules (see above)

2nd, ask any boat captain worth his salt if he uses the rudder to steer…he will laugh his arse off. You steer with the WHEEL.

someone call Doug Cooper
Author of Sea Kayak Handling, and tell him that he needs to excise pages 94-100 from his book. That’s where he explains how to turn with a rudder, how to use paddle and rudder to turn tighter, and some other salient points.