Rudder or Skeg

I have promised my grand daughter a kayak for christmas. Her favorite is a Necky Chelan (now a Zoar Sport LV). She loves the kayak, but had trouble with wind and waves on a large lake near here. If I understand the web site, I have a choice of a rudder or a skeg.

I have to confess that other than setting the local record for unskeduled “wet exits” in a local kayak class and that I’m not flexible enough for a kayak seating position I know almost nothing about them. You help would therefore be greatly appreciated.



Oh no…
This is a question that has sparked the longest most heated threads on this board.

Do a search under rudder versus skeg and you will find more information and opinion than you would ever wish to read.

Both Are Good For Wind
Please don’t listen to the folks who tell you “neither”. You can SUFFER without an aid on a long, windy trip.

Skeg is simple:

Skeg up… bow turns into the wind.

Skeg half down… bow stays neutral.

Skeg way down… bow turns away from wind.

Rudder is simpler:

Push one side… boat turns one way.

Push other side… boat turns other way.

I would go with a rudder.
Both my wife nad I have them and only use them on days that the wind is so bad that you can only paddle on the left side or the rigth side. There are times that most paddlers need one and it is nice to have one.

If you think that your grand daughter will be wanting to advance her paddleing skills I would go for a skeg. If you think that she will only paddle every so often and not take lessons or have a desire to advance her skills I would get the rudder.

Changed my tune!
Personally I wouldn’t have a rudder on a sea kayak…

Now as a nubie “kayak guide” I love that every boat in the group has a rudder. It makes it so much easier for the less experienced to get around the course…

Have had both
Yup - if you want to make sure you have covered all the ground go to the rudder v. skeg discussion mentioned earlier. Take aspirin first - you’ll need it.

I’d add one comfort consideration from a woman’s view. The full size Zoar is way big for an average sized woman, and I suspect even the low volume version may be a lot of boat compared to your granddaughter. Boat makers are still, for the most part, designing boats with guys in mind - meaning the rails for the foot pegs are set for a longer leg than most women have. Unless it is a rudder system like Seal Line, where the foot peg can be fixed with the rudder control as a separate part of the pedal, a paddler whose legs barely reach to foot pegs can develop an absolutely glorious cramp from stretching out to manage the darned rudder.

Make sure the foot pegs can be set so that your granddaughter isn’t hitting them with her tippy-toes. If that can’t be made to happen, either due to the setup of the boat or a problem having the rails moved back, I’d say that she will be much more physically comfortable with a skeg.


Get a rudder.
Don’t listen to the purists who will tell you that you don’t need it.

With that said, after she has it tell her to learn all the basic strokes without using it.



if (and only IF) you have a boat designed to be neutral (for a limited range of paddler size) in winds up to a certain speed, after which you will have to make more and more adjustments. Adjustments then require skill.

A neutral boat however will be effected when one adds cargo without thought to weight distribution. A non loaded boat that weathercocks can be “neutralized” by judicious packing of load to affect the weight distrubtion and trim.

A skeg and rudder will allow more paddlers of different sizes and abilities to get in the boat and have an easier time of compensating for weathercocking.


neither, try learning to paddle.
Why depend on a crutch that only makes up for a lack of skills. If you know how to paddle, you will go straight. If you don’t know how to paddle, a rudder/skeg is only going to make it worse. Anyway, its just one more thing to break. Plus, you will save a little money on the side.

Neither or skeg.
Does that cover all the possibilities? A skeg will do everything a rudder or skeg should be asked to do. It will not act as a sail and make weathercocking worse. It will not impail your crotch when you do a surf landing. And it will not get in the way during a rescue. But if you do get a rudder do not get the push/pull kind.

What are her goals?
If she is a competitive person who will strive to learn the most efficient paddling techniques for forward speed,endurance, or may even enter a race some day then there is only one good option: Get her a rudder.

A rudder is not a crutch. It is an integral component of an efficiently designed kayak. A paddler who is serious about forward stroke performance will use their rudder all the time, even in flat windless conditions. Learning how to use a rudder well in dynamic conditions is a rewarding skill. A rudder can allow one to extract huge amounts of energy from waves taking a kayak to speeds not even thought possible by most paddlers.

There are other styles of paddling that are also rewarding in their own ways and specialized equipment is seeked out by those who practise these forms. But if paddling forward is what one mostly does, then a rudder will be the most rewarding - yet criticized - option.

So the most important questions to ask are about the goals of the paddler. If unsure, then a rudder is still the best option because it will serve as: A steering aide for beginners; An adjust-on-the-fly lateral stability device for intermediates in rougher conditions, or; A necessary ingredient for achieving high performance forward paddling efficiencies.

A skeg will perform the middle task almost as well as a rudder and is very popular because it is a simple solution. It is actually a logical intermediate step in the sometimes backwards evolution of sea kayak design.

An impressive analysis
I have to agree about the lateral stability that a deployed rudder gives. I generally pull my rudder up in flat water because I “feel” a bit of drag when it is deployed but I have to say that even that bit of drag is not really enough of an excuse to not deploy all the time.

Turning the kayak and keeping it from weathercocking can be done but it requires constant stroke adjustment and leaning and it is so much more efficient to just drop the rudder and be done with it.


– Last Updated: Sep-17-04 2:12 PM EST –

If the boat weathercocks so badly that it's uncontrollable without a rudder or skeg, it may be the wrong boat for her. My wife had that problem in a Looksha Sport -- she was just too small for it.

The Necky external skeg is really an afterthought -- it has some of the disadvantages of a rudder without all the advantages of an internal skeg. Take a look:
For this particular boat, get the rudder.

Look at this article.

It does not cover all the issues but it covers many of them in a fairly balanced way. I would judge the advantages and disdvantages differently.

I suspect we’re not making your decision any easier…

As usual with this debate, everybody’s right. There are excellent boats and skilled paddlers in both the skeg and rudder camps. But you probably don’t care about the philosophy – you want to know how to specify this boat for this paddler.

I have a skeg boat that I like, but I’ll make a couple of additional arguments for the rudder:

  1. Resale value. If she ever wants to sell the boat, it’ll be easier to sell with the rudder.

  2. It’s not carved in stone. If in a year she wants to replace the rudder with the skeg and fixed pegs, it’s a simple unbolt/bolt job.

  3. She’s 18. At her age, the important thing is that she enjoy being out on the water under her own power. If right now she’s most comfortable in a boat with a rudder, why not? If she enjoys it, she’s got a lifetime to develop her skills if she chooses. If she gets frustrated now, she loses a lifetime sport and you lose a paddling companion.

    Do encourage her to develop her skills. And since it’s a Christmas present, make sure she knows self-rescue skills and is properly equipped for the temperatures of winter & spring paddling

    You’re doing a great thing by encouraging and supporting her. She’s very fortunate to have you as a grandparent.

A simple way to look at it…

– Last Updated: Sep-17-04 5:57 PM EST –

A simple way to look at is this way... A skeg will help you go straight, in conditions here the kayak is affected by wind, etc.

A rudder will help the boat go straight, or turn.

If she is fairly inexperienced, I would go with the rudder for her. That will help her enjoy all aspects of the sport,and when she gets better, she can kep the rudder up in place, or you can buy her a better boat!

Either way, she will enjoy the sport, and you will have a friend to paddle with! What can be better than that??? Tha last thing you want to do now, is frustrate her, and make her dislike paddling. I'd go with a rudder for a beginner.

“Impailing Your Crotch”

– Last Updated: Sep-17-04 6:37 PM EST –

Dude, did you really have to go THERE?

I would really rather not think about that...

Rudder or Skeg
I want to thank you all for your information and recommendations. It looks like most recommend a rudder for someone new to the sport.

She’s away at college now but will be home for Christmas. :slight_smile: We live in SC so the weather is fairly favorable here most of the year. She’s attended one sea kayaking class this year and fell in love with it. When she comes to visit in October I plan to go with her to the lake in a shallow area and practice re entry in the same model kayak and see just how safe she’ll be if she’s out on her own on the lake at college.

The responses here have been great. This is WAY different than some other forums I have frequented for other sports. Thanks again.

I dunno envyabull

– Last Updated: Sep-18-04 5:47 AM EST –

I see a lot of paddlers out there that are giving up the freedom of rudderless designs because they are using a rudder as a crutch. They are focusing oif one stroke. I mean, I can see using a rudder on a boat that lacks directional stability, like the ones you like the actually require a rudder to steer (yuk), but to use a rudder on well designed kayak seems a shame. I guess our interpretation of well designed is quite a bit different. Your interpretation of well designed seems to have speed as the number one factor. Great if you paddle at 7 knots all the time. Not so great if you are an average paddler that averages a little better than half that speed. Paddling at those slower speeds is more work in a boat like the ones you like so much when compared to a traditional 16 foot sea kayak. The rudder equiped boats you speak of frequently are well designed craft for a very specific goal orientated paddler with one goal. But there is so much more to paddling than going fast in a straight line.
I have never seen a rudder equiped boat, paddled by a mere mortal, handle ugly water nicely. They suck in the surf. They suck in waves with short magnitudes, They suck when the rudder cables break.
Simple is sweet.
Around here in New England, rudders are seen as crutches. And not people around here buy Qcc's. For a reason. They are not the fun boats people around here like. Maybe we are just not trying hard enough?
I would much rather paddle a well designed sea kayak over a directionallly unstable design any day.
And take a paddler that has been using a crutch since he started paddling and then remove that crutch and what you haver is a crippled paddler. Right?