My first boat, a Perception Sea Lion was equipped with a nice rudder that worked very well EXCEPT in following seas. In these conditions, the stern and its rudder would be lifted by a wave and became ineffective, thereby allowing the boat to surf down the wave in random directions. This required numerous correcting strokes until the rudder found water again.
My next boat, a Betsie Bay Recluse, was a rudderless V-hull that tracked like a train but was somewhat difficult to turn.
My current boat, a Valley Aquanaut, is equipped with a skeg. By carefully trimming the skeg dependent upon conditions, I find it works beautifully when wind and waves are working against me in my efforts to maintain my course. The design is excellent, clean (no wires hanging out, no moving foot pegs) and effective (the skeg only comes out of the water when I’m rolling).
To solve the problem of small beach stones jamming the skeg in its box, I’ve tied a small loop of light cord through the hole Valley provides in the skeg blade. This allows a jammed skeg to be deployed by another paddler. I’m sure someone will now post a complaint that this increases drag, but I’ve checked reality on this one and it doesn’t make that big a difference on a touring kayak (I’m not a racer).
My friend’s Dagger Apostle is equipped with a rudder with lots of sharp parts. It seems that every time I help him hoist his boat on his rack, I end up with the stern end and cut hands. I also believe that with fewer exposed moving parts, a skeg is less prone to damage and failure than a rudder. One does, however, sacrifice a small amount of space in the stern compartment, but the trade-off is inconsequential to this backpacker.
As with most things, each has its advantages and disadvantages. With either one, make sure that you understand the limitations of your chosen device and that you take care of it to provide maximum performance.
After the third or so "rudder incident" - once someone got cut on the cable causing much blood and use of the medical kit, once a guy's toggle got tangled in it while e were sitting talking in a group and someone else had to undo us (loved those jokes), someone tried to show me a cowboy self-rescue but that was a big oops, then I had to spend a while packing bubble wrap around it for pool practice - I decided the rudder was a royal pain.
I'd have put up with it if I ever found it to be of use for myself. But I didn't. As someone above, I hated how it made the boat behave in following seas and preferred to handle it by paddling, and in crosswinds it didn't accomplish enough compared to paddling and weight shifts (again, for me) to be worth hassling controlling the angle via the toe thing. And I had the SmartTrak system to boot, usually makes it easier.
The skeg does what I want without the grief. In an emprical test does it work "better" to help with tracking? I don't know and for my paddling I don't care. I don't race, just want to control my boat without having a device that gets in the way of stuff. For me, the skeg is an altogether more effective paddling tool.
Toggle Trap L
I thought I was the only one to ever get a toggle hooked in someones rudder.
Special attention is payed to ruddered boats around the put-in so that they don’t chip the gelcoat on the other boats.