Rudder or skeg?

Hi all. I’ve been wanting to get a touring kayak around 14’ to use on flat rivers. I really like the colors (red/yellow swirl) of the Perception Carolina/Dagger Alchemy. The only difference I seem to see is the Carolina has a rudder option and the Alchemy a skeg. One benefit I can think of for the skeg is if I manage to become a swimmer I could crawl back up the stern easier. Have any of you had both versions and what do you prefer?

Look at the new …
Perception Expression 14.5 or 15 instead of the Carolina.

Skeg here
You’ll get both answers. I have a 14 footer that I use mostly on flat rivers and prefer the skeg. Less fiddly, less windage, and I have no problem turning a 14’ boat with a little edging. A longer boat might be a different story, but even then it depends on the hull. Also, I much prefer the solid footpegs on a skeg boat.

Rudder or skeg?
I really like that Expression boat also now lol. I think the upturned bow could be beneficial when going through small shoals. Now if I could just find a retailer to let me try one out

Sort Of
I had a Cape Horn 15 that was ruddered and I now have an Alchemy that’s skegged. Very happy with the Alchemy and the Cape Horn is long gone. Personally, when I think of a rudder I think of racing. Since I’m not into racing a skeg is the best tool for me.

If i am just paddling i like the Skeg
Less moving parts to go wrong, less thinking about it, lss wind resistence, ect.

I do like having a rudder though if i am fishing so i can have some control over the boat with my feet while my hands are busy


– Last Updated: Jan-28-12 10:57 AM EST –

As above, there are advocates (strong) and reasons to be made for both. Feelings run strong there so I'll answer as asked, on personal experience. They are both tracking devices, which for the purposes you state is probably as much as you need to care about.

I had a rudder on my first sea kayak, which is the boat that took us out for our first trips island hopping a couple of miles offshore in Maine. I camped in the islands out of her, had my first times of being in waves or chop that was higher than my head - I had good seat time in that boat. (Later add - I am not terribly tall, so he relative height above is less impressive than it may sound.)

In that time I learned to dislike the rudder. I virtually never dropped it because I didn't like how the stern behaved with it down, when I tried it came right up again, I had to wrap the cables for pool sessions and they still cut a guy in the leg one time. It took more attention than I felt it was worth.

I already knew I didn't like the squishy foot pegs and had the original ones replaced with the SmartTrack system before it even left the dealer. So comfort was not a problem.

I prefer skegs and have them in current boats. Thus far anyway, I have had zero issues like cables kinking etc, with the boat having a cable skeg under hard use. (The other is rope skeg so there isn't much to go wrong.) No guarantee for anyone else, but it can be that easy.

buy without
You may find you don’t need either. But with many rudder equipped kayaks, you have the option to buy the model without rudder and add down the way if you really find you need it. This can save up to $300 and for many rivers a rudder is marginal. As a former guide I was constantly fixing rudders and prefer skegs. But a hard chined boat may not need either to track just great in moderate conditions. I’m sure many will weigh in on this topic!

Rudder, skeg…or nothing at all
I’ve had a rudder on my tankish WS Tsunami 145 and although its been helpful in confused following seas, I essentially do not use it. I do not like the squishy footpegs but I’ve learned to live with them.

However, I have also used a rudder on a very long touring boat, and I found it quite advantageous. So…for a long fast, tourer like the QCC 700 I think it makes more sense than a skeg.

On a shorter, more conventional sea kayak, I like a skeg. I’ve been in a WS Tempest, NDK Explorer, and Necky Chatham…and the simplicity of the skeg worked for me.

I’ve also been in some nicely designed home-constructed wooden kayaks like the Pygmy Coho and a few others. No skeg, no rudder…and they handled well in all conditions. Now THAT is simplicity. I don’t know why I can’t get that kind of performance from the commercially made boats.

Go figure.

Two different things
One is for steering and correction with foot pedals.

The other is to stiffen up the hull for directional stability.

You can’t steer the boat with a skeg.

I had a rudder boat years back and didn’t like the foot pedal thing. Once I learned to roll, they became an annoyance. Many new paddlers like a rudder because they can steer the boat with it. And many new boats are sold because of that. But soon paddlers learn that it’s not necessary and it usually sits in the up position until they get a strong cross wind and then they use it like a skeg.

People who race like rudders because they don’t want to lean the boat or break up their paddle stroke to correct direction.

jay brings out good point
Many beginners will see guides/instructors with 17-18 foot boats for BIG waters and figure that is what the pros use. Or as Jay points out-racer types using them sort of indicates that a rudder must be the hot ticket right? Rudders to me are like four wheel drive on cars for most people there will be no gain with the way they drive and where they live. They foolishly buy four wheel drive for “safety” reasons yet never see snow or mud in their life.

It has been written so many times on this site that rudders sort of invite sloppy paddling that I won’t begin my rant on that aspect.

Rudders and stiffening up
Actually, with the fixed foot pegs I was able to use the rudder for stiffening up my direction similarly to how I use a skeg now. With the squishy ones it just plain hurt to do that after a while, but the toe control from fixed pegs made it tolerable. The few times in three years that it ever stayed down was on a crossing where I had them set for that purpose.

But the rudder didn’t accomplish that goal as well as the skeg does - I suspect because of placement on the boat. And it was still more bother.

I haven’t paddled it, but it is in stock in my local shop and was test paddled by the shop staff before deciding to order. IMO it is a better overall design for touring than the Carolina. It is also cheaper than the 14.5’ WS Tsunami and the 14’ Dagger Alchemy. It comes rudder ready, so you can always add one later on and have both a skeg and rudder, should you decide you need it.

Personally, I love the Dagger Alchemy, but it is designed for an entirely different purpose than the Carolina. The Alchemy is a play boat designed for quick maneuvers. It has quite a bit of rocker to accomplish this. The Carolina is a tracking boat with little rocker. The new Expressions are in between. They lack a day hatch which keeps the price down, but have the other amenities a sea kayak has.



skeg or nothing
All of the long kayaks I have owned have not had either and I haven’t felt the need. But I have paddled kayaks with rudders and skegs (loaned boats and rentals) and I prefer a skeg.

I have never used a rudder for steering. I can see an instance in which it would be nice to have one such as a quartering wind on a long open water passage. In that instance setting a little angle on the rudder and holding it could counteract the tendency of the boat to weathercock (or leecock). I usually prefer kayaks with a sharper chine however, and find that I can generally accomplish the same thing by heeling the boat a little.

A skeg will aid tracking and retard the tendency of the boat to make a lot of leeway in a cross wind as well as a rudder. It is simpler and not as prone to accidental damage when retracted. It doesn’t clutter the rear deck. Many have mentioned the very disagreeable sponginess of the footpegs that accompanied the older rudder control systems and I share that feeling. The newer toe control rudder systems like the SmartTrak are better in that they provide a solid peg to brace against, but they add additional complexity and seem to break for a lot of people, usually at inopportune times.

Skeg boxes do take up room in the hull, however, and that can be an issue if you plan to carry gear in the boat. The skeg can also sometimes become jammed by sand or other debris getting in between the sides of the skeg box and the skeg.

If at all possible, I would try paddling the boat without either and decide if you really need one or the other.

I bought a CD Whistler that had a rudder, and I seldom use it. I use a pair of “tarp” bungies, the small loop with the ball, to keep the foot rests forward and the cables taught. I have tried some boats with skegs, and either system does well for correcting weather cocking. It does take a little practice to get used to the rudder, but for your use you, in my opinion, you would be happy with either.


Skeg for me most of the time, rudder is too fiddly, but others swear by them. Having both can be a blessing - skeg builds your skills and you can use rudder when feeling lazy or tired.

Another Skeg vote
i like the solid foot pegs and the simplicity of a skeg - have them on a WS Tempest, P&H Capella, and CD Squamish. I think there is another system where you have 2 sets of foot pegs so one is solid but that is too much stuff in there.

The skeg serves me well.

Wow, when I first started spending time on (12+ years ago) there were frequent and acrimonious threads on skeg versus rudder. It has been along time.

Personally, rudders seem good on racing, fishing, and tandem kayaks. Otherwise skeg or nothing makes sense to me. Rudders are a hazard in rescues.

Are very much application specific. Racing is a huge reason to have one. Especially if you boat is long and unrockered. Windy conditions with low wave height is another great time to have one. If you are staying on flat rivers that have open water I would prefer a rudder or nothing.

Ryan L.

Rudder only while sailing or racing
When I’m doing neither the rudder is off my boat. Skeg is all I need.