rudder: yes or no?

hey everyone. i am new here and fairly new to kayaking. i have been playing around with friends’ kayaks for years but have never owned my own, but i am now shopping and hope to get one soon. the tsunami 145 is high on my list.

i will be kayaking on the willamette and columbia rivers (big, slow rivers) and other nice bodies of water in the northern oregon area. my question is, how do people feel about rudders? i have only had a couple opportunities to paddle kayaks with rudders, and have found it distracting and awkward. i realize that there is a learning curve, but i wonder how necessary they really are. what are the conditions in which one would be really happy to have a rudder? are there expert yakers out there who also dislike rudders?

any feedback on this would be much appreciated!


If a rudder is used for what it’s designed to be used for, they are ok. They are designed to keep the boat going in a straight line in the wind, they are not designed for steering. If you use them like many do, for steering, and something goes wrong (which happens far too often) then you won’t know how to paddle without it. Personally I think they are a poor idea.

Bill H.

(re: “are there expert yakers out there who also dislike rudders?”)

I am no expert but I like to watch experts.

Most movies of experts show kayaks with no rudders.

Maybe there is truth in that.


A classic question
This question will be asked until the end of time, and there always will be two opposing viewpoints.

Go to the Mariner Kayak website if it still exists. The Broze brothers will make the best case for no rudders.

I’m no expert, but I have been paddling various things for almost 60 years. After decades of being blown around in open canoes, I decided my priority in a sea kayak would be a wind neutral hull design – that is, one that doesn’t weathercock or leecock. I didn’t want to fight wind with or without a rudder any more than necessary.

Two of my three kayaks fit that bill, and I don’t regret my decisions. The minority of kayaks that are wind neutral usually do so by having an integrally skegged stern design.

Having said that, if I were an expedition kayaker or was regularly taking risks on big crossings, I would probably want the added safety of a rudder.

Expert racers use rudders
for the OP’s intended use a rudder is an excellent tool that will enhance their comfort and enjoyment, and even safety.

If they like the sport and take it in a different direction they may opt for a rudderless craft.

OR, they may get into distance touring or racing and retain the rudder.

have rudders, but don’t use much
My 2 boats both have rudders, but I don’t use them much. Maybe 20% of the time they get used. But when they do, they are godsends.

As said above, a rudder is meant to help you track straight when wind is blowing you to the side. Most boats tend to turn upwind when exposed to wind. Rudders are NOT meant to help you turn when you want to change direction - you will turn much faster with appropriate paddle strokes.

I think you hinted that there is a learning curve to using a rudder. Actually, I think it is the other way around. Most people use rudders because they are easier than learning the correct strokes.

Some boats are not made for use with rudders. Particularly British style boats (such as the Tempest line from Wilderness Systems), which usually come with skegs instead of rudders. The skeg is meant to provide the same function as the rudder - help you track when the wind wants to turn the boat.

My advise would be try to learn how to paddle without a rudder or skeg. Then use it only when needed.

Windy Conditions
A rudder is a tool to control your boat in windy conditions. But so is a skeg. I highly recommend you get a kayak with a rudder or a skeg.

Perfect answer


Kudzu,you got a rudder on your bike?

Good for sailing and singleblading
If you are going to spend time paddling with a single blade or sailing then a rudder is highly recommended. Otherwise, a skeg might be a better option. Both devices are made to help you go straight. If you are just learning to control the boat I think not having the rudder will help you to learn to turn the boat by edging it instead of using a rudder.

Depends on use and conditions
Normally i hate using a rudder, i find it takes way too much time doing stupid little corrections to keep the boat going straight, i can never find that sweet spot that just magically goes straight. So on my boats i have 1 with a skeg, 2 without anything, and 1 with a rudder. The time i do like a rudder is when fishing. If i am already using my hands for casting/reeling (hopefully reeling in a fish) then i like to have the rudder to direct where i float as i float downstream, instead of having to put down the rod (potentially losing the fish) and paddle to correct course. so in this case i love rudders,but it depends on what you want to do with it, but general paddling i am pretty against rudders

Some pros and cons

– Last Updated: Jun-10-09 9:00 AM EST –

There is no one answer here. As above, the learning curve is usually associated with a skeg because new paddlers tend to use rudders rather than learn to edge and sweep to turn.

Rudders are important for those who race because they help hold a boat on course so the paddler can focus on straight out forward strokes rather than having to lose speed with corrective strokes. They are often seen on boats equipped for really huge expeditions because, if you are going to be paddling a seriously loaded kayak in conditions when you are dog tired, a rudder can make life easier.

Other than that, it's personal preference. For most day paddlers either a rudder or a skeg will be helpful as long as the boat's design isn't tweaked to really need one over the other.

The Boze brothers article likely says it the best for the don't-need-no-rudder point of view. The site is still up ( click on "Design" on the left hand column and scroll down for their discussion of rudders. In case they don't mention it, the reason that I only want a skeg these days has to do with things like towing and rescues. A hunk or metal or plastic on the back, and those cable, just complicates these activities. It definitely takes a cowboy self-rescue out of the repertoire.

All that said, the Tsunami is a boat that'll get you started in kayaking. If you want to do the "expert" stuff where a rudder or a skeg may be a noticeable choice, odds are you'll be looking for another boat anyway. So I'd say your primary question is, given your paddling environment, do you want to paddle your way out of windy days or have the rudder in case?

It’s just personal preference

– Last Updated: Jun-10-09 8:57 AM EST –

"for the OP's intended use a rudder is an excellent tool that will enhance their comfort and enjoyment, and even safety"
The OP is intending to paddle big slow rivers, right? And based on the boat he mentioned he/she isn't into racing at this point. I'd say in those conditions the only consideration is paddler preference.
OP has used ruddered boat's in the past and found them distracting and akward. If that's the case, there's no reason for him/her to try to make a rudder work.

If she/he is more comfortable in a boat without a rudder, that's an excellent reason not to get one.

There are plenty of pros using boats with rudders for general paddling, and there are plenty of experts using boats without rudders for general paddling. The difference is simply what you're comfortable with.

(Of course in more specialized types of paddling there will be a clear reason for/against rudders. Racers use rudders to avoid corrective strokes. Surfers and rock-gardeners don't have rudders because they'd be clumsy and break.)

Personally, I'm not expert, but I can't stand rudders. I find them, just as the OP does, distracting and akward.

As I read the first part of your message I thought, “this guy is really anti-rudder and it’s coming through”. Then toward the end it was confirmed that for you this is an emotional issue.

Of course, any boat they are comfy in will be fine, but rivers get windy and I can tell you after many years of guiding that beginners DO enjoy the benefits of a rudder. Not everyone will gravitate toward a Greenland style hull, or rock garden… Many facets to paddling.

I paddle non-ruddered and have for a decade and a half, but this isn’t an emotional issue for me. A rudder is just a tool and a good one, albeit not for everyone. For me when I hear phrases like “I hate…” it just confirms a polarized stance that is working for you, but probably not objective for the OP. My head just cannot process the amount of emotion over these subjects. My hunch is these folk will end up with a nice kayak equipped with a rudder which they will find reassuring and useful.

Just my opinion.

My problem with rudders is foot room
for the rudder foot controls.

In my QCC 400X, the recess for the deck lines gets in the way of my toes when using the Smar Trak toe controls.

In my composite Sea Lion, the inside threaded portion of the non-recessed deck line anchor bolts gets in the way of my toes when sliding the controls. I reduced the effects of this by reversing the bolts on the two anchors that were in the region where the foot pegs slide, so that the lower profile bolt head in on the inside and the threaded part an nut are on the outside.

The Sawyer Loon has a large, open cockpit, but the sliding rudder controls are under the deck and that foot room also to be a little lacking unless I splay my feet more than I want.

The Sawyer Summersong has the gas pedal type rudder controls mounted to the hull of the boat more toward the keel of the boat, so that they’re out from under the tumblehome and gunwales and there’s no interferance with the foot / rudder control motions.

I have no problems with the concept of rudders, just the rudder control methods and lack of foot room to activate most of them.

I can see why it’s more practical for low volume, especially low decked boats, to have either skegs or nothing, rather than rudders.

this is a religious war…
…if you are new and your kayak lacks initial stability, rudders can add a bit of stability until you get used to the boat.

I have them, although no expert. They help maintain course in a quartering wind.

I a big swell they can make your boat do weird things if the stern leaves the water and suddenly drops back into the water: your kayak may respond to the rudder and suddenly take you in a direction you don’t want to go.

My advice: get the rudder and make a concerted effort not to use it. It’s a great tool, but a rotten crutch.

We have become so civilized :slight_smile:

– Last Updated: Jun-10-09 11:46 AM EST –

I had initially avoided this thread thinking it was a troll and that it would devolve like the skeg v rudder battles of yore.

I am grateful it has not...

(BTW all of my sea kayaks are skegged. Rudders can be a hassle or hazard in rescues, towing, and surf - all of which I tend to experience as part of my paddling)

how hard is it for you to turn the p145?
Try turning a boat you’re interested in, without a rudder. If you can do it, you probably don’t need a rudder. If you find them unnecessary and distracting there is nothing so magical about a rudder that is likely to change your mind.

I guess I’m saying you could go either way, if you can find a craft that’s maneuverable enough without a rudder… and that you can keep going in a straight line withOUT a rudder (which IMO is an often overlooked benefit of a rudder).

hey everyone, thanks so much for the feedback. i had no idea that the rudder vs no rudder was an energized debate! lots of great advice here pointing both directions, which is actually perfect because it helps to know that a rudder can be very useful, but at the same time i am not necessarily limiting myself if i don’t have one.

thanks again. there is a lot of great information to be found on these boards, i have been lurking here for some time and excited to have finally posted.

matt / portland