safest surf/rudder method

Assume you are touring a surfy coast in a ruddered boat. Think Freya in her Epic 18X or her new Point 65. Think Caffyn in his ruddered Nordkapp around Australia. Anyway, you have to land through difficult surf.

Do you leave the rudder down before survival landing, or retract it onto the deck?

Retract, unless the conditions are such that I would really need the rudder (like a strong side wind). Even then, I’d lean towards retract.

A short time without a rudder is better than having it ripped off mid-expedition.

Why don’t you email Paul and ask?
He’s a very approachable guy, but I don’t think he suffers fools lightly.

Or better yet plan a trip to Greymouth and land in heavy surf with your rudder.

At least, that is my opinion.

For a lot of reasons, I’m not a big fan of rudders, but then, I haven’t used anything more recent than the ones commonly found on boats 20+ years ago when I first started paddling. Reliability was a problem most of them had back then (they often seemed to hang up, deploy accidentally, or just otherwise not be usable when you’d want them since the retraction/deploy system was unreliable).

I’m sure the designs are better now, but even with a better design, they just aren’t really useful in surf.


I don’t use it in white water rivers either


retract rudder or skeg
I suggest against having either deployed in surf landings. A deployed skeg slammed up from the bottom tends to kink skeg cables quite easily, so you lose your ability to control them from the cockpit. I think it’s fine to use skegs and rudders to assist you in controlling a kayak. I don’t think it’s fine for skegs and rudders to be the difference between control and out of control. And using either during surf landings is a quick way to cause issues. So I suggest learning and practicing your surf landings without.

The folks with that level of skill…
have long since mastered landing in tough conditions without any tracking aid. For that matter, they have mastered handling anything on the water without such help. They had to be able to, though at some point I think Freya alluded to that being a more difficult chore with the Epic than when she did a major trip in an NDK Explorer.

no pro/con rudder discussion
I did not intend this discussion to be pro/con on rudders. Rather, assuming one is using a rudder, whether to deploy it or not in difficult but necessary surf landings.

In particular, is the risk of damaging a deployed rudder compensated by an increase in safety margin for landing in one piece? I further presume one is using a relatively long and relatively straight tracking sea kayak.

I do add, however, that Bill Taylor in “Commitment and Open Crossing” advocated and used a rudder in his Britain circumnavigation, and Jon Turk uses one on adventures described in “Cold Oceans”. I realize that there are counter examples also, e.g., O’Blenis and Sean Morley around Vancouver Island.

retract it
no benefit in a surf landing in most sea kayaks. If you are coming in on the back of the wave, the rudder will make it harder to back paddle and stay straight. If you are coming in on the face, your stern is hopefully out of the water. If you are broaching, the rudder hinders side surfing and just makes you more likely to window-shade. In all cases if your boat gets pushed sideways or backwards once up on the beach your rudder will possibly get damaged.

Another thought: foot controls
I agree with the general opinion that when landing in surf you should be able to control your boat without steering aids. Also, when landing you s/b riding in on the back of the wave, not surfing, so the question kinda becomes moot.

But one other thing to consider is that if you have sliding footpegs as rudder controls, you lose the leverage you get from fixed footpegs unless your rudder is retracted.

I would not consider a ruddered boat unless it had fixed pegs with toe controls for the rudder, because the times you need that leverage are the times when you can’t stop to think about what your feet are doing to the rudder (e.g. in surf).

I retract the rudder or skeg for a surf landing. Usually I deal with nasty surf by allowing the kayak to go into a slow, controlled broach, leaning into the wave, and riding in sideways. Having the rudder/skeg down can easily cause damage when the kayak touches bottom and washes sideways up the beach, or if you wash high up the beach and then start to slide down.

The OP mentioned Freya, on our Iceland circumnavigation she also retracted, but that was an Explorer with a skeg.

Greg Stamer

Question is vague

– Last Updated: Nov-01-12 6:20 PM EST –

"Using a rudder" for major expeditions is normal, for example dropping it to handle wind on a long crossing. All it means is that is spends some time in the water.

This is not the same thing as having it deployed for a surf landing. That is a specific moment within said expedition in which use of a tracking device is considered by many to be a very bad idea. Your assumption that it might add a safety margin runs counter to what many here are saying.

I think the best answer was given above, to contact Paul McCaffrey and ask him if he found a deployed rudder to be useful in surf landings. The consensus in this thread looks to be no, but then again no one replying here is Paul McCaffrey or Freya H.

I also just checked your profile. I find this question to be confusing in light of that.

I was joking …
but he does answer his email.

I didn’t get it. Sorry. But then a lot of these really major folks are still very much real. I can’t see McCaffrey responding to a question that seems really foolish, but there probably exists a way to phrase this that is reasonable.

No Michael Jordan’s in kayaking
One great thing about kayaking is that most everyone is approachable (at all levels) – and if they’re not, then you probably wouldn’t want to waste your breath on them anyway.

I have found Paul Caffyn approachable and I’m sure that he would be more than happy to answer a sincere question. However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your homework first, a little research goes a long way. A short article by Caffyn on rudders is at .

Greg Stamer

Ride it in upside-down
Rudder or skeg engaged won’t be trashed (as much)

But your head might. ------> :wink:

Actual information in that link …
from two approachable paddlers …

have to respect their opinions with the trips they have done too.

Boy not sure about the boils and overflows though with a rudder… but maybe if you are really good it’s not that tricky.

Not only will a deployed rudder (or skeg) be more likely to be damaged, but it also makes the boat more difficult to maneuver and correct coarse.

How about this question back?
In order to provide a good answer, how about a bit of a question back that can help you answer your own question.

What advantage does a rudder provide during a surf landing at the speeds we are talking about?

What disadvantages would it offer?

I’d rather think about freya than paul
no offense