Sea kayak rudder controls

Yesterday I took my new to me Perception Shadow sea kayak out for a paddle. It has a rudder. I am really used to skegs, so it was quite a learning experience. I quickly discovered the normal way that I steer the kayak would not work with the rudder deployed. I have a strong muscle memory of outside edging to turn and my foot pressure would tell the rudder to go the other way. Very strange to get accustomed to.

I should mention that I only deployed the rudder when the wind came up and needed to compensate for weathercocking. Of course as soon as I deployed I got leecocking. Ugg! Then I discovered how sliding rudder pedals (don’t) work.

What to do? I’m wondering if using either the Sea-Lect or SmartTrack foot pedals would be of any benefit. They sound good but they also sound like their own drawbacks. Or even the crazy idea of cabling the rudder crosswise so that outside edging would turn the rudder in the same way.

It’s too bad because I kind of like this kayak and it was a great deal for $60. It is faster than any other I own. But definitely not crazy about the rudder. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s encountered this so curious about feedback anyone might have.

My $60 kayak. Needed a big cleaning and minor fixes but fine now. My spray skirt even fit!

I installed Sea Lect gas-peddle controllers in my Sea Lion Shadow and found the peddled did not clear the deck. So I had to buy the offset mounts and then they work about 3/4 of the length of the tracks. If the peddles were set for anyone with longer legs and moved forward more they would still hit the deck. So in that particular kayak be mindful of clearance.

I installed gas-peddle controllers in my Sea Lion Shadow and found the peddled did not clear the deck. So I had to buy the offset mounts and then they work about 3/4 of the length of the tracks. If the peddles were set for anyone with longer legs and moved forward more they would still hit the deck. So in that particular kayak be mindful of clearance.

@coaster, I only have a rudder on my 175 Tsunami The only time I use it is to aid in tracking straight. Like the myth about feathering a paddle to reduce the wind exposure. Craig_S showed me how and why he feathers. I was impressed with how it resolves issues that I’ve seen with other high angle paddlers.

I use edging to turn and stay on track. If you have that perfected, use the rudder to help.track when you hit cross currents or if weather cocking becomes an issue.

I know several people that upgraded the old sliding pedals to the Sea-lect pedals and were very happy with them. In many cases it was a direct swap.

A rudder will turn the boat, but that is not its primary purpose. It should be deployed more like a skeg. Find the angle that compensates for cross winds or currents and leave it there. Only occasional fine adjustment should be necessary as conditions change.

You can turn the boat as you always have if you like.

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Thanks for posting that. I have a Kevlar Shadow and was thinking of upgrading to SmartTrack or Sea-Lect rudder controls. But I had to extend my rudder cables about an inch and a half just to fit my legs (I lost a little rudder motion but I don’t need it). I won’t be in Maine where the kayak is stored for another month, but I’ll have to look things over more closely when I’m there to see if new rudder controls would work at all. Fortunately, I don’t mind the old slider controls so I can stick with them if needed.

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If you have a shop one trick you can use is to simply cut off about 3/4" of the top of the peddles and glass them over with fiberglass and resin to reinforce them. The ones I have are slotted so cutting them off and no reinforcing them would lead to problem later. But without the off-set mounts the peddles are just about 1/2" too tall.
I didn’t cut and glass mine because I have no need where they are set because I have short legs. But my friend Jesse tried my kayak and the peddles jammed against the deck when I ran them forward about 3 inches. He has a 34 inch inseam and it was just a bit too far forward to work with him in the Sea lion Shadow. If he were to buy my Sea Lion I’d trim the peddles down and glass them.
My friend Thor also has a Perception Sea Lion but his is the Eclipse and it’s larger so his peddles clear fine.

It would be best to buy them someplace you could install them on site, and see if they were going to work. I had to order the off-set mounts after I installed the set because I had no idea it would be a problem until I had them ready to bolt up

Time on my hands… so a little more digging. Found interesting info on crossed cables, apparently a far from original idea! Reading on I am very tempted to try this. I don’t relish the idea of unlearning a useful non-rudder turning skill to accommodate what I think is a bit of a hack (showing my preference for skegs and edging). Also the trick foot pedals may not fit. I have big (13) feet and have to use surf booties to fit in this and another kayak, so szihn’s comments are a real concern.

Looks like it might be very easy to try:

BTW I have no interest in steering with a rudder. But since you can’t control its depth to affect helm like a skeg we are left with angular deflection to get neutral helm. Oops that’s sailor talk!

If given a choice between Sea-lect and SmartTrack, I’d go for the Sea-lect. Over a few years my wife went through three sets of rudder cables with the SmartTrack system that her QCC 600 came with. The cause appears to be the way the cables are routed around the foot pedals. Too many sharp bends. We switched out the foot pedals for the Sea-lect pedals five years ago and have had no more problems. The SmartTrack rudder itself works fine.

The SmartTrack pedal assembly, unless they’ve changed the design, are aluminum, and being used in saltwater, we’ve had problems with fasteners corroding and being hard to remove. The Sea-lect are of molded fiberglass/polypropylene. The Sea-lect also have a low profile option which may solve the foot clearance problem.


My suggestion would be that crossing rudder cables so that your kayak turns left when pushing on the right foot pedal really just solves a smaller problem. The bigger issue is that you don’t have a solid footrest to use to push your kayak forward with your foot - especially with your forward stroke.
I’ve installed SmartTrack on a couple of sliding rudder control kayaks. If your kayak has the Yakima aluminum rails, they are interchangeable. But if there isn’t room, that’s no good.
I installed ONNO foot braces with rudder control on my Current Designs Extreme. The design is really quite simple. The solid lower foot plate attaches to the Yakima footpegs themselves. I simply slid out the sliding portion of the Yakima foot rail, removed the piece it slid within, and then attached the piece that used to slide fixed directly to the side of the kayak. It’s the same hardward and spacing, so all I was doing is reattaching the rails without the slider attachment in the exact same location with the same bolts. Then there are two stainless hinges attaching the rudder controls on top of the foot plate. So you could substitute the nicely done pieces of carbon that ONNO provided for me with whatever else might suit the purpose, and put such a thing together yourself. Here’s a picture of ONNO’s take.

The thing is, if you want to get truly powerful in your strokes, you need a fixed point for your feet. I have several skeg kayaks that I paddle often, but I was never taken in by the romantic skeg notions for whatever reason. The sea kayaking family is small, so I haven’t generally found myself too onboard with devisiveness within that. Rudders take some foot coordination that isn’t necessary in a skegged boat, but that’s more skill, not less. To spin a ruddered boat quickly, you still need to edge and rotate your body. A rudder kayak turns much more easily perched on the top of a wave crest with the end of the stern released from the water same as a skeg boat does. But you can’t eliminate fixed foot pegs/plates and think that you can operate a kayak the same unless you were never taking advantage of fixed foot pegs in the first place. So I would suggest not to even think about trying to somehow substitute something for fixed pegs. You would be giving up a lot of control. Not because your kayak has a rudder, but because your kayak does not have fixed foot pegs, which is certainly not a mutually exclusive relationship.

I also prefer to stay away from the SmartTrack controls with aluminum rails in salt water. I bought a used kayak on which those rails had been eaten away by corrosion. I like the SmartTrack approach with a fixed pedal and a second toe pedal that moves for the steering input. I found these rudder controls on Amazon that look similar to SmartTrack, but they are all plastic and they work very well.

Rudder Controls

Go with sea-lect I’ve done about 9 conversions. You’ll need new cables, crimping tool / swaging tool, and swages. You’ll also need ABS adapter plates they sell. If you want to lower, raise, or move pedal assembly forward back. If you need to further change the pedals you can make you own adapter plates from 1/8" ABS you can buy on eBay. You may need to make a few tools to help you reach in to get nuts on bolts.

You need to make something to hold pedals in same position when you pull cables and crimp them so they’re close to even. Simple wood jig and a squeeze clamp. If you decide I can tell you more here or on phone. Send you pictures also if I can find them.

Good full service kayak shop could do it in about an hour but no clue where they are. Bolt holes are 14.5" OC or you can glass mount studs they make but it gets more involved for sure probably another hour at least.

To me sliders are like hunting polar bear with a sling shot.

I bought my CD Solstice with sliders first composite kayaks. Then I bought a beat up CD Extreme with sliders and thought WTH is this crap.

I’m puzzled about the concept of using a rudder to turn a boat. I do understand how it is useful on a bulk carrier or a power boat.

The way I understand hull design, shorter boats or boats with greater rocker are easier to turn. I assume that’s because the short length or the lack of lateral resistance at the bow and stern allows the boat to turn due to less resistance. The way to make a boat with rocker go straight is to increase the lateral resistance. That’s the sole purpose of a skeg.

Compare that to a rudder, which being on the stern, and having has a greater surface area provides for more lateral resistance. Using it to turn obviously works, but it seems incredibly inefficient. It obviously creates drag even when in a neutral position (how much drag can and is hotly debated), but the amount of drag resulting from a turn maneuver is like turning your paddle in the water. Being as far back on the stern as possible creates turning leverage, but it also has the undesirable characteristic of extending the keel line which makes the boat track even straighter.

I know that dropping the rudder improves tracking, but what characteristic makes it desirable to assist turning, unless you don’t mind wasting energy to resume headway after recovering from the turn.

On the other hand, edging has the same effect as increasing rocker, and the underwater profile of a properly designed hull is to present a greater curve on the submerged side compared to the raised side. It’s clearly more efficient, so why should paddlers be encouraged to take the easy but inefficient route, rather than coach new paddlers on proper edging techniques? If you consider the dynamics, it really isn’t a topic that that should be considered as a matter of opinion. It’s simply a shortcut, rather than learning techniques that are not hard to master.

I will concede that if you’re simply drifting and want easy directional corrections, it’s effective. It’s also effective to counter wind cocking or to correct tracking that’s disrupted by side current, but that helps with tracking straight, not with turning. What am I missing?

With a rockered boat you are trading some speed and tracking for maneuverability, the ability to turn more easily. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on what you want. All boats are a compromise.

A rudder in a neutral position has negligible drag, and you always have the ability to stow it in the parked position.

Skegs are not necessarily smaller than rudders. Both vary in size.

A boat on edge is introducing or increasing rocker and may be reducing waterline length. It is also more difficult to paddle efficiently over distances with an edged boat. I often edge my boat to turn quickly while paddling on one side. My boat has no rocker and is 18’ long. It resists turning quickly if not edged.

While a rudder can be used to turn a boat, that is not its primary purpose in a kayak.


I agee with your explanation and believe both are best used to stay on track.

When you look at a rudder look at what is beneath the water it’s not much. It slows you down slightly in rougher water or quartering
seas you won’t be making many corrective strokes. It turns a kayak going forward and backwards.

A rudder in a touring kayak is there to making course keeping easier especially with a cross wind to correct for the weather helm. Also when surfing you can concentrate on paddling forward while making course corrections with the rudder.

A rudder impedes making sharp turns though also because a rudder needs forward speed to do its job. And with a sharp turn you loose all your forward speed.
For making turns a paddler has a much better tool at hand than a rudder:
the paddle blade…

A rudder gives a bit more resistance than a skeg, especially if used too much.

Edging is a way to change the hull shape in the water which can make maneuvers easier depending on the actual hull shape. In some boat designs it works very well, in some you really need it for sharp turns, and in others it can be helpfull but not that much.


“why should paddlers be encouraged to take the easy but inefficient route, rather than coach new paddlers on proper edging techniques?”
I don’t know. Why should they? Why should paddlers be encouraged to deploy skegs? What does a skeg or rudder have to do with proper edging technique? At what point does directional control with a rudder become less efficient than edging and paddle directional control? Does everyone agree on what’s proper? Does one person’s idea of proper align with actual effectiveness, or are there romantic considerations mixed in? I myself really appreciate the romantic part of sea kayaking. Edging a kayak to control it feels more pleasing to me even at times when I know a rudder or skeg would be more efficient. There are others who think that’s stupid, and I’m fine acknowledging their points.
In the way of thinking about a rudder on the end of a stern seeming incredibly inefficient. How much force does it take to initiate a turn from different points on the hull? The connection point of a paddle turn is your body in the cockpit, with variations depending upon how the individual paddler transfers the force to whatever points on the hull within the cockpit. The connection point of a rudder is at the stern of the kayak, with the connection point at or near the end of the stern. Sit someone in a kayak, and standing next to it, initiate a turn from the cockpit area. Now stand at the stern, and initiate a turn from there. Initiating a turn from force applied at the end of the stern takes significantly less force than initiating a turn form force applied at the cockpit.
Now we can go into paddling experience. If you are trying to catch downwind runs, or just surfing waves for fun, you will very quickly understand that introducing an edge has a significant slowing effect. I find it to be the most effective way to keep further back on a wave. And I know that if you feel a wave about to slip under you, the best way to keep with it is to flatten your hull to its most efficient form, gain speed whatever direction you’re facing, and edge for directional control only when you’re confident you can sacrifice that efficiency for some directional control without losing the wave.
So I don’t think edging is clearly more efficient. If you took a kayak, edged it 30 degrees, and then made that the shape of the keel line, it would not be a reasonably efficient design.
Then there’s the efficiency of paddle initiated directional control. I very rarely use a skeg or rudder in a sea kayak. So my normal paddling is all paddler initiated directional control. It doesn’t seem inefficient at all. Mostly I don’t even realize I’m doing it. And if I’m not trying to paddle forward efficiently or trying to go fast, the only effects that it has is that I’ve become better at directional control for it, and I’m using more energy than I would if I didn’t have to put anything towards directional control, but I personally don’t mind. But if I intentionally play around with a skeg or a rudder, it becomes quite obvious how inefficient the directional control efforts that I’m not even aware of actually are. When it comes to downwind runs, applying force to the end of the stern for directional control while continuing forward paddling if needed, vs. initiating a slowing edge and paddle stroke in place of another forward stroke, there really is no contest. Edging and paddle strokes are going to slow you down more.
“I know that dropping the rudder improves tracking, but what characteristic makes it desirable to assist turning, unless you don’t mind wasting energy to resume headway after recovering from the turn.” You may be underestimating the braking effective of edging your kayak, along with underestimating the effect on lost forward power applied while introducing directional control with your paddle, while probably also overestimating the slowing effect of a rudder and/or initiating a turn with a rudder. You will use energy to maintain or resume headway during and after a turn, no matter how you turn.
And there is also the question of implementation. One person drops in a low brace turn to achieve directional control, while another simply adds a stern draw at the end of a forward stroke. The latter will not slow nearly as much. One person does a slight angle change on a rudder, while another steps down significantly on that rudder pedal. The former will not slow down nearly as much.
Bottom line is that I’ve never met a sea kayak coach who doesn’t teach edging, and it doesn’t take much playing around to discover that to spin your kayak around quickly, both a skeg and a rudder will work against you. When I hear turning with a rudder, I think about the small degree directional control turns used to correct in both directions as you’re trying to maintain a fairly straight course. This is the utility a rudder offers that a skeg does not. This could be considered a concept of using a rudder to turn a paddle boat. And it’s quite effective for that purpose.

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In agreement.
Especially at times when the skeg would be effective for short periods (upcoming turn, crossing river, etc) I’ll use alternatives to the skeg: occasional lean (edge), shifting the hands on shaft to left or right, or adding an extra ‘swivel’ to the paddle stroke on one side.
I like to ‘feel’ the kayak (being more part of it). The skeg (or rudder) diminishes this ‘feel’. Though I’ll certainly use the skeg when necessary (eg, a 20 mile paddle stretch in one direction with a quartering tailwind).


@CapeFear, I first want to make sure my questions isn’t misunderstood. I realize that coaching isn’t mandatory and neither is learning. Gucci boats aren’t for everybody. I was at my daughter’s for the holiday and one of the guest asked about using one of my kayaks for fishing (waterfront property). I asked him to take his pick. He mentioned the 125 Tsunsmi, then I offered the 9.5 ft Perception Swifty, my first kayak and the cheapest ($236), least capable boat I own. He picked it, because it was set up with rod holders and a paddle holder. It performed perfectly, because it’s stable and tracks well yet turns easily. Different boats for different needs.

My goal in kayaking is to travel somewhere quickly and efficiently. Since my intention is to maintain a straight track at all times, whether going into, against, or along the crest of waves, others use the opportunity to take advantage of the power and ride them. Still others might decide to avoid waves, wind and current in favor of tranquil coves or protected lakes and ponds to just sit or to explore a natural setting.

While I selected a stable boat that tracks adequately, a wave surfer wants something more agile. The designs are vastly different. As you pointed out, and I agree, a skeg improves trackability for an otherwise skittish boat that can turn on a dime. Placement of the skeg is engineered into the design. Another alternative is a rudder. While placement of a rudder can be engineered to operate virtually anywhere along the length of the boat, the simplest, lightest, most effective and efficient location for the rudder is at the stern. We agree that both serve the same purpose, but the rudder has the advantage of directional control.

So why not equip every boat with a skeg or a rudder. Several reasons come to mind: cost, weight, reduced storage capacity in the hold, complexity, and just another thing that needs maintenance, breaks or gets clogged with debris. Skegs can leak, reduce hold capacity, get jambed, fill with gravel. Rudders can be dangerous when the paddler dismounts in turbulent water and hamper certain remount procedures. Both are useless in shallow water, where the greatest fear is having either device damaged (even though they’re designed to deflect if hitting a submerged object). Although opinions are divided regarding the effect on speed . . . You can not put anything in the slipstream of water without slowing the boat. The question is a matter of the lesser of two evils: directional control or speed, but what if it’s just a little bit of speed, and what if speed isn’t important to the kayaker. Ironically, that actually never occurred to me until I joined a Paddling Forum and realized that kayak speed is less valued than other factors. In reality, both will slow speed to a measurable degree, and both are a nightmare to use in seaweed. There is a saying, “Live and learn.” I get it.

So now to the first question: why even teach technique. If a novice approaches an experienced kayaker and asks whether a kayak should have a skeg or a rudder, the answer will depend on several factors. The first is how much you value the relationship and your compasion toward strangers, whether the person has the aptitude or the attention span to understand, and your actual knowledge about the topic.

The easiest reaction is to just say: I don’t know, I haven’t used either (if you’re sitting in a kayak with neither), or recommend what you personally have, or offer a treatise on kayak design, or delve into formulas and BS until the person grazes over and excuses themself. Then a few, like yourself, offer the time to explain in detail.

Now to another of my basic question about why would an experienced kayaker “not” suggest learning effective technique. There is no question that a skeg helps a boat track. There also is no question that a rudder can make turning easy. That is actually a valid answer. The other details depend on your knowledge and view about the devices, what you thing about the person asking the question, and how much time you want to invest in helping someone.

There is no obligstion to answer questions, nor is there an obligation for a person to learn techniques when there is an easy way to paddle a straight line, especially if the negstive aspects aren’t relevant to the person asking the question.

I believe you’re correct about selecting the option that gives you more control with the least effort. I have the 125; two 145s, one with and one without a rudder, and a 175 Tsunamis with rudder. I removed the rudder on the 145 because of the added weight, complications it causes when loading and uploading as I worry about damaging both the rudder and furtlher damage to the vehicle when the boat slips and drops on the stern. The 120 SP and two 140 Tsunamis are rudder equipped and they have never been deployed. My sister bought her 140 rudder equipped and never used it. She wishes she invested that $300 option in a paddle instead. Unfortunately, replacing the foot pegs cost money, while keeping the unwanted equipment is just an inconvenience to deal with, but that’s just my personal point of view.

You mentioned one obvious point that I haven’t taken advantage. While trying to stabilize the boat in front of a wave, I should take more advantage of bracing. I typically expend too much energy trying to stay in front of the wave. That energy might be better applied when paddling into the waves, whole using s brace to help control direction. Thanks for the tip.