Skeg or rudder

I am considering getting a new kayak, specifically a Delta 17. The Expedition version comes with a rudder as standard, but a skeg is optional. Any opinions on which would be the better choice. I will be using the 'yak for lake, large river, and sea touring.

use it when you want it, pull it up when you don’t. Skeg is ok but doesn’t help when wind gets the best of you. A rudder can act as a skeg, but a skeg can’t act as a rudder.

Gee, I hate to do this, but …
A skeg does help in wind. Why would you think it doesn’t? A rudder cannot typically be partially deployed and a skeg can. There is no consensus answer. The only thing I think is non-controversial is if you get a rudder be sure it has fixed foot support and “gas paddle” controls. Otherwise get the skeg for sure.

Skeg in wind works
It’s the only time I do use a skeg, or anyone with whom we paddle. I don’t understand the first post on this thread - I am guessing that the person who posted it doesn’t have much experience with skegged boats. A skeg can’t be a short cut to a turn without edging like a rudder can, but that’s about all we’ve found it won’t do.

I’ve had both in my short time
paddling kayaks. I much prefer the skeg. Rudders are heavy contraptions with all sort of moving parts. Skegs are light and simple. I hardly ever use it anyway. Skeg is a huge help in the wind. I don’t see any need to use a rudder to turn.

Another thing to consider about rudders
is that they add windage when retracted, which can blow your stern around (making you think “Gee, I need to drop my rudder”), and they can make reentering your kayak more difficult with the blade back there.

A small disadvantage to skegs is that the internal skeg box eats up some room inside if you’re packing a lot of stuff. If you’re not packing much, not a problem.

Both add some degree of mechanical complexity and both have been known to jam.

Have both
Skeg is ok but I love my ruddered boats.

When I’m out paddling I’m usually paddling hard. I don’t want to fiddle with how deep the skeg is, edge the boat, hold the paddle differently, or take multiple strokes on the same side. I want a powerful forward stroke. Much prefer the rudder when paddling upstream too.

Others enjoy the challenge and satisfaction to mastering boat control.

Take your pick.


on the hull of the boat. Some hulls work better with a rudder if they have minimal rocker. I know my old QCC needed a rudder.

It’s a safety device.

Paddle all day without it, but if you get caught in some big time wind and waves you’ll be glad you have it.

Also if you take pictures of wild life it is great to be able to steer with it while holding the camera and drifting toward your subject.

And lastly if you are ever thinking of racing it is a must. - You won’t be wanting to waste correction strokes.

Jack L

here we go…
Oh this is bound to be a lively topic.

We own both ruddered and skeg boats.

I think that people who have the particular boat your asking about would have the best answer, because boat design varies so widely.

…but this is what I have found…on windy days…

one of the boats tracks excellent with the skeg down as needed…

…the other one with a skeg tracks terribly wether the skeg is up or down…(fast boat though)

…the boats with rudders track fine when the rudder is used but poorly when they are not used.

…all the boats track fine with out either being deployed when heading into the wind…

…when camping I always use a boat with a rudder as a skeg takes up valuble cargo space

… a skeg will jamb with small pebbles

…with a rudder one of the cables could come loose

…if you get tumbled in the surf a rudder is extremely vunerable to damage

…if you need an assisted rescue people will worry that your rudder will scratch their boats

…either style of boat can be fine for rolling

…some people will think that a rudder makes you slower and will be confused if you can keep up with them

…some people will not be happy if you pass them in a ruddered boat esp if they have a “fast boat” with a skeg and a wing paddle"

…with a skeg boat you tend to push with your feet while paddling

…with a rudder you tend push off with your knees while paddling

… some folks will always look down on you if you have a rudder on your boat.

…some will say that if you learned to paddle properly you wouldn’t need either a skeg or a rudder and generaly look down on anybody that uses either.

…and of course no matter which version you get someone is bound to say you should have gotten the other kind

…good luck and happy paddling !

Boat design seems to matter, and your intentions for that boat matter. If racing or fitness paddling, I would go with a rudder any day of the week. Anything else take your pick and argue your side with passion.

Ryan L.

You are so right. It’s a sociological thing…like Mac vs. PC, Nikon Vs. Canon, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Republicans/Democrats, Boxers/briefs…etc. etc.

Me? I’m coming to favor the few designs that seem to need neither.

More thoughts

– Last Updated: May-02-12 7:34 AM EST –

In my first sea kayak, I found that the rudder made handling much more difficult in waves. I periodically tried again and it never stayed down for long. I am not the only person I ever met who had that boat and found this to be an issue. I left it on because, as someone mentioned above, when retracted it helped balance the boat to neutral in moderate wind.

It could be useful in wind, but then I was using it pretty much the same way as I do a skeg so I am not sure that pulls this discussion one way or the other. I found the rudder more annoying than a skeg for that purpose because of having to fuss with footpegs to keep it straight, but maybe there are rudders that you can drop and leave in a position so the feet can be freed up. It may also be that people with larger feet find it less physically diverting to keep light pressure on the footpegs than my smaller 6.5 feet can manage.

But it varies boat to boat. A fully dropped skeg on the Explorer has a huge impact, it has less of one on the Vela just because these are two quite different hull designs. The Delta 17 may be a boat where the retracted rudder has been incorporated into its design for calmer winds like my first sea kayak. If it does offer a skeg, it could have the very strong response of my Explorer or the lesser response of my Vela.

As a safety device... I dunno. Granted it is necessary in racing. But for other uses - overall controlling the boat is a safety factor. If it is a boat designed to be best controlled with a rudder, then a rudder it should be. But if it is a boat primarily designed to be managed with a skeg, all the rudder adds is parts that can break or be problems for surf or re-entry (no cowboy with a rudder...).

I think the best thing for the OPer to do is to call Delta and ask them if and how they figured a rudder into the design of this boat. If the manufacturer says it mattered, the rudder wins. If it is a wash, then the responses on this board come into play.

Don’t search this topic
If you do, your computer might explode.

A skeg does not steer the boat. A rudder is connected to the foot pedals and a lot of people don’t like that. Eventually all kayakers learn to steer their boat with leaning, draw strokes etc. Both will stiffen up tracking if needed. Rudders are ugly (my opinion).

Rudder worked for Verlan, Paul, & Freya
I lot of it may have to do with boat design. But my limited experience leads me to believe that using a skeg in the wind also requires edging the boat. This seems fine for an hour or two on one side, but after a time I want to switch sides and that won’t work unless you switch wind directions.

So I think a rudder is best for multi day trips paddling from point to point in wind.

I rudder is also best for boats design around a rudder. Just try to paddle a Tarpon 160 or most any surf ski without a rudder in shoulder high chop and you’ll get what I mean. The Tarpon will leecock and many Surf skis will weathercock so much that they become impossible to control in big wind.

When you don’t need a rudder it is a nuisance and a lot of the time most boat do not need a rudder.

I don’t want a rudder or a skeg in the surf or in shallow twisty rivers with rocks, but I do want one while sailing.

In the skeg boats I have paddled the skeg is never big enough to do the job without edging and often I can just edge some of these boats an leave the skeg up.


– Last Updated: May-02-12 8:19 AM EST –

An edge is needed when the skeg doesn't do the full job. In one of my skegged boats, I think it took 35 mph of wind for me to have to add an edge to counter the wind. Up to there the skeg and boat hull handle it fine without my shifting weight. In the other, where the hull design renders any tracking device less effective (it is very bow-tight), I am sitting in the bilge on the opposite side between 15 and 20 mph. (Checked wind speeds on a land lubber site so it was mph.)

If I just move over and sit in the bilge, it is physically not a strain because I am not "holding" myself in position. I am just sitting there like I would normally in the center.

Long distance hauling is different, so for example people have circumnavigated Greenland with both a skeg and an add-on rudder on their boats. The solution to our 35 mph wind day was to acknowledge bad planning on our part, get the hell off the water and start the wine and cheese hour early. That is not always an option in these really major treks.

But then, there is no indication that the OPer plans to do that, or race. I know people who mostly use their kayaks as point to point transport, usually fully loaded, and find a rudder much easier. But they started out at a time when the North American boats were what was available and they were all ruddered. After years of using rudders I can see wanting to stay with the same thing. That doesn't necessarily mean that they couldn't do as well with a boat designed with a skeg.

Freya used a skeg for Oz
The Epic 18’s that Freya used for her Australian circumnavigation had skegs. In fact she had some incidents of them jamming and getting damaged. But considering how many thousands of miles she paddled they were minimal. The Epic she is using for the current South America transit is also skegged.

Of course, the function for these trips is paralleling rough coastlines and therefore often being perpendicular to the prevailing winds. A rudder would be a nuisance for that.


– Last Updated: May-02-12 10:39 AM EST –

Hoffmeister Epic = ruddered kayak. I understand Epic has/had a proto of a rudder & skeg combo, but typical placement for drop-down rudders at the tip of the stern is less than optimal placement for a skeg in my opinion. A skeg should be placed away from the outermost tip so that it won't rise above water when riding bigger waves. The optimal placement for a skeg is also optimal for a rudder, but a rudder under the hull is too accident prone in anything but track racing kayaks.

I prefer a skeg and a kayak that has been designed for it.

I stand corrected
Out of curiousity I checked out some of the photos from Freya’s current trip. The Epic she’s using actually has a rather unique boxed rudder set up (there are shots of her getting some help repairing part of it) It seems to have a sort of fairing around the mechanism and a smallish fiberglass fin that extends below. The fairing/enclosure would mitigate the crosswind catching issue, I imagine.

skeg preference here
I don’t care for rudders personally and have removed them from a couple of boats and usually keep them flipped up in the others that still have them – I would remove those as well but those are kayaks I often loan to friends, several of whom prefer a rudder. Frankly, I feel rudders create too much drag in the water and are a nuisance above it. I am sure there are conditions where they are useful but I don’t encounter them myself.

I most often paddle two skegged boats, but one is a folder with a flexible rubber skeg which isn’t damaged by hitting anything and the other is a Greenland SOF replica with the skeg built into the stern keel line. So I honestly can’t address the potential issues with mechanical retractable ones.