Skeg or rudder

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

That speaks exactly what a skeg is for!

Try both?
Both will work in countering cross wind. But they FEEL very different. So the best is you need to paddle them IN WIND to see if you like one over the other.

To re-emphasize what others had mentioned:

  • skeg gives you a SOLID foot peg to push on (some people even moved the bulkhead back to leg length

  • rudder can be used for steering. So if you do narrow twisty river a lot, you can steer with your feet instead of with the paddle. That’s also the reason why racing boats all have rudder.

    Those 2 main point you should observe when testing boats of each kind.

High end rudders give a solid foot brace

Jack L

rudder vs drop skeg vs built in skeg
Some kayaks are designed for use of a rudder and therefore need them. Racers always use rudders as precisely following the shortest line between points is the fastest course.

Many kayaks are designed for drop skegs, and they are useful with those kayaks.

As Willowleaf noted there is a third category. Some kayaks have a skeg feature designed into the rear keel line. They track without a rudder or a drop skeg. Just like some rudders and some drop skegs work better than others, I’m sure there is a varying of effectiveness of this tracking solution.

I have used kayaks with rudders and since I’m not a racer, I don’t need rudders to achieve the fastest time-don’t want the wind influence on them increasing weather cocking tendency when stored up-don’t want the increased drag when deployed and don’t want the failure risk of their complexity. Those of you who are happy with rudders ignore me.

Drop skegs are on a number of kayaks I have owned and are on two still in the fleet. They are not foolproof either. Frequent jamming is likely if they are dragged up on the beach, getting sand or pebbles in the skeg box. The cable can be kinked if forced when the skeg box jammed or if the skeg is left down when landing. Leaks in the skeg box are more common then they should be. Drop skeg lovers should also ignore me.

The designed in skeg aspect Willowleaf mentioned is a third option that has become more appealing to me in the last few years. In my “built in skeg” fleet are: Eddyline Falcon 16, Mariner Express, Mariner II and a Cape Falcon FI sof, all without rudders or drop skegs. All track and turn without those failure prone devices. The Express even has a sliding seat with attached foot braces that move with the seat. By moving the seat forward or rearward, the kayak’s center of balance is changed. This increases or decreases the influence of the built in skeg. A very effective and clever solution to the tracking/turning delima. Unfortunately, The Mariner Kayaks owners have retired and shut down production.


yet another version
The first ruddered kayak I bought was a vintage Dagger Magellan that had been retrofitted by the owner who was a paraplegic – the rudder deploys and is moved by hand controls mounted on the deck in front of the coaming! This enables you to have solid locked foot pegs without sacrificing rudder control, though obviously you have to take one hand off the paddle to turn the rudder.

i do agree that a high-end rudder mechanism doesn’t create mushy foot bracing.

There is another advantage to some skegs in that they can be moved to various positions under the boat. I’ve used my strap-attached rubber Feathercraft skeg (that came with my Wisper) on other boats including my rotomolds – since it fastens to the permimeter hardware I can position it where I want. You can also make wooden, plastic or metal skegs that fasten under the boat with screws or other hardware (more common in wood framed boats) that allow repositioning. I’ve seen them with a sort of sliding track hardware that stays on the boat and the skeg slips on and is tightened in place with screws.

The Inuit would lash wooden or bone skegs under their boats with leather strips.

Rudders are best for racing and long distance expeditions. If you want to maintain a very efficient forward stroke to optimize speed and cover lot’s of miles it works well. For the average paddler a skeg is all you need. It retracts out of the way, reduces weight and there’s less parts to break.

Many people (especially newbies) think a rudder is more advanced or better. It’s a different tool. It’s just a question of how much do you really need it?

Chillin’ w/rudder
I prefer a skeg – I have 3 boats, all skegs.

However, my first time in a kayak was on a multi-day trip on the Green River in Utah (non-whitewatwer, above the confluence with the Colorado) with a ruddered boat. It was very nice at times to drop the rudder, stop paddling, watch the clouds, go with the flow, and steer with the feet. (Perhaps it’s possible to do this with edging, but that didn’t even occur to me at the time.) This relates to the earlier comment on photographing while fine tuning position with feet. So, not only does it depend on the hull design; it also depends on intended use.

If neither
If you prefer neither, does that mean you paddle ‘commando’?

skeg experience

– Last Updated: May-02-12 2:56 PM EST –

Celia, You are right, I do not have experience with the full skeg that is shown on the Delta 17.

Now that’s a good answer :slight_smile:

Since the skeg will take up room and I am buying the kayak to get more room, the rudder does seem to be the way to go.

Excellent point re photography.

Thanks to all contributors. For my purposes, I believe a rudder wins the day, but it was good to see all the various arguments.

My 2cent experience,soft chine high volume yaks= rudder good,hard chine low volume yaks = skeg good

Delta kayaks
have gas pedal type rudder controls.

would be my choice. Not because I think rudders are inherently better. Rudders and skegs do different things, and are part of the design of the entire boat. Some kayaks are designed to have skegs, some designed to have rudders. The Delta 17 was designed to have a rudder, so offering it with a skeg seems like a marketing ploy to me. If you choose to paddle with a skeg, get a kayak that was designed to have a skeg.

Ditto to both the above posts
I have owned one ruddered kayak, one with neither rudder nor skeg, and 3 skegged kayaks. You can guess which way I lean (no pun intended).

Caveat is to demo the boat in some wind and make sure that it isn’t a PITA to maneuver without a rudder. Some are like that. This assumes you are comfortable with edging to assist turns, along with appropriate paddle stroke choice; also that the boat actually is a good match for your weight/size.

The skeg is there mainly to help you go straight when the boat is weathercocking more than you want to deal with otherwise. It is not primarily a turning aid like a rudder is.

Drop down under-stern rudder
At the 2000 L.L. Bean seakayak symposium I paddled a line of kayaks that had a foot-controlled rudder that dropped down out of a box, which was set forward of the stern. It was a blast to paddle. However,I never heard of the brand before or since, and can’t recall what it was. It obviously was not a market success.

I like my no-skeg, no-rudder, wind-neutral kayaks, but I never paddled them in really harsh wind or wave conditions. In those conditions, or on an expedition, I would want the safety and functionality of a rudder.

Actually, I gave up seakayaks to take up outrigger canoes, which have under-stern rudders. The ability to steer with a rudder is very useful when paddling in strong winds – I can single blade on either side – and also when paddling upstream in current. Advanced paddlers can also use the rudder to steer down the face of big open ocean waves.

I have to go with the intent of the
designer. Some kayak designs need a rudder some need a skeg. I will use whatever device the kayak is equipped with to make my paddling as enjoyable and safe as possible. Paddle smarter not harder!

Lightspeed Kayaks
is the brand that has the under-stern drop-down rudder. Such a better design than typical rudder set-ups. Too bad those kayaks are hard to find.

What came first???
The Rudder or the Skeg???

Early 1960’s. Rudder late 1970’s.