Skeg vs learning to paddle

For many years I paddled a Current Designs Caribou in all kinds of conditions (wind, 8 ft rollers, 3 ft breaking waves, surfing, fast rivers) without a skeg. Before I bought the boat I went to a sea kayaking class and learned how to paddle. I seldom had a problem maintaining a course.
Recently I had a buyer for the Caribou back out because it didn’t have a skeg. I sent Current Designs a comment about skeg vs paddling properly and this was their response: “We agree, telling a buyer to become a paddler is likely unwelcome in 2022!” :grinning:
Ok, I guess I have some supporters from the old school. It’s a Greenlander style boat. How many Greenlanders have skegs and rudders on their boats?
Sure, a skeg can be useful, but is it a substitute for paddling properly?
My rant for the day, I’m ready for conflicting opinions…


I have a Greenland style boat with a skeg. I do know how to steer it in quartering winds without the use of the skeg, but I do admit also that when I’m tired, often on the way back, I’m happy to have it so that I can expend less effort in keeping it going the direction I want. I mostly think of it as a useful assistant when I’m fatigued. But then again, I’m still pretty much a beginner.

There’s a video out there by Brian Shulz, probably the one where he talks about his new SOF West Greenland kayak, there is actually historical records showing tie on skegs on some skin boats!

A lot of it depends on the boat. Some won’t go into the wind without a skeg.

Some others are a PITA to get into the wind without working yourself into a frazzle.

All racers use a rudder of some type, so they can pay attention to the forward stroke to keep speed up.

The current problem is that there are so many newbies that really don’t want to learn to be a better paddler.

1 Like

I can’t speak for others, but the lack of a skeg isn’t a deal-breaker for me depending on the boat. However, if I’m looking at two boats of the same model and one has a skeg while the other doesn’t, I’d buy the one with the skeg.

I guess I’m not right every time :innocent:
Maybe I should include a $15 plastic skeg from Amazon and a piece of rope in the sale of the boat.
Seriously, your info is very interesting, I’ll look up the video.


The original postulation was silly… It is not a vs question. You can learn to paddle and have a skegged boat. There are no skeg police. No requirement that it is deployed all the time.
I paddled a Barry Buchanan Caribou … Then he sold his design to Current Designs and I had an early Bou of theirs. Then CD put a skeg in at least some later Caribous probably because it IS handy on stern quartering seas . The Caribou is not as you know a strict Greenland kayak… just the ala style

My hubby was paddling a Wilderness Systems Shenai one day … a long day with no landings possible on the north east shore of Lake Superior and the stern quartering waves and the constant correction had mention that a skeg would have been nice … I was in a Mad River Monarch with a rudder.

We both have been sea kayaking since 1988.


They make skegs and rudders for a reason. My sister has a ruddered 140 Tsunami and never used the rudder. At times I wish I had a rudder for a break, even though I manage without.

Depends. In fact l have neen paddling a Romany for lots of summers now wo a skeg. Because l always am too lazy to fiddle w the rope skeg so it drops easily.

But i frankly like a skeg, and use it freely, when l am in the Vela because it works.

They are energy savers. I am at a point where l don’t have to prove anything about my basic ability to manage a boat. I do like getting home w a little more left in the tank when l can.


My ruddered Arluk 1.9 with me in it tends to turn broadside to the wind if I’m not actively paddling, so it turns up or downwind fairly easily regardless of conditions. I might go a year without deploying the rudder. However if I’m paddling 10 miles or more with a stern quartering wind, I’m happy to have it. While I could do without it, who wants to paddle for hours on one side, edging the boat, or using other methods to go where you want to go. Waste of time and energy. Use of the rudder gains about 0.5 mph with my boat measured by GPS in these conditions.

I’s rather have a rudder or skeg and not deploy it than need it and not have it. Some boats absolutely need one or the other in windy conditions regardless of how skilled the paddler, but all can benefit from one depending on conditions.


Agree and nice descriptions celia and rstevens15.

As an example, I have various kayaks where some weathercock very easily and others scarcely at all. My CD Slipstream is of the latter variety and I rarely deploy the skeg. I would not generalize from that kayak!

Hold it, now. Is the question “Why don’t they learn to paddle?” or is it “Why don’t they toughen up and work hard?”

In the bicycle world I know some folks who think that if you use your small chainring you’re some kinda pussycat. I don’t think like that.

But hey… folks who swim probably think that folks who paddle boats are pussycats.

1 Like

Ok, in an attempt to avoid being “silly”, let me rephrase.
In my opinion, the Caribou is an excellent tracking boat that seldom if ever needs a skeg, especially when piloted by an experienced paddler. And, no, working harder does not make you a more authentic paddler. I use lower bike gears when I want to.

If you want to buy a boat that weathercocks easily or you paddle in a wide variety of situations, then get a skeg. If the style of boat leads to it veering off line, get a skeg. If your style of paddling and where you paddle leads to a more pleasant life if you have a skeg, go for it.

The problem I had with this buyer is that he didn’t match his abilities, interests, and preferences to the particular boat. I admit I didn’t say there was no skeg, but I did provide pictures of the hull. It was only after 2 weeks of talk that “skeg” came into the discussion and it seemed that it was a an excuse to not buy (perhaps because he thought it was too much boat).

At any rate, I am not arguing that skegs are bad. I was (badly) saying that a skeg is usually not needed with the Caribou, and that learning more about paddling can compensate for not having a skeg.

I have one of the CD built Caribous that didn’t come with a skeg, and 5 or 6 years after I bought it, I put a skeg in it for just the reason you mentioned about stern quartering seas. Works really good surfing in open water, in beam winds when I’m tired, and holding a course in fog.

1 Like

I think what you mean is that in your experience you have not needed a skeg. I have no idea of what environment you are in but I can appreciate one on a fully loaded expedition of 170 miles with no out and the need to make speed with deteriorating weather chasing you. The nearest safe landing some miles away… Day tripping is a whole different experience.
Don’t use it , thats ok but don’t knock. It can make a safer paddle. ( I am thinking of a shelf cloud pursuing us on Lake Superior. We pulled into the mouth of the Pukaskwa river just in time. Scared shitless)

1 Like

Generally skegs are there for higher rocker hulls to track more easily and rudders are there for straight tracking hulls to maneuver more easily. I rarely use my rudder because it adds drag and lowers speed and I’d rather use my paddle to correct course. However in stiff current or crosswinds or confused seas the rudder helps.

My two cents. I think it depends on the boat, not just the paddler’s skill. Can only base that on my personal experience: my current fleet of 9 kayaks includes 5 that range from true Greenland (SOF replica of a Harvey Golden surveyed seal hunter’s qajaq) to low and skinny Greenland-ish (Feathercraft Wisper and Pakboat Quest 135 folders, RM Venture Easky 15LV and composite Perception Avatar hard-shells). The other 4 boats are “inland day trip” kayaks so not applicable.

I dislike rudders and sold off all my past boats that had them because they were just added weight/drag that I never used. But the SOF has a skeg bump built into the keel that I am sure contributes to its arrow-straight tracking and the Wisper tends to want to wander without the strap-on rubber Feathercraft “shark fin” skeg. That boat’s predecessor in my livery, a wider and shorter Feathercraft Kahuna was impossible to manage in strong current, waves or even light winds without that same accessory.

But the RM Easky, which is extremely similar in hull and proportions to the Wisper, has never needed any sort of under-hull compensation, no matter the conditions. Same with the Quest, which tracks nicely with a bare keel, so it is not a question of “soft body” folder vs hardshell. The Easky has all the holes and hardware for a rudder but I have used it all over the place for 12 years and never thought it needed one.

My only boat with the “use it or not” retractable skeg option is the Avatar I snagged last summer. I’ve only had it out half a dozen times, and not yet in serious waves, but I found in windy conditions on flat water it behaves better with the skeg dropped. Note that I am using Greenland paddles with all these boats (and have had training in proper technique – not that I am always on top of using it).

The one aspect I can think of that affects why I can easily handle the Easky and Quest without a skeg is that those two boats are scaled to a smaller paddler and at 5’ 4" and 145# I fit them well. But I am at the low end for the other 3 boats operator size range and that might be why the skeg helps. Can’t tell how the SOF would be sans its keel bump, but I bought it used and know it was custom-built for a guy 5 inches taller and about 40 pounds heavier than me so I suspect that I might find the long low stern squirrelly in that boat if not for that slightly skegged keel.

I have the Current Designs Caribou S - with skeg. I can’t remember ever deploying it. I have some sea kayaks that require more significant attention to directional control, but the Caribou really isn’t one of them for me. So I get what you mean by matching abilities, interests, and preferences to the particular boat. Paddling the Caribou without a skeg can be preferable to paddling other designs with one. It is possible to put too much emphasis on accessories, and not enough attention on the actual hull design.
“Generally skegs are there for higher rocker hulls to track more easily and rudders are there for straight tracking hulls to maneuver more easily. I rarely use my rudder because it adds drag and lowers speed and I’d rather use my paddle to correct course.”
Even things like this don’t quite ring true to me. What is meant my maneuvering? I put maneuvering and directional control in different categories. A deployed rudder or a deployed skeg both add difficulty to maneuvering. Deployment of a rudder or skeg both add drag. The directional control aspects done with a paddle, such as ending a stroke with a bit of a stern draw or beginning it with more sweeping action, add drag and take away from effort applied strictly to forward momentum. A hull is most efficient at level. Edging certainly reduces efficiency. The little efforts that I’m always making towards directional control without even being aware that I’m doing it all take away from ergonomic efficiency. So I guess in that second portion I can agree insomuch that when needed directional control input is small enough, it will be more efficient to not have the skeg/rudder deployed. Most of the time in my kayaks, it’s just the preference to master paddling the hull without skeg/rudder use, more than any reality of being more efficient, that leaves me paddling without it. I have also experienced that in most conditions - it doesn’t take much in the way of wind or chop - a rudder truly adds to ergonomic efficiency of the forward stroke. A skeg can help manage the inefficiencies of the directional control portion of your strokes, but cannot realistically eliminate those inefficiencies - not in real-world environments. A rudder easily eliminates any modification of your best forward stroke towards directional control almost all of the time. The forward stroke itself can remain pure. But to maneuver, I need the ends of my boat slipping through the water around a center fulcrum. Rudders and skegs are both in the way there.
I think rudder use on long, narrow, straight-tracking kayaks is more about fast paddlers appreciating those style of hulls more. And when you’re going for as much speed as you can out of what you have to offer, any directional control with the paddle at all takes away from that. If you want to travel as fast and ergonomically efficiently as possible, that same utility simply doesn’t exist with a skeg, nor with paddle corrections or edging. For fast-going ergonomic efficiency anytime significant directional control comes into play (significant here doesn’t mean a lot, it just means enough to make a difference, so here it can mean very little) , every kayak I own would do better with a rudder deployed. So my bet is people looking for speed demand faster hulls and ergonomic efficiency. A person choosing a fast hull is likely to appreciate a rudder. A person who thinks a sea kayak largely designed with surf-style play in mind is a good traveling boat isn’t that into efficiency, or perhaps just requires quite significant stabilty. A P&H Aries for example, or Dagger Stratos. They’re great fun to paddle. They were not designed with going fast and far as efficiently as possible in mind. So other priorities come to the forefront. So now I can eliminate the extra coordination necessary to manage a rudder while underway, I can eliminate the rudder from my stern, and I’m good with the assistance I can get from a skeg.
Yes, you can use a rudder to turn your kayak. But I don’t find it to be anything of a substitute for maneuvering skills. And I find that it hinders quick maneuvering just like a skeg does. So for me, a rudder is not at all there to make maneuvering easier. It’s there for the same reason as a skeg - directional control.
I most appreciate situations like Willowleaf’s Easky and Quest - “never needed any sort of under-hull compensation, no matter the conditions”. If the Caribou can be that for the paddler, were they better off passing it up for a different kayak with a skeg?

1 Like

I think that it’s not unreasonable to look for a boat design that includes a skeg. Of course, if a boat is designed to be paddled without a skeg then it’s hardly the manufacturer’s fault. But I think that having a skeg provides benefits when it is part of the design. I have a new boat with a retractable skeg. I’ve only paddled this a few times now, but the skeg helps with tracking in certain conditions. It’s not just about knowing how to paddle. Knowing good techniques will help, but having a skeg can just add to the repertoire when it comes to efficient paddling.