SKEG vs Rudder for older paddlers

I am a 68 yr old 5’3” woman who wants to get a Delta 15s. Sea Kayak) My husband is a 70 yr old 6’1.5” man who wants to get a Delta 16.

Do older paddlers find it easier paddling a kayak with a rudder vs a SKEG? I can do turns with paddle but don’t know if it would be smarter to have a rudder if too fatigued on a longer adventure.

I think a SKEG is what I’d want as a rudder presents increased difficulties entering boat from the stern. We used SKEGS during lesson and rental. I liked the simplicity. We have a tandem recreational kayak that has a rudder, so I am familiar with how they work.

We’d mainly be paddling on Willamette River, other rivers, lakes, and do some tamer weekend - short expeditions in Puget Sound. It would be nice to do some ocean kayaking closer to shore along the coast.

Thank you for any ideas.


Did you practice turning the boat by putting it on edge? Reason l am asking because is that my recall is that the Delta boats are fairly friendly to turning with moderate edge.
I could be remembering wrong…

The tiredness factor is IMO likely to be a bigger issue if you get caught out in wind than just turning the boat in more moderate conditions. You will need to pay good attention to the marine forecast for Puget Sound. But you can start observing that now, without necessarily hopping into a boat

You will find that in general the offshore winds build during the day, so earlier in the morning is usually a calmer padfle.

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Your question is purely a personal choice. Pluses and minuses for both. You will probably see some impassioned responses here eventually.

Since you mention that you already know how to turn with a paddle (and I’m guessing some edging too), I would suggest a skeg since you learned how to control your kayak and had a skeg in lessons and rentals.

For the sea kayak types you mention, neither a skeg nor rudder would normally be deployed except in conditions which require their use to counter weather cocking or wave action.

I’m a year younger than you and same size as your husband. I prefer a skeg on a sea kayak. However, on a dedicated fishing kayak I prefer a rudder to control my drift so my hands are free for the rod & reel.

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Hi Celia

Thank you for your advice. You have good points! Yes we did learn about turning by putting the lesson boats on edge -Daggers. So far I’ve sat in the 15s & fit is perfect. I too have heard that they are friendly and playful with ability to turn with moderate edge.

We are practicing what we learned then plan to take more lessons with the same instructor so we advance. I would like to find lessons in a pool for learning and practicing rolls.

Thank you for your advice, KayakHank. Our instructor told us the same thing about what the conditions are for using the SKEG and rudder. Our instructor was very knowledgeable and experienced. We were impressed that he paddled the Inside Passage and that he demonstrated effortless paddling…



I own one kayak with a skeg and one with a rudder. I like the skeg kayak a bit more, but I do acknowledge the usefulness of the rudder in heavier winds. A skeg can be used to correct from a beaming wind by how far you deploy it. If you have enough down to cause the stern to lock into the water more then the bow cuts in, the boat will lee cock. If you have a bit too little deployed it will weather cock. Get it right where it needs to be and the kayak goes straight like it’s on a rail. But it is a hindrance if you forget to retract it and you want to make fast turns.

The rudder is easier to use and more “intuitive”. Press on the peddle on the side you want to turn into Easy! BUT it is more complex and has more to maintain and as you said, it’s in the way for a stern scramble for self rescue. Also in winds that are not quite enough to need it, it has a tendency to act as a sail and catch some wind so I deploy it in such winds even though I don’t need it to compensate, just to get it out of the wind.

My rudder boat is 16.5 feet long, Perception Sea Lion Shadow. My skeg boat is 17 feet 3 inches a Necky Chatham 17. The skeg boat is only 21" wide at the beam and the rudder boat is 24" wide. So keeping the rudder up and the skeg up on both I find edge turning a bit easier with the shorter kayak, but just a little. So speaking of which is “better” when not using either the rudder of the skeg is not a valid comparison because the 2 kayaks are different at and under the water line.

I have had both kayaks out in heavy winds and high chop. When I got the Shadow I thought it was going to be an easier kayak to use in higher winds, but after side by side comparisons I am no longer convinced that’s true. The are different, and there is no arguing with that, but to say I think the ruddered kayak is “better” in higher waves and more wind is not something I would state as gospel now. By using the skeg and edging the kayak I find my Chatham to be every bit as easy to handle in rough water as the Sea Lion.

So as Kayakhank said, it’s personal choice.I think you just have to try them and see. But remember to get a really valid test you’d need to have 2 kayaks that were nearly identical in every way but for one having a skeg and the other a rudder. I don’t know if that is even realistic.

In learning, I’d have to say the rudder is probably easier, and for cargo, the skeg box is absent in a ruddered kayak so you can pack for trips easier. But the cables need to be paid attention to, and the rudder itself is a bit “in the way” at times.

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Thanks Szihn,

I got a taste of having the skeg down trying to turn…. Edging has seemed easier. It is helpful hearing about your two kayaks. It is reassuring that you could handle the 21” wide Chatham in rough water with skeg and edging. I am not planning on going in rough water though I know the ocean is unpredictable. I will see if I can try both skeg and rudder for the Delta or at least the Delta and an ‘equivalent’ kayak.

Thanks for giving me lots to consider.


If you ever think about adding a sail get a boat with a rudder.

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I’ve had rudder, skeg, and nothing at all on various boats over the years. What I’ve found is that the design of the hull generally dictates which of the three is optimal for most users, and also shows when you have the wrong one sometimes.

My first sea kayak was a 16 foot Necky Narpa that had a rudder. Rudder was the wrong choice for that boat, because in a quartering wind off the bow, the rudder would act like an anchor, and you’d go nowhere. Skeg would probably been much better, and nothing would have been the worst choice because it weathercocked quite a bit.

I’ve also had boats with no rudder or skeg. On one (Current Designs Caribou from the 1990’s), I installed a skeg a few years later to counteract weathercocking in moderate wind. Still have that boat. My other one was a 19 foot Betsie Bay Recluse, which didn’t need anything to track well. You did need good boat handling skills to get it to turn quickly, though.

And the one I still have that came with a skeg is a Valley Anas Acuta. It needs a skeg in pretty much all conditions. I set mine halfway as soon as I get in the boat, and only adjust it when needed. The handling is very loose, and it weathercocks easily. But, if you’re playing in rocks or chop, the super maneuverability is a good thing. A rudder would be pointless on that boat, because it would be out of the water or completely submerged in any kind of waves because of the amount of rocker on the keel. Same with the Caribou.

My better half has loved the boats she has had with rudders, and has become 100% anti-skeg over the last few years, because rudders can be used to steer as well as aid tracking. She’s had 2 Neckys with rudders over the years, and regrets selling one of them (Looksha 4S). I tried both boats, and rudders did suit them nicely. She recently bought a Stellar 15 which she says a rudder is perfect for.

There are a bunch of other considerations to take into account, but I’ve found that hull design is factor #1.

Note that the Chatham 17 is a stiffer boat than the Delta you are considering.
If Szihn had tried a Chatham 16, a quite different creature from the 17, the issue of directional control acts out quite differently. That boat is skegged.

My first sea kayak had a rudder, a fairly stiff CD Squall. Frankly I never found myself using it. If it was down I almost immediately pulled it up again.

But every boat is different. There may be boats out there where the rudder is a more productive tool than I found it to be in the Squall.

I would love to try a Chatham 16 — and I almost got a chance, but someone beat me to it. It was in the Denver area and I was going down to buy kayaks. I can haul 3 on my rack in the back of my Toyota pick-up and when I got down there someone had taken it about 1 hour before I arrived. So far I have not even seen a Chatham 16, but I am told they are playful and have more rocker then my 17. Reading about them a few people dislike them and say they are too playful and not “fast enough” but most folks that have them seem to like them. I would love to try one in some wind because I would guess if the skeg was deployed the tracking would be OK. But for me it’s just a guess.
Someday maybe.

Hi Overstreet

Ooh! :blush:. I started out as a sailer at around 12 and the idea of having a close water connection and sailing sounds fun. Thanks for the interesting suggestion.

Thank you. So much to learn! I really appreciate you sharing your experience and knowledge. Otherwise I’d be more dependent on salespersons who may not be as unbiased in their advice in order to sell what they have to offer.


Thanks, Wayne. The hull. Makes sense! Now I will be looking closely at the Delta hull - at least the 15s and 16 —and comparing them to ones you’ve mentioned. Both the 15s and 16 are in their “performance touring” category, specs indicate rudder and show skeg as an option. “A shallow ‘v’ shaped hull, moderate rocker and finely tuned chines come together to make these outstanding boats shine on the water.“ I need to approach this decision more slowly.

And see if I can try both options.


Trying both options will be the best thing to do. Might tell you right away which one is best for you when you compare how they feel.

Have fun!

Or a scudder?

Anyone use them?

Thanks! I will let you know.


I know they are a combo, but they aren’t listed as an option. Maybe they are after-market or just used by kayakers who build their own kayak?,

P&H uses them.

As far as I understand from a designer like John Winters,
maneuverable boats benefit more from a variable skeg,
straight tracking boats benefit more from a rudder.
Long boats benefit more from a rudder than short boats.
Heavily loaded boats benefit more from a rudder than lightly loaded boats.
Basically you design a kayak for a skeg (highly maneuverable) or for a rudder (good trackability) and that’s it.

Personally I prefer a rudder over a skeg also because I like surfing in waves where a skeg is not variable enough.

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