Skegs/Rudders in Rough Waters???

Okay this is another skeg/rudder question, but with a bit different twist.

I know that both will work well to help you track, but my question is which is better is rough waters?

Let me explain further…I am a decent paddler, but fairly new to the ocean. I went out today in fairly choppy conditions. I found that the wind made me want to use my rudder, but I found that it made me feel less in control on top of wind waves. I felt like the rudder was “catching” when I was on top of the wave and causing me to broach and get tossed around more than if I had not been using it… When I disengaged the rudder it was harder for me to prevent the boat from windcocking, but I felt more in control on top of the waves.

Is this a common occurence with a rudder in rough water conditions?

Would a skeg perhaps minimize this from happening. It seem that the skeg might be better in these conditions because it remains in the water even when on top of a wave.

What do you think?


smart fellar
Is this a common occurence with a rudder in rough water conditions?


Would a skeg perhaps minimize this from happening. It seem that the skeg might be better in these conditions because it remains in the water even when on top of a wave.

What do you think?

You answered your own question.

It’s all about BALANCE. A skeg balances the hull to the conditions, a rudder pushes the backend around.

which is why an underhull rudder is so nice- best of both worlds in a way. it’s a shame no one has ever figured out how to do a retractable underhull rudder for a kayak. the big ski kind would probably get trashed quickly landing and launching, since its a lot harder to do ski type entry and exits in a kayak. i wonder why there aren’t any fast touring style boats with low profile K1 type underhull rudders, though- those are small enough not to get destroyed landing, but still can provide fairly powerful tracking and corrective forces.

thing you might be feeling is when the waves/swells are large enough, the stern of the boat lifts clear out of the water as the wave passes underneath, thus rendering the rudder as useless as an aluminum flag waving in the air. You might be attempting to correct with the pedals when this happens, and when the stern comes back down again, it feels like it catches, as in actuality, you’ve changed the angle of the rudder itself without realizing it. Pretty common. Understern rudders do away with this dilemma, as noted. A rudder’s a great thing to have when surfing swells in a following sea, negotiating cross currents, or racing, where you can concentrate on keeping the hull flat in the water and putting the power into your forward stroke. I’d like to see a retractable rudder also; I hate the way the Seal Line on my QCC sticks obscenely up in the air, catching on things in transport, and cluttering up the stern.

Anybody seen
The Extreme Interface internal retracting foil rudder system? A while back this co. was brought up. Anyway, one of their big marketing points is this internal retracting rudder system. Though I have not seen it myself, I wonder if this may be what you guys are asking for. Myself, I’m fine with a skeg. I’ve adjusted to it, and I find I don’t have any complaints for my usage.

points about rudders
Try this link for a skilled designers view on rudders.

Neither is the answer in textured water
I don’t find skegs or rudders particularly effective when the water becomes significantly textured. Both skegs and rudders can be used to trim the boat for the purposes of paddling off different points to the wind or to stiffen tracking. Either can be used to the same ends but with different trade-offs.

In bigger water, I don’t want a stiff tracking boat and I find I don’t need the wind balancing effect of skegs or rudders. I do want to be able to turn at will and so would use neither. Soon you may find it easier to paddle bigger water without either device, once the conditions settle down, you may also find that you’ll have no need for the device. Contrary to public belief, learning to paddle a loose-tracking boat without a skeg or rudder will actually improve your forward stroke.

Most of the boats I paddle are skeg’d designs but I find myself using the skegs less and less over time. Just as with rudders, if you learn to use the hull without either of these devices you’ll be better off in the long run and you’ll save yourself significant 'net time by finding other, more important things to discuss. :wink:

When Steve said a skeg balances the hull to the conditions, I’m sure we was talking about the wind conditions not the sea state. Steve’s comment about rudders pushing the stern around is both what makes then so useful and alternately limits their effectiveness in certain conditions.



PS Steve - Let’s get down to addressing this bias you have towards flatpicks. It’s common knowledge that “real” guitar men using only their fingers with well cared-for finger nails. :wink: Come on Steve, a flat pick is to string-work like a rudder is to kayaking . . . :wink:

i suspect
that you don’t paddle skis and and don’t care all that much about maxing out your downwind/downswell performance. rudders come into their own then. to each their own.


Yes - the above was for kayaks
You are right, I do not paddle skis and so the previous post was related to kayaks with rudders or skegs. To the best of my knowledge surf skis normally have under-hull rudders and of course surfing down-wind is a specialized application that I don’t think pertains to the original poster’s question.

Some will argue that surfing kayaks down wind is reason enough to use a rudder. My paddling concentrates on paddling up-wind or cross-wind enough that I need the flexibility of a quick-turning set-up.



textured :slight_smile:
I like that Jed, textured. I HATE when people use the term ‘confused water’ heck the water ain’t ‘confused’ it knows exactly what it’s doing. it’s called physics.

Yes, what Jed said is true. I was talking about wind balance not sea state.

and what’s this about flatpicks being rudders?

Norman B, Bryan S, and Doc W, use rudders? I don’t think so!



btw- I’m for sure coming to Kittery in April and maybe coming to the Gulfo Maine sympo in July!

it aint the rudder
it’s the hull.

First off if you get a hull that’s suited to the conditions and your skill you’re taking care of 90% of why managing in waves is a challange. If you’re paddling too big of a kayak and a tracking aid helps,then the tracking aid works against you when you need to maneuver,and that may be moving 20degrees with one stroke to miss a breaking top, or if you’re in too long of a kayak and not using the potential speed in that length you’re working against that length when conflicted waters hit different parts of the hull near the ends.

Ten years ago I was paddling from Sausalito to Alcatraz and back around Angel Island,the Alcatraz to Angel Is. course had 3-4’ waves from the left going from a stern to bow orientation and a steady 15mph breeze. I was in a Mariner Express and the other two fellows were in ruddered Solstic and Sealutions. While I had to point higher into the wind to maintain the same course I noticed that they were twitching all over the waves,some of that was a difference in skill level and hull shape and it was obvious the rudder was popping out and in over the waves. My gut feeling is that if you put a rudder on the express it would have tracked straighter but it still would have been more comfortable/less twitchy simply because the ends aren’t as sharp/hollow and I was sitting deeper in the water.

Depends on…
the boat as well as the conditions, though I am guessing from your description that you were encountering the worst discomfort in following or quartering following seas. That is an area where you can encounter particularly robust opinions on the value of a rudder or a skeg. I am not at all an expert, but will mention my own personal experience on this one.

My first boat was a Squall, a boat for which many very knowledgeable people recommend dropping a rudder in the above condiditons. They are probably techincally correct - but every time I tried doing it I hated it. I always felt better managing the boat with my body than working around the rudder. So it always came back up again. But the Squall cuts a very straight, somewhat stiff path thru the water. No rocker in that boat at all (upsweep of the boat’s hull at each end).

My present boat is an Explorer LV, which has some definite rocker. The first time in somewhat difficult following seas I discovered the value of the skeg - I put it down partially and I never once wanted it back up until we were out of those conditions.

A lot of that is due to the diff in the amount of rocker between these two boats. The LV needs some stiffening, the Squall is already pretty stiff.

In the end it comes down to where you are comfortable. It may be best to try and get into different boats in dimensional water, with different outfitting (rudders or skegs) and figure out what leaves you feeling the most confident. Your ability to be relaxed and trust that what you are doing to handle the boat will work is maybe the most important safety margin of all.

Even better than “textured”…
…the folks we met in Shetland referred to such conditions as “lumpy”.

Double edged swords
As Jed pointed out, the rougher the water, the less useful skegs and rudders are. Additionally, I’ve found that skegs (and by extension, rudders) are less than perfect in a variety of conditions. In wind, they can help, but since they affect the hydrodynamics of the boat rather than the aerodynamics, you can find yourself in conflicting situations. Particularly if the wind and waves are not moving in the same direction - which is not uncommon - you can find yourself being pushed one way by the wind and another by the rudder/skeg. In some conditions, rudders and skegs will increase the boat’s tendency to broach. I’ve also been in conditions where the skeg should “theoretically” have helped the boat maintain a desired heading, but had the opposite effect.

Overall, I’ve found that the best rule for using a skeg is not to assume anything. Try it and see what happens under the conditions you’re paddling in. You may be surprised by the results.

Agree with first two responses
There has been an under hull rudder developed, actually a couple, but they will likely never see the marketplace. Way too out there for a very traditional and slow to change touring market.

What everyone else said! All good stuff.

All I wanted to add was relating to the skeg correcting hull balance for wind. The wind changes the water, which again changes how the wind interacts with the kayak.

I have found 3 basic wind zones where the skeg is of different value (I have a long waterline boat with quite a bit above water - your numbers will vary):

  1. No need for the skeg in 0-10 knot winds(obviously).

  2. Very useful in 10-15 and maybe up to 20 knots or so when the chop is still somewhat small and the wind can push steadily on the kayak (flat water or swells).

  3. Somewhere around 20 knots (depending on fetch, duration, etc) I find that the short steep wind waves waves begin to give some shelter to the hull and the skeg is no longer needed as much. This is good as I need the maneuverability back in that stuff as Jed said. The skeg is still good for downwind runs in this - but I can use less than full skeg to good effect.

    I suspect I would use a rudder similarly - with it also being most effective in the less lumpy conditions for the same reasons - and the way it is out of the water in rougher stuff.

    The under-sterns are definitely a different matter, and are normally found on boats designed to use them full time (like skis) for wind balance, wave riding, tracking, and general steering - not things really needed all the time with your typical “sea kayak”. That’s not to say they wouldn’t be interesting on a sea kayak, but I don’t see it as being the excellent pairing it is with a ski, as sea kayaks are meant to operate differntly.

    I prefer skeg on sea/touring kayaks, but my ski would be unmanagable without its rudder. My Tsunami X-1 is also suited to it’s huge over-stern rudder for the surf zone/rock garden play it was designed for.

Love/hate thing!
I’m not a rudder lover, but do appreciate one at times. Oversterns can be a pain for travel & understerns in shallows. Several of my boats really won’t run well without one, especially the longer ones. I have a 21’, with a rounded hull that would be horrible in following or beam winds without one. My older style marathon k-1, would be all over the place. I do have a 17’marathon type boat that does pretty well without one in all but the worst side & tail winds. It seems I’m always having to mess with them & there doesn’t seem to be a perfect design for all conditions. I guess I’m lucky that my “Thunderbolt” is set up for both under/over stern. I’m trying to get by with small understern, but probably should switch to an overstern before summer. Still, I were to do this, it would probably be a wet summer, just to spite me! I would think we might all agree that at times rudders can be a pain! People tell me that rudders cover up for design flaws, yet very few needle thin cruisers come without one.

Retractable under-stern rudders
I saw that one on their site. I’ve also seen a South African Sea kayak - the “Buccaneer” that had one. The system worked, but needed some development IMO.

Having both a skeg and rudder in one is interesting - but when the blade has to operate on two axis there is twice as much to go wrong.

Simplicity is one of the reasons I prefer skegs on sea kayaks.

I think it has little to do with a “slow to change market” as Spray said, at least in the US. Complex gadgets sell well here, particularly ones with latest & greatest or something for nothing appeal. Look how many rec boats used on calm waters have rudders. Why? We all know why.

cover up for design flaws?
On rec boats, maybe :wink: Can anyone really need a rudder on short boats made for calm water (or are novices blaming their boats for their own lack of handling ability - a mix of both)?

On more performance oriented hulls they’re not “design flaws” - they’re unique personality traits! Probably inherited directly from their designers.

Specialized application?
Surfing downwind is one of the great joys of owning a kayak! The surfski is certainly the ideal tool, but even the humble Scupper Pro is good fun in the right conditions, and there are plenty of occasions when being able to kick the stern back into line while paddling hard makes the difference between catching the wave and missing it. Maybe a different hull shape and a skeg wouldn’t have so much tendency to kick the stern out in the first place–I’ll be more than happy to experiment if/when I get the opportunity to do a good downwind run in a skegged boat–but on the hulls I have the rudder is a useful thing.