SmartTrack Rudder opinions

Who here has a SmartTrack Rudder on their kayak? I am thinking of installing one on my Perception Sport Conduit 13 (Dagger catalyst 13.0 molded for Dicks sporting goods). And I would like to know what people think of the system.

I do NOT want it for turning, I can edge and do sweep paddles for that, I want it mostly for tracking in rear quartering winds/currents where the kayak likes to drift a bit. Calm water it does fine, but I kayak on an open bay and some creeks with a good current, so I think it would help save energy on long trips.

Install will be no problem, and I will be purchasing the cable housing kit and the vertical adjustment kit. I like the fixed foot pedals over the sliding foot pedals of other rudder kits, seems easier to use, and a lot easier when paddling with the rudder up.

Thanks for any opinions!

I like it
I have never owned a kayak with a rudder but I have paddled a few including a Necky Looksha IV I had use of for several days that had one installed with a Smart Trac control system.

I really dislike the spongy feel of the footbraces on rudder control systems that are operated by footpegs that slide on tracks, even when the rudder is stowed on the deck (which it is most of the time for me). The Smart Trac system functioned well and retained a solid foot pad.

But I have heard a lot of stories about small parts breaking and being expensive to replace. Maybe that has been corrected?

I have them on two kayaks and have

– Last Updated: Jun-16-11 2:37 PM EST –

had them on three previous yaks, and I have a love hate relationship with them.
If I were to buy a yak that didn't come with them, I would be inclined to get a different make.
The good thing about them is the solid foot brace with the "gas pedal" controls on top, but you must keep the adjustment tuned properly for your foot, or you will end up partially bracing on the toe pedals without realizing it, which put unnecessary wear on the cables.
There are two ways to adjust them : One is a knurled knob at the toe pedal. and the other is by taking up the cable at the stern.
If you don't use the knurled knob at least once a year, and you are paddling in salt water, you can expect it to freeze up and break when you try to turn it

To me they are way over engineered with each side having 13 different parts.

If you are a high mileage paddler you can expect one of the cables to break after several thousand miles of use.
I always keep a spare set of cables in my kayak tool box, and then at least one of all the other parts.
If you do ever have to change a cable out, the easiest way is to take the side that it is on completely apart.
I hate the fact that when up, they stick straight up in the air.
I wish they would lay over on the rear deck.

On a side note: my latest one says on the back "the original Smart trac" or something like that, and in less than a years time, the black color has turned to a bronze color. it doesn't bother me except for the fact that it is a lie.

Hope this helps a bit.
Jack L

Have them on our plastic sea kayaks
After spending an afternoon on a tour with one of the usual rudder systems, I wouldn’t have my Squall leave the lot without the Smart Trac installed. My calf didn’t stop hurting for two days after that four hour tour.

The Squall has left the household for a new home and the Elaho DS is still with us. Both boats were our primary for two to three seasons, so got day after day use on vacation in Maine as well as multiple times a week here until we got the first glass boats.

Upsides - you have the advantage of fixed foot pegs and can separately set the rudder. Downsides - you do need to check the rudder some for the use you describe and if you have a really aggressive start to a roll can push the fixed foot peg loose at times. IMO, advantages beat the heck out of the disadvantages, especially for an aging back. My calves weren’t all that hurt after trying to balance the pedal pressure on the elastic-hung pedals for a few hours.

they are good
I have two. I have never had to even tighten them. I don’t paddle near salt much. A gas pedal set up would be better, but for most kayaks and large feet, the smart track is about the only thing possible. Worth the money.

You will turn with it.

Ryan L.

But on a 13 foot kayak?
I have an old Looksha Sport, and didn’t like the squidgy pedals, so I picked up a Smartrack and started toward installation.

But after paddling the Looksha Sport, a very turny 14.5’ boat, and finding it so easy to manage with the rudder up, I decided on no rudder at all. Less weight, less drag, no mechanisms to break.

As a whitewater paddler, I think many sea and touring kayak types have not fully explored what can be done with the paddle, and are conned into thinking that even short touring kayaks need rudders. In my opinion, short touring kayaks are the ones LEAST in need of rudders.

Anyway, I have my Smartrack downstairs in a box. It’s one of the early uncorrected ones, but if someone wants it for parts, make me a modest offer.

I will not opine on the need
for a rudder, but rather just offer my opinion on the SmartTrack.

My QCC-500 came with the stock Feathercraft rudder, and I swapped out to a ST when they became available. I did not care for the sliding Yakima footpegs and was looking for a more firm setup.

My experience has been that the pedals work well but are a PITA to set up. Once diald in they are OK. The ST rudder requires less input for maintaining a course in wind than the FC rudder did. ANd the ST rudder gurgles less, a trait that I take to mean that it is hydrodynamically superior to the flot FC rudder.

My 2 cents.


Again, I want the rudder more for tracking, I can turn the 13’ boat with NO problem at all, but in wind tracking can be a pain at times. Yes I can edge the boat and make correction strokes, but sometimes I really just want to realax and paddle.

I will give it another time or two out before I actually purchase a rudder kit. If I can find a better seating position or something that helps keep the kayak in a straight line, I might not get a rudder just yet. I had also thought about finding the perception/harmony rudder and housing and control line and setting it up as more of a skeg in a way. Not sure how or if that would work though.

If you can turn, you can paddle straight
I can paddle a 9 foot ww kayak straight all day, and ww kayaks dislike going straight. My Necky is quite willing to run straight, and doesn’t need the drag of a skeg or rudder to track.

If your 13’ boat doesn’t track well enough for you, get a 16’ kayak. But then you’ll need a rudder, because the longer the boat, the harder it is to manage without a rudder.

Epic Endurance 18

– Last Updated: Jun-16-11 7:53 PM EST –

Love having the solid feel of a foot peg and the rudder
control using my toes for the left and right controls on an 18 ft boat
like the Epic Endurance 18.

As I'm also the owner of Dagger Crossover, which
came with nothing but a screw in skeg - I can't imagine
installing a rudder on such a short kayak.

works fine for turning
I use my Smart Track for turning all the time. I like turning with the rudder and prefer turning with it to tracking with it. I also prefer turning with the rudder than turning with the paddle, because it is much easier. The Smart Track is great for turning my kayak with my toes. I have used it about twice a week for turning on the salty ocean and it has not broken so far. But I have not tried to adjust it recently so don’t know if the screw has deteriorated.

Enjoy turning your kayak.

Depends on the boat/hull

– Last Updated: Jun-17-11 11:24 AM EST –

Given that skegs and rudders have similar purposes when you are talking tracking in cross winds, even if the execution is different...

My 16' plus Squall had the rudder down so little that it got to be like the emergency brake on the car - I had to drop it once in a while to make sure it was still working. It is/was a tracker and a half. My husband's 15'9" DS Elaho had the skeg down quite a bit - great rock gardening boat but it sure wasn't a tracker.

My 17' plus NDK Explorer LV rarely has the skeg down at all - unless it slipped loose and I didn't notice it. Rope skeg so this happens. (Edit out some following - I got things backwards again. OK in a boat but writing...) Quite high winds and a long slog home will cause me to drop it though.

My 15'8" Vela has the skeg down quite a bit, in more minor winds, because she weather cocks much sooner than the more evenly balanced shape of the Explorer hull.

There is slightly over 2 ft of difference in length between the Explorer and the Vela.

Longer boats don't always need more, or as much, tracking assistance as shorter ones. Length may be a predictable factor for racing boats, but it is not for the variety of sea kayaks that most long boaters paddle.

All the instructors and purists spew the dogma of using the paddle and not the rudder, and it may be true in calm flat water.

But with a wind, wave action, confused seas, even tidal flows I really have to wonder how much more energy people expend trying to use paddle, how much more often their rhythm is broken, and how much more often they become less stable to control their boat, instead of depressing a rudder pedal 1/2"

Depends - again

– Last Updated: Jun-23-11 8:25 AM EST –

Do you paddle in the conditions you mention? Honest question here - can't tell from your post.

As to my own experience - the situations in which I really grew to hate using my rudder in the Squall were when the waves or rollers were getting to where I couldn't see over them, I suspect the conditions you name. It just took more effort to manage the boat with the rudder down than up in those situations, work with just the hull. The most likely time for it to be down was the classic use in higher winds and relatively calm conditions, when coming in dog tired from camping with a loaded boat and cross winds that were trying to turn me.

Tidal situations - I've only been in stronger ones with a skegged boat. I don't know that I've been in any stronger flow than a few knots, but the last place I would drop a skeg is in that. You have to edge in stronger tidal flows anyway or you are looking at a capsize, and I paddle straight there. Just set the edge, set the angle and paddle strongly, but in a very regular rhythm or you will end up someplace you didn't plan.

In haystacks that I can't see over, similar. The skeg is not down and the last thing I'd want is to have that or a rudder back there for the next confounding 3 footer to grab. You have to dance thru them.

i agree
The toughest conditions make the rudder difficult to use. Wind with minimal manageable waves is where the rudder shines. As well as calm water paddling. Unless you are really locked into your boat I find that the toughest water makes the rudder pedals distracting. But this could just be a personal thing.

I have made the point on here that well tracking boats and calm water is really the time the rudder is the most efficient. No wasted motion for correction strokes. I was rejected.

Ryan L.

Open bay…
Most of my solo paddling is done on an open bay next to the big Lake Ontario. Mostly because its 5 miles from my house… :slight_smile: I start in morning and its usually calm, but there is a heavy current from the channel into the bay which alone will send my kayak all over. By midday, it can become pretty rough and breezy since the bay is pretty much wide open to winds coming off the lake. Especially in the summer when pleasure boaters abound. I do sometimes venture out onto the lake itself, when we get a light summer breeze out of the south, the lake can be much calmer than the bay.

I have decided that, for now at least, I will put the money into a better, lighter paddle. I am looking at a Werner Skagit right now, seems to get good reviews, and will be 12oz lighter than my cheap paddle I am using now. Once I get enough “rewards” points from my health insurance healthy living plan, I will cash out and purchase a rudder kit, and that wont be till fall so I will have a rudder NEXT season.

I also have $40 in rewards coming from Dick’s Sporting Goods (from the purchase of the kayak!) and will be upgrading my pfd, they have a nice Coleman branded paddling specific pfd that I like the looks of.

Thanks for comments and opinions. For now, I am just going to get a better paddle and adjust my strokes, as much of a pain that can be…

Better not to generalize
For the last 25 years I have always had at least one boat with a rudder and one without. Currently my Q700 has a rudder and I find it unpleasant to paddle without deploying it; way too many corrective strokes. In that boat I alway use the rudder to turn. Why not? It makes things very easy.

I also have a Seda Ikkuma without a rudder. It is designed for use without a rudder and It would be idiotic to put one on. However, there are far too many boats designed for use without a rudder, that are very affected by wind and chop, and are a real pain to handle.

There are also poorly designed boats with rudders, where the rudder does not help much. For example, if the boat lee cocks, then the rudder anchors the stern making it difficult, or impossible, to turn up wind.

But if you have a rudder and it works for turns, it makes no sense not to use it to its max. I have never understood the foolishness of some people saying proudly, “I have a rudder but hardly ever use it!” Why that is something to be proud of is beyond me.

In your experience with a variety of
sea kayaks, what would you estimate the drag of a rudder to be?

I’d say rudder drag is negligible. If you can feel your rudder drag, you are probably more sensitive than most Olympic paddlers. The only time you’d feel it is if it is clogged up with weeds or dragging in very shallow water. But if you were paddling in water that weedy or that shallow, you would already bee paddling with more resistance than a rudder in clean and deep (over 10’) water.

Great article on Rudders

– Last Updated: Jun-23-11 12:47 PM EST –

Rudders are awesome on long sea kayaks

"""A well-designed rudder will add less than 2% total drag to a kayak.
In comparison, modifying your stroke to correct or maintain your course
results in anywhere from 30% to 70% forward power loss!
Very minor corrections will result in 5% to 10% less power than a fully efficient forward stroke.

Even good paddlers in calm water are subconsciously making
very minor corrections on many of their strokes.
Thus it is actually much more efficient to take
a consistent 2% drag increase than to be
losing an average of 5% or more forward power on your stroke."""