The Skeg / Rudder question...revisited

Yes, I know the skeg vs.rudder issue has been hashed out ad nauseum over the years. However, I’m now seeing a few more experienced kayakers with ruddered boats on the water. As I’m now in the process of deciding what I want on my next boat, to be purchased shortly, I’m starting to relent a little on my philistine insistence that only a skeg will do.

I’ve been paddling a Tsunami 145 with rudder over the past few years and I’ve just outgrown it. I must say that once I learned to use the rudder ONLY to keep the boat on track in wind and quartering waves, I found it worked quite well and I learned effective techniques for controlling the boat through different strokes and leans. This pleased the purists of course. Meanwhile my comrades in higher end boats seemed to be having all sorts of frequent trouble with their skegs, even the ones with the supposedly “kink-proof” designs.

I notice that QCC in particular seems to be emphasizing rudders these days, although they offer skegs too.

My question: Is a skeg worth the trouble?



– Last Updated: Apr-02-08 9:02 AM EST –

Though not needed very often, I've found the skeg useful in my boats. Most often the skeg has been useful to me in rear and rear quartering seas. Especially when in more rockered boats.

However, I will not enter into a skeg v rudder debate. I will leave that to more and less experienced paddlers ;-)

I’ve never had a problem with my skeg cable kinking or whatever on an Impex Mystic. Rudders can also kink and jam too, in fact, there are now two cables in a rudder that can kink, so don’t see the difference or skegs haveing a lot of problems lately. The thing with the skeg is that in sandy landings, you can get sand or other crap wedged in the skeg box, but it usually goes away soon enough or with routine maintenance. It’s when you don’t bother with it and then sometime you go to drop the skeg, it jams, and then people start having problems with it. Everything, including rudders need the occasional maintenance, look after though. I wouldn’t be swayed one way or the other because of perceived skeg problems.


Never needed a rudder
I have a skeg on my boat and I’m installing a rudder, but only for kayak sailing purposes only. I plan on setting it up so that I can easily remove it and reinstall as needed.


both= grief
they both can give you grief, they’re mechanical devices and are prone to fail occassionally.

skegs balance the boat to the wind, rudders slide the stern over at will (and some foot pressure)

your call. sorry no EZ answer.


Skegs and trouble

– Last Updated: Apr-02-08 9:51 AM EST –

We have rope skegs on our expedition boats, which are set up to be fixed fully or mostly tool-free if something happens on the water. The only problem that some have with this kind of skeg is that dropping them a desired distance is more of a feeling thing than being able to just look down at how far the slider has been pushed.

So I have the rope skeg on my Explorer LV, and a slider skeg on the Vela. I haven't had any problem with either under some fairly hard use, either adjusting the distance in the Explorer or putting the slider skeg on the Vela under pretty heavy use since it is pretty skeg-dependent in wind.

That said, there are situations like racing where the rudder is greatly preferred. It may be that this is a factor for your paddling with a new boat. And there is the other side of this question, do you want to look towards a boat that is as close as you can get to neutral under wind etc, and skip either device?

As to repair - the kit I've seen people carry to actually repair a rudder looks like it is considerably more complicated than what would be needed to handle our rope skegs. It may not be much simpler than that required to repair a skeg.

They are all good choices - it really depends on your paddling.

I embrace the personal preference theory

– Last Updated: Apr-02-08 11:01 AM EST –

I've paddled with people who use rudders, skegs or none of the above and they all seem to get there in the end. My preference is none of the above. It's analogous to the standard vs.automatic transmission argument which comes down to whether you like fiddling with the gearshift.

My previous boat was a Lincoln Eggemoggin. I heard that it was well balanced and did not need a skeg, but I was nervous about the commitment and got it with a skeg. After I had owned it for a year or so I was going to show someone how the skeg worked and discovered that it was frozen in place (corrosion from dissimilar metals.) I didn't bother to try to fix it.

My current boat is an Impex Outer Island. I had the opportunity to demo it in a 15 knot breeze before purchase and found that it did not weathercock; in fact it has a very slight tendency to leecock, so a skeg would be pointless. It is also very low volume for a tripping boat and the skeg box took up a lot of space, so I got it without the skeg. I am extremely happy with the boat.

I don't need a new boat, but I have my eye on the Skim Distance. From what I read it is neutrally balanced in the wind. I don't know if it amounts to a fetish, but I am very attracted to long lean, low-rocker boats.

I probably expend a little extra effort making correcting strokes in some wind conditions compared to the people with rudders, but then again I like fiddling with the gearshift.

Kinky …
It should be pointed out here that when a cable kinks, it typically does so when being PUSHED through its guide tube, not pulled.

Skegs, having only one cable, require that the cable be both pushed and pulled, depending on whether the skeg is being raised or dropped. It’s that pushing that makes them vulnerable to kinking.

Rudders, on the other hand, have two cables, so each cable is alternately being pulled first from one end, then the other. There is no pushing, hence little chance of kinking.

read the recently posted trip
report on the Wilderness Waterway. They went down and back in 8 days. The paddler who ‘worked’ the hardest had a skegged boat. I don’t think any of these paddlers were out of shape-on the contrary they were all trained athletes. In LONG paddles, and in their case day after day of big paddling miles, the corrective leans will take their toll on your energy/body.

While you are doing the summation of pros and cons on skegs and rudders look at Mirage Kayaks with their extended integral rudder. When you take your feet off the bar the rudder returns to a neutral position and because you have the choice of an extended rudder it becomes a skeg, push with either foot and you have a rudder. Epic Kayaks has followed the Mirage lead but is still a wee bit behind the developement of the extended rudder (Mirage also offers a racing rudder that is flush with the keel line)…as Flatpick pointed out there is no system without problems and with the Mirage with extended rudder you will have something else to consider in beach landings (but dont worry about hurting the extended rudder, it is quite beefy)…and if you are planning a LONG multi-day paddle look at what Andrew McCauley chose.

There is also the choice of a boat as mentioned above with rudder and skeg–its your boat why not have the best of both worlds. I think P&H or maybe Point65 offer kayaks with both from the get go.

Some kayaks are rudder dependent-mostly the racing hulls, some are skeg dependent (my opinion of the QCC700 if a skeg is chosen on that kayak) and some kayaks really need neither depending on what you want to do with the kayak.

I think someday you’ll see a rudder that flips up and into a groove on the stern ‘dissapearing’ with the rotation hub formed into the kayak, this would eliminate the ‘look’ of the flip rudders and reduce some windage.

Good luck with your decision.

Rudder AND skeg

Now you have an option of both breaking :slight_smile:


– Last Updated: Apr-02-08 1:15 PM EST –

I always noticed the immediate loss of speed when the skeg is lowered. One advantage that has not been pointed out is that with the skeg you can crack it a fraction of an inch down to stiffen up the tracking if needed whereas with the rudder it's an all or nothing proposition. The rudder was not invented as a correction device. It was put on boats so paddlers could steer them and it became a selling tool years back. For many, it's still a steering device and if a lot of paddlers lost it, they wouldn't know what to do. You can certainly be a good paddler with skills and have one but generally, paddlers like to lean their boats for turning efficiency and don't like the spongy rudder foot pegs. The numbers tell the story, more and more boats are using skegs. Plus you don't have this huge appendage on the back of what should be a simple efficient craft. Why not put one on the front too?

I just prefer the skeg - less trouble than a rudder IMO and experience. I like a clean rear deck and solid foot pegs. The better I get, the less I even use it, and there are few if any conditions where it is actually absolutely necessary.

People who race or are in big swells in open water over long distance like rudders. If rudders are popular in your area, there is probably a reason.

I also agree that there is nothing wrong with a rudder if that is your personal preference - go for it. You’re not out there for anybody’s approval.

Drag from the skeg box opening
Just to throw out a theoretical question; it seems to me that there might be more drag from the skeg box opening than from the deployed skeg. The flow around the skeg, if not laminar, should at least less turbulent that the the flow across the skeg box opening, especially at the forward and rear of the opening. Has anyone seen anything theoretical or empirical on this?

Rudder or skegs?
The biggest negative for skegs is the infringement on storage space.Also from the energy expenditure perspective, sailboats have rudders because it is easier to steer with a rudder than the sails ie. corrective strokes. There are rudder systems with solid foot pegs. Rudders do not need to be fully deployed to be an effective wind skeg.

Skeg drag
Sometimes I feel drag when lowering it, sometimes I don’t. I’ve decided it has to do with how closely aligned the hull is with the direction of travel whenever I put it down.

Overall, using GPS I haven’t been able to detect any loss of speed using it. Usually speed is better over distance, especially when there’s a breeze blowing the boat around requiring correcting strokes and leans without it.


Skegs Aren’t That Much Trouble
Just don’t drag the stern of your boat over pebbles.

That said, when I break down and get a go-fast boat it’ll be ruddered.

you already have a go fast boat

like an antenae on a mini-van. Most skegged touring boats are in the Greenland / Brit design category where speed is a mute point. The added drag at touring speeds is negligeable. There have been tests but I’m not at liberty to post that info so ya just have to accept or dismiss it.

no need for rudder for sailing
Andy, I thought the same: for sailing you must have rudder! Not so.

When I purchased my Impexes (Assateague and Currituck) I thought I would not be able to sail them.

Quite the opposite. The extended keel line and shallow V shaped hull actually creates more lateral resistance and the kayak can be sailed better then my ruddered ones.

The sail however has to be mounted faily forward on the bow.

I use the skeg to determine the direction of beam wind.

A skeg all up and the kayak will turn into the wind, half way down will make it go straight and all the way down will turn it away from the wind.

For other sharp turns a little bit of stern rudder with my paddle. A real pleasure.

If interested check some pix out at


surf or no surf?
mctec, one of the reasons I have gone the skeg route is because I was sick of bending and braking rudders in the surf.

Since I have been using a skegged kayak (Impex) I don’t have to worry about damaging the hardware on my stern anymore.

Incidentally I also learned how to kayak, not just paddle.

Too often I see (that was myself as well) people using rudders for directing and steering the kayak and not for what is intended for: compensating for weathercocking.

As mentioned by somebody else most people would be lost without a rudder while most people that paddle skegged boats would not have a problem if theirs would malfunction.

Admittedly in following seas I have to work a bit harder to keep my skegged kayak going the direction I want.

If you intend to go on very long trips (expeditions) maybe a rudder would be easier on you (less energy used for edging and sweeping strokes).

However most of us paddle short distances and I believe a skegged boat is a more fun boat.

An analogy that most of us would relate to:

it’s like an automatic cruiser versus a stick (manual) sports car.

'nuff said