Tracking issues

'13 Jackson Journey Kayak 13.5 with smart rudder.

5’8. 185lbs.

A quick background. So far I haven’t taken a paddling class. With the crazy weather we’ve had recently, lakes are closed due to flooding (go figure) and weather is just nuts (I just got back from the rain cancelled IndyCar race. Get well soon Josef Newgarden!) with storms popping up everywhere. So most of my technique has come from books and online videos.

Well I love the speed of my Jackson and how quickly I can get it to turn. Now herein likes the problem. As I pick up speed, it eventually wants to track left OR right in a big bad way. So I am effectively paddling on one side. When I stop paddling, it goes into a left turn. Does not track straight WITHOUT the rudder deployed.

I’ve looked to see that there are no dents on the hull. Nothing sticking out. I hang it on a sling but I don’t see any warping. It was new when I bought it.

So here is what I’m thinking:

  1. Moderate to high rocker makes it easy to turn and susceptible wander while not paddling?
  2. Winds are typically 5-10 mph. Wind could be causing weather vaning
  3. Word on the street is that the Journey just wasn’t built for tracking like a Tsunami of the same length.
  4. Perhaps I’m leaning on one side more than the other and inducing a turn?

    Take note. I am in no way disappointed in kayaking or this kayak. This thing puts a smile on my face. I love being out on the water so no worries there. I’m just a bit unsure as to what the cause is.

    I’ve read some comments that it doesn’t track well. Others say that it does but need really good technique. I don’t know what really good technique is. So any help, tips, or suggestions would be appreciated. Even if it’s a “it’s a Journey, live with it” spurts thing is fine. I just want to make sure it isn’t me doing something wonky. Again, this is without the rudder deployed.

small boat for you
Kind of wondering why you went with the 13.5 rather than the 14 since the 13.5 is designed for smaller framed paddlers and you are an average to large sized person at 185 lbs. Oddly enough, being too heavy for a kayak usually sinks you to a longer water line in it and makes it track better. But in this case your weight may be sinking the bow too much compared to the stern and causing the stern to want to try to pass you

But I do have a suggestion that might help (and it won’t cost anything). Next time you paddle, bring a couple of empty half gallon water or milk jugs and fill them with water and stuff them in the stern hatch. See if that helps.

I was paddling last year with a guy your size who was having a lot of trouble trying to keep up with the rest of the group (in touring kayaks) because he was in a 12’ rec boat that was wearing him out trying to keep it on track as it zigzagged down the river. We did not have any milk jugs so we pulled ashore and I filled his stern hatch with flat rocks. This worked surprisingly well and he found it easier to paddle straight.

That rudder is so big, and the butt of
that kayak so high up, (relatively speaking) I would be shocked if the kayak WASN’T drifting to one side or the other, in any sort of breeze !

And the faster you go, the more this happens?

Uhm, hmm. You want the long tech answer, or the short, easy thing that will work till you get this sorted out?


Stop staring at the bow of the kayak, and look up a little more at where you’re intending to go.

You “are” pushing with the one hand, not pulling, right? Stop pulling. Push.

And quit leaning forward.

Since I have a large, lightweight fishing kayak with a relatively high profile and no rudder at all, and this makes for some funny stuff on windy days, as I am not perfectly symmetric, I will give you the cheat version.

Put something in the hatch in the front. Put something in the hatch in the back. Make sure the stuff in the front and the stuff in the back are about the same weight. Doesn’t have to be much. Use a drybag or trashbag pre-stuffed with some sort of goodies you would like to have with you, “just in case.”

Yeah, this gets me some odd looks sometimes as I am packing bags for a half hour trip, but at least this helps immensely with how my particular kayak tracks.

I also shim one knee up a little bit with a piece of foam pool noodle so I don’t extend the ever so slightly longer leg as far as the other, causing me to weight one hip more, but - that’s probably not your problem. I have the adjustable footpegs, but it’s easier to move a noodle than readjust a peg when in a hurry like OMG BIG RAPID/ WAKE COMING.

Now, for the paddle. What?! Many paddles can also be feathered (adjusted so one blade is at a different angle) when the wind is coming from a certain direction, so there is less effect as you bring the paddle up out of the water and it hits the air, then starts to slice forward on the way back down. Then, when you change direction to return, or the wind switches, you can re-adjust, and put the blade back.

Yeah, here you are, trying to blame the jackson, and it could be the paddle?

Rudder up, AND Paddle blade in strong cross wind… oh. my.

Since describing this is is confusing compared to just having a live person go “like this” during the situation ( aha light bulb flash moment goes off!) or you can play with this on your own, you can also do searches for this on the inner- tubes.

Small boat huh?
Well, I got it for a few reasons.

  1. Space. I was looking at a few boats but man, I don’t have much room for anything much longer at this time. I can Barely fit this bad boy in my garage.

  2. I fit in pretty good. I can sit and paddle in this thing for hours. I guess I need to brush up on my knowledge of large and small frame. As far as buoyancy. I’m short and stocky but never thought about weight distribution.

  3. Price! So I called several different places and most places are selling loads of fishing kayaks, not selling touring style. Some of the demo days were scheduled for later in the year (one outfitter suggested September). So it was for sale comparable to rec kayaks out there.

  4. It was the only kayak at the outfitter that didn’t have an armchair for a backrest. It had the back band. I looked at a 14.5 tsunami, fit the same, but I don’t want to be leaning against a love seat.

    Now I know. I’ll paddle it for a season or so and get something bigger and badder. But for now I’ll try putting weight in there.

Thanks for the advice
And I won’t be so quick to blame the kayak. I’ll put some weights is there and see how it goes.

I was worried about the 13.5 vs 14. Now I’ll be more knowledgeable going forward. To my disappointment, several of the places I talked to said they aren’t ordering touring kayaks for the forseeable future. They aren’t turning them like they are sit on tops and fishing kayaks. I guess that’s what happens when you live 4 hours from the ocean.

Now I am extra motivated to reach my 165lb goal weight!

Rudder has a purpose.
To help keep the kayak from weathercocking in the winds you describe. So why not use it?

I have a skeg on my boat, which I put to good use. Makes more sense than constantly doing corrective strokes.

As to technique, there are some good videos and lots of not so good ones. Here’s a few good ones:


Most garages are 18’ to 20’ deep since most cars are 14 ’ to 17’ long. Even the 90 year old garage at my first house was long enough for my 16’ Volvo. So I’m puzzled why that limits your kayak choices.

Though you’re at the top end of the weight range for that kayak, if you can get the tracking tuned up, there is no reason you can’t continue to use it and enjoy it, as you seem to have been doing. No need to replace it unless you want more speed and tracking (though that can be a trade-off for the maneuverability you like in this boat.) My ex boyfriend was your height and weight and he really liked my low volume touring kayak (which is also designed for a small to medium-framed paddler) because he preferred the snug fit and handling even though he was at the high end of the rated weight range for it.

As as also been mentioned, it could be your paddle and/or your technique. What kind of paddle are you using? Is it a large blade? If so, you might want to try a smaller area blade and higher cadence. If you paddle a lot in windy conditions, a Greenland paddle could help.

I am using a
Carlisle Magic Plus that I had on my rec kayak. 230cm. I’m looking for the weight range for kayaks but all I see is max weight load. Or is this something that comes with experience/rule of thumb? Like I said, a bit too much eating hasn’t done me any favors haha. All the more reason to work on my diet and exercise. My reason for not wanting to use rudder exclusively is to avoid using that as a crutch for bad technique.

I went out to do kayak support for my wife’s tri-club practice and saw other Kayakers out at the lake. Everyone had techniques of varying zigzagedness. I didn’t feel too out of place.

Don’t be so sure.
You said you looked for warps etc. in the bottom of your boat, but have you very carefully sighted down the keel line. It’s not that easy to detect a less than straight keel because of rocker, but with a very keen eye, you should be able to make a determination.

It is also very possible that as you increase your paddling effort, it might not be concentric in spite of what it feels like. You might be applying more force on one side of the boat than the other. You can compensate for that a little by shifting the paddle a bit to the side the boat is wanting to pull toward.

As others have already mentioned, use the rudder. Work on your paddling technique and don’t get too locked in on perfection, because you will eventually find the form that works the best for you with some fine tuning. Concentrate on pushing (with torso rotation) on the blade that is out of the water. The pull on the water blade will take care of itself.

Some shorter boats are very sensitive to even slight breezes and itty bitty currents. Edging becomes instinctive after a lot of time in the saddle as do a lot of other subtle adjustments that you will do without any thought.

Feathering your paddle in crosswinds is not helpful. Use your rudder.

word = lessons
Was a touring kayak long ago, loved it…but now a canoe guy(once in a while). You should take lessons from knowledgeable instructors = the best way.

"wants to track left OR right"
From this piece of a statement that you made, I read it as when you gain speed, the boat might want to veer left or right, all things equal. You bring it up to speed and it starts veering left. You straighten in out, bring it back up to speed on the same path, and this time it might start to veer right. It might turn either direction, but when you bring it up to speed, it wants to turn.

It’s typical to focus on the wrong thing when trying to figure out directional control. You want to paddle a straight line, so you’re doing everything you can think of to paddle straight without initiating any kind of turn.

I suggest focusing on maneuvering your kayak first. Figure out the connections between your blade angles, paddle placements, and where your hips or legs or feet are putting pressure on the boat while you’re doing it. Play with it until you can maneuver the boat more and more quickly. Spend days on the water just dancing around the water in your kayak, trying to make all those boat, body, blade connections.

It is the lack of understanding of these connections at the root of an inability to control the typical veering of a kayak. And things like blade angle control and leverage take a long time in developing a natural feel. The better you can maneuver, the better you are at directional control, the better you can paddle straight.

I am planning to schedule lessons but…
Like I said. Most of the weekends are shot in the DFW/Waco/Austin area. It is crazy how much rain and storms have popped up early morning and afternoons. So far a few places I have called are on hold indefinitely until the weather clears up and the lakes open.

2nd those tips
Looking where you want to go seems elementary, but people somehow forget or don’t think to do so.

3rd would be to work on form and don’t arm-paddle.

"wants to track left OR right"
I echo the previous poster. Sounds like the Kayak doesn’t track well on its own, DROP THE RUDDER!

Also, try making short strokes. Start taking the paddle out as soon as it past your knee. The last part of the normal stroke has the tendency to steer the kayak. Not a problem for a stiff tracking boat. Bad news for a turny hull.

Ask me how I know? I have a play boat (white water) with tons of rocker. Trying to get that thing to go anywhere but in circles took a lot of practices. But I now get a “feel” of when to take the paddle out, before it starts the steering component.

Quick short strokes, lots of it. It may not feel fast at first, but you’ll get there a lot sooner than the circular route.