What are hull design differences between skeg, rudder, or hull with neither?


My understanding is boats with rudders are often racing designs, or touring designs with hulls with little rocker for the most part. Boats with skegs are generally boats with more rocker, but have the use of the skeg in windy conditions. Boats without either can be both rockered and straight hull designs, but can often have a built in skeg in the hull design at the stern. However a rudder or skeg can be used with either straight or rockered hulls. Others with more knowledge may point out if my assumptions are wrong.

There’s way more variability in kayak designs than that. I’ve owned skeg-equipped boats that were highly maneuverable (Pintail, Anas Acuta) and others that were strong trackers (Silhouette, Nordkapp). The purpose of a skeg is to adjust the boat’s weather helm characteristics, correcting weathercocking in particular.

Rudders are designed to be used to adjust the course of a boat, but many paddlers misuse them to turn the boat, as a substitute for learning to use the paddle and edging/leaning. You’ll often see boats sold both without a rudder or skeg, but equipped to accept one (usually, there is a rudder-equipped version, too). Frankly, rudders are probably more often used as a crutch by paddlers with poor technique than for any other reason.

Boats that are designed to be used without a rudder or skeg need to have balanced handling and will generally be toward the maneuverable end of the spectrum, to allow the paddler to readily correct course and turn the boat using the paddle and body position.

Rudders are generally mounted outboard. Skegs are generally thru hull. (Dang spell check)

I would like to see a group of hulls with each design turned upside down.

Hulls aren’t often all that different, except that many ruddered boats have less rear rocker as lifting the end of the stern out of the water further would often move the rudder out of the water.

Back decks on ruddered boats are often higher, and boats higher volume, than skeg boats. Thinking of Necky boats (which were made for areas like Salish Sea), like the Looskha IV, as compared to British boats (like most Valley boats). The higher back deck will cause the baot to be more impacted by wind, so more likely to need the rudder to help it go straight. Lower back decks are less impacted by wind, so could more easily be corrected by a skeg.

Some hulls are sold with either, such as some QCC models.

I prefer the Epic Track Master Steering system that’s on my 16X. It’s out of the way when not in use, can be partially deployed like any skeg with the stern locked on place or free to move like a rudder.

I rarely deploy it, since I’m almost never in conditions that require any sort of aid.

Hey Brian, what’s the difference between adjusting the course and turning?

I’m not knowledgeable enough to know the fine points hulls design, but are not the class of boats “North American kayaks” specifically designed to take advantage of rudders. Is the rudder the only difference?

I paddled a long, straight, skegged boat for 15 years (Azul Sultan, a Brit design). So, I feel like I know how to drive a kayak without using the rudder. But, since buying a North American design, I have learned to love the rudder. I find some kayakers look down on paddlers that use the rudder, but many expert, long-distance paddlers feel they travel further and faster using a rudder. The paddler can concentrate on a powerful forward stroke, letting their toes make the fine adjustment of course that otherwise needs to be made by leaning the boat or altering the paddle stroke.


I think you answered your own question in your last sentence; that’s how a rudder is designed to be used. I see a lot of paddlers in rudder-equipped boats who think they’re for maneuvering the boat and making tight turns. I suspect that many of them have no idea how to turn the boat otherwise. I’m not saying that they’re not making a logical assumption, it’s just an incorrect one. You can blame that on dealers and the industry as a whole for not adequately educating new paddlers.

I disagree with rudders aren’t for turning the boat. Some hull designs don’t turn worth a crap when leaning them all the way to the coaming is under water. My now sold QCC 700x didn’t turn worth a crap by leaning it. You want to do a massively wide turn then ok. Yes iam aware that a few QCC’s were sold with skegs Big Mistake. I have several boats one with a rudder others with skegs. So yes I know how to turn a skeg boat. No beginner here.

The statement re QCC boats and rudders by dc9mm is exactly right. In John Winters’ statement for the Q400, he says the boat was intentionally designed to be ‘helm-neutral’ when leaned - this means leaning will NOT turn the boat by itself. He did this so it will be well-behaved in confused water, i.e. when the sea itself is leaning, your boat will not start steering itself in response. JW is a well-known and well-regarded boat designer who is actually a naval architect, so I take him at his word.

Using a rudder to turn one of these boats is not a mistake, nor a misunderstanding of what a rudder is - it’s using a feature of the boat to execute a maneuver on the water. If a given paddler thinks using a rudder is somehow ‘weak’ or shows lack of skill, that’s their business, but should not be imposed on others.

The assumption that those who use rudders to turn are somehow uneducated or unskilled is pretty condescending, really. It involves a whole range of assumptions about small craft design that are not self-evident, and I thought it was mostly gone from this forum. I work with naval architects every day, and they think the conceit about rudders in kayaks being only for course-keeping is ridiculous.

I see a lot of expedition boats with rudders and I doubt it’s because they don’t know what they’re doing.

The phrase “needs a rudder” should be avoided. Deploying the rudder of a ruddered boat will almost always provide a modicum of improved efficiency for travel through choppy breezy waters. If your boat “needs” a rudder to manage conditions than either you lack skills, or the boat design is poor, or you have loaded it in an unbalanced way. If you just enjoy paddling a ruddered boat without deploying the rudder, then go for it; but that is nothing to be proud of.

I have for many years had both ruddered and non-ruddered boats. I always deploy the rudder if I have one, with one exception: Turning up-wind into 20 kts the rudder anchors the stern and that turn is difficult. I might raise the rudder, do the turn, then re-deploy it. All exceedingly rare.

There’s a number of “go-fast” kayaks (e.g. Valley Rapier), and surf skis that require a rudder to be manageable. It’s a trade-off for speed and the assumption is that a rudder will always be engaged. Kayak design is always a compromise.

While controversial, many surf ski paddlers feel that a rudder adds perceived stability to an extremely tippy hull.

That said, not all fast kayaks require a rudder. Just for an example, while I can handle my 18X in winds just fine, without the rudder deployed, the Rapier has so little stern pressure, and at 20’ length, that it can be very difficult to control in winds, sans rudder. Of course, this does raise safety issues. On some of these hulls should the rudder fail during a race then you’re done competing, and might have your hands full getting back to shore safely in conditions.


I’ve paddled all sorts of kayaks–with rudders, skegs and neither; the one I prefer for distance, speed and rough conditions has no skeg and no rudder. There is always a compromise, but all things considered, a well designed boat that goes where it’s pointed and isn’t bothered by forces that try to influence the course is a pure joy. It does force one to learn paddling techniques that otherwise might never be contemplated, but this turns out to be a very good thing. I use everything this boat taught me on all my boats and I think it has made paddling any boat a better experience. Not having a hole in the bottom of the boat, or a contraption stuck on the back of the boat is no small thing–for me.

Rudders on on touring boats are somewhat of a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. When the rudder is parked on the deck, the added surface area exposed to the wind at the extreme stern pretty much guarantees that the boat is going to weathercock. The only solution is to deploy the rudder. The same boat without the rudder installed may be completely manageable in similar conditions and they’re often sold that way with the rudder as a option.

Rudders are really a crutch for most paddlers, one that allows them to get by without learning critical paddling skills that may need when they encounter unexpected conditions or just get in over their heads. While that does allow more people to enjoy the sport - which is arguably a good thing - I see it as a net negative from a safety perspective.

@bnystrom said:
Rudders on on touring boats are somewhat of a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. When the rudder is parked on the deck, the added surface area exposed to the wind at the extreme stern pretty much guarantees that the boat is going to weathercock. The only solution is to deploy the rudder. The same boat without the rudder installed may be completely manageable in similar conditions and they’re often sold that way with the rudder as a option.

Except that touring boats with Greenland heritage tend to have high bows and low sterns. Touring boats often have deck bags and other things affecting windage that were never in the design. Touring boats handle differently with a load than empty. Or that the problem for the rudder is following current or wave not related to wind. Yes I’d agree that it can be a crutch and perhaps a weather vane at times, but some people need it. There is a place for everything even crutches.

One of my friends and I have the same model and year boats, but mine has NO rocker for over ten feet of the bottom (sits flat on level floor). My friend’s has considerable rocker throughout the length. I only use my rudder in windy conditions, while he uses his almost all the time for tracking. When carrying heavy loads camping, by loading slightly heavy on the stern I reduce need for rudder in mild winds. I suspect both our boats are defective in that rocker should be more than mine and less than his, but edging gives me all the maneuverability I want, and I wouldn’t change a thing. (The boats are 2008 Current Designs, Storm GTs if you are wondering.)

I do not think I would buy a boat that I couldn’t paddle first unless it was a near give away.

Why same boats different rocker? Not good to have a poly boat with that variation. That means they really change shape possibility due to care?