What does it mean to say a kayak is tight or loose in the bow?

Please explain. Thanks!

My thoughts on it probably often come from how it behaves parallel to a breaking wave. If the bow is loose, the bow will generally slide down the wave first.
Another way to look at it would be the bow blowing downwind first - lee cocking.
I have a Tiderace Xtreme. It has a lot of rocker, and a seated position behind the center of the kayak. The hull profile is fair along the sides - no concave curvature, and a fairly flat bottom, all to keep it very maneuverable. It does fine in the wind paddling forward, as all bows firm up (or sterns loosen up, or a combination of the two) more the more forward momentum you have. But if you paddle backward in a firm wind, within just a couple of strokes gaining a little backward momentum, the bow swings downwind just like a weathervane. It’s a fun kayak in the waves. But it’s not going to win you many looks of admiration trying to model an entire set of typical maneuvering strokes in a stiff wind. You use what works for this kayak and you’ll do quite well.
In any case, I think it’s a definite example of a loose bow.
A less rockered bow, a v’d keel, concave curvature along the sides where the bow is slicing through the water, all these things will firm up a bow, prevent it from pushing sideways through the water as easily. And of course being seated closer towards the bow.

I can’t get scientific, but the two (old) day boats I use are a study in contrast. To the point that I have to load one reverse of the other for trim, in terms of proportional weight front and back.

The Romany and its big cousin the Explorer were designed with loose bows to start with, even looser when you add in that I am a bit undersized for the volume. Less so 15 years later of course… That means that the bow tends to be pulled to one side or another at relatively little provocation, whether strong winds or dynamic sea conditions. It is wonderful for sliding thru sloppy messes of conflicting wave patterns without taking any hard knocks, though its responsiveness also means a lot of physical effort gets expended in correction strokes. Until you get used to the slip and slide thing, then you just kind of work with it.

On a very high wind day some years ago, my husband came over the top of a wave and I saw the exposed bow get pushed downwind at least several inches, very suddenly. Swimming happened.

My other boat has a deep bow and a relatively skinny little stern, so that bow goes into water and stays on track. Which means in some tall haystacks one time it felt like I was getting banged around, hard, where the Romany would have been doing frequent but smoother feeling course corrections. AKA spinning in circles that day. This boat tends to weathercock more easily than the Romany and I bias weight towards the stern.

The Romany requires more correct form to paddle backwards straight than the other, but either will do fine as long as you are attentive to the start and finish points of the stroke.

Thanks, but I’m a tad confused: Cape Fear said:

“If the bow is loose, the bow will generally slide down the wave first.
Another way to look at it would be the bow blowing downwind first - lee-cocking.”

But Celia said her Romany, which is loose in the bow, has no risk of lee-cocking.

But I’m generally understanding that being loose in the bow means the bow tends to pop up out of the water when not the boat isn’t maintaining good forward movement. Yes?

@CapeFear @Doggy_Paddler

Sorry, too little coffee. I said that backwards. I took out the lee cocking part.

That corrected, the bow in the Romany is just about always out of the water with me in it regardless of my forward motion.


So is it correct to think that boats that are loose in the bow will generally be easier for a less experienced paddler to control, except in windy/wavy conditions, where a boat that had a more fixed bow might be easier?

I don’t think that either is easier across a day of paddling open water, where you are likely to encounter a mix of conditions. Maybe that term would apply in narrower circumstances.

Loose bow boats are usually easier to turn without committing to a good edge. Beginners generally fear doing so, hence if they have to get a turn out of a boat the loose bow boat may seem easier. If it it windy, it is a balancing act between the boat being easier to turn and opposing or quartering wind maybe needing a deeper edge to turn anyway. Would depend on the paddler how that worked out. A lot of new paddlers, even more experienced ones coming from a less maneuverable boat, get as freaked out when the boat responds too much as when they can’t make it turn at all. Been on trips with both flavors.

New paddlers, especially males, tend to start out wanting a boat that will go fast. Usually not understanding they may not love having to turn the same boat. Faster means more keel line in the water so could also correlate with a less rockered, tighter bowed boat. Until they have to turn it, or get caught in slop, newer paddlers looking for speed would prefer this behavior.

As I get older and slower, I prefer something that will; not fight back on a turn. My tight bowed boat remains terribly maneuverable because within that behavior she is still under 16 feet.

Thank you, that’s very helpful!

My boat (Impex Montauk) is similar in size and, I think, in general design, to the Romany, and the behavior you described of the Romany with the loose bow accords with my experience. I guess one just needs to get used to any boat by paddling it, and your ability to adjust gets better as you’ve experienced more boats.

Interesting conversation.
I’ve been paddling since '84 and have never heard the term ‘loose bow’.
From the conversation, it seems that it is fairly common.
Just wondering where is originated - regional (eg: NE), from classes (training), other?
Some terms just start up and are accepted and used (evolving language).
For example, I learned and used the term ‘broaching’ when ‘broached’ by a wave, then riding it in (surf).
In recent years, I’ve heard the term ‘side-surfing’ much more than broaching.

If you wish to compare bows by looking at their side profile. Look at the side profile of a Valley Pintail {Loose bow} and compare it to the side profile of a Valley Q Boat {Tight bow}

You will notice the Q boat has a pronounced “Bow Skeg” and will lock the bow. Where as the pintail doesn’t . The pronounced cut-water will lock the bow in the bottom of a wave when surfing steep waves allowing the stern to be pushed and pivoted around the bow {One drawback}

This pronounced bow is seen on many kayaks used for rolling because it also helps to “stick” the roll.

somewhat useful if hunting seals into a wind.

That makes sense to me in terms of surfing, but I don’t understand why it would be helpful in rolling. It would seem that less water line would make the boat spin up more easily…?

it helps to stop the roll. and buffers the rolling action at the end of the roll . Helps to stick the roll. also counters the sweep action from poor style at the end of a roll that is caused by sitting up too soon.

Rolling isn’t about waterline. rolling spins on the length axis. width and side profile have more to do with rolling …and if a kayak is a log roller or a plank roller.

PS I used surfing as a graphic…because what is true in surf, is also true for traveling with following seas. {so you don’t have to consider yourself to be surfing in order to have the complications from a bow configuration in a kayaks particular design}

OK, thanks, that makes sense. So you don’t roll past your roll and capsize again. Never thought of that.

Having wandered into another term…

First, the loose bow term has been around as long as I have known about NDK boats. Since the Romany is a fairly old boat design at this point and has always been known as a loose bow boat. I don’t recall any North American boats that could be termed loose bow until the British invasion so to speak, though there are a couple of older canoe/kayak classics that may be true for.

The rolling thing is, as above, more about the lengthwise profile than the length itself. Since if you roll the part of the boat that is around your hips the rest of it usually has to come along.

If you are doing surf, a boat that prefers to keep rolling once upright could be an interesting job to handle since you are rolling up on very dynamic surfaces like a side of a wave. Where getting knocked down again can be a problem. Finding the correct side and direction to roll was a piece of the art that I never mastered.

Should I get my mojo back up for it, the Nordkapp LV is an excellent example of very round boat that you actually have to stop at the top of a roll. Because otherwise you will immediately get a second chance to roll, window shading. It is very round.

The Romany, with the single chine, will tolerate an imperfect last half of a roll and at a certain point in the process plop you back upright again and stay there. The miracle of this design is that it is also not too hard to get it to and just past that point, something which earlier boats like the CD Squall did not do as willingly.

Somehow the term has evaded me, though not the Romany’s fault.

My first intro to the Romany was the '93 Bean symposium in Maine.
Nigel was introducing it to the masses.
(the ‘real’ keyhole cockpit is what caught my eye, having much experience in ocean cockpits, then useless ‘flanged’ large cockpits (eg - the 1st large cockpit Nordkapp I had in '91) )
I bought my 1st (of 8, including Explorers) in '98.
(Bought my last in '13, still like the design, my back doesn’t like the weight)

My Explorer no longer gets wet, getting away from anything needing that length as well as the weight.
Yeah, for ages and even into now Nigel got the cockpit more right than many.

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