What is Tracking?

-- Last Updated: Mar-14-08 12:36 PM EST --

Talking about canoes or kayaks.
What does it mean when you say a boat tracks well?
Is that the same as it being a hard tracking hull or is that something different?

I've always considered tracking to be a hull characteristic. Not something that changes with a paddlers technique.
In my mind a boat that tracks well is a hard tracking boat that resists turning. This lets a paddler focus on their forward stroke with less attention to course correction.
A boat that does not track well is a boat that turns easily. This allows for better manuverability but requires more attention to your course.

But I've seen two posts this week, by folks who I'd guess are pretty knowlegable, saying that a particular hull tracks well with good efficient technique.

So now I'm wondering, is tracking a hull characteristic or is it a fuction of technique?

U R correcto
a good paddler can make any boat go straight.

tracking is a hull characteristic. as in “Wow that boat tracks well!” and (same boat/ different paddler) “Wow that boat is HARD to turn!”

steve- who designs boats with the notion that the hull can track ‘pretty well’ AND be ‘fairly EZ’ to turn! :slight_smile:

Tracking is …
It usually means how well a boat goes straight when

you want it to. Some paddlers are better than others at keeping a boat on course. However, some boats, clearly don’t track worth a darn! (and it takes even a highly skilled paddler much energy to keep them on course).


you make sense to me
train tracks, etc.

I can’t keep a WW Boat tracking worth a Dang on the lake…and I gots a few skills or three.


Isn’t tracking also a function of the
weight the boat is carrying?

Some people heavier than me refer to my boat as a great tracking boat. At my weight I have to make adjustments from time to time as it appears sensitive to me.

Conversely, those same heavier people characterize the boat as not so maneuverable while I consider it extremely maneuverable and easy to turn.

I always thought
it was those tiny knob adjustments on old vcr’s that you can never get set just right for every video tape. I hate those horizontal white lines running up and down my screen!

Dag Nabbit! Dun’t yer goomers…
know nuttin’? Trackin’ be…


Fat Elmo

length to width ratio
will also affect how the kayak or canoe tracks. The lower the length to width ratio, the faster and better traking the boat will be, combined with hull shape to determine the boat’s performance. At 16%, my Pamlico 140 does not track as well as necky Chatham 16, witch is only about 11%, but the waterline of the Chatham is alot less than the overall length, meaning that it is only a little faster and better at traking.

if that is true you’re saying a Pungo 100 doesn’t track as well as a Tempest 180?

you better go do more research.

stem profile, hull shape and rocker matter more than L vs W figures.


I think you’re all wrong
Tracking a canoe is just like lining a canoe, but you’re goin’ upstream instead of downstream.



– Last Updated: Mar-15-08 9:54 AM EST –

The ability of a hull to stay course, or track, is best described numerically by block co-efficiency. Take the waterline length by the waterline width by the maximum depth in the water. That is the block.

The less of the block the hull fills, the better it tracks. In shorthand, as depth in the water for solos and tandems seems to always be about the same, length to width ratio is an easier computation that arrives at about the same result.

Designers often skeg or drop the stern, which we call differential rocker, to improve tracking. Differential rocker compensates for poor technique ; paddlers often carry the blade behind the body into a sweep. A skegged stern counters that sweeping force.

Skegging the stern also compensates for some of the design constraints of rubber boats. To be portable, they need be small, and as length decreases they need to be pretty wide for entry level paddlers to stay dry. Short wide hulls don't track well, so we see extreme stern treatments to keep the things on course.

Of course, those extreme skegs increase wetted surface and thereby drag, and they resist turning when desired, but at least the things stay on course, kinda.

Consider how those built in rudder shapes affect block co-efficient. There are references beyond Winter's "Shape of the Canoe" but that does fine as a starting point. The numbers never lie when we get the correct measurements. [For example, waterline rather than overall length.] As a group we need to get beyond myth in hull shape.

Yeah…what he said.

You have it right
Although some kayaks will track differently with different weights in them, tracking is tracking and has nothing to do with the paddlers skill.

CE wilson
Good luck in getting sea kayakers as a whole “beyond myth”… Nice post and well said.

I find few people in this sport even want to understand factual information. It, in fact, can ruin their fun as it usually challenges long held beliefs that are incorrect. It’s hard to let go of heavily invested-in dogma.

believe or experience?
Reality can be experienced differently and is a bit more complicated. I have paddled canoes that were not easy to keep on course and were not easy to maneuver too. Also I know maneuverable canoes that can be kept on course quite well. If only I knew why, I would start to design canoes myself :slight_smile:

is real important–the more rocker a boat has the easier to turn but the less well to track

Dogma,myth and rumor?
Yes it is hard to get people to give up their paddling myths. During a race I was passed by a J-boat surfing his own wake. According to Winters this phenomonem is just a percieved surfing cuased by wave interval etc… I saw this guy who was hanging my wake jump up in the shallows and started passing me and another Comp-Cruiser. Maybe it is perception but if it lets me win I am going with it…

That actually
would be a great exercise for many. To actually design boats based on their assumptions and test the results objectively. I think a few people would be stunned at the results.

On the tracking subject, it’s been well addressed here already, but “directional stability” would be a design term synonimous with what folk refer to as “tracking ability”.

Boats that have excellent directional stability can become difficult to correct once directed off course. Like everything about boat design, it’s a balance of attributes.

Rudders & Skegs & Tracking
Some kayaks are designed for use with a rudder or skeg. These appendages if integrated as part of the design can allow a kayak to track extremely well and also be very maneuverable by controlling the amount of skeg or angle of rudder.

I’m a big fan of kayaks designed with the use of skegs or rudders because one of their benefits is that they eliminate the compromise of tracking vs. maneuverability.