What makes for a good rough water boat?

I’d like my next boat to be a good rough water boat, and I’ve gotten a number of suggestions for specific makes and models. However, it occurs to me that I don’t really know what specific features make for a good rough water boat. I would guess ample bow volume would be one such feature to prevent broaching in following waves. But beyond that, I’m not as certain. Maybe rocker, so that it can nestle itself into the texture rather than riding ungainly, perched atop the crests? I really don’t know. I’ve heard arguments for and against primary stability. What do you think?

I will leave it to more knowledgeable people to answer your question fully. But ample bow volume does not prevent broaching. It prevents pearling.

Seems like if your bow buries in the wave in front of you as your stern is being shoved forward by the wave behind you, you are going to broach.

It’s not really the individual features that make boats fun and effective in rough water, it’s the overall design of the hull so that features work together, good rough water boats usually have some volume in the bow and a fair amount of rocker, but there are exceptions. Also I’m assuming you mean seakayaks? A whitewater boat might be my choice if I only had to survive in very rough conditions, not make headway. Take a look at a few boats that do well in rough stuff … Primary stability really isn’t very useful in rough conditions, secondary stability rules.

Mariner Coaster
Valley Nordkapp and Gemini
Jackson Karma UL
WaveSport Diesel
Necky Jive
Prijon Kodiak

Also take a look at this …

Rough water is play in shore break, or travel far loaded in windy conditions, or run down wind catching waves for speed, or fish in choppy waters, or play in rock gardens, Skeg or rudder or neither. One needs many quite different rough water boats.

As per the norm we still would need more information from you to give further advice. I would assume that you have experience in rough water or are seeking instruction on rough water. “Rough Water” is a lot of different thing however there are a few boats that can halve those conditions and were designed for it. In the fiberglass lineup I would say:

P&H Aries (this is what I paddle)
P&H Cetus (my wife paddles hers in rough water no issue)
Valley Gemini
NDK Romany
Sterling Reflection, Progression
Rockpool Isel

For Plastic:
P&H Delphin
Valley Gemini
Romany (comes in plastic version as well)
Dagger Alchemy

Rough water boats are generally shorter with more beam. Personally you can’t go wrong with the Aries. It is my go to boat and keeps up with all the convential kayaks, the bow does not dig in on a wave and it is very nimble which makes it easy to turn on a wave. Now if you don’t like taking fiberglass into the rocks maybe a delphin is a better choice but in most scenarios you can fix fiberglass. Where are you paddling?

The one your most comfortable in. Current Designs makes good touring boat. North American style, Greenland style, and British style. I have an Extreme now called Nomad GTS and a Solstice GT. Solstice is best rough water boat for me. Three inches wider than my Extreme. If I had top level skills it would not matter I guess.

Having had a complex relationship with a Prijon Kodiak (mostly very good, but now “divorced”), I would say not the Kodiak. It tracks like a freight train, is fairly heavy and long, and can be unpredictable in waves (there is a long, bitter report about that in a German or Danish blog which you can probably find). I’ve wondered why people don’t consider the Prijon Yukon for rock gardens - great plastic, short, maneuverable, stable.

@Monkeyhead said:
Seems like if your bow buries in the wave in front of you as your stern is being shoved forward by the wave behind you, you are going to broach.

That is very possible but not guaranteed to happen if the paddler knows how to prevent it. The bow volume itself is not going to keep you from getting “played with.”

I guess it depends on what type of paddling you want to do; get some miles in and cover ground, or play in a general area and keep the distance shorter. Multiple days/weeks of getting from point A to B as quickly as possible while carrying camping gear, or an afternoon of surf zone shenanigans? Passage maker or play boat? Or something that might work for both? Lots of options out there, but seems something like a NDK Explorer works well, if you fit in one and want a jack of all trades. If you want more of a day/play boat a P&H Delphin is a blast.
IMO it’s worth investing in instruction at the beginning of your paddling journey, to get the right foundation for skills and knowledge, that will translate to rough water prowess in a few seasons. That’s going to be much more worthwhile than any piece of gear.

@Ben said:
Having had a complex relationship with a Prijon Kodiak (mostly very good, but now “divorced”), I would say not the Kodiak. It tracks like a freight train, is fairly heavy and long, and can be unpredictable in waves

I was offering choices for various kinds of rough water. In my experience the Kodiak was very good for long trips on rough coastlines - when loaded up I found it just the opposite of “unpredictable” but most of my wave experience is high performance surfing very small and unstable wave skis, the kodiak seemed like a very predictable and seaworthy expedition boat, but I have limited experience with boats that will hold that much gear and still paddle fast.

A whole mess of variables go along with potential answers. The most simplistic answer is the boat that you can get back into and/or roll would be the first priority.
After that, it becomes very subjective. Surfing shore breaks or downwind? Getting from point A to B in one piece? Rough water play? Speed?
Rocker is important for play. But if you’re in a longboat, there is really only so far you can push before the length works against you.

I personally think rocker is overrated.

Under-stern rudders are better for keeping you out of a broach, but honestly, technique and using a paddle stern rudder will also work.

So really, it gets a bit complicated unless you have a narrower idea of what you want to do out there.
With that being said, if you can get back in or roll your boat and it’s sea worthy–that, along with good judgment, at least for me qualifies as a rough water boat.

What kind of rough, surf or touring in stuff that can get big? It matters. For surf, both my and my husband’s preference was for boats that turn easily since you will need to do a lot of it. And shorter. Hence the designs like the Romany S. A really stiff boat is not your friend there. In fact an old plastic boat like the drop skeg Elaho, which really is not a fan of going straight, can be a wonderful boat in that stuff. The metal skeg was less apt for that environment but the hull design was great.

But for going a longer distance in rough water, my husband vastly preferred his Aquanaut over the Romany, a boat that stayed well-mannered and did not get easily turned into a hobby horse in the messiest of stuff. In a class in tidal races near Narragansett I think it was, the two Aquanauts were visibly quieter in the haystacks than the NDK Explorers. Both boats got their passengers back safe, but they took a different approach to doing so. My stiffest sea kayak was my first CD Squall, which especially loaded up handled sloppy mess quartering in quite nicely. But it would not be as apt for surf.

If your are being distracted by arguments around primary stability I suggest that you find instruction in some rougher water. The only stability you need in dimensional water is enough to allow you to relax while paddling rather than have to worry about bracing for every wave. An intellectual debate about primary stability doesn’t do squat for your understanding of what works for your own paddling. For that you need butt time.

If your are being distracted by arguments around primary stability I suggest that you find instruction in some rougher water. The only stability you need in dimensional water is enough to allow you to relax while paddling rather than have to worry about bracing for every wave. An intellectual debate about primary stability doesn’t do squat for your understanding of what works for your own paddling. For that you need butt time.

I think what seadart meant by his comment was that a boat with strong primary stability doesn’t work well in letting you exercise the very skills of which you speak. That’s a basic aspect of good handling in many rough-water situations, and not just with kayaks. The boat should be able to easily tilt to angles that don’t match that of the water’s surface, but strong primary stability makes the boat tend to match the tilt of the waves - not a good thing, and hardly irrelevant.

So a hard chined kayak would be less forgiving in rough water? I have I ly paddled one hard chined kayak a CD Caribou and it was not rough.

Guideboat guy and seadart - you guys know what you are talking about. Not so clear the OPer does, since as seadart says what you care about in dimensional water is what many people tend to call secondary stability. (I am not going to wade into the arguments about whether that is a myth because it is just a part of the whole.) Someone who has experience would more likely be asking about that. And there really is no way I can think of to get that other than for someone to get into waves in a boat and get knocked around.

Gs96c599 - A hard chined boat just feels different than a softer chined one. I have one of each and they are both just fine as far as staying upright if you stay out of their way. You just notice things a little more in the hard chined boat. At the most it meant I had to remember more to stay loose in the hips the first time I was in haystacks over my head in the hard chined one. But once I bounced thru them the first time and had the ken of the boat, I had a ball bouncing thru them multiple times after. I was supposed to be trying to catch a standing wave, but it was towards the end of the day and it just was not going to be a happening thing. So I had fun riding the haystacks instead.

Monkeyhead, I’m looking to sell my NDK Explorer if that interests you.

As above, there are a lot of things to consider.
I did a short morning session this morning in some pretty swells before work in a highly rockered, high bow volume kayak. In response to this piece -
“Maybe rocker, so that it can nestle itself into the texture rather than riding ungainly, perched atop the crests?” -
If a steep wave passes under you, when that peak passes under your center of balance, you will be perched atop the crest regardless of rocker. The stern is up over the wave, the crest passes the balance point, and imagine a teeter-totter. So no, that’s not something that rocker does. If you were in waves against a current, where they were steep and short period, rocker can help prevent the bow from pearling, slowing you down, and then the following wave overtaking you as a result. Another thing that I feel helps when you do pearl, is to have a peaked bow at the end, instead of flat. Flat decked bows really seam to put the breaks on when you pearl, where peaked and upswept bows seem to lessen that resistance. A nice example of a peaked and upswept bow would be a Gulfstream. Since mentioned above, The Caribou’s bow is flat and not upswept, but a good example of a difference between an upswept bow and rocker. Sitting in the Caribou, the bow rides straight out and low to the water- Greenland windage influence I suspect, and that’s not a bad consideration. Sitting the Caribou on a flat surface, I was surprised at how much rocker it has - very surprised that it has more than my Ellesmere. So the Caribou is an example of a kayak that does not have an upswept bow, even though it has some degree of rocker. The Valley Gemini SP is a play kayak with the nice peaked bow as another example of the peaked bow. The Sterling kayaks I’ve seen have a peaked bow.

When you pass over a wave, a lot of rocker and high volume bow accentuate the teeter-totter action. It causes your bow to rise higher, to catch more air over the top, and to freefall and land harder. It adds an extra moment where your paddle doesn’t have contact with the water for being too far above the surface.

If you change that quote to say it can nestle itself into the trough between waves, or down into the drop in front of the wave, then you’re onto something. But going forward through waves, I always feel like I lose a step with high rocker and bow volume. So it’s a compromise. Most people get more uneasy riding waves in than punching out through them. My worst Maytag moments have been trying to punch out, and getting spanked back in. It’s just more impact when you’re traveling the opposite direction. No right or wrong answer. Just stuff to consider.

Let me expand to rough water where you have breaking waves. This can either be wave crests in open water, or anything in a play zone that’s breaking. First up, the amount of volume will effect how much the broken water pushes you around. After that, kayaks like my Sirius and Bahiya seem to get pushed around the least. There’s the deeper v-bottomed hulls. And I think there’s a more important concept worth visiting here. Concave curvature holds it’s place better than convex curvature - that’s the good for paddling through rough water. Think wing paddle power face vs. dihedral. Racers use wings (concave power face) because they stick in the water and don’t slip. The dihedral (convex power face) concept of reducing flutter works because it allows some water to slip off of both edges. So I’ll just use that as something to gain confidence that concave sticks more solidly than convex. Another piece of evidence would be the redesign of the Solstice Series to remove concave curvature to make it more maneuverable. If you look at the hull shape of a P&H Sirius and Bahiya, you will see an extended keel line, on the Bahiya, almost like a built in skeg on both the bow and the stern. It makes the kayak less maneuverable, but it also makes it stick as broken water passes over in the rough stuff. An exceptionally good quality for travel, and explains why this type of kayak design (Sirius and predecessors, for example) was born out of the designer’s (Derek Hutchinson’s) ambitions - crossing the North Sea. So the good is being pushed around less, and less broaching. The bad can be maneuverability, and the creating of turbulence that in these two cases end up with a very efficient kayak at a good cruising speed, but somewhat limited top speed for racing.

I tend to favor somewhat limited primary stability in rough stuff. I tend to like not feeling it so much as the wave angles change. But I know some of the more recent playboats have gone towards flatter bottoms and higher stability. So I’ve reserved too strong of conviction in that department for now.

Just some of my personal thoughts.

From my experience with rough water–not rapids and such–big waves in big water and wash machine conditions, the boat I want to be in is my NC Expedition. Yes, it’s a big boat, but I’ve been there and done that and it always brings me home with seemingly little help from me. Whether I’m going into the wind, down wind, or wind abeam, the NC does it all with complete competence and all I have to do is enjoy the ride. Even when the occasional sneaker takes a beam shot, the boat just slides sideways with no tripping and I never miss a stroke. There have been times when I got hit from four directions at the same time and somehow the NC finds a way to sluff it off and continues on course.

Regarding questions as to what I (OP) mean specifically by rough water…For me, I am not so interested in playing in surf (especially after hurting my shoulder in a surf class last weekend - perhaps the subject of another post). I mostly mean a boat that will minimize the challenges of getting back safely when transiting turbulent waters. I do not routinely encounter such conditions. I can think now of only 4 times I have felt challenged, or in any jeopardy in my own boat (a 5th time in a very twitchy rental). The first two times no longer concern me (once trying to get back to New Haven Harbor in following seas with my Sealution II [an oldie but goodie]) which had limited bow volume and kept stabbing the waves in front of me, and another time in 8 foot post hurricane swells at the mouth of Narraganset Bay which I no longer think would make me so nervous). But here are two contemporary situations that are more in line of what I want my next boat to handle reasonably well. 1. coming back to a boat ramp through confused chaotic choppy stuff resulting from a mix of moderate Atlantic ocean swell, tidal efflux, long-shore current, wind in a different direction, and sandbars near the inlet that force the tidal current to take a convoluted path to the sea. 2. Last year, returning to a ramp in Bull’s Bay, SC where I had to access the bay (that I had left under more tranquil conditions) by crossing a seemingly endless bar (too long to want to paddle out around it) that had a lot of breaking waves (due in part to a max ebb tide). As I am not a daredevil or thrill seeker, I ended up taking a 90 min convoluted detour through a salt marsh (still against a heavy ebb current which wasn’t terribly enjoyable). So basically, by a rough water boat, I mean a boat that minimizes the anxiety of a moderately skilled, experienced paddler (but most experience in bays, estuaries, and other relatively protected waters) who finds him/herself paddling back home through especially confused chaotic waves, and/or moving water waves (not necessarily surfing).