When is a kayak overloaded?

Does anyone know if there is a general rule for how much freeboard you should maintain in a fully loaded boat. I really have not done much in the way of longer trips and don’t think I have much experience with the symptoms of an overloaded boat. At 235 lbs, I have been able to fit into boats that I overload with my weight and gear. I call it overloaded because of the waterline and not because of any particular problem. I assume one is taking more water over the boat, possibly more water finding its way into the cockpit, sluggishness, poor handling,instability? In essence, how do you know when you have overloaded your boat? When you become a U-boat? Is it trial and error? Load it, paddle it, and if it feels ok it is ok? I have always tried to maintain one inch of freeboard below the deck seam. Why? I have no idea. Bill

Good Question…
My personal feeling is that manufacturers place weight restrictions on boats at a level that protects their interests in court…given that, all sorts of other variables enter into it; Skill of the paddler, hull design, weight PLACEMENT in the boat, yada yada yada…

bottom line: what’s overloaded for me may not be for you…

"I assume one is taking more water over the boat, possibly more water finding its way into the cockpit, sluggishness, poor handling,instability? In essence, how do you know when you have overloaded your boat? When you become a U-boat? Is it trial and error? Load it, paddle it, and if it feels ok it is ok? "

exactly… sounds like youve got it figured out. also check the manufacturers specs, they should list the max capacity.

Im your size (was previously 300) and I have packed my yak so full of shit (mine and other folks on multi day trips) it drove like a telephone pole. id estimate I was 50lbs over the weight limit of my boat at times and the only negative was performance. In my experience, if you can fit it in your boat, then the boat will still float.

Reentry and Roll gets easier
On the upside your reentry and roll will get easier. :wink:

I think at least
some of the top deck should protrude above the water with your spray skirt firmly fastened. At least your compass should be above the surface.

When you pick it up by the carry …
handles and the person at each end say “holy crap, what the hell do you have in this boat?” then it is overloaded!



When it ceases to be a kayak…
…and becomes a submarine, it’s overloaded. :wink:

Ok, good answers gang, but… I don’t
want to be in the middle of a crossing and find out that I don’t know enough about the problems associated with heavily laden or over laden kayaks. What problems have you all had with heavy boats? Do they broach easier? Anything to watch for? This is one area I really do not have good practical experience in. There are others as well:) Maybe one or two. Bill

everything happens slower
in my experience. Which can be good, or bad. But I’ve been almost up to the deck seam in a chop and it was still very manageable, I could just tell I wouldn’t be turning it on a dime or pulling out of a broach effortlessly.

I’ve had my Caribou loaded so heavy that it was in the water to the deck seam. Everything is slower, and in rough seas, you tend to submarine a bit when you reach the trough of a wave.

But if you pack it right, with all the heavy stuff on the bottom along the keel, it practically rolls itself, and is REAL hard to capsize.

In my experience:
Years ago on our first long open crossing, (eight miles) to a off shore key for seven nights of camping, I was apprehensive just like you.

We couldn’t have fit anymore stuff in or on the yaks, and you can imagine how much the water weighed.

They rode very low in the water, and the only noticable differnce they were slower. We had a moderate chop.

Since then we have done others in different kayaks, and I have never worried about overloading them.

I do try to balance the trim though.



Excellent point
about trim. I’ve seen people trim their yaks out all wrong (and did it once myself with an outfitter boat), and that changes the handling of the boat dramatically.

I have a sailing compass that I use for my two boats that don’t have compass recesses, and it has an inclinometer on it as well. I read the inclinometer when the boat is empty, and pack it such that it reads the same loaded. Works every time.

That was good!

Thanks again for the advice. I think I
will follow these general rules. 1. Try to keep the waterline at or below the deck seam. 2. Keep the heaviest items on the bottom. 3. Pay attention to trim. 4. Expect the boat to be sluggish but still predictable. 5. If it breaks in half on the carry to the water, it is probably overloaded!. Actually on point number five, I have talked to more than a few people who have damaged their deck gelcoat from carrying a loaded kayak. Maybe I will buy some rollers and drag in on the ground. Seriously. Bill

lots of rules here:
1) when the boat sinks… it is overloaded

2) when a passing wave fills your kayak, it is overloaded

3) when it paddles like a tank and is no longer fun! you are overloaded.

4) when you don’t feel safe in it, it is overloaded.

5) when you start to think, “Do i really need that coleman hand-crank blender and stainless teel margarita glasses with the lime and salt kit?” it is overloaded.

Uboat kayak
I like the idea of a kayak U-boat… you wouldn’t have to worry about weathercocking then no matter how hard the winds blowin …lol …probably wouldn’t paddle to well though.

Here is another thing to think about,
that is for those of you are are actually thinking about this. SHOULD ONE EVALUATE CARRYING CAPACITY BY THE VOLUME DISPLACEMENT ALONE? Just because the Nordkapp has 340 liters of volume and the Explorer has 319 liters does not mean that the Nordkapp will carry more weight and paddle acceptably. How important is it to evaluate WHERE the volume is located? Does a kayak with skinny upswept ends mitigate the volume/carry capacity because of where the volume is located? For that matter, how do the manufacturers calculate volume? Is it hull section from the seam down by compartment? I do not know the anwsers to these questions and would love to hear from someone who does. Does a low mounted coaming change things also? (side view sitting on level suface). I hope this does not seem poorly worded or downright boring, but it is an issue I am currently thinking about for another boat purchase. Bill

Great Post!!!
Having had some of these questions myself, I’m learning a lot!

My biggest concern would be handling in currents and swells/surf. Seems like pitch-poling risk would be greater and that could be really messy: broken boat and major yard sale!

when it handles poorly
trial and error. A lot of kayaks have different freeboard and enclosed volume of air above the waterline which may have nothing to do with how well it carries a load. A narrow kayak with a lot of freeboard may handle poorly when heavily loaded compared to a more flared and wider kayak that’s got the exact same interior volume.

the above anecdote about loading a Caribou to the hull seam isn’t the same as loading every kayak to the hull seam. If I loaded my old Mariner Express to the deck seam like a friend loaded his Caribou I’d probably be 150lbs overloaded whereas the Caribou might be 30lbs.

I’m going to reorder your list

  1. pay attention to trim
  2. load heavy objects to the center and low
  3. practice rescues with loaded kayak
  4. Don’t pile up too many firsts, first time in rough conditions, first time with loaded kayak, first time doing rescues with loaded kayak in rough conditions.

    Handling will be sluggish and it could be predictable in that when things go out of control they will go predictably out of control with greater dificulty getting back on course.

    Don’t move a loaded kayak around on land unless you have to. That’s how they get damaged. If you put together a quick and easy method for emptying the kayak with large mesh bags or easily removed bags you can beach and drag your kayak above waterline then remove a lot of weight BEFORE doing a two man lift another 100’ from the waters edge.