why dont backrests press against the cockpit rim?

wouldnt you be able to apply more force that way? this kayaker modified his seabird discovery to do just that

is there an advantage to having a backrest which doesnt touch the cockpit rim? thx

Comfort, flexibility. His seat back is over the back of the combing bad for re-entry. It pushed his PFD up over his ears. When you paddle with torso rotation solid would be uncomfortable. You have no adjustment.


I see issues with that backrest, but they are specific to that design and may not hold true to every backrest design tht was built directly against the back of the cockpit.

Issues with backrest in video:

  • sticks up above combing, which would limit or prevent use of a skirt
  • the sticking up also pushes his PFD upward, which would be uncomfortable at best
  • you can see his body rubbing against the backrest as it does the little torso rotation he is doing - this rubbing is not beneficial (and possibly hindering) torso rotation

“Wouldn’t you be able to apply more force that way?”
If you’re trying to push your kayak forward, pressing into any backrest is just wasted energy. It isn’t providing productive leverage against which you can apply force for a forward stroke.

Pressing your back into a backrest in a kayak would be no different with or without a paddle in your hand in terms of creating forward motion. That could be a point of contact for a reverse stroke for moving the kayak backwards. But it’s never going to help you move forward.

“Why don’t backrests press against the cockpit rim?”
There is actually a good reason to have your seated position a little ways in front of the cockpit rim, or better put, given the ideal seated position along the hull without reference to the deck, having the cockpit rim round a little behind that spot. Assuming you want a little more volume behind the seat, and/or assuming you want the ability to lay back on the back deck, or just to lean further back, you can have a pretty high back deck, and lay back comfortably, with the seated position further in front of the cockpit rim. Even if you have a lower back deck, if it pushes the limits of your flexibility, the backrest forward and lower than the cockpit rim, and it’s easier to lay back than with the full height of the cockpit rim against your back. I have a couple kayaks that were designed with the cockpit rim rounded a little further behind the seated position. It really makes a nice difference in that regard.

And as we discussed recently… not good for rolling. Where is this guy’s skirt??

  1. He is wearing a cheap ski vest and not a paddle vest. That’s why it pushes up so high.
  2. His paddle stroke is all arms , no rotation…
  3. The seat is likely too low. A lot of people like to lean back. If the seat is low the rim hits you on a bad place. Pressure on the back of the seat produces stability not power strokes. To a point then it produces instability when weight goes over the back deck.
  4. Proper paddling spine position is more upright or slightly forward . Look at a serious racing boat, ie surf ski. They don’t have back rests.

Yes, the paddler’s form leaves much to be desired, but that’s not the question.

The high backrest is a problem and would still be one if he had on a better PFD. I disagree with your comment about seat height, as raising the seat reduces the stability of the boat. That’s why most kayaks position the paddler’s butt very close to the hull. If the aft deck height is an issue, the paddler should select a lower volume boat. I’ve experimented with this a bit and a relatively small change in seat height can have a very significant effect on stability.

Many traditional boats (Inuit, Aleut) have no backrest (and often no real seat). When paddling forward, all you need is a footrest so you can resist the forward pull of the paddle stroke.

It’s a “newness” thing. When I was new to the kayak I was all into getting the backband to feel just so. After some time I realized I’d been paddling with the backband broken… not supporting or doing much of anything… and I didn’t even notice.

some very interesting feedback, especially regards the Inuit.

but Newton law says the force you are pushing on the footrest equals the friction btwn your suit & kayak bottom + force on the thigh pads + supporting force by the backrest.

with no backrest you will need to compensate with other two & they will get sore faster.
did i apply Newton law correctly here?

@Randall said:

with no backrest you will need to compensate with other two & they will get sore faster.
did i apply Newton law correctly here?

I think you’re describing arm paddling, like the guy in your video is doing.

The power in a forward stroke comes from torso rotation. You sit upright. Your back should have no pressure against the backband. Only time your back should have contact with the backband is when your’e relaxing, not paddling.

A video is worth a thousand words:

If you are applying pressure between your back and the backrest when you push on the footrest, that is where some of the force is going. If you’re not, then it isn’t. The idea is that you don’t want to waste energy, and put undue stress on joints, by doing that. It is neither necessary nor productive as a part of producing forward motion.
“with no backrest you will need to compensate with other two & they will get sore faster”
The friction you’re referring to as part of a forward stroke is preventing you from sliding forward in the kayak seat, and forcing the kayak forward through the water instead. That is the only piece of the three that results in forward motion. Putting pressure on the thigh pads as part of your forward stroke is also no use towards forward motion.

Take a look at some surfski paddlers in action. It might help you visualize it better. A surfski takes both the backrest and the thighbraces out of the picture. I’ve only heard, and experienced, that getting everything out of the way of hip movement, makes forward paddling more effective, not the other way around.

The important thing for you to understand is that the backrest and thighbraces provide no compensation towards your forward movement. What a backrest can do is provide support towards posture if back muscles aren’t strong enough and need a break. It’s an important learning hurdle to figure the difference between useful foot pressure and the bad stuff.

Exactly. One of the main causes of a sore back when paddling is from pushing hard against the backband/backrest. It can also cause sore feet.

Randall, on the Newton’s law thing.

If all of your impulse is between the backband and the footpegs, you are not using your torso other than as a passenger in your paddling motion. Kind of like the song about the zoo - it is all happening in your core. The reason a low backrest works is that it provides something for your butt to be against while not interfering with what your core should be doing for rotation etc. That said, you will find that as people improve their forward stroke they are often not much using the backband, that their core is handling all of the balancing etc.

In seasons where I have paddled aggressively and included work on my form, I have lost over an inch in my waist of winter flab in the fist few weeks of paddling. That is because of making my core do the work.

There is nothing that a high seat back does to improve correct paddling form, it may benefit other paddling goals depending on where you are going with your paddling. I have seen many people on local rivers and streams happy and comfortable in what the WW folks call a barcalounger paddling position, it works for what they want to do. But if you plan to paddle that way on bigger water with groups that have a more trained approach, at the end of the paddling day they will be a little tired and you will be on your way to a shoulder injury.

Another example of showcasing poor kayaking procedures…the PDF doesn’t fit properly, there’s no torso rotation in his paddling, no spray skirt. High seatbacks, besides being a deterrent for good paddling form, interferes with leaning back during the roll recovery and creates an obstruction for kayak re-entry, especially from stern deck positioning. Hopefully those who see a high backrest as an advantage, will learn proper kayaking techniques so they can enjoy the sport to its fullest. There’s way too much bad, ill-advising and incomplete information out there!

it’s hard to master leaning back on the deck, looking up at the canyon, rather than downstream but I managed on my last time out. I pushed it a little coming back from the first hip replacement (eight weeks). What went well in the pool didn’t transfer to a 7 mile winter paddle. I should have improvised a back rest. The back band was useless and I didn’t have the hip strength to paddle upright. I did do fine canoeing at 6 weeks after surgery. I could stretch out and didn’t need as much hip rotation in a canoe. Today I’m six days out from having the 2nd hip replaced. Making plans to paddle in Maine this summer- Dead, Kennebec, West Branch (Roll Dam), maybe a few rapids below ripogenus, also the East Branch- so I’m stoked. To pull ithis off I’ll need to do lots of PT and stregthening, or I’ll just build me a seat back! I know that there some backpacking camp chairs that use straps (no frame)- you can get a lot of tension with them, thinkin’ about orderin’ one to mess with both in and out of the boat…

There are a lot of surgical scars on this crowd.

Newton… The force pushing the boat forward is the paddle… the paddle connected to the hand bone. Hand bone eventually connected to the foot bone. Foot bone push the boat through the water. NOT the back bone at a backrest.

Now if you paddle backwards… yes, the hand bone connected to the backbone. Backbone connected to the backrest and pushes the boat backward.