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Do I need a Rudder?

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Schessl | Green Wave Forum News
Published Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New kayakers frequently ask the question "Do I need a rudder?" Like many other questions, the final answer is based on a number of variables, such as what type of boat are you planning to purchase, where are you going to paddle that shiny new boat and your skill level.

In case you're not familiar with how they work, a rudder is a plastic or metal fin that is attached to the stern (backend) of a kayak. The rudder is lowered into the water using a cable or cord. A second set of cables is attached to foot pedals in the kayak. A paddler presses on a pedal to adjust the rudder, which makes the kayak go straight or turn.

Rudders are especially helpful in strong currents or winds. When the wind blows across the deck, the kayak will weathercock (turn) into the wind. Add waves rolling under the boat or tides going perpendicular to your direction of travel, and you'll quickly see that it is difficult to keep the kayak going in a straight line.

With a rudder, you can adjust the direction of the kayak while keeping your paddle stroke even on both sides. This will help maintain speed of the boat. Without a rudder, in currents and winds, you will need to paddle more on one side to keep the boat from turning into the wind. This causes your paddle stroke to be uneven and leads to fatigue and loss of speed.

In addition to keeping the kayak going straight, a rudder lets you turn the boat without adjusting your paddle stroke. You can turn wide or tight, depending upon how far you depress the foot pedal.

Those are good things but before you go out and purchase a kayak with a rudder or have one added to your boat soon afterward, there are some drawbacks that you should know.

Rudders add approximately $100 to $200 to the cost of a kayak and not all kayaks can be equipped with a rudder. In fast moving water you need to turn quickly, not track straight, so rudders are of little use.

Rudders are mechanical items, granted they are simple, but must be maintained and can become jammed by sand, dirt or other items falling into the mechanism. Running into things can damage rudders and they are impractical in shallow water as they protrude below the bottom of the kayak.

A disadvantage for advanced kayakers is many performance moves - bracing, skulling and rolling included - are more difficult to do with a rudder. It also holds true for rescues and towing.

So there it is, points for and against adding a rudder to your new kayak. Now ask the question again - "Do I need a rudder?" Here's my reply:

Get a rudder if:
  1. You paddle long distances on coastal waters or make long open water crossings
  2. You are in an area with strong winds or tides
  3. You are planning on adding a sail to your kayak
  4. You have an extra $100 - $200 to spend on your kayak

Hope this helps you make a good decision and leave a comment below with your thoughts or questions.

Last update Sunday, May 17, 2009

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Cmt Do I need a Rudder?Login to Post   
You are in the public comment zone. What follows is not from Green Wave Forum; it comes from other people and we don't vouch for it.
gpax on 5/17/2009 8:41am
My Kestrel 160 came with a rudder. During my shopping I tried several kayaks with both rudders and skegs. A skeg is like a swing keel in a sailboat. It stows up in the hull when not deployed. When you find yourself weather cocking, dropping the skeg keeps the kayak tracking straight and makes paddling more effiicient. I paddled an Eddyline with a skeg in stiff winds on Crystal River and liked using the skeg.

My Kestrel160 rudder is stowed on deck until I need it and then I can drop and raise it from the cockpit. Therefore it is out of the way in tight waterways. I drop it when I need it to track straight and overcome wind / current. So far I keep the rudder stowed unless I am on open water. Learning to edge is a probably a better way to turn than using the rudder. I consider turning a distant secondary mission of the rudder to keeping a straight track.
admin on 5/14/2009 6:57am
Good points Dave. I've been hungup in the weeds many times so I'm glad you mentioned that as a potential issue.
Unknown on 5/13/2009 9:05pm
Very informative, Ed. I'd add 2 points, based on personal experience. (1) A rudder will add a little weight. If you have long carries to your favorite launch site, or a tall vehicle, a few pounds can make a difference.
(2) Paddling tight waterways with thick vegetation, a rudder is more trouble than it is worth, as it is one more thing to catch branches, vines and other flora.

My first kayak had a rudder. I removed it and never missed it........Well, maybe on windy days on open water.