As kayak materials, hull design and features evolve, the one topic that continues to be talked about the most here in our shop is: "Rudder vs. Skeg". There are pro's and con's to both and the boats that come equipped with one or the other are often designed to be used in very different settings.
Let's first start off be defining and explaining how each is used.
A rudder is a long, narrow fin-like blade that extends down into the water off the stern end of a kayak. The rudder can either be stored up on the deck of the kayak or deployed with rudder lines. When deployed the rudder works in concert with a cable system and foot pedals to actively steer your kayak. Push your left foot pedal forward and the kayak turns to the left.
Advantages of the Ruddered Kayak:
Disadvantages to the Kayak Rudder:
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A skeg is also located in the stern of the kayak but instead of being placed on the deck of the boat, the skeg is recessed in the stern and controlled by a push rod or cable near the cockpit. The skeg provides a significant amount of tracking (keeps the kayak going straight) when fully deployed. This system is not steerable, it is a set it and forget it system.
Advantages of the Kayak Skeg:
Disadvantages of the Kayak Skeg:
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Both the Rudder and the Skeg should be used to offset environmental input, like wind, waves and or current. If you are not struggling to maintain directional control of your kayak it is best to have them both up. One of the tendencies, especially, with the rudder, is to use it all of the time. It is important to be able to control your kayak with your strokes from a proficiency stand point but also for enjoyment. If you are out there constantly steering and correcting it becomes a bit of a hassel. Even the most well balanced kayak with veer off course and its totally normal as long as the deviations are minimal they can be corrected very easily with a sweep stroke and or some edge control, no big deal.
Why do some kayaks have rudders and others have skegs?
Whether kayak has a rudder or skeg or nothing at all can be attributed to the length of the kayak, the hull design and intended use.
Typically ruddered kayaks (16ft - 20ft) aka North American Touring kayaks are designed to paddle in a straight line well, be fairly efficient and have lots of storage. Ruddered kayaks are typically longer and have less rocker (the amount of curve of the hull from bow to stern). Since these boats are longer the paddler benefits greatly by having a rudder to help with control. Longer ruddered kayaks excel in the inland touring category. These kayaks are ideal for paddling longer distances and for multi-day adventures. Not the best choice for dynamic environments with breaking waves and extreme currents.
Skeg Kayaks aka Brit Boats, are designed to excel in more dynamic environments. These boats often time have a lof of rocker which enables the paddler to enact a tremendous amount of directional change to the kayak when on edge. These kayaks are much more nimble because of the rocker, great deal of side cut and typically shorter water line, making them much more suitable for the coastal environment with breaking waves and lot of moving water.
Kayaks with no rudder or skeg are typically short, under 14ft. Since these kayak are so short they are easy to control using proper paddle strokes.
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Many of the things discussed here can be fairly subjective. Be sure that you match your kayak to what it is your are going to do the most often. In fact many enthusiasts have more than one kayak for this reason. Head out and paddle many types of boats in different configurations to determine which is the best fit for you. The best way to do that is find a dealer like us here at Olympic Outdoor Center that provides the ability to try the kayak before you buy it. We offer free demo's everyday!