Kayaking on the Hudson

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rudders & Skegs

Kayak rudder "deployed"
Kayak rudder in "storage" mode
I get the rudder / skeg questions a lot.  Which is better?  Should I have one?  Should I add one to my kayak?  I used to hate rudders, but I’ve softened my stance over the years.  A rudder is a blade that hangs off the back of the kayak and is controlled via cables that are connected to the foot pegs in the kayak.  Press the right foot peddle and you turn right.  Press the left peddle and you turn left.  The idea of a rudder is not to turn all over the place, but to keep the kayak going in a straight line when you hit winds or currents that push you off course.  For this purpose, rudders work very well.  However, they are mechanical and thus are subject to breakdowns.  The cables can break or jam and the rudder may break as well.  I once had a rudder tear completely off the back of the kayak and plunge into the water.  The cables were still connected, so the rudder dragged under the kayak like an anchor.  The worst part is that the foot pegs disappeared down into the kayak because they were kept in place by the tension on the rudder cables.  I really dislike the “squishy” feel of the foot pegs in a kayak with a rudder.  This has been solved somewhat by the invention of Butterfly foot pegs where the bottom half of the foot pegs are stationary while the top half pushes forward to activate the rudder.  The other thing I dislike about rudders is that they really get in the way when you have to execute an assisted rescue.  It’s just plain scary to be swimming in the water and have a big metal blade hanging over your head as you try to climb back into the kayak.  But, despite the drawbacks, a rudder can be a great help when the weather gets rough.
When not deployed, the skeg is invisible

Skegs work in much the same way, but instead of turning, a skeg just hangs down from underneath the kayak like the fin on a surf board.  Once again, the idea is to keep the kayak going straight when things get rough.  Skegs have potential problems too.  They can jam and break.  Also, skegs sit in a housing that is carved out of the rear hatch, so you lose some storage space in the back hatch of the kayak.  But I like skegs.  They work well, and most are adjustable, so you can get a little help or a lot of help.
Skeg deployed
One word of caution to you rudder and skeg users.  Never rely on either.  They will breakdown at some point, so you should be able to paddle your kayak without one if needed.

See you on the water,
Don Urmston

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