Your browser version is outdated. We recommend that you update your browser to the latest version.

Rudder, Skeg or Skudder on the kayak?

For a beginner kayaker there are many things to ponder about-kayak selection, how to paddle, costs, paddle selection, do my feet have to be stationary, and other accessories to think about when making purchases. The more advanced paddler already has most of the gear and has learned to paddle with the equipment available.

Paddling is a lifetime skill and it takes a lifetime to be knowledgeable and to be a great paddler.

For Sea kayaking there has always been a big philosophical difference between paddlers and manufacturers of the UK and North America about the rudder vs the skeg system and now the Skudder system.

I paddle on the Bay of Fundy and I have paddled skeg boats and rudder boats, never a Skudder boat. My first instructional Seakayak was the NordKapp a kayak of a very large following. I also paddle the large open waters of the SW Coast in Newfoundland. Over the years I have become a great believer in the rudder system and stability of a kayak with great water proof hatches and an accessible day hatch. When paddling my feet are on fixed footpegs as a three point contact is necessary to have proper boat control, for paddling, rolling and bracing.


 

This blog is to show the points of the rudder system vs the skeg and skudder.

To do this one must review some of the basics to how a kayak turns and also consider large wave action caused by heavy winds, currents, surf and landings.

What is a rudder?

 

airo dynamic surf rudderairo dynamic surf rudderThe rudder is basically a blade that is lowered into the water so that it is straight down at the stern of the kayak and is able to move left to right by using the feet  so that the blade can put on some forward resistance to make the kayak stern slide to the port or starboard and change the forward direction.  So the kayak can be steered using one’s feet. The rudder blade when not in use can be raised out of the water and locked into place on top of the deck. This is the surf rudder system.

 

What is a skeg?

The skeg initially was a blade much like the rudder blade and was attached on the stern of the kayak much like the rudder but could only move down or up. This external skeg still used on recreational kayaks was modified to an internal system but can still just move up or down. This action is controlled with the paddlers hand by a slider along the side of the kayak. The internal skeg was relocated from the stern of the kayak to distance of a foot to two feet from the stern.

How does a kayak change direction?

A kayak or any displacement boat changes direction by side slipping the stern. Let me clarify. The kayak when in a forward motion creates a bow waves like a V. The bow wave V is like a notch and holds the kayak in place. The stern on the other hand is not locked in place and can slip sideways. When the stern slips sideways it is usually caused by the side wind and so the kayak will turn up wind. This is called weather cocking. A good kayak in case of strong winds will weather cock and really is a safety feature as wind and waves normally come from the same direction.
However we want to maintain our direction, and by adding slip resistance to the stern of the kayak the weather cocking is eliminated or reduced depending on the amount of resistance. This is why one drops the skeg or puts the rudder down. The amount of correctional stern resistance required depends on the strength of the wind that is blowing the stern around. The best place to add slip resistance of course is at the stern of the kayak.

Weather cocking

If weather cocking persists you can decrease this. For a skeg system on your kayak you can adjust the skeg to go down further until a right balance is felt. This is accomplished by using the slider on the side of the kayak using your hand while paddling. This will have to be adjusted manually as the wind changes
in strength.

With the rudder system you may have to angle the blade so that the stern slips more up wind. This is done while you are paddling but you are using your feet.

More than likely this is not all. If you are in strong enough winds you will have to use your edging and sweeps. For a skeg fitted kayak this is more demanding than for a rudder fitted kayak normally.

Boat Design

White water boats today are almost as long as they are wide.They are stable but low in volume. These are not good for paddling on any water for a distance. These kayaks are meant for moving with the flow of the water and being held in place on a wave by gravity and drag. These kayaks are manoeverable, turning,rolling,and surfing. Not meant for distance or carrying gear. These do not have any type of tracking system. Their bottoms are curved and flat.

The Sea kayak is just the opposite. These are longer and designed around 17ft. Hull shapes vary for purpose. A longer water line provides higher speed and better tracking. A more banana shaped hull will have more playboat capability-turns faster or is more manoeverable and wider in the cockpit area. These will not be as fast on the long run.

For the longer kayaks a rudder will work best. On the more banana shaped hull both systems will work but the skeg maybe all that is required or may not be able to fit a rudder system.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a skeg, rudder, and skudder.

Skeg
Advantage
-The skeg costs less to install.
-It has no surface area to expose to wind. This is if you paddle not using skeg. That is usually when there  is no wind. Not a real good advantage.
-the foot braces can be totally eliminated and bulk head be used for foot support to provide a larger foot    area.
Disadvantage
-Skeg box and control cable take up a lot of space in stern compartment. When packing gear in the stern  compartment care must be taken not to damage cable and connection. Often skeg box will leak.
-has no steering ability
-Have to continually adjust skeg setting with one hand when conditions change.
-More easily damaged or obstructed from working properly. Often a bent control cable or small rock  caught inside skeg box opening.
-More sweeping and edging required to maintain heading
-Less overall distance on a days paddle for same energy consumed.

Rudder
Advantage
-Provide a strong steering component to kayaking regardless of wind.
-Great option for using a sail or kite. Doing photography.
-Surf rudder are stored and locked in on top of stern deck when not in use.
-Provides unused back storage compartment for more storage of gear.
-Less overall maintenance on rudder system.
-Faster then skeg boats or boats without skeg or rudder.
-Better handling in adverse conditions.
-With the rudder down it provides an invrease in stability from boat tipping.

Disadvantage
-Cost more to install then a skeg system.

Skudder
Comment: I have not used a Skudder and by the looks of it I would not want to for several reasons.
-It looks fragile. Remember you will always run over a ledge or seaweed.
-It tries to provide a choice for using a skeg and/or rudder. This may just be a great sales tool                         to sell to a novice kayaker or maybe the manufacturer is loosing market share against the                             rudder system?


 

 Conclusion

The skeg and rudder are both used for trim. The paddle and edging are used to steer. I use my rudder  on my kayak to steer as well and use my paddle for forward propulsion more so. When using your sweep strokes and paddling on one side and edging to put the kayak on course paddling rhytm is upset and this results in covering ground in less time and exhausting the paddler at the end of day.
My feet are fixed and I control the rudder with my toes on the gas pedal style rudder control. This way I always have a great three point contact for bracing, support strokes, edging and rolling when I require this in rougher waters or here on the Bay of Fundy crossing eddy lines, running with three knot currents and having water break over shallow ledges with the ever changing tides, paddling and hugging the shore line against wind and currents against me and ferrying across fast flowing areas. Surf landings are sometimes on rocky grounds but normally look for a steep sloping beach. At high tides these are hard to find.My surf rudder is up normally before I land. In my skeg boat I am always concerned not to hit any rocks or ledges with my skeg or landing on a beach with my skeg down.
Playing in rock gardens or grabbing a surf my rudder equipped boat is responsive for play and I use this time to have practice my paddling techniques with my surf rudder up.
When I paddle in Newfoundland along the Forgotten Coast -The Fijord Coast – my issues are down drafts along the cliffs that almost blow you over unexpectedly, the head winds,  large swells with reflecting waves that grab your stern unexpectedly, the distances to cover before you can land on shore. I need all my energy in reserve to keep going if I have too and take extra clothing and food as the weather can change suddenly.


 

When the lop gets  high enough you will see your kayak stern be in air instead of water. In this case the rudder will also be in air and not be effective until it hits the water again. I have found this to be true with skeg boats as well. This however is not a big issue as the response time for the boat to change direction is much larger than the time out and back into the water. I do not find this an issue.

I believe that the novice should take an introductory course in the fundamentals of kayaking, trying kayaks before buying.Expert or Novice buying a seakayak should consider one made out of HTP plastic vs Rotomolded plastic or composite.
HTP Plastic boats are tough, repairable, the designs today are great, the price is half of a composite, performance is similar, weight difference is not an issue. For the warmer climates the HTP plastic provides a higher melting point than the roto molded kayaks and you will not have any oil canning occur.  The performance is at par with the composite. The HTP plastic is very rigid/stiff. The HTP kayak will take a lot more abuse when landing on beaches, and playing in rock gardens.