fishing kayak design

When smaller is better in boat design

Thanks to the revolution in electronics and portable phones, we’ve learned to accept the notion that smaller can be better. In the world of recreational and sports fishing, kayaks have replaced many boats, or at least they’ve replaced many canoes, pirogues, etc., which served for decades as popular alternatives to boats.
Fishing kayaks’ success is due to their lower cost of ownership, portability, and good shallow water capabilities.
But kayaks’ lack of stability combined with their poor ergonomics and dismal range of travel prevents them from challenging the dominance of the full fledged boat.
Indeed, the typical boat that people fish out of can be a bass boat, a Jon boat, or a skiff (flats boat), but in any case, it offers enough room and stability for a crew of at least two anglers, and it offers to take them out on long trips, in good or acceptable comfort during transit and actual fishing.

When it comes to boats, the bigger the better. Not necessarily.

Bigger boats can take more passengers on board, they are stabler and more comfortable compared to similar but smaller boats, and they are less problematic in choppy waters. And when boating is concerned, speed is fun, and so is having guests on board, and this is why bigger boats rule.

Without going through the clichés about a boat being a money pit, and the day you sell your boat being one of the happiest days of your life, economic factors are worth consideration in terms of dollars and time, with the latter sometimes being more important – The total number of hours a boat owner spends on the water fishing is not that big, which is why every hour spent on unwanted activities such as maintenance, transportation and waiting in line at boat ramps counts more, and makes the ownership of a full fledged boat less attractive. The alternative to transporting the boat on a trailer is paying for a docking spot in a marina, or for dry storage, but these just transform one problem into another, without offering much flexibility in terms of places that you can can go fish in.

Flat bottomed boats such as Jon boats and skiffs are great for going in flat water, except when it comes to their reaction to other boats’ wakes, which leaves much to be desired. This lackluster performance, coupled with the fact that such boats do not fare well in choppy water and rough weather, makes them basically fair weather watercraft for inland fishing.
While the last sentence is generally true, it still doesn’t reflect another critical limitation that owners of big boats suffer from, which is the inability to go in very shallow water, or in water where much vegetation grows. This limitation is particularly annoying to anglers who go after species that thrive in fisheries that are characterized by shallow water and /or abundant vegetation. Effectively, an 18 ft skiff drafts more than a foot, due to the need to keep its propeller running below the surface, and its skeg a few inches away from the bottom. And one foot of water is shallow for some boaters, it is not real skinny water for others. The presence of rocks and oyster bars and sand bars on the bottom, coupled with low tides, can transform a fishing trip in a big boat into a most unpleasant experience. And big boats are too big to move by hand, and you can’t paddle them…

Smaller boats can be an alternative to a big boat, but not necessarily a good one.

By small boats we mean portable boats, namely ones that do not require a trailer for transportation. The ability to launch elsewhere than at boat ramps is important, as it frees the owner from wasting precious time, and the likelihood of being stranded in a small boat is much reduced. Still, typical small boats are not paddle craft, and this means that they are practically useless if the water is too shallow or too rich with vegetation for their motor to run properly.
Other disadvantages of small boats compared to big ones are that they are tippy, far less uncomfortable, and some, like a motorized board whose name includes the word skiff for some reason, do not allow for more than one person on board, and such self inflicted solitude is kind of sad. It is true that fishing buddies can be annoying, sometimes, but that certainly doesn’t mean that you’d want to deprive yourself of their presence at all times.

The better alternative to big boats and skiffs

The new, patented Wavewalk Series 4 (S4) from Wavewalk offers the most comprehensive and effective alternative to a full fledged skiff or Jon boat –
Price wise, the S4 costs a fraction of the price of a full size Jon boat or skiff, and not just thanks to the fact that it does not require a trailer for transportation.
The Wavewalk S4’s Polyethylene twin-hull is maintenance free, as it requires neither cleaning nor painting.
The S4 provides better stability than bigger boats do, thanks to the combined effect of its catamaran hulls and the saddle seat that allows the user to balance themselves in the most easy, intuitive and effective way, similarly to the way the users of personal watercraft and ATV drivers do.
The S4 is more seaworthy than flat bottomed Jon boats and skiffs.
As far as the number of crew on board, the S4 can accommodate up to three fishermen on flat water, and two fishermen in rough waters. Fishermen on board can fish standing.
The S4 works perfectly as a paddle craft, both with kayak and canoe paddles. This means that its users are not limited by the draft of its outboard motor, or the need to protect its propeller from vegetation. The likelihood of an S4 getting stranded is lower than that of any other watercraft.
The Wavewalk S4 can be launched almost anywhere, including rocky, muddy and sandy beaches, marshes, sloped terrain, etc. It can also be outfitted with a mud motor, similarly to Jon boats and skiffs.

The following play list of videos shows various aspects of the S4 –

 

 

The following animated slideshow shows some of the Wavewalk S4 capabilities –

 

Disadvantages of the Wavewalk S4 compared to full size boats and skiffs

Speed wise, the S4 cannot compete with a full size Jon boat of skiff powered by a big and powerful motor. But the S4 outfitted with a portable, 6 HP outboard can go at speeds attaining 18 mph, which is pretty good for most fishing trips that do not require traveling over excessively long distances.
The S4 has a 650 lbs load capacity, which is impressive for its small size, and even more so for its extremely light weight, which is 98 lbs without a motor, but this payload is still not as much as a large size Jon boat or skiff can carry.

 

Recommended articles:

Better Than a Full Size Skiff

Mud Motor for Kayak Fishing the Flats

A multi-hull multi-boat for fishing, diving, and touring

Captain Larry Jarboe operates a small fleet of Wavewalk 700 and S4 fishing kayaks, as well as two commercial fishing boats, out of his docks in Key Largo, Florida. He uses these kayak – skiffs and boats to provide fishing, diving and touring guide services to tourists and local residents of the Keys and southern Florida.

Captain Jarboe, a master tonnage captain,  has become increasingly aware of the commercial potential of the Wavewalk S4 kayak skiff for his business, both as a paddle craft (canoe / kayak) and motorized with a portable, lightweight outboard motor.

But he also found a way to take this high performance and extremely versatile skiff to a higher level, namely use it to comfortably transport a number of passengers that he could have previously transported only in a full-size fishing boat. He created a multi-boat watercraft composed of three Wavewalk S4 skiffs attached in parallel. The middle one is motorized, and the two skiffs on the sides are attached to it by ropes that can be easily detached in case the passengers feel like continuing the journey by themselves, independently, whether in a paddling mode (canoeing or kayaking), or in a motorized mode.

The following video shows Captain Jarboe’s multi-hull multi-boat in action –

 

 

In technical terms, this modular watercraft is composed of three catamaran kayaks.
It can take up to six adult passengers – three in each of the side boats, plus the captain, who’s driving it from the middle boat.  Its total load capacity is close to 2,000 lbs, which is the equivalent to the load capacity of a fairly large leisure boat, or skiff. The passengers can sit in various positions, and stand up anytime they want.

Captain Jarboe experimented with various configurations of this boat, and he found that attaching the two side boats slightly in front of the central boat provided optimal results as far as control goes, and minimizing spray intake from the bow.

This modular watercraft is extremely stable and seaworthy, yet nimble enough to allow for trips in the mangrove creeks around Key Largo, as can be seen in the video.

In a broader sense, this new concept opens new possibilities in leisure boating, namely using the same smaller boats separately as kayaks (under paddle) or skiffs (motorized) for crews of one to three persons, and as a multi-passenger boat with room on board for up to nine adult passengers, for leisure and fishing trips and for entertaining guests, family, etc.
In other words, instead of having a big and expensive pontoon boat attached to your dock, plus a multiple canoes and kayaks, you could have use three Wavewalk S4 kayak-skiffs, and easily create an ad-hoc big boat out of them anytime you need to.

Captain Jarboe’s innovative concept also opens the door for guides on a budget, who can operate a fleet of small, very shallow draft and relatively inexpensive boats that offer a wide variety of services, rather than a big and expensive boat that offers a limited range of services, and is also limited to traveling in much deeper water.

The following photo shows three fishermen fishing standing out of a Wavewalk S4, which is outfitted with a 6 HP outboard motor –

In other words, Captain Jarboe’s multi-boat dubbed S4x3 can be used by groups of fishers who need to cross rough waters on their way to fishing the flats, or mangrove creeks, and back from there. The advantage of this concept over using big motorboats is the ability to fish shallow water without fear of reefs, oyster beds, sand bars and low tides. Its advantage over using kayaks is the bigger range of travel, better comfort, better stability, and many times more storage space – both in a joint configuration and separately.

Paddle, pedal drive, or motor for my kayak?

This article examines different modes of propulsion available for kayaks today, and discusses their relative advantages and shortcomings.

Different modes of propulsion

Kayaks can be propelled by various means, which include paddling, pedaling, and motorizing*
Most people paddle their kayaks with dual blade (kayak) paddles, and rarely with single-blade (canoe) paddles.
Most pedal drive manufacturers today offer kayaks equipped with rotational drives (rotational pedals and rotational propeller), and one kayak manufacturer offers a pedal drive with push pedals and flapping blades.
Motors for kayaks range from weak electric motors (trolling motors) to powerful outboard gas engines (outboard motors).

Assisted paddling

This is the name given to paddling while an electric motor is working to provide extra power and increase the kayak’s range of travel. Assisted paddling is becoming increasingly popular, especially among kayak anglers whose fishing kayaks are typically not easily to paddle, and are often loaded with heavy fishing gear.
Assisted paddling is particularly useful in moving water (rivers, tidal currents), as well as in big lakes and the ocean.
This hybrid mode of propulsion is particularly useful for paddlers who aren’t necessarily in top physical condition due to weight, age, and physical disabilities.

Pedal drives

For a couple of decades, the niche market for pedal driven kayaks had been dominated by push pedal drives, but it the last few years rotational pedal drives have become increasingly popular in this market, as numerous kayak manufacturers (especially fishing kayaks) started offering kayaks equipped with such drives. This transition is due to the fact that rotational pedal drives for kayaks are more efficient than push pedal ones.

It’s worth remembering that operating pedal driven kayaks is limited to water that’s neither shallow nor rich in vegetation, and a pedal dive won’t get you where a paddle could, which is why pedal kayak users always carry a paddle on board.

From an ergonomic standpoint, the effect of operating a pedal drive is even worse on a person’s back than the effect of paddling a SOT or sit-in kayak, because the continuous horizontal pressure that their legs exert on their lower back while pushing it against the seat’s backrest is bigger than the pressure exerted in a paddling mode in the L position.

Suggested reading –

 

Paddling

Paddling in the common L kayaking position works for younger people who happen to be physically fit. Such people rarely suffer from back problems, which are the number one cause of disability in America.
For all other people, namely middle aged and elderly, and/or people who are overweight and not in top shape, paddling in the L position is a source of  discomfort, pain, and even injuries, hence the expression “yak back”.

Since so many people in America suffer from a sensitive back or from more serious back problems, many anglers view kayaks as uncomfortable boats to fish from, and for a good reason, unless one considers Wavewalk’s patented kayaks, which are back pain free.

Motors

Electric motors

Electric motors are weak, which is why they’re often called trolling motors, namely motors for slow motion.
Having a motor on board is a good thing, as it adds safety in adverse conditions such as wind and current, or paddler fatigue, and it adds to the kayak’s range of travel. However, electric motors fail to deliver the performance that outboard gas engines offer when it comes to power, speed, and long trips.

There are two types of electric motors – Integrated (built-in) motors, and add-on motors that the user attaches to their kayak.
Ironically, the motors purchased separately from the kayak work better than the ones that come already installed in it. The reason for this absurd situation is that it’s easier to mount an electric motor on a kayak in a way that would effectively protect it in case it bumps against the bottom, while integrated motors have no effective protection for such cases. Since every body of water has a bottom, and the distance between the bottom and the surface is not always perceptible or predictable, such unfortunate events are most common. Rocks, fallen trees, oyster beds, coral reefs sand bars and just plain junk are a constant threat to the motor’s propeller and shaft.

Outboard motors

Even small outboard gas engines are too powerful for SOT and sit-in kayaks, including the widest models. Simply, there is no way to outfit a SOT or sit-in kayak with an outboard motor in a sensible manner. Any SOT or sit-in kayak outfitted with an outboard motor is neither comfortable nor safe to drive because of inadequate means to control and steer it.
Wavewalk kayaks are different from SOT and sit-in kayaks in the sense that they offer the user full control over the boat while they drive it, direct access to the motor, and much more stability than any other kayak does.
In fact, the Wavewalk S4 is more seaworthy than most small skiffs and Jon boats, as can be seen in these short videos:

 

 

 

Wavewalk kayaks offer unrivaled stability, and especially the new 13 ft long S4 that allows big and heavy people to drive it without any problem, facing either forward or sideways –

 

 


* This article discusses neither kayak sailing nor poling

From boat design to production

How are these small boats made?

Here is a glimpse into the process of making a mold for Wavewalk’s newest portable skiff, the Series 4 –

The pictures below show the wooden pattern produced from solid wood and hard rubber from the CAD (computer Aided design) file for the product.  This first-generation mold will be used to produce a second generation mold called a sand mold. The mold makers will cast molten aluminum into the sand mold, and produce the actual rotational mold in which molders will pour Polyethylene resin, and produce the Series 4 boats.

The cockpit features slanted sides designed to allow the passengers to paddle this boat effectively with either canoe or kayak paddles. Paddling capability is critical to mobility and high performance in shallow water and weed infested water. This design makes poling easier as well as more effective.

The stand up casting platform is supported by integrated structural beams that look like slots when viewed from the top.

Front view that shows the S4 two hulls, which make it a full catamaran.

The stand up casting platform at the front – a typical skiff feature. This platform is particularly appreciated in flats fishing, by fly anglers and other fishers who practice sight fishing.

Rear view with the integrated transom motor mount.

Side view of this ultralight portable skiff.

Bottom view of the pattern for this boat.

More information on the Wavewalk Series 4 »

The Most Stable Small Craft

Wavewalk announced the new Series 4 (S4) of portable boats (car-top boats) that are extremely stable even by comparison to larger boats that require transportation by trailer. Still, the 38″ wide S4, which feature slated cockpit sides designed to facilitate paddling, will work well enough as paddle craft, namely for kayaking, canoeing, and kayak fishing.

In this case, portability also means gaining extra mobility through the option to launch anywhere, and the option to paddle effectively means being able to go in shallow water where motorized fishing boats are prevented from going, as well as in weeds, and no-motor zones (NMZ).

 

The ultralight skiff (98 lbs) is by no means limited to being a solo skiff, and with a load capacity of over 600 lbs it can take two big and heavy anglers on board, or three lighter persons, plenty of fishing gear and camping gear, and a powerful outboard motor of up to 6 HP.

This will be the first skiff from Wavewalk to feature a traditional stand up casting platform at the bow. This will make the boat perfectly adapted to fishing the flats with a crew of two, and still, its extreme stability and twin-hull (catamaran) design guarantee offshore capabilities beyond what is expected from small skiffs and Jon boats.
This hydrodynamic advantage, which pertains to tracking and seaworthiness, is enhanced by the ergonomic advantage provided by the saddle seat, which is similar to seat that feature in personal watercraft (PWC), also known as jet-skis.

The following video shows the smaller, popular Wavewalk 700 in an offshore trip to the Elizabeth islands, south of Massachusetts. The new S4 will perform even better in such applications:

 

This new, versatile skiff will be available starting in April, and it is offered at a $2,505 price point, without accessories.

More information about the Wavewalk® Series 4 (S4) skiff »