pedal drive kayak

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

When a fishing kayak becomes a boat, or an ultralight microskiff

Sometimes a technological or design breakthrough pushes the envelope of a product category or class so far that it creates a new type of product that did not exist before. Such thing has happened now with the advent of the new Wavewalk 700 series –

Before the W700 existed, there were several important differences between large size fishing kayaks and small boats.

The most noticeable difference was in width –
Since kayaks’ primary means of propulsion is paddling, they need to be narrow enough to allow their passengers to propel them with dual-blade paddles (‘kayak’ paddles). Boats are not supposed to be paddled but they need to be transported on trailers, which is why their width is determined mainly by the width of roads’ lanes.

The second, and most important difference was in stability –
Being essentially narrow mono-hulls, fishing kayaks are unstable, which is why designers and manufacturers continuously attempt to push the envelope of kayak width by offering excessively wide kayaks (known as ‘barges’) that are quasi impossible and sometimes totally impossible to paddle.
Typically, a monohull fishing kayak’s instability allows an angler occupying its seat to lean slightly to one side, but as soon as they lean more, they lose balance and capsize. By the same token, an extremely large monohull fishing kayak may offer an athletic fishermen to try to stand along the kayak’s center line, but as soon as they move sideways, they lose balance. So basically, the passenger of such large mono-hull kayak is prevented from moving from one side to another, and by this fact such a fishing kayak differs from a boat, which typically offers its passengers to sit or stand on the side of their deck.

When a fishing kayak becomes an ultralight microskiff, or car-top boat

The Wavewalk 700 weighs 80 lbs without accessories, and it’s 31 inches wide, which is fairly slim compared to the average fishing kayak out there, and its very skinny compared to some fishing kayaks whose width exceeds 40 inches. This makes the W700 a lightweight fishing kayak by today’s standards, and a narrow one too, by the same standards.
The W700’s design is based on a patented technology that’s radically different, and this changes the rules of the game as far as stability is concerned.
As this video shows, a full size (6′ / 205 lbs) middle aged passenger can stand up and paddle the W700 in full confidence not just from the traditional position along its center line, but also while standing with both his feet in one of the kayak’s twin hulls:

 

 

This puts the W700 in the category of boats, as far as stability is concerned – a true game changer, and together with its extremely good tracking capabilities, turns it into a high performance boat, or microskiff, when motorized.
This movie demonstrates this breakthrough:

 

 

Taking a second passenger on board

The ability to take a second passenger on board is a third important difference between fishing kayaks and boats: The former are typically capable of supporting a single passenger, and realistically speaking, no one fishes out of a tandem fishing kayak because neither paddling such craft nor fishing out of them is acceptable in terms of ease or comfort. In other words, these kayaks are not remotely fishable in tandem. In contrast, the typical crew size of a fishing boat, even a small one such as a Jon boat or a microskiff, is two, and this difference is critical.

Here too, the W700 breaks the fishing kayak mold by offering full stability and comfort to a crew of two passengers, not just in a tandem paddling mode, but even when outfitted with a powerful outboard motor, as this video shows –

 

Review of 2013 fishing kayak design trends

A meager harvest when kayak anglers are concerned, and plenty of reasons for a good laugh 😀

2013 hasn’t been much different from previous years as far as fishing kayaks are concerned. The kayak obesity trend keeps being the main one, and it drives kayaks to reach titanic proportions. For example, kayaks that are 35 inches wide and weigh 80 lbs are almost typical, and a kayak that’s over 40 inches wide is no longer viewed as an aberration despite the fact that paddling such a kayak is quite a challenge, and almost impossible to do for medium and long distances. Leviathan barge kayaks weighing around 120 lbs are still considered as kayaks (at least by some) although even a seasoned weight lifter might find it hard to car top one, and people who buy them have to buy a trailer to go with them, which is yet another way to defy the purpose of kayak fishing.
The reason behind the persistence of this trend is the poor stability that fishing kayaks offer to their users, albeit the fact that kayak manufacturers insist that the kayaks they offer are very stable, enough to allow for kayak fishing standing… Go tell this to all those disappointed anglers who purchased such kayaks and found out that reality is different from bogus reviews and staged YouTube movies  🙁

Fishing kayak hulls keep featuring all sorts of weird longitudinal channels and vertical dimples that work perfectly to create more drag and by that further impede the kayaker and make it harder for them to paddle. The infamous scupper holes that were introduced as means to prevent the deck from collapsing but have since been hyped as drainage holes keep conducting water in both directions, which means they also drive water up and onto the deck, and into the paddler’s area.

In the twilight zone, kayaks with integrated outriggers are still being offered although the concept has proved to be rather useless in practical terms. It seems like the failure of the kayak industry to present kayaks that actually work for stand up kayak fishing drives more people to try outriggers.

New designs still appear on the scene, and they make one wonder if kayak designers have any ability to learn from others’ mistakes.

Pedal driven kayaks are still being promoted as the panacea, although reality has disproved most of their manufacturer’s claims as far as practical usefulness is concerned.

Kayak storage keeps relying on hatches, which are often inaccessible to the user while they’re out there in their kayak, trying to fish from it. Such hatches have an annoying tendency to fail to be waterproof, and that’s bad news for your sandwiches!

When ergonomic design is concerned, manufacturers seem to realize that the kayaks they offer are really uncomfortable, so they keep trying to come up with new ideas for seats, although it’s the seat itself together with the L sitting position that cause the back pain and leg numbness problems that so many anglers experience.

Motorizing… well, oddly enough, some kayak manufacturers tell their clients they can outfit their kayaks with powerful outboard gas motors. Naturally, not too many people buy into this nonsensical notion. The most ridiculous case in this regard is a kayak manufacturer who offers his clients to attach their outboard gas engine directly to the kayak’s transom, which like the rest of that kayak is made from a thin, rotationally molded plastic wall… It is only appropriate to apply Hanlon’s razor to this case, and say “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” 😀

And last but not least, fishing kayak manufacturers keep competing with each other by offering an increasing range of useless accessories, from cup holders to stand-up metal frames and stand-up ropes and straps… The latter being pure exercises in futility, at least from the user’s standpoint.

No wonder the Wavewalk 500 keeps being the most loved fishing kayak out there!

A barge fishing kayak is not a microskiff

Anyone observing the evolution of the common fishing kayak in the past decade has noticed that the high-end tier (not better, just more expensive) of this class of watercraft has grown bigger, that is longer and excessively wider.

Why is that? -The main drive has been the need to provide fishermen with more stability, as many of them have come to realize that sitting for hours in an unstable craft isn’t fun, and certainly not productive. After all, reeling in and landing a big fish on board is hard work, and when you work hard you don’t want to worry about capsizing your boat, do you?

As for the increase in length, it was the result of two problems: The first is the decrease in tracking capability as the kayak gets wider –  Short and wide (‘chubby’) mono-hull kayaks track more poorly, and outfitting them with rudders makes them less attractive to users as well as more expensive. The second problems is the need to offer more buoyancy, since kayaks that offer too little buoyancy ride too low on the water, and not many people like to get constantly splashed by waves and even just eddies.

So SOT and sit-in fishing kayaks have grown bigger and heavier, and this is how the term ‘barge kayak’ was born (see article: http://wavewalk.com/blog/2011/04/15/the-barge-a-new-class-of-fishing-kayak/. This increase in overall size, and especially the increase in width made those kayaks harder to paddle, this decreasing their suitability for long fishing trips. In addition, some models have become so heavy that car topping them became nearly impossible for one person.
Some anglers had hoped that pedal driven kayaks would solve the propulsion issue, but most of them got disappointed, mainly due to an increase in ergonomic problems, and mostly back pain and premature fatigue. Moreover, the pedal drive made ordinary fishing kayaks heavier for car topping, and it turned the optional rudder into an absolute necessity.
At this point, some owners of those big and bulky kayaks started transporting them on trailers, which was in a way a sign of defeat, as anyone can understand that a kayak that must be towed on a trailer defeats the purpose of both kayaking and kayak fishing.

Once the term ‘barge’ was coined, the next logical step was to compare those huge and cumbersome kayaks to small skiffs, and ask the question “if this kayak is already almost as big as a small skiff, why not fish out of a real skiff?” – a good question indeed, to which vendors offered yet another propulsion solution: electric trolling motors.
Considering the fact that the combined weight of an electric trolling motor and battery can top 70 lbs, as well as the fact that electric trolling motors offer a limited range of travel, this solution was no match for small skiffs outfitted with gas outboard motors.
From the standpoint of a fisherman who fishes out of small motorboats, an electric SOT and sit-in fishing kayak was not even something worth considering – a sub par solution, and even more so because all those huge kayaks are not really suitable for stand up fishing as far as normal people fishing in real world conditions are concerned.

In other words, the SOT, sit-in and hybrid fishing kayaks hit a brick wall on their way to replace the small motorized skiff, known as ‘Microskiff’. The solution to the challenge of ‘stay small and get motorized’ came from the W kayak, which is perfectly suitable for motorizing with small outboards, and offers existing owners of small motorboats a way to downsize and upgrade at the same time, as the motorized W kayak (a.k.a. personal microskiff) is not just a smaller microskiff or a better fishing kayak – it is a new class of small watercraft with special attributes, offering better performance and convenience, and a whole new level of fishability.

Thoughts About The Future Of Kayak Fishing

Conceptually, kayak fishing is a great idea, but in reality, this relatively new sport is facing serious hurdles that impede its growth. These are technical problems related to performance and user-experience, and they can be solved only by a major shift from traditional designs such as sit-in kayak, sit-on-top kayak, and hybrid kayak (a small, flat canoe), to W kayaks – a patented twin hulled design.

From a new article about kayak fishing:

“Kayak fishing ceased to be a novelty, and it’s safe to say there’s hardly anyone in America who fishes that hasn’t been exposed to the notion of fishing out of kayaks, one way or another.
Still, for the huge majority of American anglers, the notion of fishing from a kayak is by far more appalling than appealing, and those who fish from shore and from all other watercraft outnumber kayak anglers by a thousand to one ratio -“

The numbers presented in this article are interesting, especially in view of the fact that kayak fishing is at least a decade old, in its modern form, which is heavily promoted by the kayak industry.

The article presents the major, unsolved problems that have dogged kayak fishing as a recreational activity and sport since its inception. These problems both limit the number of people who join the sport, as well as cause many participants to drop out of it. The problems are, in order of importance: Unacceptably poor ergonomics, lack of adequate stability, poor tracking, limited range of travel, limited storage space, restricted mobility.

More interesting are the conclusions, which stem from comparing the effect these problems have on the sport to the performance of the W kayak class relatively to the other common kayaks used for fishing:

“Does kayak fishing have a long term future?
We think it does, but only as a sensible sport and outdoor activity that would attract many more anglers, and not as the kind of unrewarding experience it currently is, which repels new participants while expelling existing ones.
The only venue is through an increase in use of W fishing kayaks rather than SOT, sit-in and hybrid kayaks. This is because W kayaks offer the solutions to all the problems discussed in this article, and some others, and these are the problems that make kayak fishing that marginal activity it has been so far in the much broader world of fishing.
Simply, as soon as realize that they can fish out of a watercraft that’s as small, nimble and lightweight as a regular kayak (not even a huge ‘barge’ fishing kayak..), and yet is as stable, dry and comfortable as a regular motorboat, and even has a similar travel range as a motorboat – they would adopt kayak fishing in growing numbers, and stick with the sport. The watercraft that combines the advantages of kayaks and motorboats, while offering better mobility than both, is the W kayak.”

So basically, the article presents an optimistic view for the future, when many anglers who are displeased both with other kayaks and small motorboats would benefit from the advantages offered by W kayaks – both human powered and motorized.