For over a decade, this website has been following and documenting developments in the design and usage of small and lightweight watercraft, from kayaks and canoes to micro skiffs and Jon boats.
In recent years, the emphasis has been increasingly on motorized boats, mainly thanks to the introduction of Wavewalk’s 700 series, and shortly after, its Series 4, nicknamed the S4. Despite their impressive performance under power, these two motorboats are still designated as kayaks, and indeed both paddle well. In fact, the W700 is still used mostly for solo and tandem kayaking and kayak fishing.
Seaworthy small boats
When small craft are concerned, the adjective “seaworthy” evokes either inflatable dinghies or personal watercraft (PWC). Neither kayaks nor micro skiffs come to mind, simply because for different reasons, these small craft are typically not meant to travel in the ocean, especially in the chop, and offshore. When people go in the ocean with a kayak or a microskiff, it is typically in good weather, close to shore, and in areas that are free from fast motorboats’ wakes, which can destabilize the passengers and even the boat itself. As soon as the wind starts blowing, the users of these small craft seek shelter in more protected waters.
Since it was launched in 2017, the Wavewalk’s S4 has proven itself to be a seaworthy and dependable micro skiff, despite the fact that it is smaller and lighter than all other boats and motorized boards in this group of small craft. This accomplishment is due to the fact that the S4 combines a catamaran’s super stable twin-null with the saddle seat of high personal watercraft (PWC) which are small, high performance, and seaworthy as well.
The S4 is seaworthy in the full sense of the word, at least when small craft are concerned. Running a 10 HP motor, it can be driven in the chop at full throttle, even if the driver is standing up –
But the S4 also delivers unrivaled maneuverability in mangrove creeks and tunnels –
Time and again, technology and design have shown that smaller can be better, and the S4 is yet another proof that thinking outside the box can work in the design of small boats, and lead to improved performance in multiple applications and environments.
The link between stability and speed in boats is very strong, and nowadays most people are aware of the fact that thanks to their improved stability, multi-hulls are faster than comparable mono-hulls under sail as well as motorized.
Simply, boats differ by the volume of their hulls, and there are two ways to design a boat –
In the mono-hull form, most of the hull’s volume is concentrated along its center line, where it contributes nothing to lateral stability.
In the twin-hull (a.k.a. catamaran) form, the boat’s volume is split in two, and each half is distributed along the boat’s sides, where it works effectively to increase the sides’ buoyancy and thus the boat’s overall lateral stability.
In other words, when stability is concerned, the mono-hull form is wasteful, and the twin-hull form is efficient.
Balancing capability – the ergonomic factor that enhances stability
When it comes to micronautics, namely the science and art of designing very small and lightweight watercraft, the boat’s physical stability is not the only thing that matters, and ergonomics play an important role as well –
In order to better understand this principle, consider small fast vehicles that have no stability of their own, such as bicycles and motorcycles – Without a biker to balance them while in motion or standing in place, these vehicles would fall on their side. This said, such vehicles offer excellent means for their operator to balance them, and this balancing capability is enough to allow these vehicles to move at high speeds and over rugged terrain.
A similar, although reduced effect can be observed in other small, high-performance vehicles such as ATVs and snowmobiles, which offer their operator and passengers excellent means to balance themselves, and by doing so enhance the stability of their vehicle as well. Personal watercraft (PWC) are the aquatic version of these powerful and fast land vehicles.
So what do all the above mentioned small vehicles have in common in design and ergonomic terms? -They all feature a saddle type of seat. Typically, bikes and motorbikes feature higher saddles than ATVs, snowmobiles and PWC, but this is not always the case, since some bikes and motorbikes feature lower saddles.
In any case, saddle seats differ from other seats by the fact that their user rides them with a leg on each side, and does not sit on them with their legs in front of them. Ergonomically speaking, this allows the user to react to lateral changes intuitively, more quickly, and more effectively, and thus balance themselves and their small vehicle more efficiently.
The successful combination of the twin-hull (catamaran) and the saddle seat
The patented Wavewalk small watercraft (kayak, canoe, skiff, etc.) is unique in the sense that it combines a twin-hull (catamaran form) with a saddle seat that’s similar to the ones featuring in large-size PWC. Thus, Wavewalk kayaks are more stable, and they an be better balanced than any other kayak, canoe, or other small vessel of comparable size. This overall stability, namely the combined static stability of the boat and dynamic stability of its users, allows for unrivaled performance in speed terms, as well as in seaworthiness.
In order to get a better feeling for what this stability advantage translates to in speed terms, watch the following movies –
1. High speed motor kayak driven at high speed in the ocean chop
2. Speed comparison of S4 powered by a 5 HP vs 9.8 HP – flat water
This video offers a good opportunity to observe the S4 going at high speed on flat water, from the standpoint of another S4 driver going at a pretty good speed as well
3. The world speed record for vessels designated as kayaks
This video shows Captain Larry Jarboe, the current holder of the world speed record for motorized kayaks, driving his Wavewalk S4 at 17 mph (27 kmh) on flat water. Note that Captain Jarboe drives his motor kayak seated in the side-saddle position, and not in the more stable riding position. This is to say that from an ergonomic standpoint, he does not feel a need to take full advantage of the S4 design.
Stability, Speed, and Seaworthiness
A vessel designated as a kayak does not necessarily have to be a lame, unstable, uncomfortable, and slow one. It can be a fast, comfortable, and most seaworthy one, as demonstrated here. This performance level opens new possibilities for using these “kayaks” for offshore fishing, rescue and engineering, as well as boat tenders and fun boats.
Such a braod performance envelope is unique to the Wavewalk S4, which on top of these motorized applications, can serve as a wonderful paddle craft, both in a kayaking and canoeing mode, for one, two, or three passengers, seated and/or standing.
Car top transportation
And last but not least, unlike other fast and stable motorboats, the Wavewalk S4 does not require transportation by trailer. At 98 lbs (45 kg) without the motor, it can be car-topped by one person on the roof rack of any vehicle, carried to the beach, and launched practically anywhere.
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.
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.
Skiffs are small, open deck, typically flat bottomed boats that are similar to Jon boats, except for some characteristic structures such as a frontal casting deck, or platform, which most skiffs feature.
Skiffs are powered by outboard motors, and they are used mostly for recreational fishing in flat water, especially shallow water. A skiff may be required to travel through moving water, such as bays, tidal currents, and rivers.
The smaller skiffs are sometimes called micro skiffs, or microskiffs, and the smallest of them can carry no more than a single passenger going on a solo trip.
Even these skiffs of solitude are too heavy for car topping, especially by one person, and they lack a proper casting platform at the front. The best performance these very small skiffs can achieve in transportation terms is fitting on a pickup truck bed, and since the most lightweight of them weighs 150 lbs without the motor, one wonders how uploading and downloading it is even possible.
This sub category of solo skiffs is rather worthless for paddling, which can explain the motto “Forget About Paddling” coined by a manufacturer of one of these micro skiff.
In shallow water, paddling is the best alternative to motorizing, since motors are often prevented from proper functioning in such waters, be it as a result of too much draft, vegetation, underwater obstacles, or regulations. Therefore, the notion that anglers fishing out of small skiffs can forget about paddling is senseless.
The S4 cockpit features slanted sides that make it easy for the passengers to move their paddles closer to the boat, so this 38″ wide craft paddles more ergonomically, and feels like a narrower kayak in this sense, although in stability terms it’s more stable than any kayak.
And as for bigger skiffs, their users are forced to forget about paddling, and that’s too bad, since it reduces their mobility and limits their ability to fish in skinny water, and increases their exposure to unpleasant surprises at low tides, etc.
Lackluster performance can be expected from these small skiffs when it comes to seaworthiness, namely performance when driving or fishing in the ocean or in other moving water, and providing enough stability in the presence of wakes that big motorboats generate. This is reminding a similar problem that many Jon boat passengers and anglers experience.
The skiff is a successful boat design, especially in the southern states, where flats fishing is popular. However, as popular is it is, this design has left many problems unsolved, or poorly solved, so far.
The Wavewalk S4 – a revolutionary skiff, or a new type of boat?
Legally, the S4 is a kayak, and technically, it can be described as a catamaran. This is not a good start for a boat that claims to be a skiff. But its shallow draft and front deck can serve to justify its inclusion in the skiff category, at least in the sense that it offers to do what skiffs do, just better.
Better skiff in what sense? –
Weight and portability – At 98 lbs without accessories, the S4 is significantly lighter than the lightest micro skiff out there. It is the only skiff that one person can easily car-top.
Load capacity – With a weight to payload ratio that’s over 1:6 (the S4 can carry over 600 lbs on board), the S4 can carry up to three adult passengers or two large-size fishermen even in a motorized mode. This is over twice the load capacity of the micro skiff that’s closest in size to the S4 in weight, and it’s comparable to the performance of bigger skiffs.
Stability – The S4 is more stable than any other small skiff, and the stability it offers is comparable to the stability that medium size skiffs offer.
Balancing capability – A skiff that’s considerably bigger than the S4 can be more stable in absolute terms, namely resistance to change, but no skiff offers its passengers to ride a saddle seat that only high performance personal watercraft (PWC, or jet-ski) feature. This type of seat allows the users to balance themselves intuitively, and more effectively than any other type of seat does.
Versatility and mobility – The S4 is the most versatile of skiffs, in the sense that it delivers top performance both when motorized and in a paddling mode. There is no other vessel whose user can host two extra passengers on board while driving in moving water, and later paddle it effectively in a solo mode on a long trip. Similarly, there is no other vessel that performs well both in the ocean and inland, in very shallow water.
Seaworthiness – The S4 excels in going through waves, and it reacts extremely well to other boats’ wakes. Such performance isn’t typical for a small or even medium size skiff, and it can be found only in bigger models.
Price to Performance – The S4 may not be the least expensive micro skiff on the market, since the solitude skiff is offered for less, but in terms of price to performance the S4 is in a league of its own, especially considering the fact that it is a trailer free boat, and trailers cost money.
As shown here, the S4 barely fits in the micro skiff class, and it deserves to be in a class of its own. However, a class of boats with just one boat model in it is not a practical tool for classification, or for anything else. The S4 is somehow comparable to the Wavewalk 700 (W700), but again, a class of boats with just two boat models in it could be acceptable in design terms, but it would not serve its purpose in marketing terms.
And this article didn’t even touch the question of the S4 classification as a kayak…