Tag Archive: fishing kayak ergonomics

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

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

Improving steering of motorized fishing kayaks and small boats

Here is some exciting news – Wavewalk is offering a new joystick steering system for its 700 series of two-person car-top fishing boat and microskiff. The new system makes steering easier and more comfortable, and safer too if you happen to use a powerful outboard motor such as the 6 hp Tohatsu featuring in this video:

 

 

Attaching and detaching this system is a breeze, and it takes seconds, literally. This means that an angler who wants to get the joystick and cables out of their way in order to make room for casting and landing fish can do it effortlessly and in no time, and later reattach the joystick and cables with the same ease.

Read more about this new joystick steering system for motorized fishing kayaks and small boats »

The kayak for tall and heavy (“big”) people

When kayaks are concerned, tall people are more challenged than short and average height people, and so are heavy people. Tall and heavy people, a.k.a. “big” are particularly challenged, especially if they are elderly too.

What’s the problem?

Tall people-

Being tall means that your center of gravity (CG) is higher than that of a shorter person. This is especially true for men, whose center of gravity is higher than that of women.  A high center of gravity can be a serious problem if you’re using a narrow and tippy kayak, and it can be a mere source of constant concern when you’re using a wider and stabler kayak. Being tall means that you won’t be able to paddle standing in most fishing kayaks out there, and you won’t be able to fish standing either. This is too bad, since paddling standing if fun, and it works better for sight fishing. As for fishing standing, it is a basic right of anyone who fishes from a boat, and a good fishing kayak should offer it to anyone – no ifs and buts.

Another problem that tall people experience when paddling common (sit-in and SOT) kayaks and fishing from them is discomfort, beacuse their legs are longer, and therefore their feet, which serve as forward points of contact with the kayak itself, have less leverage on the boat, due the longer distance from the person’s core and torso, where balancing takes place. In other words, a tall kayaker’s legs are required to work harder to maintain the seated posture, and to balance both the kayaker and their kayak. This continuous effort is unpleasant and often results in discomfort, back pain, and fatigue.

Heavy people –

Heavy people who sit in a regular kayak, be it a sit-in or a sit-on-top (SOT), experience discomfort from several factors: The first is the fact that when their legs are stretched forward, in front of them, their abdomen is compressed between their torso and their lap. This pressure is both unnatural and uncomfortable.

The second factor is their upper body that weighs on their buttocks and coccyx without their legs supporting any of this weight, as they otherwise would when the person is seated on a chair, or a bench. This problem occurs because the heavy kayaker’s legs are stretched in front of them, in the L posture that as become the hallmark of kayaking discomfort.

A compressed abdomen makes it harder to breath, and with a compressed behind and lower spine come an exacerbation of the typical kayaking back pain symptoms.

And let’s not forget that if a person is really heavy, they might be challenged when it comes to balancing their kayak.

Tall and heavy, i.e. “Big” people –

People who are big, that is both tall and heavy, aren’t that rare in the general U.S. population, but you’d hardly find them in kayaks, because kayaking and kayak fishing are too much of a challenge for them.  An additional hardship that such people experience with kayaks is getting into the kayak and out of it. This is especially true with traditional sit-in designs, but it’s also true for SOT kayaks.

The old age factor

The above said is particularly problematic for tall, heavy and big people who are elderly. Being older often means that one’s sense of balance could be impaired, and older people are usually less supple and agile than younger folks are. On top of this, many elderly people suffer from various conditions involving back pain, joint pain, arthritis, and various disabilities and sensitivities that further prevent them from using regular kayaks, especially for fishing, which typically requires staying in the kayak for longer periods of time.

The kayak for tall, heavy, big and elderly people

Wavewalk’s new 700 series solves all the above problems. Kayaks from this series can easily accommodate very tall people, who comfortably ride the kayak’s 15″ high saddle, without being forced into the L posture. These people can stretch their legs anytime they feel like, stand up easily, as well as paddle and fish standing up. Going back to the seated position is not a problem either – It’s done intuitively and effortlessly.

There is no kayak out there that’s more stable than the W700, not even the world’s most stable kayak until today, the W500.
The W700 is so stable that a 200 lbs, 6′ tall middle-aged guy can stand with both feet in one of its hulls, and paddle on both sides of the kayak, as shown in this video:

But this absolute stability isn’t the only advantage that big and tall users get from this kayak: Both getting into the cockpit and out of it is a breeze, even for this 300 lbs, 6’3″ tall, 65 year old fisherman, who simply walks into this kayak, and immediately starts paddling standing in it:

Read the review contributed by this big and tall kayak angler »

More information about the kayak for big, tall and elderly people »

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 –