Tag Archives: fishing kayak ergonomics

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 –

 

The Microskiff redefined

What is a microskiff?

Typically, a microskiff is a small, lightweight, flat bottomed motorboat used for flats fishing as well as in protected bays, estuaries, lakes and slow moving rivers, by a crew of one or two anglers. Some would trace the microskiff lineage to dinghies.
Small and lightweight in this case means a boat transported by trailer, and therefore requiring to be launched and beached at a boat ramp.

Microskiff’s propulsion problem

Microskiff are made to be propelled primarily by outboard motors, and the typical microskiff is too wide and heavy to allow for paddling. This is problematic for a number of reasons –
To begin with, an outboard motor can run out of gas, or stall due to a technical problem, and the electric trolling motor that many microskiff have on board isn’t enough for effective traveling over longer distances.
But more importantly, both outboard gas motors and electric trolling motors use propellers that must be immersed in water at a certain height, so the effective draft of a microskiff under motor is quite high, and often too high for really shallow water, a.k.a “skinny water”.
This problem also limits the typical microskiff as far as launching and beaching locations are concerned, and this means that you must launch and beach it from a boat ramp, which is a major source of frustration over a lot of wasted fishing time.
To add insult to injury, propellers don’t do well in the presence of aquatic vegetation, be it seaweed, grass, etc. This is particularly frustrating to anglers who realize that such waters are among the best fisheries.

Human powered propulsion – Poling, anyone?

Microskiff manufacturers often show pictures of people who use a long push-pole to propel their microskiff through shallow water. This human powered mode of propulsion is indeed possible, but it’s not that practical –
To begin with, poling involves long intervals between each pole push, so the big effort invested in each push that accelerates the boat goes to waste when the boat decelerates while you are busy lifting the pole and sticking it back into the water.  Acceleration is particularly demanding in energy terms, and in other words, the fact that microskiff are wide and heavy makes them lose speed quickly, and thereby drain your energy.
Few people can push a typical microskiff over a distance of more than several hundred yards, and that’s not enough in terms of real-world fishing.
On top of this, the hull of a typical microskiff is not designed for effective tracking – It’s neither very long nor narrow, and it lacks elements such as fins, skegs or tunnels that could improve its directional stability. The result is that poling in a straight line becomes harder, which means you waste an additional and considerable amount of energy because your microskiff zigzags instead of going straight forward.
Poling is far from being on par with more effective means of human powered propulsion such paddling and rowing.

Conclusion – A better microskiff should allow its crew to go in shallow water and vegetation-rich water in a human powered propulsion mode other than poling, and preferably paddling, since effective rowing requires good technique that can be acquired only through much practice.

An ideal microskiff for real-world fishing

Ideally, a microskiff should allow for either a crew of two fishermen or a solo fisherman to launch, beach, motorize, fish and paddle in any type of water, whether standing up or seated. This means that such a boat should be highly stable yet narrow enough for effective paddling, and only the patented, catamaran-style Wavewalk™ from the new 700 series offers to work as a both a full tandem and solo skiff in the sense that it works perfectly well for one person too, when the second crew member is missing. The fact that the W700 features two long and narrow catamaran-style hulls helps it track better than other craft of similar size, and that helps poling as well as paddling it, with either dual-blade (kayak) paddles or single-blade paddles – canoeing style.

The ideal microskiff should also be lightweight enough to allow for trailer-free transportation, and car-topping by one person, in case no fishing buddy is present. Again, the only two-person microskiff that offers such advantage is the new Wavewalk™ 700, which weighs just 80 lbs without a motor and accessories.  In fact, this weight is lower than that of most high-end fishing kayaks out there, including sit-on-top (SOT) and sit-in models, especially tandem fishing kayaks, which are heavier than regular ones.

Trailer-free with triple propulsion capability

The redefined microskiff is trailer-free I.E. easy to car top even for one person, suitable for choppy water, skinny water and vegetation-rich water, and accommodates two full size fishermen fishing standing in comfort. It can be easily and comfortably driven with a powerful outboard motor of up to 5 HP, as well as with electric motors.
One or two people can easily paddle it kayak-style or in the traditional canoeing style, and it lends itself to poling more easily and effectively than any other microskiff does, including solo skiffs, I.E. microskiff for just one person.
Such is the new Wavewalk™ 700 series.