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.
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?
The Wavewalk S4 performs in various conditions
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…
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.