Tag Archive: steering

Effective Kayak Steering Without A Rudder

-“Steering a kayak with a rudder?!?”
If you told an Inuit that you need a rudder to steer your kayak, they’d be very surprised, since aboriginal kayaks did not feature such accessories.
Rudders were introduced to modern kayaks by designers and manufacturers who feared their clients wouldn’t be able to go where they needed, because their kayaks don’t track well, especially in strong wind.
This is not a mere matter of convenience, but of safety as well: A kayak that doesn’t track well isn’t safe, since it’s hard to paddle, and might prevent its user from getting back to shore.
Why are conventional modern kayaks, and especially fishing kayaks so hard paddle effectively without a rudder? The answer is simple: These SOT, sit-in, and ‘hybrid’ kayaks are ‘barges”, namely too wide and slow to go in a straight line, and they don’t react well to wind. They are designed to offer stability, within the limited capabilities of the mono-hull design, and the only way this is possible is by making the kayak too wide to track effectively, or be paddled efficiently.

The problem of tracking in strong wind and other adverse conditions is solved perfectly in the W kayak design, due to the combination of two factors:

  1. The two thin, parallel hulls make the W kayak track well to begin with, and –
  2. The paddler can relocate at will fore and aft, along the longitudinal seat named saddle. By doing so, they change the location of the vessel’s center of gravity, and can make it point at will either into the wind, or outward

Here is how this tracking and steering by relocation is done:

More info on rudders in fishing kayaks >>

More info on fishing kayaks’ steering and tracking in strong wind >>

Leg Propulsion For Fishing Kayaks

Using your legs for propelling any human powered vehicle offers the advantage of relying on a bigger, more powerful set of muscles than our arms. Our legs are also good in balancing, if given a chance to perform this job.

Currently, three manufacturers offer pedal drives for fishing kayaks.
Two of these devices feature rotary paddles and propellers, which makes more sense than the third one that features push pedals and wings flapping from side to side as a propeller.
In any case, pedal drives do not provide a suitable answer for touring and fishing kayaks, since operating involves a variety of problems starting from reduced stability and control over the kayak, reduced maneuverability and the loss of the ability to travel in shallow water, to more important, ergonomic problems that include increased discomfort and back pain.
More about pedal drives for fishing kayaks

So far, no one has ever seen a reason to outfit their W kayak with a pedal drive, for pretty obvious reasons. However, should anyone be interested to tinker with such project, the following pedal drive setup seems applicable to W kayaks,

rotary pedal drive for fishing kayak


More ideas, information and opinions about this pedal drive setup can be found in the comments section of the article about pedal drives recommended in the previous paragraph.

Here is another direction that seems applicable to W kayaks:

It seems like there used to be such a commercial product on the market several years ago, but we were unable to trace it. More information about it would be appreciated.
This particular setup is based on a crank shaft being used for pedaling and activating both paddle wheels at the same time. Therefore, the operator has to steer by means of a hand activated rudder (or paddle), which is a problem similar to the one facing kayak anglers attempting to operate a commercial fishing kayak pedal drive of the above mentioned types.
The rotation of the paddle wheels on the boat’s sides somehow compensates the operator for the initial loss of stability resulting from raising their feet in the air. In this regard, this seemingly clumsy setup is not as bad as the pedal drives featuring in fishing kayaks.
As far as shallow water mobility is concerned , this setup seems to be less inadequate than the above mentioned kayak pedal drives, and it looks like removing entangled seaweed from its blades is not complicated as it is with those kayak pedal drives.
Obviously, the paddle wheels add unwanted weight to the boat, and the recumbent position is not ideal for pedaling, as explained in the article mentioned in the first section.
In Fishability terms, the paddle wheels are similar to outriggers, in the sense that they can easily snag your fishing lines.

Having said that, if the reader feels like trying to implement such concept in their canoe, kayak or W kayak, they may want to consider separating the rotation of the two paddle wheels, namely have each leg rotate the paddle wheel on its own side – independently from what the other leg is doing. Such version would solve the steering problem created by relying on one’s legs for propulsion rather than on a paddle, eliminate the need to operate a unwanted rudder, and add both to the tracking and steering capabilities of the boat.

The Fishing Kayak Rudder – How Bad Is It, Really?

It’s really bad!

Rudders have become a necessity in modern SOT, sit-in, and hybrid fishing kayaks, simply because most of these kayaks have become so wide and hard to paddle (I.E. ‘barges’) that they lost the ability to track properly, which is and essential requirement from any boat.

Kayak manufacturers have constantly increased the width of the fishing kayaks they offer, as a response to the demand for more stability. But this change comes at a price of a decrease in speed, control, and tracking capability that’s often coupled with lackluster performance in maneuverability.

In comparison, no W-kayak paddler or angler has ever felt the need for a rudder for paddling. This is a particularly interesting fact, considering the W-kayak is shorter than most kayaks out there, and considering the fact it’s used for a multitude of applications in a wide range of aquatic environments, including long trips in the ocean, big lakes and wide rivers, where a kayak is required to perform well in tracking terms.

What’s wrong with rudders?

Well, to begin with, they cost extra money, and better rudders are very expensive.

More importantly, they slow down your kayak by 10% in average, according to serious speed research performed on kayaks in tow-tanks.

And most importantly, rudders are  often cumbersome and difficult to handle. Handling them requires your attention and the use of one of your hands, or of both your feet, and that’s when there are other things you’d like to do when you’re in your kayak, such as paddling or fishing, rather than steering.

On top of these issues, and that’s really too bad for paddlers and fishermen who go in shallow water, rudders tend to get stuck in the bottom, bump into rocks or branches down there, and get entangled in sea weed, so they limit your range of paddling and fishing in areas that are considered promising for both these activities.

Besides, like any mechanical device, rudder systems can break, and their cables can get jammed or torn.  If such a problem occurs, it can become anywhere between unpleasant and hazardous, especially if you find yourself far from shore, and if weather is getting nasty, the wind is picking up, it’s getting dark, the tide is getting strong etc.  -Sounds too scary? Remember rule number one in kayaking is ‘Stuff Happens’… and it can happen to you!

In sum, rudders are yet another necessary evil imposed on the sit-in, hybrid and SOT kayak anglers, while W-kayakers and kayak anglers should be thankful they need neither purchase nor use such awkward devices.

More about kayak speed >>

Front Motor and Front Steering In Motorized Fishing Kayaks

When rigging your W fishing kayak with an electric trolling motor, you face the choice of attaching the motor in the front of the kayak, in the rear, or on the side – next to you.
Each of these locations offers certain advantages, and presents disadvantages as well.

The motor’s location can affect safety, stability, speed, steering, tracking, entry and exit, reentering, as well as fishability, since the location of the motor and steering handle could limit your range of motion when casting baits and lures, reeling in the fish, and landing them. This is why you’d better study whatever information is available on these subjects, and see what configuration best fits your personal transportation and fishing requirements.

Front Motor and Steering

Having the motor in the front can produce a fun, ‘scooter’ feel, as you can see in this video of Dan Carroll’s motorized W300 – one of the first projects in this field:

More info about this W300 kayak outfitted with with an electric trolling motor >

Having the electric motor in the front can produce a ‘chopper’ motorcycle effect as well, as Richard Dion’s motorized W500 has:

fishing kayak, New Hampshire


This ‘road bike’ look and feel is partly due to the lowered seat and generous cushioning.
See more about this motorized offshore fishing kayak >

It’s possible to install the motor in the front and steer by means other than a handle.
In any case, attaching the motor in the front of the kayak can create a safety issue when navigating in shallow water, as the motor won’t bounce up if it hits bottom, or a submerged obstacle. In such case, the motor could be damaged, as well as its mount, and even the kayak itself.
As far as steering is concerned, the driver being located away from the motor limits their effective range of turning. This is not necessarily a problem, unless you want to make sharp turns, or in case you need to navigate through fasts streams and turbulent waters.

More info about motorizing your fishing kayak >

Steering A Motorized Fishing Kayak With Cables

John Zoltner, an engineer and kayak fisherman from upstate New York, outfitted his W500 fishing kayak with an electric trolling motor system (Read More >)


Using his knowledge of prior art in this field, he created a remote steering system using cables. And finally, he improved upon it:

-“I’ve also been fine-tuning my trolling motor concept: I crossed the cables between the TM cross shaft and where it enters the yak. What this does is give me steering that responds directly to the direction I push the control handle. I no longer have to reverse my direction logic when I choose to turn in either direction. I also wasn’t satisfied with my TM crank pulley, so I ripped it out and now have a horizontal reel crank that works much better. .. I also want to try adding a rudder directly to the body of the trolling motor…”

This is a great example that shows how design processes are never final – There is always something new to learn, something new to test, and something that you don’t like  🙂
It’s possible to find many examples for this in reviews of fishing kayaks contributed by anglers.