Rudders. They can be expensive, look great but what do they do? They are there for turning, aren’t they?
Despite popular belief, a rudder has been installed on a kayak to keep the paddler going in a straight line. One of the most overlooked items on a kayak, the rudder is essential if you fish in areas of moderate to strong breezes and wind which covers everywhere in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales! Most kayak anglers that are relatively new to the sport and have not experienced a day on the water assisted by a rudder will generally assume that they are a fancy extra and not worth the money. I thought the same thing until I tried one for myself.
Most kayaks will paddle great and track very well in flat conditions. When the wind starts to pick up there is little problem posed if the paddler is headed directly into or away from the wind. As soon as the paddler has to travel across the wind is where problems are encountered. As one paddles across the breeze the stern of the kayak catches it. The breeze pushes the back of the kayak off to one side. In a light wind this is nothing to worry about and can be fixed with a corrective stroke on one side. When the wind strengthens is when the real problems begin.
With a stiff breeze pushing the kayak around faster than you can correct it you are never going to make much headway. Covering any sort of meaningful distance becomes a struggle and an enjoyable few hours on the water becomes torturous. This is where a rudder becomes invaluable. Dropping the rudder in a breeze will eliminate the stern of the boat being pushed around in the breeze and will allow the paddler to keep paddling, the need for corrective strokes eliminated. In written and printed word this may not seem like a whole lot but ask any paddler that has experienced the push of a steady breeze turning the stern of the boat, an occurrence known as ‘weather cocking’.
I know of anglers and paddlers that have absolutely hated a kayak they had bought. They said that it was perfect the day that they tried it and it hasn’t felt like that since. When pressed they usually will say that they tested the boat on flat calm, sheltered water. Their only solution is to put the thing up for sale as soon as possible but I have suggested to some to try paddling my kayak through a breeze with the rudder up and then try it with the rudder down. Every one of them noticed the difference immediately and most had rudders fitted to their kayaks and have never looked back since.
When considering a rudder the main thing to take into account is whether or not you really need one. ‘Weather cocking’ does happen but not really in shorter boats; longer boats are the main culprits. I have a couple of kayaks that are 14 feet plus and these are ideal candidates for a rudder. In fact I wouldn’t paddle without one on a boat longer than 14 feet. I have paddled and used 13 foot boats before and some catch the wind, some don’t. A call for a rudder on a 13 foot boat is entirely up to the individual using it. As for shorter boats, I wouldn’t bother. I use an 11foot boat for fishing some local rivers and lakes and I know from experience that kayaks this short will not need a rudder.
Rudder installations are not particularly difficult so those that feel confident in their DIY skills can install their own. Some enterprising individuals are even producing rudders from their sheds. Kayak fishing modifications are only limited by your imagination! If you don’t feel this confident about tackling a rudder system then there are setups available for each manufacturer of kayaks. Usually wired up to the foot pedals, the feet then control the angle that the rudder sits at in the water. Easily deployed and retrieved with a pulley system, everything can be controlled from the seat of your kayak.
If paddling through a strong breeze is more work than you would care for and it is making you think of throwing in the towel and selling the gear, consider the addition of a rudder first. It has the potential to transform your enjoyment of the sport, particularly if you are paddling a longer boat.
Article seen in Sea Angler