Using A Kayak Rudder 

 

If you’re new to sea or flatwater kayaking, one of the areas you may be unsure about is when and how to deploy the rudder on your kayak.

First let’s dispel the most common misconception about the rudder on a kayak – that it’s used to steer or turn the boat. While it can be useful as an aid in turning, its primary function is actually to help keep the kayak moving in a straight line, or “tracking” as it’s referred to.

Just imaging an airplane without it’s tail section and vertical stabilizer. It would careen wildly from left to right as the wind pushed it from all directions, eventually crashing. The rudder of the airplane gives it stability and keeps it moving in a straight line.

The same principle applies to the rudder of a sea or flatwater kayak as well. As winds and water currents try to turn the kayak in various (and unwanted) directions, the rudder – once deployed – serves to keep the craft moving across the water in a straight line.

But a rudder can also aid in steering the kayak as well. Say a strong current keeps trying to turn your kayak to the left, when you really want to keep paddling to the right. By deploying the rudder on the right side of the boat, this will create more drag on that side, and the kayak will begin turning to the right and you’ll end up paddling in your intended direction.


When to deploy the rudder

When to deploy the kayak’s rudder is open to debate among seasoned paddlers. Strong and experienced paddlers actually rarely need a rudder, as they’ve learned to compensate for changes in currents and strong head or tail winds. And the hulls of sea and touring kayaks are designed to keep them moving in a straight line.

But there are times when strong currents or heavy winds can make it hard to keep a boat tracking in the desired direction. In these instances, a good rudder is one of the best friends you can have when you’re miles out to sea and working as hard as you can to reach your destination. One rule of thumb is that if you find yourself having to paddle almost continuously on one side of the boat just to keep moving in a straight line, it’s a good idea to deploy your rudder.

 

How to deploy your kayak rudder

In most kayaks, the rudder rests on top of the stern of the boat, and is designed so that it can be deployed when needed by the paddler from the cockpit. Some rudders are spring loaded, others are deployed by a nylon cord that runs from the rudder up to the cockpit. Once the cord is pulled, the rudder will flip down into the water at the stern of the kayak. Pulling the cord in the opposite direction retracts the rudder back onto the boat.

 

Steering with a kayak rudder

As mentioned earlier, many times the rudder is deployed in order to keep the kayak tracking in a straight line in heavy currents and cross-winds. But they can also be used for steering purposes. On most kayaks, the rudder is steered via a set of foot
pegs that the paddler operates from the cockpit. Some kayaks use a hand mechanism to accomplish this task.

Pushing on one of the foot pegs, or operating the lever, moves the rudder to one site of the boat, and the boat turns in that same direction. This is useful in counteracting a strong wind or current that is trying to push the kayak in the wrong direction.