A question often asked by people buying their first fishing kayak is “Do I need a rudder?” A good question when presented with the many shapes and sizes of kayak available today. In fact this blog is sparked by that same question being asked of me by Brad Cattin who is just going through the process of finalizing the configuration of his Viking Profish 400 purchase. Brad pictured in these images test paddling the Profish 400 with me at Manly beach using thigh braces as an aid to help with tracking of the unruddered kayak in average conditions, Brads paddling experience is limited to playing around in a 3m SoT kayak.
At nearly an extra $400 dollars it is a fair question to ask, and many times it is relevant to say if money is tight buy it without the rudder and add it later if you think it essential. The logistics of fitting rudders yourself in the garage without the right set up is another reality, can be done but allow a few hours and follow manufacturer’s instructions clearly.
Do you need the rudder?
A few things to consider before making this decision, let’s look at the worst case scenario where you head out for a paddle in calm conditions then get caught out wide, the weather turns on you and are left with no choice but to paddle home in it. This could be wind and chop in your face, to either side of the kayak or from behind, all have equal problems to encounter… my preference for all would obviously be wind and swell to my back, 2nd choice directly head on, least enjoyable is side on to swell and wind.
Your expertise will help decide
Experienced paddlers can track most SoT kayaks without the aid of a rudder using various techniques and perhaps the addition of thigh braces. Experienced or not there are many environments where a rudder is a tool you need, in rough conditions a rudder will act like your power steering meaning you can conserve energy to forward momentum rather than having to expend effort keeping the kayak tracking on course.
The design of the kayak is important
Kayaks that are shorter or with more rocker will have no problems with maneuverability but a rudder will help with directional stability in all conditions. Kayaks with less rocker and longer water line lengths will have less problems tracking in a direct line but a rudder will aid in turning the kayak into the wind and swell.
Do I prefer to have a rudder or no rudder?
Looking at the 2 SoT fishing kayaks I own, Viking Kayaks Profish 400 & Profish Reload. The 400 I do not need a rudder as I can manage it without, it is shorter and responsive to railing and steering paddle strokes. This is also my close inshore option so I do not have to worry about being caught out wide with no rudder when the weather turn. If this were my only kayak and I planned on going further offshore or to areas where there is a strong current then I would say add the Rudder so you can conserve energy when paddling
For wider longer paddles I use the Reload, this I would not have without a rudder on extended trips, think of it like power steering, would you turn off your power steering? The rudder conserves energy so that every paddle stroke can be focused on forward momentum rather than correction of tracking. I still rail and edge the Reload for maneuverability in tight areas, the rudder working as an assistance.
For both kayaks I use thigh braces as an option for even greater responsiveness, even more so important to use if you have no rudder as they will allow you to be more aggressive with your edging and railing to bring the kayak around to track straight or maneuver in tight conditions. There are times when out wide in my Reload like a recent adventure in Taranaki where rudder and thigh braces combined helped me to keep the kayak tracking straight when I had both a strong 25-30 wind, swells and current driving into my right side for the duration for the “Long” paddle home.
For shorter kayaks with more rocker or maneuverability a rudder is not essential in most cases, however there may come a time when you will need that rudder so think hard about the environment your most going to be paddling in or plan to explore as your experience increases.
Kayaks with longer waterline (straighter kayaks) a rudder is recommended in most cases, assuming you have purchased the longer faster hull to have the ability to go wider and further? If that’s the case then why would you not have your power steering fitted from the beginning 😉
If in doubt give it a crack without the rudder but remember some warranty conditions may state that if you fit the rudder yourself the warranty might not be supported, asses the costs related to fitting the rudder later before jumping to the decision.
Side note: My learning curve
As a side note I recommend learning how to maneuver and track your kayak without a rudder, if the rudder fails you for whatever reason (broken cables are the most common failure) you don’t want to be stuck out wide in adverse conditions not knowing how to turn the kayak into the wind without a rudder. Believe me it happens, I got caught out early in my kayak fishing experience with no rudder and no idea how to turn the kayak into the wind without the fear of capsize.
I needed the assistance of a fellow paddler to bump my kayak around so I was bow on to the wind ready for the hard slog home! Without this assistance I would have had no choice but to paddle with the wind taking me further offshore, to make a long slow and wide turn into the wind (assuming I could achieve it without capsize). I was inexperienced out in conditions I was not prepared for, I was quick to book myself into a course to learn correct paddle techniques soon after! Hope that is of use to you.