Are you new to kayaking? There’s plenty of room for error when you’re learning the ropes. Finding your paddling rhythm is challenging at first, and there are going to be times when you end up in the water when you least expect it.
It is important to learn how to roll and right the kayak in a capsize, but it’s not always necessary outside of whitewater applications. So, Unless you’re planning on taking up creekboating or playboating, you won’t have to worry about how to roll out of a capsize.
However, if you’re into fishing and recreational kayaking, you need to know how to stabilize the kayak to provide a platform for paddling, fishing, and cruising. Without understanding the dynamics of how kayaks perform on the water and how to manage those changing conditions, you’re going to have a hard time tracking the boat, turning, and paddling.
This guide unpacks everything you need to know about kayak stability. We’ll talk about why it matters and strategies to improve it.
Understanding Primary and Secondary Stability
The primary stability of the kayak refers to how it sits on the water. However, beginners need to understand that good primary stability doesn’t equate to better overall stability for your kayaking experience. Recreational kayaks rely on extra primary stability to reduce the chance of paddlers capsizing the boat.
Secondary stability refers to how stable the kayak is when tipping to the side. Does it roll over and capsize or right itself? The kayak shouldn’t feel like it’s going to top over when you lean to the side. Extra secondary stability equates to better tracking of the kayak in currents and a more responsive feel in challenging environments.
Sit-In or Sit-On Kayaks – Which Is More Stable?
Both kayak designs come with benefits and disadvantages for riders. The sit-on models might have a higher center of gravity for the riding position, but they make up for it with a wider kayak design. Sit-in kayaks have a lower center of gravity, but they often have a slimline body to improve glide and speed.
The slimmer the kayak’s body, the less stability it offers. The hull design, center of gravity, and many other factors play into kayak stability on the water. Let’s unpack some of these factors in detail.
Kayak Width, Length, and Volume
The wider the kayak, the more surface area covered by the hull, adding to stability. However, it’s important to note that width, volume, and length all play a role in stability.
For instance, a playboat has a short length but plenty of width to it. So, you would assume that it has stability. However, that’s incorrect. The playboat s one of the least stable options in the kayaking range. Playboats are short, under eight feet in length, and wide, but they have deep hulls and loads of volume. As a result, the boat is easy to tip from side to side.
That’s beneficial for playboaters because they like plunging into holes and strainers and performing extreme stunts. However, it’s a terrible design for long-distance paddling. The short length, bulky width, and volume mean that the boat tracks terribly, And you’ll be falling from side to side in the waves.
However, length doesn’t always equate to stability either. A long racing kayaking might have a slim body, making it less stable in the water and easy to tip over thanks to the V-shaped hull.
So, the most stable options are wide, flat-hull designs with as much length as possible.
A fishing kayak is a good example. Typically, these models feature a wide beam around 34″ + and a length between nine to 14-feet. They feature flat bottoms to help you get into the shallows and fish the flats. This design combination results in a very stable platform, even though you have a sit-on rider position.
However, if we change that same design dynamic to replace the flat-bottom hull with a V-shaped design, the stability declines, and we find that the boat is easier to tip to the side, increasing the capsizing risk.
Volume is an indicator of stability and buoyancy in the kayak. It refers to the overall displacement of the kayak in the water. The more displacement, the more buoyancy offered by the kayak. Playboats and creekboats have lots of volume in a short length. As a result, they are highly buoyant and easy to submerge and resurface.
Racing kayaks are much longer and thinner. However, they might have the same volume as creekboats, even though they seem larger.
The buoyancy of the kayak refers to how it floats on the water. The more buoyant the boat, the higher it sits in the water, and the more stability offered to the rider. While buoyancy might provide better overall stability, it increases the center of gravity in the riding position.
Inflatables offer the highest level of buoyancy in kayak designs. However, they still maintain some capsize risk due to the higher COG.
Centre of Gravity
The center of gravity (COG) plays a role in the kayak’s stability. Imagine if you’re sitting on the bottom rung of a ladder. You have a stable position, and the ladder can’t fall over. However, if you move to the top rung, the ladder is top-heavy, and a slight bump could send you falling to the ground.
It’s the same with kayak design. Sit-on kayaks have a higher COG than sit-in models. As a result, you would assume that sit-in models are more stable. However, that’s not the case. The hull design plays into the stability components of a low COG. You could have a low COG combined with a deep V-shaped hull.
The instability of the V-shaped hull offsets the stability offered by the sit-in design. As a result, you experience a reduction in stability. In contrast, if you had the same design with a flat-bottom hull, you would have a kayak with superior stability.
So, the hull design plays a significant role in the secondary stability of the boat. A flat-bottomed hull found on fishing and camping kayaks gives the best stability, despite the higher COG in the riding position.
Hull design might seem confusing. Stability can vary depending on the combination of design factors used in each model. Hulls come in four shapes. Let’s examine each of their characteristics.
The V-shaped hull sits deeper in the water. The “Vee” helps the bow cut through choppy water, limiting the impact on the glide and movement of the kayak.
It’s the fastest hull design, featuring in racing kayak hulls used in offshore events. You get excellent tracking and great secondary stability, making it ideal for touring and racing models.
We’ve already discussed the design dynamics of the flat-bottomed hull. To sum up, you get better overall stability and prevention from capsizing but with reduced performance and maneuverability.
Due to its low draft, the flat-bottomed hull doesn’t track well, but it can reach shallow areas where other hull designs can’t go.
Rounded designs belong to the category of displacement hulls. You get better secondary stability, but the shape also provides speed and maneuverability in the kayak.
It’s a good middle-ground between a flat-bottom and V-shaped hull. However, the tracking isn’t very good with rounded hull designs.
The pontoon hull usually features in the design of inflatables, like “duckies.” Duckies are whitewater rafts with air pontoons running the length and bow of the boat.
They feature design and construction with durable materials to make the pontoons resistant to puncture risks from submerged objects.
They usually have a V-shaped plastic hull with a shallow Vee, allowing for protection from rocky bottoms while improving the boats tracking and maneuverability.
Understanding Rocker Profile and Chine
If you face the kayak from the side when it’s on land, the boat’s rocker refers to the curvature from bow to stern. The more it looks like a banana, the more rocker in the hull design.
Rocker adds maneuverability to the boat but reduces stability. The kayak will fit better in the pocket of a wave, which is why playboats and creekboats usually have lots of rocker. The less rocker and straighter the hull, the more stable the kayak.
Chines refer to the sidewalls of the kayak. A well-defined edge in the hull is a “hard” chine and contributes to stability and control. A smooth transition from the sides to the hull is a “soft” chine, allowing edging of the kayak at any angle.
Tips for Improving Kayak Stability
Kayaks will always have some level of instability to them. However, there are hacks to help you improve stability on the water. Choosing the right kayak helps a lot with learning the ropes of the sport. Keep these tips in mind when buying your first kayak.
- Match your kayak to what you want to do in the water.
- Choose the right kayak to match your paddling experience and fitness.
- Match the right length and width to your chosen activity.
- Choose the right kayak to match your weight capacity.
Newbies to kayaking that have issues with stability on the water don’t have to give up. You can purchase “outriggers” for your kayak from online retailers. Outriggers play the same roles as training wheels on a bicycle.
They attach to the kayak sides, adding more surface area to the boat. The result is better stability on the water but a reduction in maneuverability and handling. Outriggers also improve the kayak’s buoyancy, but they don’t affect the riding height.
Distribute the weight properly when packing your kayak. Don’t make it too heavy in the front of the rear, or you’ll increase capsize risk. Keep the heavier items towards the center and lighter gear in the stern and bow.
Keeping a low center of gravity in the kayak helps to improve stability. The closer your seating position is to the waterline, the more stability in the kayak when paddling.
Some kayaks with a higher COG may benefit from bringing a ballast on board to add more weight to the hull, sinking it deeper in the water. This strategy increases stability but reduces maneuverability. Adding eight to 12-lbs of ballast to the hull makes a huge difference in improving stability.
What Is the Most Stable Kayak Design for a Beginner?
If you’re a beginner, we recommend investing in an inflatable kayak. An inflatable will feature a flat-bottom design, and you get more buoyancy from the kayak, thanks to it sitting higher in the water.
Inflatables give you the best compromise of speed and performance. However, recreational inflatables are not suitable for use in the open ocean or whitewater conditions.
Recreational inflatables don’t offer you the same level of high-performance as hard-shell fiberglass and carbon fiber designs. However, you get a fun, stable ride suitable for a few hours out on the lake or drifting down a slow-moving river.
Improving Kayak Stability – Key Takeaways
Understanding kayak stability requires you to know the factors influencing kayak design across all categories. Fishing kayaks create a very different user experience than racing kayaks. You’ll need to know what you want to do out on the water and match your needs to the right kayaking model.
When assessing stability in any kayak, remember to look for the following design features.
- The degree of primary and secondary stability and the kayak’s initial stability and steadiness on the lake or river.
- The shape of the kayak hull and design elements like rocker and chines.
- The length-to-beam ratio of the kayak.
- Center of gravity in the riding position.
- Your skill level.
- Whether you want a hard-shell model or an inflatable.
- Your level of experience and intended use.
These factors influence which kayak is the right choice for your specific needs out on the water. Consider going with an inflatable model for your first kayak if you’re a beginner. Inflatables offer you the best stability, and they come in a range of purpose-built designs for fishing and other flat water applications.