Whether your kayak is an inflatable kayak or a hard-shell kayak it will likely have the option for either a rudder or a skeg. A rudder is used for steering but a skeg is simply used to help keep your kayak straight with minimal effort.
There are other specifics that are also important to know so that you get the optimum performance from your kayak. Below we will describe important facts to know about using a kayak skeg.
Using a Kayak Skeg
The most important reason to use a skeg is to keep your kayak on track with hopefully less effort from you. It can make the kayak much easier to handle and much calmer for paddling. The skeg is most useful when kayaking in wind and/or waves… especially when paddling with the wind while the waves are coming from the side. If there is no wind or waves then your kayak will not likely have any trouble keeping straight and the skeg does very little.
When do you need to use the skeg?
- Different models of kayaks will be affected differently from the wind and from waves. Some models can handle weather conditions much better while others will absolutely need the skeg to keep the kayak straight. With a little research on your kayak you will be able to know fairly quickly how well it handles the elements. Typically inflatable kayaks will always need a skeg in wind.
- The need of a skeg can also have to do with how your kayak is loaded. For example if the stern of your kayak is being more affected by the wind than the bow, by rearranging the load of the kayak so that it is heavier in the stern it will become more equal to the bow and therefore allow your kayak to be less affected by the wind even without a skeg.
Understanding how and why your Kayak is Reacting to the Elements
If the wind is turning your kayak while you are moving forward with speed then it is because the stern of your kayak is moving sideways as compared to the bow. From where you are sitting it will seem as though your kayak is turning towards the wind (i.e. the problem will seem to be with the bow).
However in reality the problem is that the stern is skidding in the water in the same direction of the wind much more so than the bow. Therefore you need to use your skeg to stop the skidding from the stern.
How the loading of your kayak will affect the kayaks course…
How you load your kayak will directly affect how it maneuvers in the wind and waves as well as how effective your skeg will be.
- If you have loaded your kayak so that the rear of the boat is heavier than the front, then the stern (rear) will have more sideways resistance to the wind. When this happens the bow (front) of your kayak will have less sideways resistance and it will likely point with the wind.
- If you have loaded your kayak so that the front is heavier than the rear then the front will have more sideways resistance to the wind and the rear will have less sideways resistance. Your kayak will react by pointing into the wind.
Ideally if you are dealing with harsh elements you will want your kayak loaded with more weight from the center down… in other words less weight up front.
By using your skeg you can add sideways resistance to the back of your kayak which allows the front to have less resistance and will help you to paddle with the wind as opposed to paddling up wind.
Even if your kayak handles different weather conditions with ease a skeg can still be very useful in guiding your kayak as well as help reduce the amount of effort you must put forth… which is always a good thing.
To learn more about maneuvering your kayak take a look at the beginner paddling techniques that are a “must learn” for all beginner kayakers.