A kayak rudder has two main purposes. The most important function of the two may surprise you. Most people that are new to kayaking think that a rudder is used for steering a kayak like it is on a boat but it has a different main purpose.
A kayak rudder is used to keep the kayak stable while you are paddling it. If you are an experienced kayaker than you should be familiar with the term “weather cocking”. Weather cocking is used to describe the kayaks natural impulse to turn with the wind.
This turning with the wind can be very frustrating when you have your eye on another direction. It can be an uphill battle to paddle against the pull of the weather cocking.
The rudders primary purpose is to help you keep the kayak on course but it can also be a helpful steering tool. The more control you have in your kayak the better experience you will have. It is especially important for someone that is new to kayaking to have a rudder on board to help prevent drifting.
Rudders are stored on top of the deck until you are ready to flip them down. They are controlled by your foot pedals which of course takes a little getting used to. Many models of kayaks come complete with a rudder mount even when the kayak is not equipped with a rudder.
When Do You Need a Kayak Rudder
There are some situations where having a rudder not only comes in handy but is an essential safety measure. If you are paddling on the coast of an open body of water, you will need a rudder of risk being swept out in high winds. If you are new to paddling a kayak a rudder can literally keep you safe.
If you are paddling in windy areas than you will need a rudder. The reason that you wind up weathercocking in wind is twofold.
You have the force of the wind that is pushing you AND you have the force of the water that is slapping on the bow of the kayak. The force of the water on your bow when you are headed straight creates a wake and the wind can easily take advantage of the situation and give you a nice big shove in a direction you do not want to go.
Those two forces combined can be very difficult to navigate on your own. Even an experienced kayaker would find it challenging to navigate the force of the wind combined with the will of the water.
Since the rudders are portable and can fold easily on to the mount every kayak, except the ones that travel in shallow waters on enclosed bodies should be outfitted with one. It is nice to have when you need it and when you don’t you simply flip it up out of the way. It is an easy safety solution.
The Rudder of Skeg Debate
There is a long boring debate about whether to choose a rudder or a skeg on a sea kayak. The choice is pretty clear that a rudder offers more mobility assistance than a skeg does.
A skeg is mounted under the kayak and is really only in place to ensure that the kayak stays straight. It does not move from left to right so it does not assist at all in steering.
As a matter of fact, if you need to steer to the left or to the right you have to take the skeg out of the water, which can be a bit of a hassle.
A rudder of course does move from left to right when being controlled so it does assist with steering. They cost about the same so that is not really part of the debate.
The other factor when you are choosing to consider is that rudders sit nicely in their mounts until you need them. Skegs are stored in the boat which takes up precious interior space.
Some people, given the drawbacks, still prefer the skeg over the rudder. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. If you are on the fence and reading all of the opinions out there go with the rudder you will be glad you did.
Let’s put it this way the diehard skeg fans already have one mounted on their kayak and they either bought it that way or went with the skeg because someone told them too. No one ever has a rudder and decides to dump the rudder for a skeg.
The rudder just gives you more options. There are those purists though that enjoy doing battle in their kayak that will stick up for the skeg every chance they can.
If you are experienced and like the battle than maybe the skeg is right for you but if you are not go with the rudder.
How to Use a Rudder on a Kayak
The rudder is controlled by the foot pedals as mentioned earlier. Which means that you will have to get used to moving your feet a certain way to move the rudder in a certain direction. Typically, the rudder is stored on top of the kayak in its mount.
There will likely be either a cable or a rope that you pull to dislodge the rudder into the water, you will use the same cable or rope to retrieve it when you are done.
The cable or rope may have a small bar or knot that you will have to pull to dislodge the rudder as well. It all depends on how the rudder is rigged to the kayak.
The control is fairly simple. If you want to use the rudder to help you steer to the left, simply depress the foot peg with your left foot. If you want to go to your right depress the foot peg with your right foot.
The only issue in taking control of the rudder is that you are also trying to paddle so you have to do a sort of dance to get the full function of the rudder.
It is a very simple process that has a very short learning curve. Once you are in shallow water, out of the wind or in an area that is grassy you can pull the rudder back out of the water.
Where to Get a Rudder
Many kayaks today are sold with optional rudders already mounted but if you want to retro fit your yak to add a rudder there are plenty of good choices that will do the job nicely.
Here are some good options:
Crack of Dawn Kayak Rudder with Mounting Kit
This complete rudder kit has a mount that you can use if your kayak does not have one already on it. This model fits most major kayak brands. It is a universal rudder that comes complete with everything you need including foot pedals.
Harmony Rudder Kit Review
This model is made for all Wilderness and Perception kayaks that are rudder ready. The kit includes everything that you will need to mount this rudder.
Ocean Kayak Rudder Kit Review
This model will fit several different brands of kayaks. It is also a complete kit that comes ready to mount in a few easy steps.
These three options are the best options but they are a bit pricey. You do pay for what you get and if you want to have a reliable rudder you are going to have to make a pretty decent investment.
They all come in a fair price for the type of quality that you get. They all also come with a warranty of 1 year or more. They are all ready to be outfitted on your kayak.
The question may still be looming for you as to whether you really need a rudder or not. The bottom line is, that a rudder is a great help in certain situations. It is never a hindrance because it can easily be pulled out of the water and set in its mount when not needed.
It is one of those things that you never realize you need until you REALLY need it and wish you had it.
Consider a rudder like an additional safety feature. It is great for anglers that want to go off the beaten path a bit but that would like to make it back to shore without a full work out after fishing or day. It is great for inexperienced paddlers that would feel a little more secure knowing that they had a little extra help with the steering if they need it.
It is also great if you want to be able to steer to follow the fish without having to grab the paddles. Overall it is really a small price to pay to get more enjoyment out of your kayak and to feel more comfortable using it.