What a touring kayak should
be: For a new design, some of the basic factors that
need to be considered are: the intended usage, the size of the paddler,
the cargo capacity required, tracking, stability, length, width, volume,
fit, aesthetics, cost, marketing potential, material to be used for
its construction. When all these factors are considered, one can begin
to understand the compromises involved in a design. There are many ways
to achieve a particular result but the largest single factor remains
the paddler. How to evaluate and choose a kayak for yourself is a difficult
but rewarding experience.
If you are new to paddling, the tendency is to choose
a kayak that is larger and more accommodating (stable) than what you
might like later, as the learning curve to enjoying a touring kayak
is quite short. Take a course to get yourself pointed in the right direction.
You will probably find that there is more to learn than you thought,
but the sport of kayak touring can be as easy or as difficult as you
want to make it. I would also recommend renting or borrowing several
different kayaks so you can see what they are really like in a variety
Intended Usage: How is
the kayak to be used: is it for day paddling, weekend trips or extended
expeditions? Will you be fishing or using the kayak for photography,
bird watching, etc.? Does it need to be multipurpose or can it be specialized
for your intended usage? Will you be the only person using the kayak?
Will it be a single or a double kayak?
Length: The length of
the waterline is one of the major the factors governing the potential
speed of the kayak. All touring kayaks are displacement hulls and the
maximum displacement speed of the kayak is approximately 1.34 times
the square root of the waterline length in feet. For example, the maximum
displacement speed of the 16-foot kayak is 5.36 knots and that of a
25-foot waterline length is 6.7 knots. Interestingly enough, the same
calculation for a kayak with a waterline length of only 14 feet is 5.01
knots. Also, it should be noted that most touring kayak paddlers only
travel at about half or two thirds of displacement speed as it takes
a lot of effort to get near the displacement speed that is theoretically
possible. An important distinction must be made between the overall
length of the kayak and the actual waterline length. For instance our
Telkwa is 18' 3" long (5.60 m), while its waterline length is around
16' 5" (5.00 m). Most ocean touring kayaks have waterline lengths
between 12 (3.65 m) and 18 feet (5.49 m). The most practical waterline
length for touring kayaks is between 15 (4.57 m) and 16 feet (4.88 m).
Beam: Beam is the widest
measurement of the kayak. The wider a kayak is the more stable it is.
There are practical limits on how wide and narrow a kayak can be. If
the beam is very extreme it is hard to reach over the kayak to paddle
comfortably, and if it is too narrow the kayak could be very hard to
keep upright. As kayaks become beamier they have more area in the water,
which will increase surface drag. Once again, as with length, the actual
measurement of the beam of the kayak is almost always different from
its waterline beam measurement.
Cross-sectional shape: There
are two basic cross sectional shapes for kayaks with many variations
possible between them. There are very round shapes (soft chined), and
very square shapes (hard chined). Simply speaking, how they influence
the feel of a kayak is that the hard chined shapes have more initial
stability than the soft chined shapes, whose rounder shapes have a bit
less surface area to reduce surface drag. The soft chined shapes tend
to be most effective in 22-23 inch or wider touring kayaks or in narrower
performance kayaks where a highly skilled paddler can make use of the
speed potential/stability compromise. For touring kayaks under 22"
the hard chined hulls seem useful in adding a bit more stability making
their use possible as touring kayaks.
Tracking and Rocker: Rocker
is the amount the ends of the hull are curved upward in relation to
the centre of the hull. Virtually all ocean touring kayaks have some
rocker. A bit of rocker seems necessary to improve the speed potential
of kayaks. As the amount of rocker increases, kayaks become easier to
turn, but not all kayaks with the same amount of rocker react the same.
In some kayaks the middle of the kayak is straight and just the ends
curve up while in others the rocker is continuous; or, in some there
is very little rocker in one end and a lot in the other. Some of these
different options are difficult to evaluate on flat water and only become
pronounced in wavy conditions. Rocker can also be increased by leaning
the kayak over. If you can put the kayak on edge at 90 degrees you will
have a maximum rocker available. This may not apply to some whitewater
kayaks but it is true of most others. As you lean over, the rocker increases
making it easier to spin the kayak as the ends come free of the water.
This technique can be used to great effect on the top of a wave to make
sharp turns. The kayak can also be steered by just leaning the boat.
This uses the rocker and change in the underwater shape of the hull
to carve a slight arc in the opposite direction of the lean. Kayaks
that track excessively well may be very hard to handle in rough conditions
where this can prevent one from turning back to the direction one wants
to go in. Equally true is the case of too much rocker, where the direction
is hard to control, making progress in a straight line difficult. An
extreme case of this would be a shorter whitewater kayak that is very
manoeuvrable but slow in rough conditions. The effect of rocker can
be altered by the addition of a rudder or skeg.
Is the amount of actual area of the hull that is in contact with
the water. To minimize surface area, you can make the hull narrower
or rounder. As this is carried to the extreme, the kayak can become
too narrow to sit in or too unstable to paddle.
Volume: As kayaks are
designed in a bewildering number of sizes, lengths, widths and shapes
the most useful measure when comparing them is to look at their total
volumes. Total volume is a fairly accurate indicator of a kayak's gear
carrying capacity but how the volume is distributed can have quite an
influence on the storage volume available. For instance, a kayak with
fine ends and a high amount of volume in the cockpit area would have
less storage capacity than a boat with a more equal volume distribution.
Storage can also be better in kayaks that have more volume in the ends
as opposed to long skinny ends as it is easier to pack more in the bigger
Fit: As all people are
different, so each person will want a slightly different fit in their
kayak. How a kayak fits you will determine how well you can control
your kayak. You should be able to lock yourself into your kayak with
your feet, knees/thighs and hips. For bracing and rolling it is important
that you not slide around in the kayak but are not crammed in so tight
that it is uncomfortable. For additional comfort it helps to have an
adjustable backrest/brace. Most kayaks can be custom outfitted; while
it is possible to make it tighter by gluing in more foam pads it is
very difficult to make a fit larger. I would highly recommend that you
spend bit of time to custom fit your kayak; you can end up spending
a fair length of time in it so why not be comfortable.
We have seen a major change in how manufacturers market their kayaks.
The industry has now become large enough to support some fairly large
companies. As a result, three companies now control about 80% of the
kayak production in North America and at times spend more effort creating
marketing excitement and hype to sell product than in building better
kayaks. As a designer and also as a manufacturer, I find the change
in the atmosphere in the industry profound and somewhat disquieting.
What was once an industry where there were not too many secrets, where
most participants got along, has become a place where the big guys spend
their time fighting for market share. Interestingly, most of the small
independent players still get along well and enjoy our involvement.