Traditional kayaks do not have a rudder, but on modern kayaks, it is a common feature. The decision about whether you need a rudder on your kayak or not will involve investigating the advantages of a rudder on a kayak and what possible drawbacks it may have. But is a rudder a necessity for a fishing kayak?

You do not need a rudder on a fishing kayak since you can steer the kayak by means of strokes with the paddle. While a rudder is not a necessity on a kayak, it does make it easier to control the direction of the kayak, especially when you are faced with windy conditions on the water.

Some fishing kayaks come with rudders built-in, while with some, a rudder can be added as an accessory, and with others still, a rudder is not an option due to the design of the kayak. A kayak can be steered without a rudder but having the option to use a rudder or have one fitted to your kayak is an option that you should consider.

Why Is A Rudder Not Necessary On A Kayak?

A kayak is a relatively short boat that easily pivots around the central point where the paddler sits. You can also easily reach both the front of the kayak and the back with the paddle.

A rudder is not essential on a kayak because you can easily direct the nose or stern of the kayak with paddle strokes combined with movements of your hips. Initiating a paddle stroke close to the front of the kayak will cause the bow of the kayak to turn sharply in the opposite direction.

This means that it is quite easy to direct the kayak by the placement of your paddle strokes and the power that you put into each stroke. Swiveling your hips to emphasize the paddle stroke will dramatically change the direction of the bow of the kayak.

To paddle in a straight line, your paddle strokes would be more parallel to the side of the kayak, and there would be less movement from your hips, other than to make minor corrections to the direction.

Just because a rudder is not an essential piece of equipment to get direction in your kayak does not mean that you will not benefit from having a rudder on your kayak.

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Why Is A Rudder Useful On A Kayak?

So if a kayak can be steered without the use of a rudder, why would you want to have a rudder on your kayak? What benefit would a rudder offer the kayaker that they cannot achieve without a rudder?

A rudder on a kayak is especially useful if you are paddling in windy, strong current conditions. The rudder makes it easier to tack into the wind without the wind pushing you to one side, causing drift. Steering with a rudder makes the paddling easier since you only concentrate on moving forward.

A rudder installed on a kayak is usually controlled by your feet while you use your arms to paddle. Using the rudder to direct the kayak means you will need to use less power from your arms to keep the kayak pointed in the right direction.

This requires less effort from your arms and makes paddling the kayak less effort since your paddle strokes are only focused on the forward propulsion of the vessel.

What Are The Disadvantages Of A Rudder On A Kayak?

There s no doubt that having a rudder on your kayak has significant advantages, but what is the trade-off in the way of disadvantages that a rudder brings to a kayak?

  • Kayak rudders can fail. A rudder on a kayak is introducing another mechanical device that has the potential to fail and cause you grief.
  • Additional maintenance on the kayak rudder. Rudders on a kayak, along with the associated mechanism to turn the rudder in different directions, will add to the maintenance that is required on the kayak. The cables and pulleys can get jammed up with vegetation, which needs to be cleared away, and the moving parts all need to be maintained and lubricated.
  • Rudders can be a problem in shallow water. If you are traversing shallow water to get to deeper fishing pools, the rudder can catch on the bottom or on rocks in the water. This can damage the rudder and the mechanism unless your rudder is the hinged type that can flip up.
  • Rudders can increase drag on the kayak. If you use the rudder pedals too aggressively or you are new to using the rudder, you can apply too much rudder, which increases the drag and makes the kayak more difficult to move forward.
Kayak fishing at night, rudder on fishing kayak

Other Options For Steering Your Fishing Kayak

Fishing kayaks are designed to cater to many different fishing water environments, as well as the needs and preferences of the angler.

As a result, many fishing kayaks are built so that they are versatile and can be “accessorized” according to your needs, the type of fishing you do, and the conditions you normally fish in.

You can often specify these accessories for your kayak when you order it, and the supplier will make adjustments according to your selected options and rig your kayak according to your specifications.

If you regularly fish in waters that have strong currents and strong winds, then a rudder is definitely a recommended option for your kayak. However, this is not the only alternative to steering your kayak.

Many kayak suppliers offer an optional pedal system for your kayak. This is essentially a single-man-powered engine. It consists of a pedal mechanism linked to a small propeller which is lowered into the water via a slot in the bottom of the kayak.

As you pedal, the mechanism drives the small propeller under the kayak. This gives you forward motion, and you can change the direction of the propeller by means of a lever so that you can use the propeller to change direction at the same time.

Some pedal systems require a rudder that compliments the pedal system and provides the direction for the kayak. Some of these rudders are hand-controlled, but others can be controlled with your legs.

This is an extremely useful feature to have as a fisherman, as it frees up your hands to do what you are on the water for; fishing! You can move the kayak around solely with your legs and feet while you are fishing or even fighting a fish that you have hooked into.

The disadvantage of these systems is that they can be a problem in shallow water, rocky waters, or lots of weeds. Fortunately, most of the systems can be raised up out of the water if it is too shallow or there are many obstacles. You will then be back in the same boat, so to speak, of having to steer your kayak with your paddle.

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It is certainly not a necessity to have a rudder on your fishing kayak, but the addition of a rudder does give you some advantages.

It makes paddling easier to use a rudder to provide direction, it is easier for beginners to use a rudder system than trying to steer with paddles, and it allows you to navigate windy and strong current situations much easier.

The decision to opt for a rudder or not will largely depend on the type of waters you normally fish and whether you find that the advantages of a rudder outweigh the disadvantages for your situation.


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