Buying a Kayak – Why hull design and stability matter

Buying a kayak can be a daunting experience because there is a lot to think about, especially if you haven’t bought one previously. Factors such as weight rating, kayak weight, width, and length are all important but may seem a little hard to get your head around.

One of the most critical factors in picking the kayak that is right for you is stability.

Stability, as the name implies, refers to how stable your kayak will be on the water. This is important to consider because more than anything else this dictates the possibility that you and all your gear end up upside down and in the water. Not only can this have serious safety implications – you could get knocked out – it can also be seriously expensive depending on whether you lose gear and how much gear you lose. Many fishos also don’t want to end up in the drink where the biteys live!

There are a variety of related factors that all contribute to kayak stability. Width and length are two of these as they increase or decrease the surface area of the kayak that is in contact with the water. If the kayak has a motor or pedal drive this can help too as these provide extra weight in the water. The shape of the hull is also important and there are four general styles each with their own properties for stability.

Hull Design Types

Round Bottom

Round bottom kayaks displace a lot of water and may tend to be narrow. These are designed this way to allow them to “cut through” the water better and this shape may be more common in kayaks designed to go offshore.

V-Bottom

V bottom kayaks provide excellent tracking (the ability of the kayak to maintain a straight line in the water) because the hull line in the water helps keep the kayak straight.

Flat Hulls

Flat hulls are considered very stable and ride on top of the water more. Flat hull kayaks are often longer and wider which give you really nice contact with the water.

Pontoon

The last type are called pontoon or multi hulls. While these kayaks tend to be slower because they have a higher draft coefficient (the resistance of the hull against the water), they tend to be among the most stable. Old Town and 3 Waters kayaks tend to use this style of hull.

Types of stability

 

The first is known as primary stability which is the stability of the kayak on flat water. You really wouldn’t want to buy a kayak that can’t stay upright on flat water!

The second is known as secondary stability which is the ability of the kayak to lean or roll in swell and rough water up to its capsize threshold. The capsize threshold is the degree of lean or tilt past which the kayak will flip.

When kayaks are designed the maker may include chines in the hull. These are angles on the line where the side meets the bottom of the kayak. Sharp or hard chines can increase secondary stability as they allow the kayak to lean more before reaching the capsize threshold.
Another significant influence on stability is you!

If you are tall, weigh a lot, or carry too much gear for the weight rating of the kayak you may be more inclined to tip your kayak over. But there are some things you can do to prevent this from happening.

Make sure that the combined weight of yourself and your gear is well within the weight rating of the kayak. There would be no sense in buying a 150kg rated kayak and loading it up with 150kg – or more – of gear. Too much gear on board will make the kayak top heavy increasing your chance of going past the capsize threshold.
Don’t lean past the gunwales which are the upper edges of the side of the kayak.

Don’t go out in dangerous conditions. Always make sure you keep an eye on the weather reports and never go out in conditions that exceed the kayak’s stability or your skill to handle it in those conditions. And don’t be fooled into thinking dams and non-tidal fresh water are safer because there is no current. With the right (or wrong) conditions fresh water systems can be just as dangerous as salt water systems where strong winds create large swells.

A big part of kayak fishing is sight casting. This often requires standing up to get a better angle or perspective on the water you plan on casting into. It is always a good idea to take your new bare kayak out a couple of times in calm waters close to shore to practice standing, sitting, and leaning. Get a feel for how the kayak handles leaning and standing. You might also try simulating a load and seeing how this influences the stability of the kayak. Practice when it doesn’t matter so you are prepared when it does!

Talk to other people who already own and use their kayaks, especially if you know someone who has one you are considering buying. They might even let you try it out!

We hope this guide has answered some of your questions and taken some of the mystery out of buying your first kayak. Enjoy the experience, there are few others like it!

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