Finding the right fit: balance is key
Part Three: Testing your kayak’s stability
Testing your kayak’s stability
This is one in a series of staff writer Graham Jaehnig’s personal experiences as a
In comparing kayaks, introductory models are said to offer more primary stability than touring and sea kayaks. There are two types of stability to consider when choosing your first kayak: primary stability and secondary stability.
Primary stability refers to how sturdy the kayak feels when you are on flat water; if you shift your weight or lean to one direction, how much does the kayak rock and feel like it is going to tip over? If the kayak does not rock excessively from side to side, it has good primary stability.
Some internet sites will explain secondary stability as the kayak’s ability to remain stable in the water when it is tipped on its edge. That requires some explanation, though, because that definition suggests you can tip the kayak on its side and it won’t fill up with water or capsize.
The hull of a kayak is basically the bottom of the boat, extending upward to where it meets the deck, or top of the kayak. The design of the hull determines the stability of the kayak. Hulls can be rounded, flat, pontoon-shaped, or v-shaped, either deep v or shallow v. In addition to the hull, they can have a soft chine or a hard chine. When you read about a kayak’s secondary stability and its ability to remain stable when it is on its edge, the edge referred to is the chine. At the bottom center of your kayak’s hull is either a pronounced or barely noticeable line along the length of the kayak. That is the keel. The curvature of the hull, as it widens upward from the keel to the point at which it meets the deck is where you may or not find a defined, hard bend in the hull. That is a hard chine. On kayaks with a rounded chine, there is no defined line along the side of the hull. Very few introductory level, recreational kayaks have a hard chine. The hulls on these are a gradual, soft curvature, not unlike old-fashion bathtubs with feet — that is why introductory kayaks are jokingly referred to as “bathtub boats.” Be careful in studying the kayak you want to buy, though; many introductory kayaks have what is called a multi-chine hull.
The primary purpose of a hard chine is to help the paddler make hard turns that would cause the kayak to lean sharply. When the paddler makes a hard, leaning turn, he is both shifting his weight from his hips and using precise paddling strokes to lean the kayak during a fast turn, which is called “edging.” Leaning too far to one side or the other in turning, however, can lean the kayak too far on its side, causing the cockpit to take on water. If the lean is not corrected immediately, the end result will be capsizing or tipping over.
The kayak I purchased, the Pelican Rise 100X, has what Pelican calls a multi-chine, twin-arch hull. That is, the hull is basically shaped like a pontoon, providing maximum primary stability, with very subtle chines, or edges, improving maneuverability and turning. Pelican designed it to make their entry-level kayaks easy to handle.
Because most recreational kayaks do not exceed 10 feet in length, they can be turned amazingly quick using either a forward sweep stroke or a reverse sweep stroke, without having to lean it on its edge, but they tend to overreact to advanced paddling techniques. When getting to know my Rise 100X, I attempted a stroke called a cross-bow rudder, which consists of placing the blade of the paddle next to the bow and pushing it down into the water, turning the paddle into a rudder at the bow of the kayak rather than the stern. The purpose of the cross-bow rudder is to turn the front of the kayak very rapidly, usually to avoid striking an object in the water. In trying this technique to see how the Rise would respond, it turned incredibly quickly, but edged it quite hard, and only quickly lifting the paddle blade from the water and shifting my weight to the opposite side of the lean stopped the top edge of the cockpit from slipping under the water’s surface.
My attempt at a cross-bow rudder was just out of curiosity, but I learned from it that the short kayak will turn just as rapidly using basic sweep strokes as advanced strokes.
I also experimented with edging in the Rise. To put the kayak on its chine and still control the kayak, make sure your butt is on the center of the seat. Say you want to put the kayak on its right edge. While keeping your body vertical, with your chin in line with your belt buckle, shift your weight to the right by pushing your right hip downward. This shifts your body weight to your right side while keeping your upper body straight up and down, causing the kayak to lean toward its edge. It may feel tippy at first, but once the kayak settles onto its chine, the hard line that comprises the chine acts like a keel and the kayak will rest comfortable on that edge. Be sure, however, to keep an eye on the edge of your cockpit that it is not too near the water’s surface. If it is, simply pivot your hip slightly to shift your weight just enough to ease off the chine a bit. Once you have found that balance, you can then begin to paddle on the right side, causing the kayak to turn to the right.
Again, with recreational kayaks edging to turn is not necessary — but once you get the knack, it is a lot of fun and it allows you to use both the primary and secondary stability of the kayak.