Tips for finding the right kayak

Posted April 12, 2008, at 2:25 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 01, 2011, at 2:30 p.m.

This column was first published April 12, 2008

 

If you’re up bright and early this Saturday morning and in the Bangor area, you may want to drive to downtown Old Town and check out the annual Old Town Canoe factory sale. If you don’t, you’ll kick yourself later. There are bargains to be had for sure at the sale that runs through Sunday.

Besides, the weatherman said it wasn’t going to be bright and sunny today.

Later, around 5 p.m. you can come on down to Paddle at the Bangor Y on Second Street and learn how to be safe when you head out on the water in your newfound bargain.

Before you head out, though, you may want to read a little further along because I’m going to pass along some helpful information about selecting a boat that will fit your needs. It comes from Karen Francoeur, owner of Casting Kayak Adventures in Castine. She has put together a rather lengthy piece on boat selection that you’ll be able to pick up in its full length tonight at Paddle Smart.

If you can’t wait, however, I’ll boil it down here for you to get the gist. I’ll try to hit all the high spots, and I’ve taken out some of Francoeur’s description in the interest of fitting the meat into this limited space. Here we go. Remember, the pearls of wisdom are hers. If you have questions, I expect to see you at the Y where you can ask away!

Choosing a kayak

It’s a daunting endeavor with so many choices. Here are some things to consider when buying a boat.

First, arm yourself with information. There are kayak/boating symposiums, kayak classes, tours with local outfitters and club events. In warmer weather, symposiums provide opportunities to paddle different boats. Take some beginner skills classes so you can focus on how each boat moves, not how to move the boat. How easy is it to enter and exit each boat?

Next ask yourself what kind of paddling you plan to do. Will you be a mellow recreational paddler? Do you see yourself spending time on the coast exploring harbors and islands where conditions can change quickly and the water is always cold? Ask yourself, what if something goes wrong? Boats can capsize and you need to be sure that you buy the right boat for the location and conditions you plan to paddle in.

Third, how will you transport your boat? Unless you live at the lake or on the coast, you’ll need to use a vehicle to get your boat to the water. Learn how to safely load a boat on your car and what rack will best suit your needs. Weight is a consideration. A super light boat can be car-topped easily, but it may not do well when dragged up on beaches. Ask about durability, repairability and weight.

Consider capsizing

Your boat could capsize. The most important aspect of a kayak’s safety is its flotation. In the event of a capsize, being able to re-enter your kayak to minimize your exposure to the water, especially cold ocean water, is critical. Choose a boat that can be re-entered easily at your skill level. Know that you will have to learn some skills to be able to re-enter your boat after a capsize.

Determining whether to buy a kayak with or without sealed compartments should be the most important aspect of your kayak-buying decision. Kayaks with sealed storage compartments bow and stern are designed to hold dry gear, but more importantly they hold air to keep the boat afloat and minimize the amount of water that enters the boat, limiting it to the cockpit only.

Rescue by a skilled paddling partner can be seamless, and self-rescue is achievable in a kayak with sealed compartments. Kayaks with two or three compartments are the best bet if you plan to paddle any distance from land in variable water conditions.

Kayaks with only a stern compartment can fill with water in the bow, making re-entry and rescue a bit more difficult. They can be outfitted with airbags in the bow but are still best paddled near land on calm fresh water. A kayak without sealed compartments is capable of completely filling with water in a capsize, thus providing nothing to keep you above the water.

Even skilled paddlers find it next to impossible to rescue themselves in this situation. Emptying this boat, even with the assistance of another boat, is difficult. Kayaks without sealed compartments are designed to be paddled near shore in calm warm water. Sit-on tops can be an option for calm water also, but you can get pretty wet.

Overall design

Length: Most kayaks run from 8 to 18 feet. Generally, the longer a boat is the faster it will move and go straighter than a shorter boat. So your options are based on whether you plan to paddle distances, in which case longer can be better. If you plan to paddle small rivers and marshes, you may choose to go with a boat that is somewhere in the 10- to 15-foot range Really short boats can be great for turning in tight places but exhausting if you are trying to get someplace!

Width and hull design: Most kayaks fall in the 18- to 24-inch width range, with some ranging up to 30 or more inches. Wider boats feel more stable and deflect more water, which can make them slower. Wide boats can be difficult to manage in waves. Narrower boats may feel less stable initially, but they deflect less water, hence move more easily through the water, creating stability. If you plan to be in variable conditions, you should choose a boat that works for your size and weight and skill, which will balance the compromise between stability and performance.

There are numerous hull designs. Kayaks have hard or soft chines. A chine is where angles come together on the hull of the boat. Some boats have a V-shaped hull that reaches into the water, keeping the boat on a straight course. The deeper the “V,” the straighter the line and the more difficult to turn. At rest the boat can feel less stable.

Multi-chined kayaks with smaller areas between each angle can minimize this instability while maximizing the tracking. Soft-chined kayaks with rounded sides and flatter hulls will turn more easily and may feel more stable at rest.

Rudders, skegs and rockers

Rudders are designed to assist in turning a boat, skegs increase a boat’s keel line to aid in tracking. Boat rocker is the degree of upsweep of the keel line from bow to stern. A highly rockered boat may be upswept at the bow and stern. This boat will turn and climb waves easily. A kayak with minimal rocker will have a relatively flat keel line bow to stern, which will assist in straight tracking.

Rudders and skegs can be beneficial in helping you maintain course, but keep in mind boats can be propelled with efficient paddle strokes and so-called full-body paddling technique.

 

Boat weight and material

How you treat your boat and where you land it can be key in determining what material would best suit your kayak. Which material you choose can also be based on your budget. If you want to drag your boat over rocks or if you are ready to baby it and get your feet wet when you launch and land are key considerations. In general, polyethylene boats are heavier than glass fiber, which in turn are heavier than carbon/fiber. Each reduction in weight may improve overall performance but will set you back more money.

Maine Huts & Trails at MOAC

A new network of huts, trails and waterways being developed in western Maine will be the topic at the Maine Outdoor Adventure Club’s eastern Maine chapter meeting at 6:30 p.m. April 29 at Epic Sports, 6 Central St., Bangor. This event was rescheduled from February, when the speaker was not able to travel to Bangor due to a winter storm.

Maine Huts & Trails communications director Alexa Dayton will talk about this landmark Maine project.

“We have some exciting developments going on in Western Maine, and we are thrilled that it is coming to fruition,” Dayton said in a press release. “Maine Huts & Trails will provide access to the outdoors in perpetuity for the people of Maine.”

When the project is complete it will consist of a 180-mile recreation corridor from Bethel to Moosehead Lake with up to 12 huts, each designed to accommodate up to 40 guests. According to Dayton, the project was founded by Maine people with a vision for preserving Maine’s naturally beautiful remote areas while providing outdoor access to the public.

MOAC welcomes the public and new members. For more information about MOAC, visit www.moac.org.

 

Jeff Strout’s column is published on Saturdays

 

 

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