Up to this point, we have discussed Weight and Speed in kayaks. In this installment, we will cover the most talked about attribute in kayaks today. STABILITY. Kayak stability depends on many factors, and one of them is a misconception. The factors that affect stability are Width, Length, Hull Shape, Paddler Experience and lastly Weather/Water conditions.
Let's talk about kayak width first, and this will be our misconception. The misconception is that a wider kayak is more stable, that is not entirely true. If you have two kayaks that are the same model and one kayak is wider than the other. Then YES,
the wider kayak will be more stable. If you are comparing the widths of two completely different kayaks and kayak makers. Then the comparison is apples to oranges because other factors will affect the stability. There isn't a magic number or a minimum width that will be stable enough to stand in. My kayak is only 28” wide and I stand in mine all the time. My kayak is not designed to stand in, but I've been in my kayak for 10+ years. My experience makes up for the other factors my kayak is lacking. Generally speaking, a 32” kayak should be stable enough to stand in for a novice paddler. Most kayaks these days that advertise Standability and Stability in a kayak have designed that kayak to be just that. A stable fishing platform you can stand in.
The next factor that effects stability is Length. Many people don't think about the length affecting the stability, it's generally tied to speed. A longer kayak will displace more water and that will make it more stable. Also, a longer kayak will cut through chop in the water better, and that also will make it more stable.
Hull shapes come in many different forms. Let's start with the top side of the kayak, what is above the waterline. Just about every kayak built these days that is a fishing kayak is designed to stand up in. The standard look of these is a flat floor in front of the seat. This flat floor gives you a very secure feeling while standing. It affords you the ability to move around a little while standing. To reposition yourself while looking for fish or casting. And in some cases, these flat floors have some sort of padding or anti-skid mat. This is excellent for traction when your feet are wet. It also allows you to comfortably lean forward onto your knees. This is great for easing back and butt pain, leaning in to grab fish, accessing front hatches or electronics. Another feature of these new generations of fishing kayaks is the elevated seat. It is much easier to stand up from a chair then it is if you were sitting flat on the floor. Some models even come with a stand assist strap that you can pull on while you stand up. This is a nice feature for novice paddlers, bigger paddlers and some older paddlers that might not have the agility they did 25 years ago.
Hull shapes part 2, below the waterline. Each kayak maker has their own terminology for their hull design. There are some terms used universally in the kayak world to describe hull styles. Words like Pontoon, Catamaran or Cat, Tri-Hull, Channel or Tunnel. Older generations of kayaks had a very simple design. They had a center torpedo looking keel and then the “hips” of the kayak were pontoon like. A great example of this is a Wilderness System Ride 135, the original standing kayak. Great tracking and speed while adding enough secondary stability to stand without feeling uneasy. A Cat hull is just what it is named after, a Catamaran sailboat. While not a true catamaran with nothing down the center of the yak. It has 2 distinct pods and the center is raised slightly, giving it a catamaran appearance. Tri-Hull is a term used by Bonafide Kayaks. If you look at the bottom of their kayaks the hull is divided into 3 sections. Think of a catamaran sailboat and then add another pod right down the middle. These kayaks are extremely stable and very difficult to flip. This Tri-Hull design hasn't been on the market long and it is tough to beat the overall stability of it. The last is a channel or a tunnel hull, Native kayaks uses this design. This is a blend of other types like the cat and pontoon. It has a distinct keel in the front and the center of the kayak is raised similar to the cat.
Hull shape conclusion. It is difficult to say what design is more stable than the other. Honestly with the newest models on the market today they are all stable enough to stand in. There is no true leader of the pack.
The one factor that effects kayak stability that no manufacturer talks about is you! Your ability to walk, chew gum and cast at the same time can determine if you can stand. If you are an athletic person, in decent shape, under 30 and have a lot of experience in a kayak. You will find it easy to stand in just about every kayak. If you are a novice, in your 50's with a knee injury then you will be looking for something that feels more secure. The more you paddle and time you spend in your kayak the better you will get. The first time I saw someone stand up was in a Ride 135, and I thought to myself that is a game changer. So I tried to stand up in some shallow water and immediately sat back down. I thought I would never be able to stand in my yak, it just wasn't designed to do that. Here I am 8 years later standing up all the time and poleing around the grass flats. When you test paddle a kayak keep that little story in mind. You will become better and more comfortable the more you fish. So that kayak that feels a little uneasy will feel comfortable in the near future. And that added speed you have will be more important.
Lastly, let's talk a little about weather and water conditions. Standing in clear calm water with no wind is much easier than standing in current and wind chop. Most new kayaks can handle the current and the chop. Maneuvering a kayak in these conditions while standing can be extremely difficult. You may feel secure while standing but you might not be physically able to push pole or paddle your kayak where you want it to go. This happened to me not too long ago. I had the perfect flood tide on a huge grass flat, I was going after tailing redfish. Got to the water and it was 20mph winds gusting over 30. I couldn't maneuver the kayak at all in the wind. I ended up just sitting down and turning it into a scouting mission.
This blog entry will end like most blog entries. The best way to decide what is best for you is to go out and test paddle some kayaks. Your local shops are a wealth of knowledge. I've yet to get a “used car salesmen” vibe from anyone. Most local shops are passionate about the sport and are eager to help. Always head to your local canoe and kayak shop before you hit a big box store.