Article By Simon Everett
You have to understand how a rudder works on a kayak. Because it is a “boat” people think a rudder is for steering and making it go round…..it isn’t! Not on a kayak anyway. On a boat, yes.
On a kayak, a rudder is a steerable skeg. In other words it is a skeg that you can adjust on the move as to its angle of set. The rudder on a kayak is to make the kayak go straight and to counter the effect of wind (and wave) without having to use excessive edging techniques (which do not lend themselves well to high seated kayaks).
On virtually all kayaks a rudder will counter the effects of wind causing the kayak to weathercock – that is turn naturally turn into the wind. That is why, when you have the wind astern your kayak won’t stay straight without you forever putting in corrective strokes. This slows you down. A rudder neutralises the effect of weathercocking and allows you to point the kayak and paddle….some work better than others but nearly all kayaks will experience this effect to the point where it is worth the installation. When going upwind (into the wind) don’t put the rudder down and reduce the drag – you WILL feel the extra drag of the rudder. Going down wind the advantage outweighs this drag – you will be able to gain much more advantage from the wind, instead of it working against you.
There is a danger that you will become lazy and rely on the rudder to make up for paddle technique. This must be resisted and you should still paddle properly and not just use the rudder to keep you straight. Use it in conjunction with a bit of edging, paddle offset and paddle strokes, then it will enhance your paddling, not just mask your deficiencies and get you into bad habits.
Addendum: The strength of add on kayak rudders has always given them a bad press in the past, especially on sea kayaks. The best are those that use a rudder pin built into the kayak. The original scupper pro had this – a big hole to drop an 8mm stainless steel bolt through as a rudder pin. This is far stringer than the new method of using self tappers, or the inserts (but they are much better than the self tappers they use for after market rudders on sea kayaks.)
Rudders built with the kayak are the best, but the accessory rudders from OK are good, the Wilderness ones are less so and have been proven to be quite fragile in use. They need care in use, then they are fine.