Kayak hulls, their shape and what they mean

Shape Up, hear now? What’s in a hull.

The flying saucer the Hughes boys and their sister saw a spell ago, she describes as “all round, oblong, indigo, and cigar-shaped.” We younger siblings have always deferred to Ms. Sister Cindy, and she just called in to tell us all that shape of a hull is an all-important design feature determining the speed, maneuverability, stability, and tracking of the boat you’re about to buy.

Recreational hulls come on recreational kayaks, made for calm waters made calmer still. Not much book-learning or one-on-one coaching needed here. Head out, pilgrim. You should do just fine.

Round vs. “V” Hulls of Kayaks

Rounded hulls, while more stable than V hulls, offers slightly less stability. Perfect for day touring kayaks, these hulls move through the water easier, a tad faster.

V hulls haul. They turn tight and true and easy. They honestly do ask for a bit of practice before you venture forth on major water.

Let’s move now to the side, or “abeam” as the junior-grade lieut would say. Two shapes here: an upward curve at bow and stern or linear and flat. More curve means more, ahem, “rocker,” the nautical term of the moment. The hull’s rocker affects the yak’s ability to turn, to travel a straight course. More rocker, more turnabout. Hull shapes with less rocker move easier in a straight line, all the better for a day-long pedal from Point A to point Hughes House.

Check out complete list of Kayak Reviews here.

Kayak width, depth and length and what they mean

Kayak sizes

The width, depth and length of a kayak asserts themselves in memorable, if not unforgettable ways. Let’s make sure you go down to the sea all measured for the day.

Your high-school physics class applies. 

Short Kayaks

Short boats maneuver better than their longer brothers. These shorter kayaks are naturally preferred for recreational uses. Longer kayaks track better (tracking the ability to move in a straight line without wayward, tiresome, pointless veers to one damned side or the other). They travel long distances easily.

Kayak Widths

John Howard Hughes served in the Nav (lieutenant-junior-grade, USNR, ret.) and, what you might call “width”, he calls “beam.” The salty old dog knows that wider hulls mean more stability in calm waters, at the sacrifice of the speed he loves so very much. Narrow boats may prove more difficult for beginners to keep upright and dry but, for an experienced paddler such as JHH, look out. We have ourselves some acceleration, some velocity right here.

Kayak Depth

Depth slows a boat too, but here comes more room for storage, more space for daylong comfort. A long old drink-of-water is J. Howard, and he seeks deeper yaks so that he can stay on the water peacefully, profound for once. Yakkers perhaps shorter than 6’3” might well choose a kayak pulling less draft, all for its consummate mph. For less wind resistance too.

Paddle vs. Pedal Kayaks. What’s the difference?

Do I Paddle or Pedal my Kayak?

Paddling a Kayak vs. Pedaling a Kayak. Which do we prefer? Which is right for you?

The choices reverberating throughout the kayak world have become almost overwhelming. The old commercial virtues of the kayak – affordability and simplicity of design and operation chief among them — still hold true.

But, but.

The traditional ease of entry into the sport, most especially fishing from a kayak, has become much more complicated: significant innovation seems a monthly occurrence, and the consequent selection of features and benefits is now a complicated undertaking for even the most casual of kayakers.

Pedal Kayaks

Foot propulsion – pedals! – has emerged as the kayak’s most powerful driver of change. But those back-and-forth, up-and-down movements, first learned on our tricycles and kiddo scooters, are hardly new. Hobie introduced its first pedal-powered watercraft in 1997, twenty years ago in a sport where change is everywhere and oh so ongoing. Hobie’s contribution lay in making pedal power attractive to recreational paddlers and, most importantly, to anglers, now hands-free for casting and retrieving lures and flies. About ten years later, Native Watercraft introduced new engineering in that splendid company’s pursuit of a workable, sustainable pedal device. Watercraft named it Propel, significantly different from Hobie’s Mirage Drive.

Propel involves rotated pedals with a propeller. Mirage design calls for push pedals with attached fins, moving back, forth, and sideways. Another prominent kayak manufacturer, Old Town, has created its own iteration of a pedal drive: the Predator PDL. Other manufacturers, Wilderness Systems perhaps chief among them, are introducing their own take on pedal power.

And so, at its waterborne heart, the debate probably devolves to a single defining question: do I pedal or do I paddle?

You’ll need to think in selfish terms here. Distinct advantages and some unavoidable disadvantages apply, and you’ll need to weigh them carefully in terms of your own enjoyment, your own unique take on a great day on the water.

Paddle Kayaks

We begin with the paddle.
Classic, lying at the foundation of human travel on lakes and rivers, the paddle will take you down to the sea quickly, no, immediately. With far more money left in your wallet. For many kayakers, maybe for you, cost becomes the determining factor in the purchase decision. For, let’s say, five hundred dollars, you can lift a traditional kayak into the bed of your pickup, paddle included. Multiply that five-large figure by four, and you’re arrived at starting price for a pedal model.

With the old-style kayak, your issues about maintenance are essentially nil. Not so with the sophisticated designs of a pedal model.

Old-school kayaks maneuver more quietly — with less disturbance of underwater features, less slapping of mud and sand, fewer collisions with submerged treetops –than do the zooming movements of propellers and fins. With complete visibility below, assuming mellow movement of the paddle, you can probably move without spooking the fish into that honey hole far more easily in a traditionally designed kayak.

Now for the negatives.
Just one really, but it subsumes the entire sport of fishing from a kayak. You operate with but two arms. And two becomes a lonely number in the slightest little bit of wind, with only a smidgen of current. Metaphysical fact is: you cannot fish and paddle at the same time; kayaks were never meant for trolling. Either you’re casting and retrieving, or you’re controlling the movement and position of the kayak. Never shall those twain functions meet.

What are the Different Types of Kayaks?

New to the joys of kayaking? Ready to dip the paddle for an early early-morning slide into the wild and the wonderful, the water just beyond the city limits sign? At first glance, but for the kaleidoscopic colors, a kayak is a kayak is a kayak. In these small watercraft, however, little differences of type can mean big differences in design, each dedicated to a specific set of planned uses. You, pristine paddler, take the wrong model out on the water, and your experience will be at best frustrating, at worst dangerous.

So here we go. Kayaking 101. The primer pre-test-paddle on a boat from a rental shop. Some basic stuff to take to the store with you, your spouse, your kids, your know-it-all friends ready to once more tell you what’s what.

Kayak styles float back and forth between 1) intended purpose and 2) the sort of lake, river, creek, bay, or sea on which you’ll be using your new waterborne best friend. The terminology cuts across all kayaks, all the stores you’ll shop, online and elsewhere, and all the sales staff encountered therein.

Recreational Kayaks

Stable, hard to spill, easy to paddle, easy on the wallet, seldom extending beyond a dozen feet in length, recreational yaks belong on protected bays, smaller lakes, and larger ponds. Not especially perfect in currents, winds, or waves, these boats remain the most popular, most frequently purchased kind of kayak.

Touring Kayaks

The performance ups itself right here. The price too. So does the length, now sixteen feet and more. Only the beam lessens, narrower now as your skill has increased. You’re feeling a need for speed, a willingness to take on more challenging paddling or pedaling conditions, perhaps a wish to travel longer distances.

These boats will serve you well on an hour’s-long lark, but will also serve for a serious fishing platform. More of which right now.

Fishing Kayaks

The accessorizing matters most here. Fishing kayaks will bring along all the extras important to anglers: rod holders, bait wells, extra storage space to hold the gear that defines the serious angler. Look for stability, stability, stability in your fishing yak.

Whitewater Kayaks

The name says it all. Designed just for the navigation of raging rivers, these kayaks are short little guys, with curved bottoms. And tough. Tough as hell. 

Inflatable Kayaks

Little storage space in your garage? A Tercel parked there rather than a Tundra? Not to worry about that worrisome adjective: inflatable kayaks these days offer durability, versatility, a surprising sort of performance on the water. Lower your expectations, however. You’re trading convenience on dry land for fewer features and benefits on Lake You.