Hybrid Kayak Defined
The term ‘Hybrid Kayak’ is an abbreviation of ‘Hybrid Canoe-Kayak’. It’s a type of small, typically human powered watercraft that takes from the kayak in the sense that its passengers sit in it with their legs stretched forward, and use dual blade (i.e. ‘kayak’) paddles for propulsion.
The hybrid’s canoe genes are harder to track, although it’s possible to argue that a hybrid kayak is nothing more than a small, flat canoe.
However, all hybrid kayaks are very wide, and designed to provide more stability than narrower, traditional kayaks offer. It’s likely to assume that those who design and manufacture hybrid kayaks view the canoe as a watercraft that’s stabler than common kayaks are, and the reference to canoes is therefore an implicit reference to stability.
The Hybrid Kayak – A Canoe With No Free Board
One thing that hybrid kayaks don’t have is the high free board that’s characteristic to canoes. This means that hybrid kayaks offer less protection to their passengers, be it from wind, spray or waves, and water can easily get inside their hull, even from small eddies hitting the sides of the boat.
Hybrid kayaks don’t feature scupper holes in their hulls, which means that whatever water gets inside stays inside, and will get your gear as well as yourself wet. Eventually, your hybrid kayak could become too heavy to paddle, unless you pump or scoop the water out of it.
Anyone paddling a hybrid kayak in less than perfect water conditions should be prepared to deal with a drainage problem, and for this reason it’s almost impossible to see pictures or watch videos of people paddling hybrid kayaks or fishing from them unless they’re doing it on perfectly still water.
In other words, the hybrid performs poorly in moving water as well as when the wind is blowing. It’s essentially a fair weather, flat water boat.
Paddling A Hybrid Kayak
Typically, hybrid kayaks are 32 to 42 inches wide, which makes them less comfortable for paddling than traditional, narrower kayaks. This is because the extra width limits the paddle’s range of motion , and the paddler is forced to move their paddle more horizontally.
Being very wide relatively to their length (i.e. low Length to Beam ratio – L/B) makes hybrid kayaks track poorly, much like other broad sit-in and sit-on-top kayaks.
Being typically big and heavy, the hybrid kayak is what is commonly referred to as a ‘barge’.
Hybrid kayaks track so poorly that it’s hard to paddle them, and for this reason a hybrid kayak typically comes equipped with a rudder, designed to correct its tendency to zigzag.
You will seldom find a hybrid kayak used for paddling, unless this paddling effort is done as part of a fishing trip, and preferably a short one that doesn’t require much paddling. In other words, hybrid kayaks are not suitable for paddling over long distances, including camping trips.
Inevitably, like all kayaks featuring a wide hull, hybrid kayaks lack hydrodynamic features that contribute to speed, a fact that makes them notoriously slow to paddle.
Hybrid Kayak Design Features
Hybrid kayak manufacturers seem to like carving one or more long and wide ‘tunnels’ on the bottom of their kayaks’ hulls. These ‘tunnels’ are sometime big enough to allow for calling the hull a ‘tunnel hull’, but since these tunnels ‘ceiling’ (top) is always submerged, they don’t make the hull qualify as a catamaran, or twin hull. This technical fact doesn’t prevent some vendors from claiming their hybrid kayaks feature a ‘catamaran hull’, and whether such claim is made with the intention to mislead customers, or simply based on ignorance , it is a falsehood.
A tunnel hull forces some of the water to flow straight, in parallel to the boat’s direction of motion, so it is known to improve tracking. However, and contrarily to what some hybrid kayak manufacturers advertize, a tunnel hull does not increase the boat’s stability in a meaningful way, simply because it doesn’t change the fact that most of the boat’s buoyancy remains distributed along its center line, where it can’t do much to prevent the boat from tilting when it’s off balance. This is because a hybrid kayak featuring a tunnel hull is still just a mono hull kayak, and not a twin hull ( a.k.a ‘catamaran’) kayak.
Next time you see and ad claiming that a hybrid kayak features a catamaran hull, just ask yourself if it features two distinct hulls attached to each other (i.e. twin hull), or a single hull (mono hull) with a tunnel carved on its bottom (tunnel hull).
Stability In Hybrid Kayaks
The quest for better stability is the hybrid kayak’s reason for being. It’s the only thing that justifies the existence of this relatively new type of boat, and the market where kayak stability is appreciated the most is fishing, since a fishing kayak is required to be as stable as possible, and the more stable it is, the better.
However, the additional stability offered by hybrid kayaks stems just from their being wider, and it’s not necessarily enough. In other words, the hybrid concept is more stable than the Touring kayak concept, but it’s not necessarily stable enough for fishing in real world conditions, which include fishing standing in full confidence and reasonable safety, and fishing in moving water. Sales of hybrid kayaks are often promoted through images and staged movies showing someone fishing while standing in them. Such visuals can be misleading, since standing in a kayak always means that sooner or later the person standing will lose balance for some reason, and since there isn’t enough buoyancy on the hybrid kayak’s sides, that person will fall overboard and in many cases flip the kayak. Falling overboard is the only possible reaction, since falling inside the hybrid kayak is impossible, as it is in any other kayak, except W kayaks, which are equipped with a high saddle on which the passenger can easily fall and regain their balance instantly and intuitively, and since W kayaks offer several times more buoyancy on their sides – away from the center line of their twin hull, and since the passenger standing in a W kayak have each of their feet positioned lower, at the bottom of each hull.
A tunnel hull adds a little resistance to rolling (lateral motion), but when push comes to shove, a hybrid kayak is not much stabler than a similarly broad, flat bottomed sit-in kayak. It may be more stable than a wide sit-on-top kayak just because the passenger of a SOT kayak is seated or standing on top of a deck that’s several inches above waterline, which puts their center of gravity (CG) very high without offering any means to compensate for the lost stability.
Next time to see a picture or a movie of someone fishing standing in a hybrid kayak, ask yourself a simple question: -“Does it make sense?”. Your answer is likely to be something like “This is nonsense”, and if this is the case, you’d be right.
‘Ergonomic’ – A Misused and Abused Adjective
It is an established fact that being seated in a kayak hurts your back. Practically all sit-in and SOT kayak manufacturers try to address this problem by offering seats padded with extra foam (a.k.a. ‘ergonomic’ seats). Such seats can’t do do much to solve the problem, since it originates in the L position, and the combined effect of footrests and backrest, with your own legs continuously pushing your lower back against the latter, while getting leverage from the first.
The L position is a back killer, and not the material from which the seat is made, but hybrid kayak manufacturers often outfit their product with a canvas seat resembling a beach seat, and claim it is more ‘ergonomic’ than a conventional kayak seat made from foam.
A canvas seat can’t do much to solve the back pain felt by the passenger paddling a hybrid kayak, because the passenger has to push with their legs against something in order to maintain their own balance, as well as their kayak’s balance – whether the are paddling or fishing.
The fact that such canvas seat is slightly higher than the typical kayak seat, is used by hybrid kayak manufacturers to claim that it’s less hard on the passenger’s back than the typical kayak seat is. However, such claim is not necessarily anchored in reality, since a canvas seat can elevate the kayaker’s center of gravity (CG), without offering means to compensate them for the stability lost by the extra height. Therefore, passengers of hybrid kayaks need to push stronger with their feet against the footrests, and inevitably, with their back against the seat. Pushing harder while sitting higher leads to back pain and other problems that are similar to those that other kayakers experience in regular sit-in and SOT kayaks.
The bottom line is that you can’t create better ergonomic solutions to a problem without having the means enabling you to adopt a truly different approach to it, and if a different approach is not physically possible, the new solution offered may seem different, but it won’t be better.
Motorizing Hybrid Kayaks
The hybrid kayak is a barge. Period. However, since it’s stabler than narrower mono-hull kayak designs, some people use it for fishing, and among these anglers there are some who outfit their hybrid yak with electric trolling motors. This is not a bad idea in itself, except that it makes the already heavy and cumbersome kayak heavier and more cumbersome, to a point where car topping it is no more possible, and transporting it to the launching beach becomes very is hard. This effectively turns the motorized hybrid fishing kayak into a small, slow motorboat that offers far less comfort and protection than a dinghy or a small skiff, and being a small boat, it demands transportation on a trailer, and launching from a boat ramp. In other words, it loses the comparative advantage that kayaks have compared to bigger boats, which is their light weight, relative ease of transportation, and more places to launch from.
If you happen to drive a motorized hybrid kayak too fast, or through waves and even just eddies, you’ll get sprayed from the bow and the sides, and water would get inside your kayak’s cockpit.
More about motorized fishing kayaks >>
Pedal Driven Hybrid Kayaks
Pedal drives for kayak propulsion are hyped as much as hybrid kayaks are, if not more. Without getting into details, pedal drives for kayaks are not the panacea, and they exacerbate the basic ergonomic problems that are typical too all kayaks paddled in the L position. There are basically two types of pedal drives for kayaks: one featuring push pedals and flapping ‘wings’, and the other featuring rotating pedals and a rotational propeller. All we can say here is that the latter is not as bad as the first, and these complex technical issues are discussed in depth in another article, dedicated entirely to the subject of pedal driven kayaks.
The Hybrid Fishing Kayak – Bottom Line
Hybrid fishing kayaks are suitable for fishing trips that are short in distance, and of short duration, on flat water, in fair weather, and when no wind is blowing. They are suitable neither for stand up paddling nor for stand up fishing.
Typically, hybrid kayaks are used in ponds and small lakes, or on slow moving rivers. The hybrid fishing kayak is a barge to paddle, and although it is possible to outfit it a trolling motor, doing so results in some non-negligible problems.
The hybrid fishing kayak offers no solution to the yack back problem that’s typical to other kayaks in which passengers are not properly seated, i.e. must paddle and fish with their legs stretched in front of them, in the infamous L position.