What makes the Wavewalk 500 faster and easier to paddle than other fishing kayaks?

Before getting their Wavewalk kayak, many of our clients had tested or owned common fishing kayaks, and they weren’t too happy with the way these kayaks performed with regards to several basic requirements which are essential to paddling. In contrast, the same people find the Wavewalk 500 very easy to paddle and handle.
This article explains some of the technical differences between the W500 and all other fishing kayaks, and how these differences work to the advantage of W kayakers.

What makes common fishing kayaks special as a class of kayaks?

If you walked into a store that sells all kinds of paddle craft (e.g. canoes, touring kayaks, sea kayaks, recreational kayaks) and you looked at at the fishing kayak models side by side with the other kayaks, you’d notice that fishing kayaks look chubbier. In other words, they are wider than the other types of kayaks, and some of them are almost as wide as the big canoes displayed in the store.
The main reason for this is that fishing kayaks are required to be more stable than other kayaks, and the only way to make a mono-hull kayak stabler is by widening its hull.
This gain in stability comes at a price, and you as a paddler pays it by having to paddle harder since your kayak is slower and tracks poorly – It zigzags and responds better to the wind that deflects it from its intended course than to your efforts to go straight forward.
For this reason, fishing kayaks have a bad reputation among kayakers, who call them barges, and rightfully so.

What makes the common fishing kayak design so problematic?

Poor tracking – To begin with, a wide kayak hull compels the low-seated paddler to move their paddle more horizontally than vertically. This drives the paddle blade in a curved trajectory rather than an efficient straight trajectory in parallel to the kayak’s direction on travel. As a result, each paddle stroke changes the kayak’s direction in a way that’s easily noticeable, and the paddler must correct it with a paddle stroke on the kayak’s opposite side, which in its turn would deflect the kayak to the other direction… Such alternation between left and right is known as zigzagging, and it’s a most inefficient way to go forward because it increases the actual length of your route, and on top of this, changing course in itself requires acceleration, which is lossy in energy terms, especially when it’s done repeatedly with every paddle stroke.

Poor tracking under wind – This is a special case in which the wind works to deflect the fishing kayak from its course, and since these kayaks neither paddle nor handle well, they become particularly hard to paddle, to a point where getting back to shore may no longer be guaranteed… This difficulty in tracking is why practically every high-end fishing kayak is outfitted with a rudder, which can help the paddler track, but further slows them down – Using a rudder slows the kayak by 10% in average.

Low speed – A boat’s speed is closely associated with its hull’s length – The longer the faster. It’s also associate with its hull’s width – the narrower the faster.
In hydrodynamic design terms, a hull whose Length to Beam (length to width) ratio is below 6:1 is considered to be slow, and a hull whose L/B ratio is over 20:1 is considered as optimal for speed. Typically, recreational boats’ hulls have a L/B ratio somewhere between the two.
To better understand this, let’s check a few examples –

  1. a typical sea kayak (fast touring kayak) can be 18 ft long and 24 inches wide. Its L/B ratio of 9:1 makes it fairly quick.
  2. a large size fishing kayak that’s 14 ft long and 30 inches wide has a 5.6:1 L/B ratio, which is rather slow.
  3. a fishing kayak that’s 12 ft long and 36 inches wide has a 4:1 L/B ratio, which is extremely slow and pretty much impossible to paddle to a long distance.
  4. a fishing kayak with a 12 ft long and 41 inch wide hull has a 3.5:1 L/B ratio, which makes it really hard for a one person crew to paddle to any distance, and –
  5. a fishing kayak that’s only 10 ft long and 38.5 inches wide has a 3.1:1 L/B ratio, which could make paddling a stack of plywood easier, if you wanted to try paddling either of these floating objects.

In other words, the chubbiest among fishing kayaks are unfit for paddling, unless your plan is to fish in ponds or in small, protected lakes.

How does the Wavewalk 500 compare?

Unlike mono-hull kayaks, the W invention offers a totally different way to make the kayak stabler without making it excessively wide. This offers advantages in speed and tracking as well –

L/B and speed – In comparison, the W500 is 11.4 ft long, and each of his twin hulls is 8 inches wide. This 17:1 L/B ratio for one hull and 8.5:1 ratio for the two hulls joined together is far better in speed terms than the fastest fishing kayak hull out there. In real life terms, this design allows the W500 to be as fast as a 13 ft touring kayak, which is a narrower and faster design than fishing kayaks of similar size and even bigger size.  More info on kayak design for speed >

Easy tracking – The W500 is just 29 inches wide, which makes it the world’s narrowest twin hull (a.k.a. catamaran). It also allows the paddler to paddle it from a higher position. The combination of these two attributes makes it easy for the paddler to apply vertical strokes and have the paddle blade travel efficiently in parallel to the kayak’s direction of travel, instead of moving in a curved trajectory. This in itself improves the W kayak’s tracking, but the fact that the paddler rides the saddle in a position that’s more powerful and ergonomic than the L kayaking position offered by other kayaks adds another dimension of efficiency and power to the paddler’s ability to handle their kayak and make it go where the  want.
Catamarans have a longer wetted length (WL) than mono-hull kayaks of similar size, and this feature makes them track better. In this sense, the W kayak is a catamaran, and indeed it tracks better than any other kayak out there, including sea kayaks that are much longer. In fact, no paddler ever found it necessary to outfit their W kayak with a rudder.

Great tracking under wind – One the the W kayak’s unique features is its long saddle that offers the paddler a simple and easy way to relocate for and aft in the cockpit. By doing so, the paddler can instantly change the kayak’s center of gravity (CG), and with it the way the kayak reacts to strong wind. In other words, the W kayak enables the paddler to use the power of the wind to help them direct the kayak, I.E. to stay on track. This simple, unique and most effective steering method is explained in an instructional article entitled W kayaking in strong wind >

Other considerations – Ergonomics and bio mechanics

Since all mono-hull kayaks offer variations on one paddling position known as the L position, these considerations are not useful for understanding differences between mono-hull fishing kayaks and other types mono-hull kayaks, such as recreational kayak, touring kayaks, etc.
In contrast, W kayaks offer several paddling positions, including the Riding position, which is both more powerful and more comfortable than the L position. This offers yet another advantage to the W kayaker, in the sense that they don’t suffer from back pain and leg numbness that are typically associated with traditional kayaking, and for this reason they don’t have to struggle with premature fatigue and discomfort, and thus dispose of more energy to keep paddling even in adverse weather and water conditions.
This is why the W kayak is favored by paddlers and anglers who suffer from disabilities, are middle aged or elderly, non-athletic, and by those who don’t benefit from a high level of physical fitness.
Indeed, W kayakers can often be seen out there on a river or a lake in poor weather conditions that drive other kayakers back to their homes, or discourage them from going on water to begin with.

12 Comments

  1. PackerYaker

    Good article, Yoav. I was just wondering how using a rudder would slow a common kayak an average of 10%.

  2. fish kayak

    Thanks Gary,

    Sometime in the late nineties, SeaKayaker Magazine invited manufacturers and designers of fast touring kayaks to send their kayaks to participate in a series of speed tests conducted in a tow tank. The kayaks were tested with and without rudders. The magazine published a comprehensive article grading the kayaks by speed with no rudder, and did not include the results with rudders on, which were 10% slower in average.
    One of the people who was part of the team that ran those tests for the magazine was a touring kayak designer and manufacturer named Matt Broze, with whom I had a long exchange of emails about ten years ago. Matt mentioned those unpublished results to me. Later, I asked Chris Cunningham the magazine’s editor about those ‘with-rudder’ results, and he confirmed Matt’s story.

    Why does a kayak rudder create so much drag? I’m probably one of the kayak designers who are the least qualified to answer this question 🙂 because I’ve never used a rudder with a W kayak, except while sailing it, and I don’t know anyone who has used a rudder with their W kayak. There’s simply no need for a rudder when you’re W kayaking.

    The simple, common sense answer to this 10% difference question is that a rudder is useful when it’s in a angle to the kayak’s direction of motion, so it generates enough drag on one side to change this direction, or alternatively, counter-affect a powerful wind pushing the kayak away from its intended course.
    But there’s more to it, I think, and my guess is that when you compare kayaks to bigger boats, it’s easy to notice that kayaks’ rudders are larger relatively to the kayak’s overall size. Why kayak rudders are designed to be so big could be related to the fact that their main goal is to help the kayak track in strong wind and current – Since the kayaker is a much weaker source of power than a motor or a sailing rig, it would make sense to assume they need a more effective rudder to help them keep their kayak tracking, which would mean a relatively bigger rudder, and consequently one that generates considerable drag just by being there, in the water.

    BTW, if anyone knows more about kayak rudders, your contribution to this discussion would be most welcome!

  3. Pete

    Kayaks are lighweight and they draft very little, and this makes it easier for the wind to push them. It takes a big rudder to counter affect the wind in such conditions, and help the paddler maintain the kayak’s directional stability.
    Pete

  4. Michael Chesloff

    Yoav-

    The 6:1 ratio provides an incredibly easy and invaluable tool to anyone searching for a suitable kayak. Once again, simple is best.

    -Michael

  5. Hasdrubal

    What about a fishing kayak that’s fifteen feet long and thirty inches wide? According to the 6 to 1 rule of thumb, it should be fast enough, wouldn’t it? –Hasdrubal

  6. fish kayak

    It’s fast enough, but due to its large size only a strong paddler going on flat water for a trip that’s not too long could benefit from this capability. Few monohull fishing kayaks feature a better ratio, but they have never been popular for this reason (oversize) – The typical kayak angler is not necessarily athletic, and they don’t necessarily look forward to hard physical exercise, especially on long trips.
    Needless to say that the owner of such a large size kayak has to outfit it with a rudder, or else find that they’re facing problems directing their kayak to its intended destination (tracking) as soon as the wind picks up.
    Practically speaking, it’s almost a canoe size craft, and therefore more of a tandem design, or again – a kayak for fishing ponds and small lakes. A trolling motor would be particularly helpful to someone who tries to use such a kayak over longer distances.

  7. Pete

    The absolute length of a kayak is important for speed. The longer the faster, in theory. It has to do with the hull speed, which is a tricky notion that’s explained in this oversized article- http://www.wavewalk.com/KAYAK_SPEED_ARTICLE.html

    A very long and wide kayak has a bigger wetted surface area and it drafts less than a smaller kayak. The added length is not always good for tracking because it increases exposure to the wind, and the reduced draft reduces the hull’s “grip” in the water. Such kayaks are hard to control in strong wind unless you use a rudder.

  8. PDexter

    I’ve noticed that kayaks outfitted with rudders are generally more noisy than those who aren’t. I wonder, does it mean anything?
    -Phil

  9. fish kayak

    Every kayak has its sound ‘signature’. A less efficient hull makes more noise, and so does a hull going at a higher speed, especially if it’s moving at a speed higher than its hull speed.
    This typical gurgling sound is created by turbulence, which itself is the result of uneven flow of water around the hull, and in case of a rudder, in the stern area, where most of the turbulence usually occurs anyhow. The presence of a rudder at the stern introduces a change in the normal flow of the water, which increases the turbulence you can observe there, as well as the noise you hear coming from there.

    Also, the chubbier the kayak the less efficient its hull is, and consequently the noisier it is too.

  10. PDexter

    So, if I understand correctly, splitting the kayak’s stern and turning it into two separate pontoons is not a good idea as far as speed is concerned, isn’t it?

  11. fish kayak

    It would be hard to come up with a worse design 😀

  12. PackerYaker

    Wow, I didn’t think my question would generate so much response. Thanks everyone, and a Merry Ho, Ho, Ho to ya’ll from down here in sunny Florida.

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