Steering motorized fishing kayaks and small boats

Why drive and not just paddle?

Driving a motorized fishing kayak or a small motorboat is easier than paddling, and using a motor offers anglers additional advantages, such as a longer range of travel, a chance to spend less time on getting to remote fisheries and more time fishing there, and increased safety and independence in the presence of strong currents and winds.
But being easier than paddling doesn’t necessarily mean that driving these motorized kayaks and small boats is comfortable and pleasant. In fact, it may not be easy, especially in rough water and over long distances.

What makes steering a small boat comfortable?

Physical Constraints

The ergonomics of steering a small boat or a motorized kayak are simple and easy to understand, and the basic factor that determines in what way the boat can be steered is the stability it offers.

Wider boats –

Small boats that are wide enough to provide a high degree of stability, such as wide dinghies and especially inflatable dinghies, offer their driver to sit next to the outboard motor, in the rear corner of the stern, facing the other side of the boat, and thus holding the tiller rather comfortably while moving it forward and backward relatively to their torso, a motion that is not physically demanding. The ergonomic problem with this posture is the need to turn one’s head and torso sideways in order to face the boat’s direction of motion, and this can be straining over long drives and in choppy water. Another disadvantage in this driving position is the decreased stability when making a sharp turn to side where the driver is seated, especially in rough water. Generally, these wide boats offer plenty of stability, but little means for their passengers to balance themselves, and this is true for the driver as well.

Narrower boats –

Other, narrower and therefore less stable boats such as smaller dinghies, Jon boats, small skiffs a.k.a. microskiff, large square stern canoes, etc. force the driver to drive from a position that’s closer to the boat’s center line, and therefore more forward of the outboard and away from the stern area.
A stabler design may allow the driver to sit in an intermediary position between the above described sideways facing position and a forward facing position, and consequently, with their arm holding the tiller stretched behind them, to some degree.
A narrower, less stable boat, forces its driver to sit in front of the motor, with their torso turned fully sideways, and the arm that’s holding the tiller stretched behind their back while their legs are somehow stretched forward, in a visibly non-ergonomic posture. Using an articulated (U-jointed) tiller extension can help in such cases by allowing the driver to sit while facing forward and holding the tiller extension on their side. However, not all small boats can offer such an option, since in many cases their rear seat or bench (i.e. driver seat) is too close to the stern and therefore to the motor attached to it.

The driver’s seat

After stability, the second most important factor that determines driving comfort is the driver’s seat. Typically, small fishing boats come with a bench type seat, or a box type seat. Since these seats offer the driver to sit higher than common kayak seats do, they are more comfortable, but still, benches and boxes don’t offer much in terms of comfort or the ability to balance yourself easily, which is critical when small boats are concerned.  Some small boats are outfitted with padded swivel seats that are usually higher than a bench or a box. A swivel seat certainly improves the driver’s comfort, but it doesn’t necessarily improve the driver’s ability to balance themselves, and sometimes it may even reduce it.

The personal watercraft (PWC a.k.a. jet-ski) is a small boat worth mentioning in the context of this discussion, as these high-performance sports boats feature a high, longitudinal saddle that offers their drivers both a powerful and ergonomic sitting posture, as well as optimal balancing. But jet-skis also feature a steering bar located in front of the driver, in contrast with the above mentioned typical small boats.

What works best for the driver?

Facing forward

If you had drive any vehicle, be it on land or on water, or in the air, you’d want to face forward, and not sideways – to any extent. This is such a basic notion that it requires little or no explanation. Simply put, we’re built this way, and any other posture is between sub-optimal and most uncomfortable.

Sitting high

You want to sit high so that your legs can do their job in supporting your upper body and helping you in balancing yourself. Sitting at floor level with one’s legs stretched in front of them is called the L kayaking position, and it makes kayaks so notoriously uncomfortable and unfit for fishing, at least when sensible anglers are concerned.

Good distance between one’s feet

Sitting with your feet close to each other is both uncomfortable and unstable, and any seating arrangement in a small boat should offer the driver the comfort and stability provided by having their feet located at a good distance from each other, preferably on both sides of their body, such as in the riding posture offered by jet-skis and Wavewalk’s twin-hull kayaks and boats.

Frontal steering

Again, when driving anything from a bicycle to a jet fighter or a mega-yacht, you want to hold a steering device that’s located in front of you – Not on your side, and especially not behind you… You want to be able to manipulate this device easily, and hold it with both hands if necessary, such as in adverse conditions, or if you simply feel like it. This steering device can be a bar, as found in bikes, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and jet-skis, a steering wheel, such as in cars and boats, or a joystick, such as in airplanes and Wavewalk 700 microskiffs. The steering device should not be placed too low, and the driver should be able to somehow lean on it, or at least have their hands rest on it, for more comfort.

Stand up steering

Jet-skis and any reasonable-size boat that features a steering wheel can be driven standing up. This capability is important for both navigation and ergonomics, as well as for finding fish, and last but not least, for fun, because all these small boats should be fun to drive, since their main purpose is to help people have fun on the water.

Types of steering add-on systems for outboards

The owners of small fishing boats can choose between several types of add-on steering systems for outboards. These systems use either steel cables, hydraulic cables or electric / electronic components.
If your boat is permanently docked somewhere or its motor is quasi permanently attached to it because the boat requires transportation by trailer, you are free to choose any steering system. But if your boat is lightweight enough to be car-topped, you need to detach the outboard from it each time that you transport it, which means that the steering system you choose should be easy and quick to attach and detach, and this is where Wavewalk’s joystick steering system shines – It literally takes a few seconds to attach it, or shall we say plug it in, and detach it. No tools are required, and you can even ‘unplug’ it when you’re in the middle of a fishing trip, in case you prefer to have the saddle in front of you free of any object that might interfere with your fishing – You just ‘unplug’ (pull out) the joystick’s base and drop it in the hull behind you, and forget about it until you want to start the motor and drive again.
Wavewalk’s joystick steering system offers all the advantages mentioned in this article, including the ability to drive standing up in full comfort and confidence.

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