Captain Larry Jarboe from Wavewalk Adventures in Key Largo, Florida, drives his “White Knight” workhorse S4 kayak-skiff powered by a 9.8 HP 2-cycle Tohatsu outboard motor, outfitted with a 9″ pitch propeller. Larry easily gets to a 17 mph speed, which is probably a world record for vessels that are officially designated as kayaks, such as the S4. He drives sitting in the side-saddle position, similarly to the way that he’s been driving dinghies and other small boats for decades – No stability problems, and no control problems, even in the chop. Most people who drive the S4 and other Wavewalk kayaks / boats do it in the riding position, with a leg on each side of the saddle seat, similarly to the way that Personal Watercraft (PWC a.k.a. jet-ski) drivers operate these vessels.
Generally, 2-stroke outboard motors are lighter than comparable 4-stroke outboards, which makes them more portable. 9″ is the highest pitch for propellers that fit this motor. A propeller with a higher pitch would have probably added some speed to Larry’s record. In any case, 17 mph falls within the upper range of speeds achieved by small, lightweight boats with propellers of such pitch.
Practically speaking, this performance coupled with the S4’s capability to carry on board up to three anglers and their fishing gear, puts it on par with Jon boats, skiffs, and even some bass boats. The S4 is an ultralight car-top boat that can be launched and carried anywhere, as well as paddled in extremely shallow water, and it is most seaworthy. These facts offer its users an advantage that neither conventional nor new boats do.
Note that Larry is a most experience boat driver, and driving such a small craft at such high speeds requires skills that not anyone has. This is to say that we do not recommend such powerful motors for the S4.
If you ask whether Jon Boats are stable, some people would say that they are, and others would warn you to stay away from them because they are tippy and unreliable. Their answer would depend on what they understand by ‘Stability’, what kind of Jon boat they see in their mind, and in what kind of water they see it being used, and these are often based on personal experience.
Is there a stability difference between a Jon boat and a skiff?
Both skiffs and Jon boats are flat bottom lightweight boats that differ in certain hull details, materials used in their construction, and deck structures. Both are designed to offer as much stability as possible for a small mono-hull boat going on flat water, and as such they are stabler than wide canoes and kayaks of the same length and width. Foot for foot and inch for inch, we don’t think there are major differences between Jon boats and skiffs in terms of the stability they offer. In other words, a Jon boat and a skiff of the same size, namely both length and width, can be expected to be about as stable as each other.
The twin-hull (“catamaran”) Wavewalk S4 is the world’s most stable portable boat. It is more stable than many Jon boats that feature a bigger hull, as shown in these photos of three fishermen fishing standing in it –
Click images to enlarge
Who Uses Jon Boats, and Where?
Jon boats are small fishing boats that are popular among inland fishermen who fish ponds, small lakes, marshes, and slow moving rivers, namely flat water that’s usually well protected from wind, waves, and preferably from fast motorboats that generate big wakes. These anglers may fish alone, but typically they fish in crews of two. Bigger Jon boats can be used in bigger lakes and rivers.
Factors in Jon Boats’ Stability
Structure, size and passengers
A typical Jon boat features a flat bottom designed to make it draft as little as possible, and thus work well in shallow water, while other Jon boats feature a bottom that’s partially V shaped (sometimes referred to as “Semi-V”) that drafts a little more but offers better performance in choppy water. This V shape should not be confounded with the more seaworthy Deep-V design. Jon boats can vary in width (Beam) from less than 3 ft to over twice as much, and this difference results in big variations in their stability, in this case initial (primary) stability, sometimes dubbed reserve stability.
When watercraft as small as Jon boats are concerned, passengers are typically the heaviest things on board, which is why passengers’ location and movements can greatly affect the boat’s stability.
Narrow-beam Jon boats are notoriously unstable, especially with a crew of two on board. Their instability can be felt even when they are used for fishing ponds and small lakes, where they are expected to perform at their best. Reading articles about Jon boat stability and user testimonials on this subject could lead the reader to the conclusion that any Jon boat that’s narrower than 48″ might not be stable enough for a tandem crew, and starting from this size, Jon boats get sufficiently stable, especially longer models. Another factor that affects a Jon boat’s stability is its length, since it acts as an enhancement to its width – A longer Jon boat is more stable than a shorter Jon boat of identical width (Beam).
External factors may destabilize a Jon boat as well, or at least destabilize the passengers on board – Such factors can be wind, waves and other boats’ wakes that hit the boat, especially on its sides (lateral waves).
Size matters, but it may not be enough
We found the following instructions for Calculating a Boat’s Capacity to Carry a Number of Passengers on a boating education website: On boats less than 20 feet long, the following rule of thumb can be used to calculate the number of persons (weighing 150 lbs each) the boat can carry safely in fair weather and calm water conditions: Number of passengers = boat length in ft x boat width in ft : 15 Example for a good size Jon boat or skiff: 15 ft x 4 ft = 60, and 60:15 = 4 passengers
However, the above formula seems outdated in view of the fact that these days the average adult US female weighs 160 lbs, and the average adult US male weighs 200 lbs. Therefore, to calculate the number of adult passengers in a Jon boat, we suggest to use the same formula and divide the result by 20 instead of by 15. Example for the same Jon boat or skiff: 15 ft x 4 ft = 60, and 60:20 = 3 passengers
Can the 13 ft long and 38″ wide Wavewalk S4 carry 3 passengers on board? The answer is yes, in fair weather and calm water conditions:
Captain Larry Jarboe, of Key Largo, Florida. Click image to read the story
When small craft are concerned, the boat’s own stability plays an important role in the overall stability of the combined boat and crew, but the passengers’ ability to balance themselves effectively is critical as well, which is to say that a wider Jon boat may not necessarily offer better means for its crew to balance themselves effectively – Jon boats often feature rudimentary bench-like seats that are similar to ones found in canoes and dinghies, or high swivel seats such as can be found in bass boats. Neither types of seats are optimized for supporting the user’s balancing efforts, and they’re not very good in keeping their user anchored to their place and in full control of their body’s center of gravity (CG). This ergonomic deficiency exposes a Jon boat’s passenger to unexpected lateral (side) motion, as well as vertical motion, whether such motion is the result of an external force such as a wave or another boat’s wake, the movement of another passenger on board, or even the strong reaction of the boat to that passenger’s own movements. More specifically, people on board a Jon boat can have a hard time finding their footing and balancing themselves intuitively, comfortably and effortlessly, and from the moment they lose their footing and balance, their own weight can act as an additional destabilizing factor that may tip the boat over, send its passengers overboard, and in some cases even overturn the boat.
A Jon boat of a smaller size works better as a fishing boat for one angler than it does for a crew of two.
Directional stability and lateral stability
Typically, Jon boats are motorized, and the flat bottomed ones can be easily deflected from their course as well as destabilized when going in lateral waves, especially at higher speeds. In such cases, the deficiency in a Jon boat’s lateral stability can become more problematic by the lack of good directional stability (tracking capability) that characterizes such boats, in particular ones that feature a flat bottom. People who use such boats are quick to head back home as soon as the wind picks up. Jon boats with a V-shaped hull do better in waves and wind, thanks to the fact that they have some capability to go through waves and not necessarily on top of them, which isn’t the case with flat bottomed Jon boats that are essentially designed for use on flat water only. This said, although Jon boats are not considered to be seaworthy craft, the bigger ones are sufficiently stable to offer a good experience to a crew of two or more anglers who fish inland, preferably in calm and protected waters, and away from fast motorboat traffic.
Stability: Jon Boats vs. Wavewalk® Series 4 (S4)
A detailed stability comparison between Jon boats and the Wavewalk® S4 is almost impossible to complete, because Jon boats vary so much in size and structure, and they can range from a flat bottomed, 32″ wide and 10 ft long (1032) boat to a V-bottom 72″ wide and 18 ft long one (1872), which can be assigned to another class of boats.
The Wavewalk form presents two main stability advantages: The first comes from the fact that all the Wavewalk’s buoyancy is distributed as far as possible from the boat’s center line, where this buoyancy works more effectively to support lateral changes, whether such changes are external of generated on board. The second advantage is the Wavewalk’s Personal Watercraft saddle seat that offers the passengers who ride it optimal, easy and intuitive means to balance themselves. This advantage is critical in view of the fact that the passengers’ total weight can be as big the the Jon boat’s weight, and it often exceeds this weight. For example, in the photo above, the passengers’ aggregated weight exceeds the S4’s weight by a factor of 5:1.
So, in order to avoid tedious detailed stability comparisons, let us simplify things and state that in general, the bigger models in the Jon boat class (over 54″ beam) are more stable than the S4, the smaller Jon boat models (less than 48″ beam) are less stable, and as for the the midsize models (48″ to 54″) the answer would depend on parameters such as their length (longer is more stable), and whether they feature a flat bottom or a V-shaped bottom, as discussed in the previous section of this article.
Bottom line: Compared to the traditional Jon boat design, the Wavewalk S4’s form and improved ergonomics add stability which is the equivalent of about 1 ft in width.
Portability and paddling capacity
More specifically, the Wavewalk® S4 is stabler than any car-topper namely portable Jon boat. Which is to say that if you’re looking for a Jon boat that’s more stable than the S4, you must take into consideration transporting and storing it on a trailer, as well as limitations in launching it, namely being dependent on launch ramps that come with trailer boats.
In addition, the Wavewalk® S4 is more stable than any Jon boat that can be propelled by means of paddling, whether it’s with dual blade (kayak) paddles or single-blade (canoe) paddles. This fact is particularly meaningful when very shallow water (‘skinny water’) fisheries are concerned, and no-motor zones (NMZ).
Generally speaking, Jon boats are not considered as being seaworthy, while Wavewalk® boats are more seaworthy thanks to their good tracking capability and advanced ergonomics. These two factors allow for high performance when dealing with choppy water, which is why the S4 punches above its weight in terms of seaworthiness.
Small craft are penalized for their size in several ways, and one of them is their sensitivity to carrying more weight on board, which makes them slower and less stable. This is true for all boat designs, including Jon boat and Wavewalk. Therefore if you’re looking for stability for a larger crew of heavier people, say two big and heavy guys or more, your best bet is a very large Jon boat or skiff, that is 6 ft or more in width, and over 16 ft in length, and preferably with a V shaped bottom, so that you could drive it at higher speed. Two large size fishermen can go in an S4 and have a great time traveling and fishing for an entire day without experiencing any stability problem, even standing up, but they would not necessarily be able to go at speeds as high as a large size Jon boat or skiff offers.
This article is an attempt to answer some questions that Wavewalk skiff owners ask in the process of choosing an outboard motor for it –
Short shaft or long shaft?
We definitely recommend using outboards that feature a long (20″) propeller shaft, and for multiple reasons, which are discussed in this article entitled Outboard motor propeller shaft length for Wavewalk fishing kayaks and boats » We recommend not to be tempted by the availability and lower price of 15″ short shaft outboard motors, because such motors don’t fit the W700, and using one would never produce optimal results, even for a highly skilled individual with a lot of experience in boat outfitting.
Here is a list of long (L) 20″ shaft outboard motors currently available in the 2 to 6 horsepower range, and their HP rating:
Water cooled motors are quieter but heavier than comparable air cooled motors. The only motor featuring on the above list that’s not water cooled is the Honda 2.3 HP. It is very lightweight, and works very well, but being air cooled makes it considerably noisier.
Note: Outboard motor manufacturers recommend flushing the motor’s cooling system with fresh water after every trip in saltwater. It’s possible to flush an outboard with a garden hose outfitted with a special adapter.
4-Cycle or 2-Cycle engine?
Nearly all new small motors on the market are 4-Cycle (4-stroke) and not 2-Cycle (2-stroke). The advantage of the 4-Cycle system is twofold –
The motor runs on regular fuel, and there is no need to mix it with oil.
A 4-Cycle motor is cleaner, namely it emits far less stinky fumes than 2-cycle motors do.
Some experts argue that for the same displacement of its combustion chamber (cc, volume, size), a 2-Cycle engine in more powerful than 4-Cycle one, but we think that convenience and fresh air are more important.
electric or gas?
Many Wavewalk owners outfit their W500 and W700 with electric motors in the 30 to 50 lbs thrust range, and some go as far as 70 lbs thrust. They use their electric kayaks and skiffs for assisted paddling, recreation, touring, trolling, fishing, snorkeling, etc., but we prefer not to include electric motors in our list of “real” outboard motors for two reasons, which are:
Power – Although some small electric motors are offered as “outboard motors”, just looking at their basic, objective power rating makes us think that they are too weak. Kilowatts to Horsepower conversion: 1 KW = 1.34 HP, and 1 HP = 0.745 KW. Consequently, an electric motor can work well on flat water and at a moderate speed, but not necessarily in adverse conditions, namely strong current, strong wind, etc.
Range of travel – A gallon (3.8 liter) of fuel costs a few dollars, and it’s enough for a typical small outboard motor to run for 4 hours at a high RPM, or an entire day at a lower RPM. You can refuel a small outboard’s built-in fuel tank when you’re on board your Wavewalk®. You can take several gallons of fuel with you on a long camping trip, and you can buy more fuel almost everywhere, while recharging an electric motor’s battery can take half a day. Therefore, gas outboard motors offer a reliable and convenient solution whose price / performance ratio is unbeatable by any electric motor available today.
All small outboard motors listed above are considered to be Portable. However, between the 29 lbs of the 2.3 HP Honda and the 59 lbs of the 6 HP motors there is a considerable difference, if you need to carry the motor by hand over a distance.
The shallow water position
Most of the small outboard motors listed here offer to lock their propeller shaft in an intermediary position between the vertical (down) and horizontal (up) positions. In this intermediary, slanted position, the propeller drafts less than in the vertical position, and this allows for driving the boat at a moderate speed in very shallow (‘skinny’) water. Therefore, if you’re looking to fish in skinny water, we recommend that you look for this feature.
gear shift lever
Most outboard motors on our list feature a gear shift level, and this is a good thing, because the alternative is a centrifugal clutch that lacks an absolute neutral position. The absence of a full neutral gear can make starting the motor a little tricky, if you’re a beginner. Our preference goes to the outboard motors that feature the gear shift lever at the front, rather than on their side. The frontal position makes it easier for the driver to access the lever whether the motors points left or right, and even if the driver is facing forward.
built-in fuel tank
All the above listed outboard motors come with a built-in (integrated) fuel tank, and this is a convenient feature considering the alternative is to have a fuel line run from a separate tank to the engine. When you operate such a small craft as a Wavewalk, simplicity becomes increasingly important.
The propellers that come standard with these outboard motors fit Wavewalk’s kayaks and portable skiffs. Typically, these motors propel much heavier boats, which is why the propeller’s diameter and pitch which determine output in terms of speed and torque are of no real consequence to the owner of a Wavewalk under normal conditions.
price and brand
All the brands listed above are known to produce quality motors, and in fact some of them produce motors for others. For example, Mercury is a Tohatsu brand. This is to say that we see no reason to pay more for a particular name brand, and we recommend to consider only the motor’s technical attributes, and its price.
HP rating – can i overpower my skiff?
6 HP is the absolute maximum for which the W700 is rated, and this is only for its RIB model. Overpowering your Wavewalk can be hazardous, and if you use the wrong motor mount you’d be calling for trouble. This said, if you happen to own a 20″ shaft 5 HP motor and your W700 is rated for a 4.5 HP motor, you can keep your motor, and you won’t necessarily have to get a new one. Similarly, if your W700 is rated for up to 4.5 HP and you found a nice 4 HP that you like, you’d be fine with it.
If you choose to make a DIY mount for an electric trolling motor, chances are that you’ll succeed, since these motors are so weak that they’re not likely to cause trouble. But this is not the case with the gas outboard motors in the range that features on the above list. There are several issues to overcome with motor mounts, and the motor’s weight is the least of them. The main problem is that operating at the end of a 20″ lever, the motor’s propeller generates a great amount of torque, especially at high speed, in rough water and when making sharp turns at high speed. This torque can twist and crack a 4×2 timber, and pull out nails and screws from their place. After having seen motor mounts get broken by outboard motors ranging from 6 to 3.5 HP that were mounted on them, we strongly recommend not to build a DIY motor mount for these motors, and to use only the motor mounts that Wavewalk recommends.
Some of the more powerful outboard motors listed here can be outfitted with an alternator and an AC to DC converter. Note that such accessories cost hundreds of dollars. The electric current produced by this system can be used to power lights on board, or to charge a trolling motor’s battery. Such setups are common in bigger boats (e.g. bass boats) that feature much more powerful motors. Although some Wavewalk owners have outfitted their W700 with two motors (a powerful one for driving and a small one for trolling), we don’t know of anyone who’s outfitted their outboard motor with an electric current generation system.
Why an outboard motor?
Skiffs, Jon boats and other small boats sometime come with other motors, among which are air drives or air motors (large diameter propellers) for running marshes and flats, jet drives (similar to personal watercraft, a.k.a. jet-ski), long shaft mud motors for going in shallow water and over obstacles, and outboard motors that run on propane.
While each of these motors offers certain special advantages, and we’d love to see the W700 outfitted with any of them, as well as with other propulsion systems ranging from sails to oars, and even pedal drives… we think the common small outboards such as we listed here offer the optimal mix of price, performance, reliability, versatility, ease of use, and ease of maintenance – Just think how common are boat dealerships and repair shops that service these motors… And if you know how to use your outboard motor and you take care of it, it’s truly a wonderful thing that you’d enjoy for years, and possibly even decades.
It’s been a year since we launched the W700 series, the third generation of Wavewalks, and our biggest and costliest project so far. So this may be a good time to look at our thoughts and expectations prior to designing this product, and compare them to reality, as we can perceive it at this point in time.
-How does the actual product compare to the plan?
Although we made no prototype for the W700, we had enough prior knowledge, and that helped us extrapolate, calculate and foresee its actual performance. Our design for the saddle was extremely innovative, but the driving notion for it was ‘build strong’, so we had no doubt that it would work well. This boat has fulfilled all our requirements and exceeded our expectations with its gliding capability and ease of paddling in both a tandem and solo modes. It does exactly what we expected it to do when motorized, and we expected a lot, including both the driver and passenger standing up, and full offshore capabilities. We were also relieved to see that although the W700 weighs 20 lbs more than the W500, car-topping it is still very easy. Stability wise, we knew the W700 would be the world’s most stable kayak, but we wondered how such stability would feel like – Now we know that the W700 feels “Ridiculously Stable”, namely that it defies the user’s senses. In other words, it delivers a stability level that can be experienced only in full size motorboats.
None, so far. In twelve months we received no complaints about this new product, and no one has made any kind of negative comment about it. Ironically, one client, a scientist from British Columbia, Canada, who had been using a W500 for his work prior to getting a W700, commented that the new boat was “too stable”, because when he took a second crew member on board, that person felt so stable that they stood up right away, and without warning…
-New and meaningful developments
The introduction of the Joystick Steering System has made driving the W700 comfortable, easy, and fun, both seated and standing. Solving the ergonomic problems associated with driving also increased the range of travel of the W700, and added a new dimension to it as a sporty leisure watercraft that one drives for fun, and not just to get from point A to point B, or for touring.
Market Performance and Position
Despite being over 50% more expensive than the W500, the W700 outsells the W500 by a wide margin, and it has become Wavewalk’s main product line. In its first year, we sold almost as many W700 units as our business plan for it had projected that we’d sell in the first three years. Many clients have told us that they had bought their W700 after considering buying a motorboat, e.g. Jon boat, skiff, and in one case a pontoon boat, and they didn’t buy their W700 as a fishing kayak, or even as a motorized kayak. Currently, we ship a motor mount with one out of three W700 units. These facts mean a lot to us. Thanks to its lower price, the W700 R base model outsells all other 700 models combined, but we think it’s significant that the newly created, expensive W700 Z model that includes ‘Everything, From A To Z’ comes second, although in much more modest numbers.
Looking forward to the second year
Some W700 owners have already started outfitting their boats in innovative ways, and we look forward to more interesting projects, reports, and movies.
-RIB / RHIB
Rigid-Inflatable Boats, namely boats that feature a hull, or part of it that’s rigid, and parts that are made from inflatable tubes or chambers, are popular in a broad variety of boating applications and environments, and our own experience with the W700 shows that we can go further in this direction, and offer additional RIB / RHIB models in the 700 series.
-New type of boat
Years ago, we positioned the W500 as a ‘Super Kayak’, and over time, together with our clients, we have proved that it is indeed a superlative kayak, and the world’s best one-person fishing kayak, according to people who use it. We think we can do the same with the W700 as a ‘Super Boat’, in the sense that it delivers high performance not just as a kayak and a motorized kayak, but as a small, car-top boat that competes with other small boats and skiffs, as such. This is not a minor challenge, in view of the fact that there are so many different boats out there, but so far it looks like we’re in the right direction.
The list of people who have been involved in conceiving this watercraft and doing R&D with it as initial users is getting longer, and this makes it harder for us to thank each one of them separately. But we know who they are, and they who they are, and we want to use this opportunity of the W700’s first birthday to thank them again. We look forward to doing more interesting and yes, sometimes crazy stuff, and from now on we’ll try to avoid getting sunburned… 😀