How Effective Can A Fishing Kayak’s Outriggers Be?

Your fishing kayak’s stability is key to your success and fun in kayak fishing, and the outriggers may help in achieving better stability, but at a price.

By effective we mean how much stability can a pair of outriggers add to your fishing kayak’s initial lateral stability, and what are the drawbacks for using outriggers or that purpose, if any.

First, you need to understand what makes your fishing kayak stable (or unstable), and here is the skinny:

The kayak’s total amount of buoyancy, or roughly its volume is what defines its overall load capacity, or in other words, what weight it can carry without sinking.

All kayaks are symmetrical, which means that every kayak has a longitudinal axis, or center line – It’s the line that divides it in two identical parts: left and right. Each part is buoyant, obviously, and its characteristics are what defines that kayak’s lateral stability. These characteristics are:

1. Buoyancy (roughly the volume of each half), and

2. The distance of that kayak-half’s center of buoyancy from the kayak’s center line.

For this purpose it’s enough to say that the half-kayak’s center of buoyancy is the point at the center of that half-kayak’s mass.  If this definition isn’t clear enough, let’s just say that the center of buoyancy is the point that best represents what that half-kayak can do in terms of keeping that side of the kayak from sinking in the water.

To make a long story short, a kayak’s stability can be simply defined by a number that’s the result of multiplying each half’s buoyancy times the distance of its center of buoyancy from the kayak’s center line.

That number would give us a relative answer as to a kayak’s initial stability: The more buoyancy on each side, and the further apart the kayak sides’ centers of buoyancy are – the stabler it is. It’s something that’s easy to understand intuitively, and reading this article about kayak stability will explain to you what makes the W fishing kayak stabler than the widest fishing kayak out there.

Going back to outriggers, what each outrigger does is two things:

1. Increase the buoyancy of each of that kayak’s halves, and

2. Displace the half-kayak’s center of buoyancy further away from the kayak’s center line.

This is why outriggers can increase your fishing kayak’s stability, and the bigger they are, and the more remote from your kayak’s center line – the stabler you’ll be.

And here are the drawbacks of using outriggers in fishing kayaks:

  1. Extra cost – A good pair of outriggers doesn’t come cheap
  2. Lack of efficiency – In order to properly stabilize your fishing kayak, outriggers would have to be attached to its middle section. This is impossible because doing that would prevent you from both paddling and fishing. This is why outriggers are mounted in the back of fishing kayaks, where they cause less disturbance to paddling and fishing, but at a price of offering no extra stability towards the kayak’s bow, and considerably less stability in the area where you sit, paddle and fish (or stand up, if you’re an over optimistic person…)
  3. Extra weight – With its attachment bars a pair or outriggers can weigh a lot, and that comes on top of your fishing kayak, fishing gear and tackle you need to get tom and from the beach.
  4. Extra complexity – In many case you’d have to attach the outriggers before launching, and detach them after beaching. It can take precious time.
  5. Reduced speed – Outriggers generate quite a bit of resistance, especially since their hull speed is much smaller than the main hull’s speed (I.E. they are much shorter than the kayak itself).  In addition, outriggers create a windage problem, which can be a nasty experience for you when the wind picks up, and for some reason it tends to do it almost every time you go out fishing…
  6. Fishing problems – Outriggers and fishing lines don’t get along very well…

More information: How effective are outriggers for your fishing kayak’s stability?

Bottom line –

Outriggers offer a solution to the stability problem in kayaks, and it’s a solution that comes at a price that you don’t want to pay, in terms of money, weight, complexity, and other problems. This is why you’d better think simple and effective, namely get the alternative that works better, which the patented, super-stable Wavewalk kayak.

Read more about kayak stability »







15 thoughts on “How Effective Can A Fishing Kayak’s Outriggers Be?”

  1. Jeff McGovern says:

    Yoav, you are right. In simple terms outriggers are a royal pain and have no place on real fishing kayak. I’ve have outrigger experience with a fully rigged 13′ canoe here at the house. I put it together in the mid 90’s long before fishing kayaks were all the rage. The outriggers do slow a boat down a bunch if they are in constant contact with the water. Mine were adjustable from along the hull to out three feet on each side and you could raise or lower them. But at any location they are a line catch hazard and cost me a few fish over the years I used them. Also the set up time for rigging from cartop to the water, you could loose the topwater bite unless you showed up real early. That combined with the other set up time for the padded seats, roll in floor, rod rack, let me tell you at times you almost forgot why you were at the water’s edge with all that stuff. The W puts the idea of outriggers to bed for kayak fishing. You don’t need them and once you understand the ease of use the W offers virutally anything else is a bother

  2. Well Jeff, I guess I must have learned a thing or two from you 😀

  3. Let’s see if I get it…
    The folding [pivoting] outriggers in the [brand name kayak] kayak don’t add any buoyancy, right?
    So what actually happens when those pivoting outriggers unfold, it’s just their own, small buoyancy that’s partially moving outwards from the center line, and the central point of buoyancy of each outrigger moves out just by a few inches, correct?
    It seems to me that the added stability is small in this case, because most of that yak’s buoyancy is till located in its main hull, and after all it’s just a regular mono-hull SOT. The little stability added works only for the stern, but hardly for the passenger and the bow…

  4. That’s pretty much it.
    More precisely, the little increase in lateral stability at the stern can be felt mainly if you’re leaning backwards and sideways at a certain angle. In clock terms it’s roughly hour 4 on your right and hour 8 on your left. If you lean sideways (hours 3 and 9, respectively) you’ll feel very little difference from when the outriggers are unfolded.
    The irony about that design is that with the same added complexity (and cost) they could have increased stability more by letting the outriggers open in parallel to the hull, and not through pivoting. It would have also enabled the kayak fisherman sitting o top of that kayak to keep paddling, while the current configuration completely prevents any effective paddling from the moment those things are deployed.

  5. So those unfolding stabilizers don’t help you a bit when you’re stumbling anywhere forward, like in hours 2 on your right side and 10 on your left side…
    “Interesting”… 😀

  6. stabilizers are not cool

  7. An outrigger’s job is to compensate for your kayak losing its stability as it’s tipping sideways.
    A good pair of outriggers should be big enough, and attached far enough from the kayak’s center line, in parallel to the kayak’s middle section – not at the stern.
    Any other way is inefficient, pretty much ineffective, and even useless, depending on circumstances, or luck, if you prefer.

  8. I own two Wavewalk yaks, one is bare bones, the other has
    the Spring creek outrigger.
    My outriggers do not touch the water as I’m paddling, so they don’t
    slow me down.
    They were my training wheels in the begining.
    Now they are there for larger bodies of water where wakes can be
    a problem, this way I can fish and not worry about the boats going
    And for when I use my trolling motor, they are a big bonous, for
    nice quick tight turns without a worry.

    Tight lines.

  9. I agree that we have extra cost to using outriggers in fishing kayak.
    Nice posting..

  10. I have a place in NW Ontario that I leave a canoe and like to fish with a 4 horse motor on it. It can be treacherous to fish with a 55 pound motor mounted on the side of the stern of a canoe. I have been doing some research on outriggers and have found that floats afford as much buoyancy as the weight of water that could be held by them(minus their own weight). That means that an outrigger that has a volume of 1 cubic foot would provide 64 pounds of buoyancy(the weight of 1 cubic foot of water). So to counter the effects of my 55 pound motor on the side of the canoe I would have to have approximately one cubic foot of floatation on the same side of the canoe as the motor. What I don’t understand is as I move the outrigger out away from the center point of the canoe, how much buoyancy do I pick up? I understand that it increases as the outrigger moves out but what is the formula? Any help? I am thinking I could put just one outrigger on the canoe, on the same side of the canoe as the motor. It would be like the Hawaiian outriggers, providing buoyancy on the side it is on and also leveraged weight to counter a tip of the canoe in the opposite direction. That leaves one side of the canoe open for landing fish, pulling up for shore lunches, etc also. There are some pretty cool aluminum torpedo shaped fuel tanks on that look like they might work great. I am trying to decide how big I need and how far to put my outrigger out.

    Don’t Forget to Set the Hook.


  11. Greg,

    IMO 64 lbs of buoyancy won’t suffice for a 55 lbs motor, because on top of its weight the motor acts on the boat with its own power, and not always in a way you want it to.
    I’d use at least 3 times more buoyancy, if I were you, just to be on the safe side, which is the only side you want to be on 😀

    As for calculating the effect of the outrigger’s distance from the boat, you can use simple lever formulas.

  12. I own a 17 ‘ sea kayak. It is fast, and very unstable. 21 ” across the beam. I bought a pair of outriggers which are adjustable up, down and sideways. They stay out of the water untill they are needed and therefore they do not decrease my speed. They weigh 15 lbs. I do not sacrifice anything but a small amount of weight. I can take them on or off in less than one minute. I would not go without them. I can also practice bracing without the fear of rolling over. I have been in some very rough seas and have yet not had any problems.

  13. I’m not a big fan of outriggers, because in order to offer enough initial, or primary stability they need to be very close to the water. This means that they do touch the water on occasion, especially if the water is choppy, and that’s not good for tracking.
    If they’re not close to the water, we’re already dealing with a secondary stability issue, and only large size outriggers can help you then. As we know, big outriggers can’t be lightweight, and they tend to catch the wind.

    Just curious – what are you planning to do when your sea kayak capsizes? The outriggers will prevent you from rolling it, and you’ll get entrapped:


  14. Carl Greene says:

    Well….I live on Lewis Smith lake in Alabama and have access to over 500 miles of shoreline due to so many little finger tributaries which makes for some awesome flyfishing, but find myself often plagued by bass boats and Skidoos coming out of nowhere (at some of these tributaries you hardly have 60 feet shore to shore), and yes, I have been swamped several times before I could get sideways. So that being said. what are my options other than some type of stabilizer …what’s a guy to do?

  15. Carl,
    It seems like your only option is to get a W kayak, isn’t it?
    Seriously, when you’re in a W500 motorboats wakes are fun, since they provide you with a chance to get a little action without compromising your stability, comfort or dryness. This is true even if you happen to be fly fishing standing up.

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