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Are Sit-on-Top (SOT) Fishing Kayaks Safe For Offshore Fishing?

A kayak fisherman recently posted his personal offshore capsize report on a Connecticut fishing blog. It was detailed and well written, and I copied some paragraphs from it that I found particularly interesting.

In his report the writer exposed the brand name and model of his fishing kayak, a top-of-the-line, 34″ wide sit-on-top, but I replaced these explicit names by the phrase “SOT fishing kayak” because the problem described is not necessarily typical to that particular brand or model – It is true for all SOT kayaks.

The writer took care of adding his advice to the detailed facts he described in his own words:

“· ALL SAILORS SHOULD DO HOURLY CHECKS OF THE BILGE.
· I noticed waves splashing over my bow and around my FWD hatch, then draining into the wet well. Wave frequency was every 4 seconds, or so.
· I didn’t hear any unusual sounds, but the wind was blowing and my hood was up.
· I wasn’t worried because my [SOT fishing kayak] had seen much rougher seas and wind.

· Shortly after… I noticed that my Kayak wanted to tilt to the left twice
· This had never happened before.
· DON’T IGNORE CHANGES IN HOW YOUR YAK HANDLES
· I wasn’t sure why it did this but I decided to make a direct course to the closest part of the island (15º more to the left)
· Now 30 ºoff the seas, the first small wave that hit me capsizing my Kayak.
· I remember saying to my self, “This can’t be happening, my yak is 34” wide…
· When I got back to the surface (Thank you PFD) I said to myself “What is the next step?” I turned my yak over. This was the easiest part of this self-rescue.
· PRACTICE THIS EVERY YEAR IN DEEP WATER
· After righting my Kayak I went to clime back into the cockpit (I snorkel often from my YAK) and noticed the draft was low
· Looking into the cockpit I noticed the water level in the wet well was at the bottom of the upper decal (in-front of the drive). This is about an inch higher than when I am sitting in the YAK. (estimated 35-40 gallons of water.
· DON’T DISPARE WHEN THINGS DON’T WORK OUT, SELECT A NEW STEP IN THE PLAN.
· At this point I realized that I was not going to be able to de-water with the small sponge I had onboard.
· ALWAYS CARRY A KAYAK PUMP.
· (Dude has done this for a long time)
· At this point I started swimming (towing my [SOT fishing kayak]) to the Island that I was heading for. (58º water temp). Current was flowing out carrying me to the left.
· SWIM WITH OR ACROSS THE CURRENT
· I remember that from Boy Scouts!
· As I swam I noticed that I was being set to the left, at one point I remember reminding my self to stay focused on my swimming as not to miss the island.”

After reading the entire report, the first question that comes to mind is -“How can water get inside a sealed SOT kayak hull?”

The answer is that SOT fishing kayaks have a number of typical weaknesses:

1. Parting Line:    All sit-on-top kayaks are rotationally molded. This means that molds used for molding such kayaks have a top part and a bottom part, which have to be perfectly adjusted to each other every time before the mold is put in the oven. Less than perfect fit can result in a kayak with a hull that’s weak along the line where its top and bottom parts meet, which is called the Parting Line.  In some cases a poor fit in the mold can result in tiny holes along the parting line. Parting line weakness and holes are not easy to discover. This is particularly dangerous because a SOT’s parting line is close to its waterline, and often submerged in water.

2. Scupper Holes:  SOT kayaks have scupper holes molded into their hulls. Because of the geometry of the SOT hull and problems of heat distribution during the rotational molding process, it’s difficult to achieve optimal wall thickness in the scupper holes’ area. This results in scupper holes that typically have thinner walls than other parts of the hull. Strain put on the scupper holes can cause cracks along the parting line within them, and result in water leaking into the hull. Such cracks in the scupper holes can appear after using them as stakeout pole points, attachment points for wheeled carts, through inadequate storage, and in some cases just as a result of normal use.

3. Wear and Tear:   SOT kayaks, like other kayaks, can develop wear-and-tear holes in their hulls in the course of normal usage. Such holes can be caused by cracks, cuts, deep scratches and punctures, but they are particularly dangerous when they occur in this type of kayak because its closed hull makes it difficult to detect them, whether on water or on shore.

4. Deck Gear:   All fishing kayaks are outfitted with deck gear, especially rod holders. This requires drilling holes in the hull, and attaching the gear with either bolts or rivets. Any hole in a Polyethylene hull presents a potential problem because it’s hard to seal effectively. Over time bolts can become loose and make the holes lose their water tightness. This problem is particularly dangerous in SOT kayaks for two reasons: One is because their decks are so close to the waterline, and the second being the fact that the closed hull makes it harder to detect leaks.

Unlike kayaking, kayak fishing is more of a stationary sport. This is an important fact because when you’re paddling a kayak that’s partially filled with water it handles differently from a dry one, but the difference is hardly perceptible when you’re not paddling. That is to say that the chances of you detecting a leak in a SOT hull while you’re fishing from it are smaller than if you paddled it, or if you fished from another kayak that does not feature a closed hull.

Read more about ocean kayak fishing >

Stand up fly fishing in cold water and streams

Note: This is a review of the W300 kayak series that was discontinued in 2010.

 

By Andrew Kumler

Cold Water and Streams Wavewalk Kayak Fly Fisherman and Photographer
Springfield, Oregon

Fishing kayak on a lake, in winter, with snow in the background - Oregon

“This picture was taken by Scott Floyd at Smith Reservoir in the West Central Cascade Mountains of Oregon”

Watch Andrew fly fishing standing in his W300 kayak:

 

“I like my Wavewalk 300 a lot” Andrew says -“I have never flipped it. I find it very stable to fish from.  I
had a close call on my first river trip..I was not used to the boat yet and I caught a cross current ..I thought I was going to flip for sure..But when the boat reached a point it righted its self..I learned
a lot about it on that trip..”

Andrew's fishing kayak by the river

Andrew's W kayak beached

“…I do love the w-kayak.”

Andrew's fishing kayak

“That’s my Wavewalk 300 ..A great and stable twin hull kayak.”

Andrew's kayak cockpit cover

Andrew created this ingenious cockpit cover that’s attached to the spray deflector with Velcro.  It’s very useful for camping trips.

kayak cockpit cover

The cockpit cover can be turned into a half-skirt that helps keeping Andrew cozy and warm when temperatures drop and the wind is blowing.

kayak anchor system

This anchor system keeps Andrew’s W kayak in place in midstream

Kayak Seat
“I’m glad that those ideas are helping you and your customers out…I guess it’s a little pay back for you creating such a great boat”

Andrew's fishing kayak - front view

Andrew can take a lot of gear with him on his long fishing trips, and this is where he keeps some of it

Photos: Andrew Kumler

Review of 2008 W300 fishing kayak, California

By Dennis Vircks

Saltwater Wavewalk Kayak Fisherman, California

-“Four months have passed since I received my Wavewalk.  I thought I would take some time to tell you how much I enjoy this fine little craft.  I now have it rigged to my satisfaction and to what I believe is the ultimate “individual fishing platform.”

Spotted bay bass in fishing kayak, California
A spotted bay bass posing for Dennis’ camera.

Fishing Kayak Newport Harbor, California

-“Ready to start the long haul to the launching beach at Newport Harbor Back Bay. I used Scotty rod holder bases and Cabela rod holders.  Installation was drilled holes with stainless steel screws, washers and cap lock nuts.”

Fishing kayak Huntington Beach, California
-“Returning to landing beach in Huntington Harbor.  I like the large hollow hulls because I can store my seven foot long rods, inflatable PFD,  tackle, everything I need in them for transporting.”

-“Much of the enjoyment was in the actual rigging process.  I wanted to get it right before I did any modifications and each decision took a lot of deliberation before fabrication and installation.  I knew that I wanted to power the craft, I had to have rod holders and a fish finder, I also learned that I needed a paddle keeper and a way to transport it fully loaded on long sandy beaches.  When I pull it fully loaded its gross weight is about 125 lbs.  All of my rigging modifications were installed with drilled holes and stainless steel screws, cap lock nuts and washers.”

Wheel for transporting fishing kayak

Close up on the wheel and part of the system that attaches it to the kayak.  Read more

-“The uniqueness of the craft and the comments I receive about it are also enjoyable.  Every time I take it out I get questions and comments.  “What is that?”  “Where did you get it”  “How much did it cost?”  I fish Newport Harbor and Huntington Harbor.  These are very active kayak fishing locations and most of them envy me as I maneuver under power.  One hard core “sit on
the topper” said to me, “That isn’t a Kayak.”  I responded, “Well, maybe not to you because when you look at me you see that my feet and butt are dry.”   I explained to him that after years of working and recreating in the sun I have become a melanoma farm and my skin can’t take long exposure to the sun or moist conditions.  (I wear a hat, long sleeve UV shirt and jeans.)   I switched topics to fishing techniques with our ultra light tackle.  Since then, we have had several friendly fishing encounters.  Last Saturday, as we were loading up to leave, I was astounded when he came over to me and said, “ya know buddy, I like your set up and I’m thinking about getting one.”

-“I needed a diversion from the stress of my occupation.  Now that I have this fine craft rigged, I get to spend a few hours just concentrating on something important; the challenging relaxation of FISHING!  This is what it is all about.”

Fishing kayak cockpit, Huntington Beach, California

-“I stern mounted a Minn Kota 30-30 trolling motor that is used for power assist during distance travel and exclusively for maneuvering when fishing.
My Minn Kota motor mount (I call it prototype #1) was fabricated out of one inch laminated hardwood.  I contoured the edges and attached it to the top with eight stainless screws, washers and cap nuts.  The lower portion of the mount is a laminated three inch by three inch cross member that is bolted through the hull with stainless steel lag bolts and neoprene washers on both sides.  I coated it with Krylon Non-Skid Coating rather than paint.
Sadly, the lamination glue was not equal to the task and it has started to crack at the joints.  It remains solid and functional but I will be replacing it after the fishing season.  I am researching various materials to use.”

Fish finder in kayak cockpit

-“I made a removable holder for my Humminbird Piranha Max fish finder out of ¼” hardwood.  I attached a scrap piece of one inch hardwood as a bottom extender.  To use simply force the one inch extender into the first saddle recess.  The friction holds it in place.”

Fish finder in kayak cockpit (2)

Foam cushioning for fishing kayak seat

A narrow foam mattress attached to small diameter tubes that fit in the saddle grooves – Dennis’ ingenious solution for extra comfort.

Paddle holder for fishing kayak
Dennis’ version of a ‘storm proof’ paddle holder.  Read more

Thrust in Electric Trolling Motors for Fishing Kayaks

Thrust is a unit of measurement that manufacturers of electric trolling motors for fishing kayaks and other boats use to describe propulsion capability. Thrust is measured in units of weight. In the USA it’s usually pounds (lb.).

This can be confusing, since we often tend to think of propulsion in motion terms, or in horsepower (HP).

Before going further, we’d better clarify what weight and thrust have in common:

Thrust of an electric trolling motor for a fishing kayak

This (rather crude) illustration shows a small boat on the water.  The boat is equipped with an electric trolling motor and propeller unit whose measurable output is 36 lb.  The boat is attached by a line to a 36 lb weight that’s pulling it backward.  Since the motor unit can provide 36 lb of thrust it will keep the boat in place: It would be strong enough to counterweight the 36 lb weight, but not strong enough to get the boat to move forward.

Once the battery gets weaker and/or the propeller entangled in seaweed the thrust achieved will diminish and the 36 lb weight will drag the boat backwards.

Similarly, if we lifted the propeller out the water it would still thrust the boat forward, but much less so, since it would be pushing against air that’s hundreds of times less dense than the water this propeller was designed to work in… In this case the 36 lb weight would easily win this tug of war.

Note that this simple model describes thrust without using speed terms.

There is no simple formula that can help you convert thrust to horsepower or vice versa, although the terms are closely related to each other when motorized boats are concerned.

In our case Thrust is the directional force resulting from the rotation of a propeller at a certain speed. Different propellers rotating at the same speed will generate different thrust. The same propeller will usually generate more thrust at a higher rotation speed (RPM).

Horsepower is a unit of measurement for power (it’s quite obvious isn’t it?…), which is the ability to do work. Power is described by weight lifted over a distance during a certain time.

1 HP is equal to the power needed to lift the weight of 550 lb over a vertical distance of 1 ft – in 1 second.

Just by looking at these numbers we can sense that not every human is capable of producing 1 HP – not even for a short period of time.  Most of us can produce much less than 1 HP over long periods of time, such as when paddling, biking etc.  Estimates vary from 0.2 to 0.4 HP, but that doesn’t mean much for us as individuals.

So, going back to our illustration, if we had a 1 HP gas engine on top of the dam, and that engine was attached with a pulley to the line holding the 36 lb weight, we would be able to lift that weight up at a staggering speed of over 15 ft per second (550:36 = 15….).

Apples to apples: How can we compare the 1 HP gas engine to our 36 lb electric trolling motor?

We need comparable, that is mutually convertible units of measurement. In this case it’s HP and Watt.  To convert Watts (W) to a horsepower rating (HP) simply multiply the Watts by 0.00134

In other words, a 750 W electric motor (1:00134 = 746…) produces the equivalent of 1 HP.

In boating terms, Thrust would be the result of applying this power to move a boat through the water by connecting the engine to a suitable propeller and letting it move water… In order for such a comparison to make some practical sense we need to assume certain things about RPM, type and condition of propeller, boat size, boat speed etc… It’s really not that easy.

More specifically, when it comes to electric motors for kayaks you shouldn’t be tempted to get a strong motor that would consume your battery power too fast.  If such a thing happens you’ll have to paddle your kayak back with a heavy battery and motor on board…

Read more about motorizing fishing kayaks >>

How to Avoid and Repair Scratches in Your Kayak

Going with your kayak over oyster beds, shells, sharp rocks, broken glass, metal debris and even concrete ramps can get its hull scratched. In most cases such scratches are negligible, and you need not pay attention to them. However, if you want to avoid getting your kayak scratched you’d better watch out for signs of such potential hazards in the water – especially if you’re fishing or paddling in shallow water. Needless to mention is the fact that fishing and paddling from a higher position than ordinary kayaks offer you can help a lot in detecting potential problems in the water ahead of time, that is before hitting them. This is yet another advantage the W Kayak offers you, and W Kayak paddlers and fishermen indeed stand up in their boats from time to time to look at the water around them.

When it comes to repairing scratches in polyethylene kayaks the methods are similar and depend on how deep the scratch is.

For superficial scratches we don’t recommend any treatment, but if you insist on doing something you can just flame the scratch using a hand-held, propane blow torch. You should apply the flame over the scratch slowly and cautiously until it disappears or diminishes considerably, while being careful not to overheat the area so as not to cause a local deformation. In any case, flaming alters the color of the polyethylene to a darker hue.

hand held blow torch for repairing kayaks

 

For deep scratches or ‘grooves’ it’s better to heat the end of a metal spoon and apply the hot tip gently and cautiously along the scratch, thus ‘welding’ the surface. Here too, you need to be careful not to overheat the area you’re working on since this would cause the polyethylene to deform. You’d need to protect your hand that’s holding the spoon with a thick glove since metal conducts heat and you might get your fingers burnt.

Keep the work area free of any flammable materials and make sure you’re not accidentally directing the flame at yourself or at other people. Don’t allow children or pets nearby.

If you’re not experienced in working with a propane blow torch you may want to reconsider such a project because it can be dangerous.

As for cracks in a polyethylene kayak, those are rare, and they must be properly fixed. Just flaming or welding won’t be enough to fix a crack, and you’d need to patch it – preferably with an internal patch that you’ll weld over the entire area. This is necessary since even if welded the hull in the cracked area will be weaker than in other places, and it could reopen while you’re paddling your kayak or fishing from it – with dire consequences. If the crack appears above waterline you can reinforce the patch with rivets, but we recommend not to use rivets when making repairs below waterline because we think that drilling holes in the hull below waterline is simple too risky in the long run.