By Captain Larry Jarboe
Bob and his grandson Austin had a great adventure yesterday.
Austin caught a nice mangrove snapper.
Bob and his grandson Austin had a great adventure yesterday.
Austin caught a nice mangrove snapper.
Skiffs come in different sizes and configurations, and similarly to Jon boats, they are flat bottomed mono-hulls, a feature that reduces draft, which is advantageous for fishing in shallow water.
But this design feature also makes skiffs less seaworthy compared to other boats of similar size.
This is yet another example of specialization that enhances the product’s performance in one application while diminishing its performance in others.
Skiffs’ limited seaworthiness is the reason for their being unpopular as boats for offshore fishing, and opinions about their performance in bays and estuaries are mixed. The skiff design’s limited seaworthiness is one of the reasons why owners of big boats and yachts don’t use small skiffs dubbed microskiff as tenders.
Typically, skiffs’ hulls are molded from fiberglass, mainly because this material is more durable in saltwater than aluminum, which is the most common building material in Jon boats. However, fiberglass doesn’t perform well in terms of impact resistance, and it requires maintenance, while other polymer resins (plastics) such as Polyethylene don’t.
Fiberglass is also heavier than Polyethylene, too heavy to make a small skiff that’s lightweight enough to be transported on top of a vehicle’s roof, namely a portable skiff.
Skiffs are propelled by one or more outboard motors mounted at their stern.
Depending on a skiff’s size and level of outfitting, it may feature a center console, a casting platform at its front, and a tall structure at the stern, for a person to use for poling and/or for sighting fish for one or more anglers fishing from the deck.
Skiff are sometimes outfitted with an electric trolling motor, typically mounted at their bow.
The main advantages of a frontal casting platform are that it offers the angler a broader range of casting, be it with bait, lures, flies, or a fishing net, and it puts a bigger distance between them and other fishers working from the middle of the deck.
The main advantage of a center console is that it improves the driver’s comfort and stability, relatively to driving from the stern, and it allows them to drive standing.
Poling is both exhausting and rather ineffective as a mode of propulsion, and therefore increasingly unpopular among anglers who fish the flats and other shallow water. This leaves the poling platform to serve mainly as a watchtower, and possibly as an ornament.
Electric trolling motors are quiet, and they can be controlled remotely, which is one of the reasons that more skiff owners use them these days.
Microskiff is a term that refers to compact skiffs, namely of small size, and typically of reduced features as well. The smaller size saves money on gas and maintenance, but the need to transport microskiffs on a trailer still presents a challenge in terms of launching and beaching, as well as storage.
At the lowest end of microskiffs both in terms of size and price, is a group of large size boards, some of which feature backward pointing extensions that provide extra support for the outboard motor’s weight, and some that don’t. These boards usually offer enough stability and load capacity for just one user (I.E. “solo” skiff), and they hardly offer any free board, which pretty much guarantees that this user will get soaked, whether they like it or not.
As far as comfort is concerned, these large size boards marketed as microskiffs or “solo” skiffs seem to be designed with no concern for ergonomics whatsoever, to a point where watching a video featuring such a skiff might give the viewer an uneasy feeling.
In terms of portability and transportation, their small size allows for an unusually strong person to transport one on a pickup truck bed, but car topping such a vessel is beyond reach for anyone who’s not a professional weight lifter.
Most of these board type skiffs are molded from fiberglass or other cold-molded resins, which reduces their impact resistance, durability, and therefore reliability.
The board skiff that’s made from Polyethylene weighs 150 lbs without the motor, which is still too heavy to rival the portability of most fishing kayaks and canoes, and let’s not forget that square-stern canoes can be outfitted with small outboard motors…
Despite their small size, including a beam (width) that’s narrower than the beam of conventional skiffs, board skiffs do not paddle well, a factor that reduces their appeal to anglers who fish skinny water and water where aquatic vegetation abounds.
In physical terms, the Wavewalk S4 is smaller and much lighter than any skiff, microskiff, and board skiff, and it its Polyethylene hull makes it more resistant to impact. It is the only skiff that anyone can car top without help from a second person.
The S4 can carry up to three adult fishermen on board, which is comparable to the crew size of good size skiffs, and it enables these anglers to fish at the same time and standing up, which is something that only full fledged medium sized and bigger skiffs may offer.
The S4 is a much seaworthy skiff that can be driven through ocean waves and other choppy waters without problems, both in a solo mode and with a second passenger on board. The patented combination of its twin-hull (catamaran) and saddle seat is extremely stable as well as easy for the users to balance, even more than a personal watercraft (PWC).
In fact, driving an S4 in the ocean and in choppy water is pure fun.
The S4 offers plenty of free board, which is good news for passengers who are looking to stay dry, and it is the only skiff that can serve as a tender for a big boat or a yacht.
The S4 offers its passengers to use the entire internal space of its twin hulls for on board storage, and this makes its storage capacity rival with full fledged and good size skiffs.
Like a full fledged skiff, the S4 can be easily outfitted with a front mounted electric trolling motor.
And unlike any other skiff, including the smallest board-type microskiffs, or kayak skiffs, the S4 works really well as a paddle craft, namely kayak or canoe, to a point that some owners use it as a fishing kayak, without even motorizing it.
Typically, the S4 is used with outboard motors in the 3.5 HP to 6 HP range, but it can be powered by bigger motors.
In sum, the S4 is a craft that’s so advanced in performance and versatility that it deserves a class of its own.
I created a custom trailer for “The Dub” [Wavewalk S4] out of an old sailboat trailer. We took it to a local boat ramp and motored about an hour through the marshes to a barrier island to go shelling. Made it there and back in fine style.
We got some funny looks from people watching us go by and watching me launch the boat with one finger!
Loving our Wavewalk!
As kayaks became increasingly popular among anglers, some of them started ‘rigging’ (outfitting) their kayaks with electric trolling motors. The need for doing so arose from the fact that paddling alone was insufficient in many ways – Monohull (common) sit-in and SOT kayaks are excessively wide, heavy and sluggish to their very inefficient design [¹], and paddling them to longer distances in not a possibility that’s offered to most people, especially in adverse conditions such as wind and current.
Typically, the motors used for this purpose were weak (30 lbs to 50 lbs thrust) trolling motors, powered by a 12 Volt lead-acid, deep-cycle marine battery. To this day, this is still a popular setup, and it stayed so thanks mainly to its low cost.
In this sense, kayak fishing, which started as a human powered sport, joined other forms of fishing from small craft, namely canoes, dinghies, etc.
The advent of Lithium-Ion (Li-On) batteries [²] with their more effective power to weight ratio has added to the appeal of the electric motorized fishing kayak, and as these batteries became more affordable, they contributed to the spreading of motorized kayaks as yet another fishing platform in the market for portable vessels. However, besides their high price, these new batteries still present a problem to the user, and it is the fact that the amount of energy they store is still no match for the energy stored in gasoline, which powers internal combustion engines, namely outboard gas motors, or simply “outboards”.
As much as manufacturers of both kayaks and electric motors taut solutions based on the new Lithium-Ion batteries as the eco-friendly and quiet equivalent to motorboats, the fact of the matter is that they don’t compete well, at least when power and range of travel are concerned. Simply, the numbers are not there.
In recent years, a growing number of kayak manufacturers has been offering fishing kayaks designed especially to work in a motorized mode, with an integrated electric power drive. Typically, the electric motor is inserted in a special compartment in the middle of the kayak, under the area where the user sits, and the propeller rotates under the hull. This design is not effective in more than one way, starting from the fact that it exposes the propeller to unwanted encounters with vegetation that can make it stall, and hard underwater objects and structures that can damage it. This makes such motor kayaks rather useless in shallow water and/or in water where vegetation abounds. To say that this defeats the purpose of kayak fishing may not be an overstatement. On top of this acute mobility problem, the location on the propeller under the kayak’s midsection makes it ineffective for steering, and forces the user to steer with a paddle and/or with a rudder system that adds unwanted complexity and clutter to a small vessel whose deck is already characterized by much clutter and too little workplace and comfort.
No wonder these big ticket and rather lame motor kayaks haven’t become popular.
Typically, common kayaks feature an elongated hull that’s pointy on both ends, and a cockpit that allows their user to sit in the middle of the deck. However, when small motors are concerned, having the user, namely the driver operate the motor from a close distance presents a major advantage in terms of safety, comfort, convenience and steering. For example, canoes, which feature hulls that are similar in shape to kayaks, are offered as paddling canoes with pointy front and rear ends, and square-end canoes where the transom is straight rather than pointy, and allows for mounting an outboard motor and for the driver to sit close to it.
Having the driver of a motorized kayak sit in the middle of the boat and operate a motor that’s several feet behind them doesn’t work well, and in case of an outboard (gas motor), it doesn’t work at all, despite attempts from a few kayak manufacturers to create demo videos that would give the impression that it does….
A couple of manufacturers of extra-wide hybrid fishing kayaks have tried to offer models designed especially for effective motorizing. The special thing about these models is that similarly to square end canoes, they feature a straight transom instead of a pointy rear end. The width of the transom varies, and in the models that feature a very wide transom, it makes the kayak fall outside the designation of kayak, per US Coast Guard regulations.
In any case, even hybrid kayaks (namely hybrid kayak / canoe) with an extremely wide transom don’t work as well as square end canoes, because unlike canoes, kayaks do not offer much in terms of free board, and as soon as the kayak’s rear is loaded with a motor and a driver, and it starts moving in the water with its front end pointing upward, its rear end sinks considerably and becomes too exposed to flooding for safe driving. And this happens even while driving on flat water, let alone in choppy water and waves.
Which is why these days the manufacturers of these kayaks are more low-key about them…
In their eternal quest to differentiate themselves from the competition and stay relevant, kayak manufacturers end up offering new designs and solutions that are highly similar to each other. This happens not just in motorized kayaks, but in the market for pedal driven kayaks as well. And while pedal drives for kayaks are not within the scope of this article, it’s worthwhile to mention them since some vendors promote the fallacious notion that pedal kayaks could be an alternative to motorizing, although they certainly cannot, and they don’t even come close, at least when the real world and real people are concerned.
To simplify the ergonomics that apply to pedal drives and to human power in general, an average adult kayaker who is neither old nor impaired can produce around 75 Watts, namely 0.1 Horsepower (HP) at a sustained mode, and only for a few hours. In comparison, the smallest outboard gas engine available today, which is the Honda 2.3, can deliver over twenty times more power, and 6 HP outboard motors that some Wavewalk S4 owners use can deliver up to sixty times more power… and all outboards can run as long as there is fuel in their tank.
Are more words on this subject necessary?
These specialty kayaks have been around for two decades, and they have not become popular although their performance in speed terms is impressive. The reason for this lack of market success is not just their price. It is the combination of the fact that they are still just SOT and sit-in kayaks, and this is not a good reference in terms of comfort and load capacity. Besides, jet drives don’t work that well in shallow water, where they can get clogged rather easily. In addition, unlike outboard motors that can be conveniently and inexpensively serviced by professionals at thousands of locations nationwide, proprietary jet drives are hard to fix, and fixing them requires support from the manufacturer, which is expensive and inconvenient.
A heavy motorized board described by its manufacturer as a “kayak on steroids” and offered by them as a skiff for a solitary passenger is worth mentioning too, if only due to the fact that it relates to fishing kayaks, despite the fact that paddling it is harder than paddling most barge kayaks out there, namely the very big ones that are excessively wide and heavier than some dinghies. As this craft’s own owner’s manual states, it doesn’t work very well in choppy waters, and it shouldn’t be manned by more than one person. At 150 lbs without a motor, it is not a car-top boat, and it’s not a solution for anyone who doesn’t like to get wet while they engage in fishing or boating.
What is the advantage of outboard gas motors?
As previously mentioned in this article, an outboard gas engine is the only type of propulsion that delivers sufficient power to allow for a kayak to go fast in all kinds of water, to run all day, and to travel for long distances. In other words, it’s powerful and reliable, and therefore safer and more fun.
YouTube features some videos of SOT kayaks outfitted with outboard gas motors. Some of these kayaks are outfitted with an outrigger, because unlike in YouTube, in the real world, SOT kayaks, including big ones, are not stable enough to be driven with outboard motors. Either way, the result is rather pathetic, and makes the viewer wonder about whether our species really deserves to be called Homo Sapiens, namely wise man… The drivers of such kayaks are noticeably uncomfortable, and in most cases wet as well. Not a pretty sight.
Practically speaking, Wavewalk kayaks are the only kayaks that offer full functionality and high performance when powered with outboard gas motors. This is why the company labeled its two bigger models skiff and portable boat. Indeed, they perform perfectly as such, and even better, be it in terms of stability, ease of use, comfort in driving, comfort to the passengers, dryness, load capacity, mobility, speed and seaworthiness.
The Wavewalk is a patented invention, and it can be described as a compacted catamaran that features the saddle-seat of a personal watercraft (PWC) also known as jet-ski. This unique combination creates the most stable hull while offering the driver and passengers to balance themselves intuitively and effortlessly, in the most effective way possible.
The result is a boat that punches way above its weight in terms of performance, to a point that it rivals much bigger boats.
And indeed, some anglers and other fishers use their S4 instead of much bigger boats that they used to have before.
For example, this crew of two shrimpers used an 18 ft skiff before they switched to the S4:
Motorizing options for Wavewalk kayaks are not limited to conventional outboard motors. In fact, it is possible to outfit the S4 with powerful surface-drive motors (a.k.a. mud motors), and by doing so, enhance their mobility and enable their users to go through very shallow water (“skinny water”), rocky streams, and water with abundant vegetation, such as lily pads, grass, and seaweeds.
And let us not forget paddling, because the ability to propel a motor kayak with paddles as an alternative or complementary mode of propulsion is very important, to a point where it may be critical in certain situations, such as launching and beaching in tough spots, going in very shallow water where a boat could get stranded, especially at low tide, going through weeds, and in case something else prevents the motor from working.
[²] See article Smarter electric motors and Lithium-Ion batteries – A winning combination for kayak fishing, by Gary Thorberg