advice requested: rudder or no rudder

Hi all,

 I'm building a chesapeake 16 kayak and still not sure whether or not I should add a rudder. If I decide to add a rudder, I want to conceal the wires in the deck and make a adjustments for the rudder mounting as well, so I would like to decide this in advance. But I still doubt if I really need a rudder. I hope someone can advise me on this!


Mariska Hoogenboom.

12 replies:

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RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder

Mariska - this question has been asked many times on this forum, including by me when I was just starting out: you will receive many and varied answers ranging from the 'absolute necessity' to 'complete waste of time'.   All well-meant, of course!

I think in large measure it depends on how skilled and experienced a paddler you are.   Purists suggest that leaning or heeling the craft is all that's necessary to intiate turns, while beginners like me find this counter-intuitive - and a bit scary at first!   As an absolute beginner, anything that was going to make me feel safer and/ or build my confidence was welcome, and of course I also enjoyed the construction activity involved with incorporating the rudder set-up. 

A good argument I have heard suggests that if you are paddling a straight line - say back to your launching-place - against a side-on wind and/ or current, the rudder makes it a lot easier to maintain the desired heading without constant correction by leaning or heeling.

I've built two craft this year - a Ches 17 and Shearwater 17: different craft but identical rudder set-ups, and wouldn't be without it.   It adds but little in terms of weight or complexity, and at the very worst can do no harm, I consider.  

See the recent thread on this Forum 'Shearwater 17S&G by Wordsmith' (started June 25th) which shows details of the set-up at the stern of the craft, and I also posted a few words of explanation when asked by other readers.

Whatever - enjoy...!



RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder

Here's a topical moral fable regarding rudders from Freya Hoffmeister's ongoing blog about her attempt to circumnavigate Australia:

The relevant bit regarding rudders begins about halfway down the page.


  1. The particular boat she is using (heavily loaded with gear) is very difficult to manage in a strong crosswind without a rudder.
  2. Failure of the rudder resulted in a fairly exciting, possibly verging on dangerous situation.
  3. Freya is a very fit, resourceful and determined woman.

Personally, I've not come close to feeling like my Ch17 needed a rudder. Though it undoubtedly would prove useful in conditions like the ones Freya describes above; until the point where there is some problem with it. You win some, you lose some....

Maybe consider a skeg.



RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder

I hesitate to cross swords with the redoubtable and learned Ogata - but my firm belief and understanding is that a skeg is there purely to influence and enhance straight line tracking, NOT to effect changes of direction - which is surely what a rudder is all about?


RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder

you shouldnt have a problem steering the chesapeak 16 its relatively short and responds well to edging. put in a skeg to help with crosswinds the trick is to know what to do with it , when the boats moving the bow digs into the water which makes it harder for the wind to push it around that means a crosswind push the stern around more so the boat "weathercocks " and turns into the wind ,the skeg counters this effect so if your course is towards the wind leave it up ,if its away from the wind put it all the way down, if  at right angles to the wind  you need to put it down just enough to equal out the bow and stern forces

RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder

Good advice and info above. I seldom use a rudder when paddling flat lakes with no big winds or tides. Just leaning a hard chined boat, even my Necky Pinta, fully loaded, is enough to maneuver, even in close quarters.  But, I certainly needed and made good use of the rudder on fast rivers (MO), windy lakes (Powell, Waterton) and long tidal crossings where you have to crab to maintain a lay line for extended periods (San Juans).  You won't be sorry if you go the expense and time to install a rudder.  Good luck & paddle good.  Jer (aka mtsailor)  

RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder

A rudder will simply help you go faster.  When you can relieve yourself of sweep strokes and braces [should the seas get steep enough] it allows you to put more of your energy into forward travel adjusted by foot pedals.
There are detractors with overloaded unsafe boats and the like who traveled yea far, all the nonsense aside - a safely packed boat with a rudder is a dream compared to the possible scenerio of yourself doing an open water crossing with starboard sweep strokes all the way there and one sore side to prove  it the next morning. 
Funny enough...
When you do have a rudder - in a way, it kind of necessitates its own need since when its wracked up ontop of your stern and not in use, it acts as a sail for winds to send you weather cocking.  Not badly, but its there.

RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder

Put down that sword Wordsmith! :) The doubtable and learning Ogata only plays both sides against one another. You are right, a skeg improves straight line tracking. The adjustable skeg allows the boat to be trimmed so that its tendency to weathercock is neutralized given the prevailing conditions.

My theory is that a kayak is very skinny at one end, gets wider in the middle, and then gets very skinny at the other end. My other theory is that there are conditions where not having a skeg, or a rudder could be very dangerous. My other, other theory is that there are conditions where having a rudder (to some lesser extent a skeg) could be very dangerous. How's that for waffling?

Advantages of a skeg are that it is mechanically simpler and has fewer failure modes. Disadvantage is that the skeg box takes up space in the rear compartment making it less useful for stowing gear.

Does a Ch16 need either of these? Probably depends on its intended use and the particular situation.

I think the moral of the story is, regardless of what equipment you use, don't take it for granted, check it carefully before placing yourself in an exposed situation. Having a trustworthy sidekick alongside to wrangle with equipment failures, setup camp, prepare meals/drinks and haul equipment is also well advised. And avoid placing yourself in exposed situations to the extent possible.



RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder

No sword in sight, Eric!!!   But I wonder if we have utterly confused Mariska - I think I can hear her sobbing from here.

So much of this sort of dialogue is based on the individual's personal experiences, received wisdom, whims and fancies, etc, etc, etc!!!   But always interesting to read...

I just bought a new motorcycle, the latest in a long line since I retired years ago.   "To have or not to have ABS (anti-lock brakes) - that was the question".   And of course the opinions for and against - and even neutral - were exactly the same as here!  Fascinating.


RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder


I guess the best thing is to add a rudder because it won't harm me (only in my pocket).  I'm not an experienced paddler as well, although I hope to become one! As I live in the Netherlands, I plan on paddling over the IJsselmeer, a big lake, and hopefully the Waddenzee as well, which both might be very windy, so the rudder may be of help.

For over 15 years I wish to build my own kayak, and finally now I'm making my dream come true with building the Chesapeake 16, which is great fun! 

Thank you all for the advice!




Just a "moment", now...

...let's ask Dr. Science to "straighten" this out.  Yes, a rudder does help with a crossWIND, because it can provide a steady turning force ("moment") to counter the tendency of a kayak to weathercock.  But with just a crossCURENT, you paddle in a straight line, so no turning force from a rudder is needed or desired.

RE: advice requested: rudder or no rudder


 Do you think that installing a rudder after the build rather then during would be just as easy?  Since I paddle the exposed New England coast with rather unpredictable winds and currents, a rudder is a nice tool to have available.  I'm just not sure if I want to chew up more valuable summer weather then I need to (I'm not expecting the boat to be done until the end of August to begin with).  

 Also, does anyone here have experience with One Ocean Kayak's DIY carbon fiber set-up?  I love the look, and the idea of putting a home-built rudder on a home-built boat just seems right.  I was also thinking about building one out of glass-reinforced mahogany, but this would add quite a bit of weight to one of the pointy ends... just where you don't want it.  


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