The Great Skeg vs Rudder Debate: What’s Best?

Anyone who is in the market for a modern touring kayak (aka sea kayak) will very likely be faced with the inevitable choice of choosing between a kayak with a skeg or a rudder.

However, while this might seem like a relatively simple choice to many novice paddlers, the fact is that both skegs and rudders have their advantages and their disadvantages. Thus, choosing between one and the other is a choice that should be made very carefully because it will drastically affect your satisfaction with your choice of kayaks.

Therefore, before choosing a kayak with either a skeg or a rudder, you should be aware of what the difference between a skeg and a rudder is, what the purpose of a skeg and rudder are and, what the advantages and disadvantages of skegs and rudders are.

We will explore the answers to those questions in order to provide you with a greater understanding of the great skeg versus rudder debate.

What is a skeg?

So, at this point, if you are not already familiar with skegs, then a skeg is either a fixed or a retractable fin that protrudes from the bottom of a kayak’s hull and which is positioned aft of the cockpit but forward of the stern.

Also, it is important to note that unlike rudders, skegs can only be lowered and raised; not turned from side to side.

What is a Rudder?

A rudder, on the other hand, is similar to a skeg in that it too is a fin that protrudes from the stern of a kayak into the water.

However, unlike skegs, rudders enable the paddler to turn the rudder blade from side to side at will and are controlled via adjustable or moveable foot braces fixed inside of the kayak’s cockpit which are attached to the rudder via cables.

Therefore, rudders are far more mechanically complex than skegs are and thus, they are more prone to failure.

Why Installing A Skeg Or Rudder On A Kayak?

The purpose of installing a skeg on a kayak is to increase its tracking ability.

This results in the paddler to expend less effort to keep the kayak on course when paddling in windy conditions. But, unlike rudders, skegs cannot be used to steer and kayak.

Rudders are essential for expedition kayaks.

In fact, they actually hamper corrections in a paddler’s heading and thus they must be retracted in order to restore a kayak’s maneuverability.

However, it should also be noted that due to the nature of their design, they can also be partially or fully deployed; unlike a rudder which must be either fully retracted or fully deployed.

But, unlike skegs which can only aid a kayak in going straight, a paddler can actually use a rudder to steer a kayak. Their main purpose is the same as that of a rudder in aiding a kayak to go straight.

Skegs vs Rudders: Which One Is Best?

Kayak skegs and rudders both have advantages and disadvantages over the other…

Rudder pros

  • Rudders are easy for beginners to understand and use.
  • Rudders can enable a paddler to steer a kayak without the need for advanced paddling skills or the need to lean the kayak on its side.
  • A rudder can compensate for a lack of paddling skills when paddling in high winds by causing the kayak to travel in a straight line due to their ability to catch and deflect water.
  • Rudders can make a poorly maneuverable kayak far more maneuverable.

Rudder cons

  • Rudders cause a significant amount of drag and thus, they can drastically slow a kayak down.
  • Rudders can make novice paddlers dependent on them and thus, cause them to fail to learn advanced paddling skills.
  • Many rudder designs have adjustable foot braces which move forward and backward in order to move the rudder blade from one side to the other.
  • Rudders with sliding foot braces can lead to poor form by preventing the paddler from transferring energy from the paddle to the kayak by pressing against the foot braces.
  • Rudders can lead to a lack of control by preventing the paddler from bracing their knees against the underside of the deck while pressing their feet against the foot braces.
  • Rudders have more moving parts than skegs do and thus, they are more prone to failure.
  • Rudders have a significant amount of wind resistance when retracted which can increase a kayak’s tendency to weathercock.
  • Rudders have more drag than skegs when fully deployed.

Skeg pros

  • Skegs are easy for beginners to understand and use.
  • A skeg can compensate for a lack of paddling skills when paddling in high winds by causing the kayak to travel in a straight line due to their ability to catch and deflect water.
  • Skegs do not require sliding foot braces to control them. Thus, the paddler will have more control over the kayak when paddling and bracing due to the fixed foot braces.
  • Skegs have fewer moving parts than rudders do and thus, skegs are less prone to break than rudders are.
  • Retractable skegs are completely concealed within the kayak’s hull and thus, they have no wind resistance.
  • Skegs have less drag than rudders do when fully deployed.
  • Skegs can be either partially or fully deployed in order to adjust the amount of tracking ability they add to the kayak.

Skeg cons

  • Skeg cables can sometimes malfunction; thus making it more difficult to deploy or retract the skeg.
  • Skegs have no ability to steer a kayak; only to aid it in traveling in a straight line.
  • Skegs hamper a kayak’s maneuverability and thus, they must be retracted to restore it.

Wwhen it comes to choosing between a skeg and a rudder, there is no right choice. Therefore, you should preferably make your choice based on personal experience gained by paddling both types of kayaks.

Final Thoughts: Rudder or Skeg?

So, if you are a novice paddler who is considering purchasing a touring kayak and are faced with the great skeg versus rudder debate and are not certain which one to choose, then the best option is to first carefully consider the information presented above.

Then, you should find and attend a canoe or kayak festival or, locate a kayak dealer who does demos and who will allow you to try both types of kayaks. That way, you can personally experience the difference between a skeg and a rudder and how they each affect a kayak’s performance.

That way, you can make the best choice for you between the two and thus gain the most satisfaction from the kayak that you eventually choose.

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