How a Kayak’s Design Impacts Its Performance

3-minute read + 17-minute video

Hardshell kayaks are designed and built with various shapes and lengths that directly impact their performance. Aqua Bound Ambassador Ken Whiting takes us through these differences in this video so you can make the best buying choice:

How the Length of a Kayak Affects Performance

A kayak’s length directly impacts three important factors:

  • Its speed on the water
  • How well it tracks or keeps to a straight line
  • Its portability

Generally, the longer a kayak, the faster it paddles and the better tracking it has. But, longer kayaks are more difficult to store, carry and transport.

Recreational kayaks are normally 9-13 feet long. Touring kayaks range from 12-15 feet long. Sea kayaks are 15-18 feet long. Part of your buying decision will include the length you’ll be able to handle, especially if you’ll transport alone most of the time.

A Kayak’s Width

The width of a kayak mainly impacts its speed and its stability on the water. The wider the kayak, the slower it is—but the more stable it is.

Recreational kayaks are 28 inches and wider, sometimes much wider. Touring kayaks are normally from 23-28 inches wide and sea kayaks are usually 21-24 inches wide.

man in a sea kayak

Sea kayaks are narrow, rounded and with a V-bow shape for speed and performance in rough conditions (photo courtesy of David Horkan)

Hull (Bottom) Design

Hull design (the shape of the bottom of the boat) is a key aspect of a kayak’s performance. While more and more hybrid models are being designed, these are the basic hull shapes.

As Ken points out, what matters most in the hull isn’t so much the bow and stern shape—the ends of the boat—but the area that’s under and behind the paddler. (For a visual look at each of these, be sure to watch the above video!)

A flat hull, like that used for a sit-on-top kayak, is very stable but also very slow. A flat hull also doesn’t offer secondary stability, or the ability to use the edges in rougher conditions. The typical flat hull is designed for flatwater recreational use or fishing.

man kayaking a sit-on-top kayak
Sit-on-top recreational kayaks are wide and flat-bottomed for ultimate stability (photo courtesy of @GoPaddle)
A round hull is slightly less stable, but offers much better speed and more secondary stability. You have the ability to tilt the boat on edge to handle waves. This type of hull is more versatile and can be used in more types of water and in more varied conditions.

A V-hull is designed for speed, tracking and secondary stability—not so much primary stability. These hulls are very much at home in rough conditions like the ocean.

A pontoon hull is similar to the flat hull in that it’s very stable, but its performance is slightly better than the flat hull. It’s a bit faster and can deal with chop better. They’re still designed for stability over speed, though, and offer little secondary stability.

man in a round-hull kayak, on edge in the water

Round hulls offer better secondary stability and versatility in more conditions (photo courtesy of @GoPaddle)

Bow (Front) Design

The bow shape of kayaks also affects their performance on the water. A V-bow pierces through water cleanly and helps the kayak track well.

A flat bow is designed to be very maneuverable through the water and can handle waves. But as it also moves side-to-side a bit with each stroke, it’s important the boat also have skegs or a keel to help it track better. A flat bow is bouncier in choppy water than a V-bow since it sits on top of the waves rather than cutting through them.

The top of the bow also has design features. Narrow, rounded bows handle waves and chop efficiently. The water splashes off and the kayak can continue to cut through. On the other hand, flat and wide bows are for flatwater. They offer great stability but don’t handle waves as well.

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The best thing you can do to help your buying decision is to try out various kayaks with these different shapes and lengths. You can either do that through a rental service, a touring business or a local retailer that offers Demo Days.

Do an online search for one of these in your area, or take a look at our Find a Dealer tool for help.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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