How to turn a pedal kayak

Pedal kayaks give you a great deal of freedom with how easy it is to move them back and forth in the water. Their whole purpose is to mover effortlessly without tiring your arms. But with gaining the freedom of your arms, you lose the natural ability to turn a paddle kayak. With traditional kayaks, you had a magnitude of ways to steer them, but with pedal kayaks, this might come as a bit of a challenge.

The optimal way to steer a pedal kayak is by using a rudder. Some kayaks come with rudders pre-installed, while some don’t, but don’t worry, you can install one yourself. It’s extremely difficult to turn them without rudders!

In this article, we will be talking about the ways you can turn your pedal kayak whether it has a rudder or not, but first, let’s explain why it is significantly more difficult to turn them compared to paddle kayaks.

Why Turning a Pedal Kayak Is Hard?

Using a paddle has its advantages, and among them is the ability to easily turn your kayak. With a paddle, you have a lot of techniques to turn or even move sideways. A paddling pro won’t even need any external devices to help them steer their kayak.

With pedal kayaks, you trade this mobility for the ease of pedaling. Now, you have to include a rudder to be able to move as you please. Otherwise, your kayak will fall victim to weathercocking.

Weathercocking

Normally, a kayak will want to turn with the wind. This happens because of the difference of pressure between the stern and the bow of the kayak.

Not to get too into fluid dynamics and physics, when you move forward with your kayak you create a disruption of flow. The flow stays laminar at the bow, keeping its high pressure, but turns into turbulent flow by the time it reaches the stern, which causes it to have low pressure around it.

With the stern having low pressure, it becomes more susceptible to being pushed with the wind flow. This phenomenon is known as weathercocking.

In other words: a kayak is a light boat and will get pushed around in the wind.

How to Turn a Pedal Kayak Using a Rudder

A rudder is a blade that extends down in the water from the top side back end of the kayak. It can be pivoted side to side to affect the water flow around the kayak.

Contrary to common belief, the rudder’s intended purpose is to help maintain a kayak’s straight path and not to turn. However, a rudder is excellent because it can keep you straight on track and allows you to turn easily.

When the rudder is turned to the side pushed by the wind, it “pushes back.”  This enables the stern and bow to stay inline. The pressure is normalized around the whole kayak.

Although helping the kayak stay straight was the intended purpose, it’s commonly used to turn the kayak.

How Does a Rudder Work?

In a traditional kayak, there typically isn’t a rudder. However, you can add a basic rudder that is controlled by foot pedals. These foot pedals are connected by stainless steel wires to the rudder itself. When you push the left pedal, the rudder turns left, and the whole kayak turns left, and similarly with the right paddle.

That won’t work with pedal kayaks for apparent reasons. Instead, some models feature a hand-operated rudder system. The wires are connected to a handle-like device that you can move forward or backward to control the rudder. The Hobie kayaks, for example, all come with rudders.

While it’s uncommon for relatively smaller kayaks to have rudders, you may want to install one yourself to help yourself steer it. You can refer to this video guide on how to do so.

Using a rudder, it’s easy to steer your pedal kayak

Your rudder will function in a counter-clockwise manner. If you want to turn left, you simply will swing the rudder to the right. If you want to go right, swing the rudder to the left.

The speed of a pedal kayak will allow you to more easily steer and turn. The reason why is the rudder will turn the kayak by creating a drag on one side of the boat, which will swing the bow around. However, the faster the kayak, the more drag created, and the faster it will turn.

Are there any downsides to a pedal kayak with a rudder?

There is one downside to adding a rudder to your pedal kayak or buying one with a rudder. The ruder will protrude from the bottom of the kayak, which makes it easier to run aground and, more important that you avoid weeds. 

However, we strongly feel that the benefits in adding a rudder make it worth the downside risk of running aground and weeds.

How to Turn a Pedal Kayak without a Rudder

Turning pedal kayaks without some kind of usage of a rudder is almost impossible. With that being said though, a fairly new device, called a ‘skudder’ can achieve that. To know more about the skudder, first we have to learn about another thing called a ‘skeg’.

Skeg

A skeg is a retractable fin-like blade located at the bottom side of the kayak. It can be anywhere from fully-retracted up to fully deployed down. A spring that’s connected to the cockpit is where you can control it. With this mechanism, you control when and to what extent to implement it.

It’s fair to note that skegs can’t move sideways. This means they don’t affect your steering whatsoever. Skegs aren’t that popular with experienced kayakers because they’re mostly used to help out novice ones learn how to stabilize their kayaks.

Their primary purpose is to keep the kayak as anchored as possible because they offer support against the current that might cause it to lose stability. The more the skeg is deployed, the higher the support to the kayak against the current is.

Skudder

If you haven’t guessed from the name, a skudder combines the best of both worlds of skegs and rudders. Call it a deployable rudder or a movable skeg. At the end of the day, you get their benefits and ignore some of their cons.

As for turning pedal kayaks, you can hook them up and use them almost the same way as you’d use a normal rudder and a skeg. After intensive research, we still can’t find any pedal kayaks with skudders pre-installed, so the hard part is installing the skudder yourself.

So how do I turn a pedal kayak without a rudder and I don’t want to attach a skudder?

Well, the short answer is it’s almost impossible to do so. We’ve had some luck by leaning your body weight to one side of the kayak or the other, but this doesn’t work incredibly well.

The short answer is you will probably end up needing to buy a pedal new kayak with a rudder (almost all new ones have rudders) or find a used one that you add a rudder too. For more info about buying used, check out our buying guide for used pedal kayaks.

Conclusion

By now, you should know why turning your pedal kayak is difficult and what rudders, skegs, and skudders are. Also, you should know how to how to turn your pedal kayak with or without the help of a rudder.

Rudders are your best friend because if you try to travel the road less taken and try other ways, you might have a rough time. If your pedal kayak doesn’t include a rudder, we recommend installing one.

I hope this article helped you gain the information needed to fight the tides and winds out there.

See you on the water!

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