Monday, May 24, 2010
How to Test a Kayak
Deep Cove Demo Day is an opportunity for you to do an on-water comparison between kayaks that you are thinking of purchasing. So what do you look for, and what tests do you try? Here is the process I go through when checking out kayaks. These are mostly for flatwater conditions:
Consider your needs
There are very few kayaks that do it all. For instance, If the kayak tracks really well it often doesn't turn as well, or a wide kayak is generally stable but slow. Every design feature usually involves a benefit and a compromise of some sort. So it is important to honestly assess your skill level, needs, goals and objectives to help you narrow down your list of desirable kayaks. For instance, the Chatham 16 is a great kayak for surf, current, rock gardens, or moving water, but for touring it’s not so good. It plows through the water, has limited storage capacity, it doesn't track so well and if you are a novice or low intermediate paddler it will feel very tippy. So ask yourself, "What type of paddling will I be doing most of?" Day trips, point A to B, calm water, rough water. Also how often will you be doing the desired type of paddling. Realistically how often will you do the type of paddling where you will need a 17' touring (camping) kayak? Are you more suited to a smaller, lighter day touring kayak? Would you buy a camper van as your main vehicle because you might go camping 3 or 4 weekends during the summer? Would you rather have a skeg kayak or rudder. (That’s a whole other issue for discussion.)
After you have assessed your needs here are the things I look at.
Read the manufacturers specs. Length over-all, water-line length, wetted surface area, width, rocker, hull shape. These descriptions can give you an idea of how the kayak will perform on the water.
General appearance and finish of the kayak
Is it shiny or dull? Sometimes when you look at the kayak in a certain light you maybe able see flaws, dents, bubbles or other imperfections
Quality of workmanship
Feel under the coaming; is it smooth, rough or is the coaming rim protruding from the underdeck?
Check out the seam; are there air bubbles, rough or smooth?
Bulkhead seams; messy or clean?
End pours and cable routing. Again, stick your head in hatches and have a good look around. Are the rudder/skeg lines neatly organized. You can use a flashlight to inspect the end pours (this is where resin is poured into the bow and stern to strengthen it) and seams of the bow and stern.
These areas give you a general idea of the quality of workmanship. By going through this process you can also check all the functionality of the hatch closures.
This important aspect is often over-looked or sometimes brushed aside, especially when somebody is "blinded by love" for the looks of the kayak. Paddling efficiency, comfort and boat control are all determined by boat fit. Everybody's body is different and just because your friend loves their kayak doesn't mean it’s right for you. Women's kayaks like Necky's Eliza have become very popular for smaller women because of this. How does the seat feel, do the thigh braces contact your legs in the right spot? Is the cockpit wide enough or long enough? Some fit issues can be solved with padding or modifications like hip pads, but other issues like cockpit size might be costly to change.
When I get on the water the first thing I check is stability. Rocking the boat side to side I try to feel the Initial and Secondary Stability where the hull moves freely and where I feel resistance. Does the hull not want to move off a flat position (high initial stability) or does it feel a bit loose? (low initial stability) How far over can you lean the boat before you start feeling resistance or feel like you're going to keep going over? (secondary stability)
Next I paddle it around for a bit. I always start with the rudder or skeg up. I like to get a feel for Speed, Glide, and Tracking
For speed I like to see what the cruising speed is. Sometimes I will have a GPS that can track my speed. If I don't I'll paddle next to shore or a dock. From cruising speed I will test how much faster I can go. I will also do a 0 - 60 test for acceleration. During this test I pay attention to how much resistance, or how "heavy" my paddle feels in the water. If my paddle feels sluggish or difficult to pull it usually indicates a slow kayak. I will try to make note of how much of a bow wave the kayak is making. Is it plowing through the water?
Next I like to check "glide' by stopping after a sprint, noting how quickly the kayak decelerates. I also take note of how true the kayak tracks when I am not paddling.
Tracking vs Turnability
After a bit I check how the kayak turns. First I use sweep turns while the kayak is sitting flat. I do this while stationary and while moving forward. Next I try it while on edge, both stationary and while moving forward. Compare the radius of the turns between kayaks.
I usually paddle backwards to see how strong the stern keel is. Does it grab or hook? Mostly just for fun though!
If there are any waves I will try to get the kayak surfing, noting how it drops into the wave, how it sits on the wave.
This is dictated by your budget. If you can afford it, go for the lightest boat possible. Generally people equate lightness to fragility and in most cases this is untrue. Plastic is inexpensive and tough but heavy, Generally fiberglass and Kevlar (composite construction) are lighter and are suited to paddling in coastal conditions that we see in BC. Rocky shorelines etc. Composite construction kayaks are nicer to paddle, perform better, are lighter to carry, accelerate more quickly, can be re-furbished more easily and look nicer. If your budget is limited choose a plastic boat, you will still be happy. There’s no such thing as a bad day on the water, any kayak that can get you out there is great!
These are the questions we ask our customers when they visit our store. Hopefully it helps you weed your way through the plethora of different kayaks on the market.