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Stories about boat design

I paddle on lakes, do I want a sea kayak

Don't let the "sea" in "sea kayak" intimidate you. Kayaks designed to work on saltwater will work just fine on fresh water. If you are paddling on a large body of water where the wind can get strong and you get waves, a sea kayak is probably exactly what you want. If you are paddling on a small pond or very sheltered water, take a look at recreational kayaks. A sea kayak will be more efficient for covering long distances, a recreational kayak will be more maneuverable for exploring in small areas.

How a New Boat is Designed

These plans are product of Nick's years of boating experience and extensive research into what makes boats work. Each design starts out as an idea spawned on the water. Time out in boats will suggest how a boat could be tailored to perform better in specific conditions. The idea may be for something that works better poking into a salt marsh or for dropping down the wave face of hurricane surf. Inspirations for solutions come from traditional Inuit and Aleut kayaks as well as more contemporary powerboats and sailboats.

I'm a first time builder... which design?

First time builders with no woodworking experience have built just about all of the designs you will find here. But some designs are easier than others. What makes a strip-built design easy to build will be smooth, gentle curves, and a sectional shape with the smallest hollow or concave regions.

The Great Auk family of designs has simple curves and a straight forward shape which minimizes the complication of building.

Within this group of designs you will find a variety of kayaks suitable for different paddling desires. If you want a small recreation kayak or a longer sea kayak, this family probably has something to fit your needs.

Do any of the designs have hatches?

Yes, on most of my boats, the hatches are flush and the hatch covers are just the pieces of wood cut out of the deck to create the hatch hole. This means that the hatch virtually disappears on the deck.

I will only be doing day trips... which design?

While the idea of getting in a kayak and spending a week paddling from island to island has a lot of appeal, for many people finding the time to spend a week on the water is difficult. Even if you can set aside a week a year for a kayak tour, there are still about 50 other weeks where you may like to go out for a few hours or the whole day. You may not need a boat that is designed for carrying a lot of gear. You may decide that a boat that is a little bit smaller and lighter may actually be more fun.

A smaller boat will generally be easier to handle. There are several factors contributing to this. A smaller boat may be shorter, this makes it easier to turn. A smaller boat will be lighter which also makes it turn faster and it is easier to carry from the car. A smaller boat will generally fit a little tighter which allows you better contact with the boat.

The Petrel is designed as a day boat. It can carry a paddler over 200 lbs, but will not have much capacity left over for gear. It is efficient, responsive and can be built quite light. It makes a fun boat for day trips in rough water.

I want to do camping... which design?

Touring boats have two requirements, they need to have room for gear, and they need to be able to cover distance efficiently. Room to carry gear is primarily a function of boat volume, to more volume, the more room to carry gear. The volume needs to be configured so it is relatively easy to load and it needs to be distributed such that a heavy load will not cause the boat to bog down.

If you intend to travel long distances in your boat, it is important that the design can carry the load efficiently. There is a difference between being fast and being efficient, but they are related. Efficiency means that you will go the farthest distance with the least effort. Fast means that for a given effort you will go faster. Efficiency is related to speed in that when you put your time and effort in to moving the boat, you will go farther by going faster.

What do the little hand icons mean?

The Details section of the kayak design pages uses some symbols to help you find the boat that is appropriate for you. Each boat is rated in various categories so you can quickly pick out the general characteristics of the boat at a glance. The symbols used are little hand icons giving you a thumbs up or down on whether the design is suitable for a particular use, paddler or purpose.

Excellent: These designs are very well suited for this purpose.
Good/OK: These designs will work for this purpose.
Poor: These designs are not that well suited for this purpose.

Each boat is given a thumbs up or down on the different characteristics listed below. This is not a comprehensive listing of all the possible needs or uses of a kayak, it is instead intended as a course comb that will help you sift through the designs to choose those that are worth a closer study.

What boat for a beginner paddler?

The primary concern for most beginners is capsizing. Unplanned swims are worth thinking about, but should not be the only criteria. You also want a boat that will not be difficult to handle. A high performance kayak may be a little skittish - always trying to head off and do its own thing. This is because high performance boats respond to the slightest input, even if the inexperience paddler doesn't even know they did it. A well behaved boat for a beginner will not respond as quickly to inadvertent motions including those that might send you for a swim.

This means that boats that less maneuverable will tend to be easier for beginners and novices. For some people, a rudder will help compensate for less skill with steering strokes. But this points out one of the potential downsides of a "beginners" boat; since it does not require the skills to use it comfortably, it may slow down your learning process. This is fine if all you want to do is enjoy a little time out on the water without any aspirations for really becoming skilled. There is really no need to become a highly skilled paddler if you take care to stay clear of conditions which are beyond your abilities. If you intend to work on improving your skills, you may choose not to start out with a beginners boat, instead selecting a design that may be a little over your head at first. After all, you are only a beginner for a little while.

What boat for a large paddler?

There are two ways of being larger, you could be tall and have trouble fitting into most kayaks, or you could be heavy and need a design with more displacement for efficient paddling. Tall paddlers may have trouble getting in and out of small cockpits. This can generally be mitigated by making the cockpit larger. If you are making your own boat, you can control the size of the cockpit opening. The other problem tall people can have is foot room. Big feet at the end of long legs can jam your feet down into the smaller part of the boat. Generally the kayak gets narrower and lower the farther forward you go. Long legs can make the problem of large feet worse as your feet end up in this smaller part of the boat.

What boat for a small paddler?

Several of my designs are suitable for smaller paddlers. Which boat is really suitable still depends your experience level and what you want to do on the water. Generally you will want to look at the shorter boats, these boats will be lighter and easier to handle on and off the water. The shorter boats will be easier to maneuver.

Smaller paddlers will also more comfortable with narrower, less stable boats. This is because it is easier to reach the water if you don't have to get out beyond a wide beam. Also for many advanced techniques where leaning is desired, a lighter weight paddler will not have the mass to get a wider boat up on edge. Since a smaller paddler has less weight a boat designed for lower displacement will be more efficient and easier to handle.