The kayak is an incredible vessel that can cut through rapids and float on still waters. This is not by accident and it also does not have everything to do with the kayak itself. In fact, kayak stability is a function of many factors, not the least of which is the pilot or the paddler. So, how does one go about finding the most stable kayak?
We are going to explore kayak stability and all the variability that can affect it. Our overall goal is to offer up some direction on the how to master stability in your kayak.
What is Stability
Stability, by its simplest definition, is the degree to which something is stable. In terms of kayaking, stability is a multi-faceted aspect that utilizes a number of attributes both of the kayak and the person controlling the kayak.
A stable kayak will be one that floats best and cuts through the water without tipping over. Instability in your kayak increases the risk that you will wind up wet or more wet than you would like to be. In other words, an unstable kayak is likely to capsize and/or tip over.
What Affects Kayak Stability
The dimensions of your kayak are going to be one of the defining factors in how stable your kayak is. Some designs are much more stable than others. Now, stability might be important to you, but it might not actually be what you are after.
The dimensions of the most stable kayaks are not going to be dimensions of the fastest or the best kayaks for dominating rapids. So, a kayak’s dimensions will do much to affect stability, but you should not justify your purchase on stability alone. Consider that where and how you sit on the kayak and its design should line up with what you want to do inside that vessel.
Another big player in stability is displacement. The better your kayak displaces the water the more stable it will be. You can easily understand the importance of displacement if you have gotten into a canoe. The canoe is actually more stable than any kayak. However, it still has the ability to roll or tip if you are not careful.
Displacement is when the volume of water displaced by an object is the same as the volume of that object. This is why massive ships can float in the ocean. You probably remember learning about displacement in school. It is a part of what affects kayak stability, but it is not as key a player as things like design, experience and width or length.
We have not had our conversation about primary and secondary stability, but round bottom displacement hulls are going to have more stability because of their design and how they displace water with that round bottom. This kind of kayak displacement makes for a faster vessel, often times, and one that can handle rougher waters without tipping.
Kayak length and stability
Kayaks that are 12 feet or less and often fall into a category known as recreational class and these longer kayaks are much more stable. These kayaks are designed for beginners who are looking to paddle around leisurely without the concern of tipping. These kayaks are wider, too which makes for an all around boxier design that is obviously easier to manage without tipping over.
As kayaks get longer, they become harder to manage, particularly for someone without experiences. When you are finding the most stable kayak you have to understand that something shorter is going to be easier to pilot both in rough and easy waters.
Touring class kayaks can be around 16 feet or longer and these are designed for people who are looking to attack some rougher waters and even water through bad weather. These kayaks are built for a paddler with some experience and that is because the length is one thing that makes them more challenging.
Kayak width and stability
Now, a wider kayak probably makes much more sense when it comes to how stable a kayak is on the water. If you are finding the most stable kayak than you would do well to consider a wider kind of kayak. This just makes sense and if you think about a managing a canoe and managing a peddle boat on the water than you can easily understand the difference.
The wider vessel is always going to be the most stable because of how the weight is displaced. Your weight is spread out over a wide area and that wider hull is going to absorb that change in the center of gravity, when you rock the boat or when the water rocks you, much more effectively.
It should be no surprise that the recreational class kayaks, which are the shortest version are also the widest at around 24 inches in width. These are designed for ease of use and the new users. No one would kayak if they thought they would fall out immediately as they entered the boat it would not be hardly as successful an activity.
Is a wider kayak more stable?
Now that you understand the affect that displacement, length, and width have on your ability to effectively pilot a kayak, you should not be surprised to find out that a wider kayak will make for a more stable kayak.
That means that if you are finding the most stable kayak that width of the vessel should be high on the list of attributes.
Kayak Stability Types
Kayaking is an incredibly dynamic activity that puts you and the kayak through a gratifying experience where conditions change quickly. When you are afloat on the surface of the water your stability is not consistent. Unlike a table that depends on its primary stability only, kayaking is a different beast.
Primary and secondary
When you are sitting atop a calm lake or pond you are experiencing the primary stability of the kayak. Your kayak is designed to sit flat and stable on a calm surface water. However, this is not the only function of a kayak. So, your primary stability is how your kayak sits on top of calm water.
Of course, the allure of a kayak is not its ability to sit calmly on the water’s surface. Canoes do that and many other kinds of boats have the ability to float atop a calm surface. There are even great inflatable boats that can float you around calm water.
People love kayaks because they can thrash through rough waters and through skill and design conquer these rapids before being spit out into a calm pool just downstream.
When your kayak is beginning to pitch because the water is rising forcefully to one side then your kayak will depend on its secondary stability.
That flat bottom kayak is going to be very easy to get into and easy to manage in situations that call for primary stability, however, if you find yourself in a situation that requires a secondary stability to take over. The flat bottom kayak is going to be extremely easy to get into and a round bottom is harder to get into but those kayaks with the round bottom have much better secondary stability
This is because they roll into the water as it rises on one side or the other. They give you the ability to use your paddle and your core to regain stability. This is secondary stability. How the kayak reacts in rough water.
Primary Stability vs Secondary Stability
Now that you understand the two types of stability you have to add your desires to the equation. What type of kayaker do you plan on being or what type are you already? If you are going to be spending most of your time fishing small lakes than primary stability is going to be what you are after.
However, if you want to hit the rapids or even just kayak a river, you are going to need to consider your secondary stability because your boat will need it or you are going to get very wet and get really good at exiting the kayak under water!
A good kayak should have good primary and secondary stability. The purpose of the kayak is that you have the ability to maintain stability in both kinds of water. Naturally, if you are predisposed to a certain kind of activity in the water than buy the kayak that lends itself to the type of stability you will rely on most.
Kayak Hulls and Stability
They kayak is basically a big shell that is constructed of fiberglass. Only the shape and additions to that shell make one kayak better than another. The hull of your kayak is the portion that sits in the water.
The shape of a kayak’s hull is one of the most defining features in how stable it will be. Hulls are not just designed for stability, but they can vary by manufacturer and style. Finding the most stabile kayak is always going to require an understanding of the various types of kayak hulls and how they effect the water they move through.
Kayak hull types
While there many hull shapes to choose from there are really only two types of hulls. These are defined by what they do best. You will choose one of two types of hulls for what you plan on doing with your kayak.
Displacement Hulls – The displacement hull kind of explains itself in the name. These hulls are designed for efficient displacement of water. You could simplify that by saying they move quickly through the water. Displacement hulls are going to be they type found on ocean and touring kayaks. These will be longer and thinner kayaks, too.
- Narrower Cutting Design
- Less Primary Stability
- Easier Long Distance Paddling
Planing Hulls – If your motivation is finding the most stable kayak, then the flat bottomed design of a planing hull might seem like the best option. It is undoubtedly the more stable of the two for still water navigating. These hulls do not cut through water, rather, they push water in front of them.
This means they are harder to paddle than a displacement hull but great for movement onboard. This is why planing hulls are the best choice for fishing kayaks because you can cast and twist and fight fish all the while keeping that primarily stability.
- Better Primary Stability
- Easier to Maneuver
- Slow Moving
- Poor Performance in Waves and Rough Water
Hull Shapes and Stability
As we mentioned, when finding the most stable kayak there are a number of things to consider. Not the least of which is the shape of the hull. Now, the type of hull is one thing, but the shapes can influence the hull type and stability of said hull.
There are 4 hull shapes, and each will have an effect on primary and secondary stability.
Rounded – The rounded hull shape is, uh, round and has some greatly beneficial aspects in terms of secondary stability. These are essentially displacement hulls, but their rounded shape allows you to lean into and away from water easily which gives you a better means of maintaining that stability.
Rounded hulls are not going to cut easy straight lines through the water. It’s that simple. They are hard to keep moving in a straight line.
Rounded hulls are also tough to get into if you are not used to climbing into a kayak like this.
Flat – The flat hull design is a planing type hull that is great for well established primary stability. This is the kind of hull type that will best suit someone on calm waters who likes the freedom of moving and looking around in the kayak without worrying about falling over.
Pontoon – If you have ever been on a pontoon boat, you know that they are incredibly stable. Well, a kayak with a pontoon shape is also going to be the most stable of them all. This is all about the inverted, rounded tunnel shape. The tunnel that run beneath the boat is created by two larger hull portions on either side of the hull. This will hold you high on the water and keep you very stable.
The pontoon is a slow, planing design that is awfully hard to maneuver but you will be incredibly stable, particularly on calm waters.
V-shape – The V-Shaped hull is often attributed to a fast kayak. Touring and sea kayaks are almost exclusively V-Shaped in their hull type because of how well they cut through the water.
Because this design moves through water in a straight line so well, it struggles to maneuver as well as other designs. It also lacks the width of other shaped hulls, so the V-Shape is less stable.
Inflatable Kayak Stability
Inflatable kayaks are probably the most underappreciated vessel on the market today. This is due to the fact that inflatable boats have been, basically, terrible for many years. The materials used didn’t hold up and they were just a glorified inner tube with a paddle.
Modern inflatable kayaks that are created by high level manufacturers are legitimate vessels. These can be sea faring kayaks that will slice through rough waters. The key to their design is a more solid floor and a stronger hull material.
These kayaks are often wider than your average kayak hull and this adds to the stability of the boat. The natural give of the blow up kayak also makes it a very stable option, too.
How to Improve Kayak Stability
Now that you understand what goes into creating a stable kayak, we can talk about how to improve kayak stability. If you are buying a new kayak you will be able to make a lot of important choices that will affect overall stability.
The right design
Stability is always going to start with right kayak design. If it is primary stability you are after for fishing than you should get yourself a planing pontoon style kayak that will offer the best design for that kind of stability.
If your goal is secondary stability than you should look at a rounded hull that displaces water and allows you to manage rough waters with great ease.
Size it properly
You have to understand how much your size affects the stability of the kayak you are in. There are some people who are actually the size of older children and there is nothing wrong with piloting a kid kayak if you are the same height and weight as a big kid!
Take your height and weight into consideration when you are choosing your kayak.
Add some ballasts
Ballasts are essentially added weight that causes an increase in stability. This can be something as simple as a dry bag filled with some heavy gear. Maybe you just call on a trusty cooler to weigh your kayak down a little more.
This is a simple fix.
Improve balance and core strength
You are an important part of the stability equation on your kayak. That is one of the most unique features of the kayak is that the pilot has some say so, using his or her physicality over how stable the ride is!
Training your core and your balance are two great ways to get yourself in better shape to be an ally of stability in your kayak.
- Leg Raises
- Turkish Getups with a Kettlebell
- Yoga Practice
Which kayak is the most stable?
There are two kinds of stability but the one that the average kayaker wants to improve is primary stability. Paddling around the water should be enjoyable and it takes a kayak with good primary stability to make that happen.
The pontoon designed hull and the planing type will be what you are after if finding the most stable kayak is your desire.
Are sit in kayaks more stable?
Sit in kayaks are always going to be wider and more stable than kayaks built for speed. So, sit in kayaks are almost always going to be more stable than any other type.
We have a full article comparing sit-on-top vs. sit-inside kayaks here
What makes a kayak stable?
There are a number of factors that make a kayak stable. Everything from the design, the type of hull, the pilot themselves, the length, the width, modifications and even the water you are on all have something to do with how stable a kayak can be.
All of these things can be affected and modified in such a way that you increase the stability of a kayak.
Finding the most stable kayak is an undertaking that requires an understanding of what you are truly after. What kind of kayaking are you going to do with this stable kayak? In the finding of this holy grail kayak you come to find that some of the responsibility for kayak stability has to do with your own body and your balance.
Now that you understand all the parts and pieces that go into kayak stability and how you, personally, can affect it, it is just a matter of seeking out and modifying all that makes up your version of desired stability.
If you are totally given to the idea of primary stability than you should have a nice wide pontoon kayak that is a sit inside model. You should add weight or ballasts to this design and do your best to get in better kayaking shape!