Selecting a boat

We use kayaks, canoes, and other small boats in our work. We work very close to nature - hands on all the time - and these small boats get us where we need to be. Without them we would just be "For The Birds".
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Selecting a boat

Post by PaddleBear » Fri Jun 21, 2019 3:27 pm

I suppose most of you already have a kayak and are looking to put it to use in a great cause. If so, I invite you to use your own boat and then report to all of us here on its good points and on its bad ones.

For those who are looking to buy your own boat or to upgrade because you've discovered how enjoyable kayaking for the birds can be, I'll write up my thoughts and findings and as others report in I will modify this posting to bring it all together. Of course the postings will remain and I'll try to link to them so you can see all of the data if you so desire. And so those who contribute don't feel plagiarized. This really should be a group effort.

There are a few either-or decisions to make:
  • Single or tandem
  • Pedal/paddle or paddle-only
  • Sit on top or sit inside
    Tandem or Single?
    We started gathering fishing line by renting a tandem kayak for our first day. We learned three things from that (in addition to the extent of the problem.) This might seem strange, but first and foremost we learned the importance of comfortable seats. Some kayak seats are not comfortable no matter what the literature says. Most fishing style kayaks and the Hobie Mirage kayaks seem to have much more comfortable seats. (We can adjust the bottom tilt, the back angle, and lumbar support on our seats.) Place this very high on your list of priorities because you will be sitting in them for hours at a time.

    We learned that a tandem worked very well for the close in work of gathering fishing line and litter. It places the bowrider farther forward than all but the shortest single kayaks. And that gets them closer to the line and litter and keeps their hands free to grab it. And it places the rear position farther back than in a single. That gives the rear person a good view of the entire length of the boat and makes really precise maneuvering easier.

    Finally, we learned that it is too difficult to coordinate two paddlers in the close-in, tight maneuvering we do in the willows and along the shore. In our own boat we only take a paddle for the rear position. The forward paddle bracket is used to hold our reaching pole.

    But there are drawbacks to a tandem. Or one drawback, at least. It takes two people to operate it. If only one of a couple wants to go out in the boat, they have to find someone else to go with them. If you go to a kayak shop with your spouse or friend and say you are looking for a tandem kayak, chances are they will try to steer you towards getting two singles. They aren't trying to scam you. For most recreational use, I think two singles makes a lot of sense. For what we do, singles will work just fine, but I think tandems really shine.

    Pedal or paddle?
    This is going to depend to a great deal on your budget and on the water you intend to use it in. Pedal kayaks are more expensive than similar paddle-only kayaks and a lot more expensive than really cheap paddle-only kayaks. The drive units alone in Hobie Mirage kayaks cost almost $1000. If you compare a fully fitted out Hobie Oasis (with tax and a few accessories) it still comes in at less than 1/10 the cost of a new ski boat. Not to mention operating costs, insurance, etc. So it's important to keep some perspective on this.

    Pedal kayaks also come with paddles. So you can use them either way. You can get very fast, sleek paddle-only kayaks. The pedal kayaks I have seen are heavy because they are rugged and wide for stability. I have seen a 180 pound man slip and fall onto the gunnels of the boat (the very outside edge) and it did not tip over. That's stable. But that does not make for a fast, sleek kayak.

    Your legs evolved big muscles to get you around and that works on the water, too. Using the pedals gives us a lot of extra range. Our typical day includes three to five miles of pedaling - at least to/from our work area and usually including some extra for exercise. When we arrive at the work area we pull the drive units out so they do not get damaged and go paddle only along the shore.

    And you need to pull your drive units completely out of their sockets and stow them in the boat when you are working close to the shore. I bent one of the fins on my Mirage drive on our third or fourth time out. $28 for a new stainless steel rod. But it did more damage that I did not realize and I ended up having to replace the piece that the rods screw into. They come as a kit, not individually, for $250. Fortunately, Hobie covered this under warranty, though I suspect if we had not been using the boat for such a high purpose they would probably have rejected the claim due to abuse. Now we always pull our drive units whenever we go near the shore, even if we think it is safe.

    If you don't need the extra range, then paddle-only will be a better way to go. They are less expensive, more variety is available, and you don't have the drive units taking up space in the boat while you are picking fishing line from the bushes. Hobie even makes non-pedal kayaks with comfy seats...

    Sit on top or inside.
    When you sit inside of a kayak you can sit lower, so the hull can be narrower and the boat faster without losing stability. If you go with a fishing style or a Hobie Mirage kayak you will be getting a sit-on-top. These are easy to get in and out of which is very important to us because you often will have to get out of the boat to pick up litter or line that is on the shore. You sit higher in a sit-on-top kayak and that is also helpful because you will often be reaching up for line. But if what you have is a sit-inside kayak, use it. You may need to use your reacher more often, but that's better than sitting home and letting the birds die from entanglement.

    Then you narrow it down.
    Once you've answered those questions you need to translate it to a physical boat that you can buy. While I feel like I have found the ideal boat for our lake, your situation may be different. Costs vary a lot from one manufacturer to another, one model to another, etc. And cost does matter to most of us. Features vary and will continue to change and evolve long after I've finished writing this posting. I urge you to take your time and ask questions. Ask them here, ask them on other forums, ask your dealer. And try to get a test drive once you think you've narrowed it down. Many bricks-and-mortar kayak dealers can let you test drive one. You can probably save money with an online purchase, but I personally think this is one place where the extra cost of personal service will be very well spent.
--Brian Godfrey
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