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Guide To Kayak Hull Designs

Mark Armstrong
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When you’re choosing a kayak, it can be important to know about the various kayak hull designs. The shape and style of the hull can have an effect on the boat’s performance in certain conditions.

Because it can be important to know the pros and cons of different types of hulls, we’ve put some information together that might help.

Guide To Kayak Hull Designs - PinterestPin

Different Hull Shapes And Designs

Kayak Hull Designs in a graphic - Flat, V-Shaped, Round and PontoonPin


Flat hulls can be found on a range of vessels, including whitewater yaks. As well as offering stability a flat hull can be easy to maneuver but because it has increased contact with the water, you may find that it’s not quick on flatwater.


Pontoon hulls can be very stable and can often be found on fishing kayaks because they tend to allow for standing up on deck. They can also offer a high degree of secondary stability to handle waves. However, speed may be sacrificed.

> Inflatable pontoons vs kayaks for fishing


A V-shaped hull can improve tracking and speed. However, primary stability can be affected, which can make V-shaped hulls seem less stable on flatwater, particularly if you’re a beginner. But they can be more suitable for handling waves and currents.


Rounded hulls are generally better suited to rough water as they will usually have increased secondary stability. However, this can make them feel less stable on flatwater. A rounded hull can also mean increased speed and maneuverability.

Parts Of A Kayak (Anatomy)Pin

The Length Of A Kayak

Up To 8 Foot

Whitewater kayaks will generally fall within this category. These short boats can be easier to maneuver and control on tight bends in rivers. At this length, there generally won’t be much in the way of storage.

Some boats aimed at children can also be found within this length range because it can be easier for kids to paddle a shorter vessel.

8 To 12 Foot

Most recreational kayaks generally fall within this length range, as they can offer a combination of maneuverability and often stability. Fishing kayaks also tend to be within this range.

Boats in this range will often have a wider hull than some longer vessels, which can improve stability on flatwater, making them suitable for beginners.

13 To 16 Foot

Quality touring kayaks can often be found in this range of lengths, as these lengths can offer increased speed and efficiency, which can be useful for longer distance paddling.

Kayaks within this range tend to be narrower than shorter vessels, which can affect initial stability if you’re a beginner but can be better suited to handle currents or rougher water.

Tandem yaks can also be found within these lengths.

Diagram showing Kayak Lengths and CharacteristicsPin

Over 16 Foot

Boats that are over 16 foot long tend to be sea kayaks and longer touring vessels. The extra length can mean increased speed and more storage space for extended trips. Boats of this length may feel less stable if you’re a beginner.

The hulls on these vessels will usually be designed to handle a range of conditions, including waves and currents found in the ocean. At this length, they may not be the easiest to maneuver and can be better suited to open water.

Racing kayaks will also generally be in this category.

Primary vs Secondary Stability

Primary Stability

Primary stability is basically how stable the kayak feels on flatwater. This can make it feel less tippy on flatwater but you may feel your boat is less stable on rough water and waves, or when you lean over to the side.

Secondary Stability

Secondary stability is basically how stable the kayak feels in rough water or when you tip it on its side. With high secondary stability the kayak should be able to handle waves and rough water without tipping over.

However, if your kayak has more secondary stability than primary stability then it may feel more tippy on flatwater.  


Diagram showing more rocker vs less rocker on a kayakPin

Rocker generally refers to the curvature of the hull. The more curved it is along its length from front to back, the more rocker it has. Increased rocker can improve performance over rough water but may reduce tracking performance.

Yaks with more rocker in the bow or stern will curve upwards and will usually have less contact with the water on flatwater. This is so that the vessel can “rock” over rough water.

Recreational vessels and other boats that are designed for flatwater will generally not have a use for rocker in the hull, so the tracking can be better. But crafts that are built for whitewater, for example, will tend to have a higher degree of rocker for increased maneuverability in moving water.

And Chines?

Hard Chine vs Soft Chines diagram on a kayakPin

Hard Chine

Chines are basically the sides of the hull. Hulls with hard chines can often be better suited to some whitewater boats, such as playboats, which make use of the chines for tricks and edging. 

Soft Chine

Hulls with soft chines tend to appear more rounded, with minimal hard edges and can often be seen on rounded hulls in general.

This can be useful if you’re looking for a quicker boat with a high level of secondary stability in rough water or faster rivers.  

Video: Sea Kayak Hull Shape


Many hulls feature a combination of hard and soft chines to offer a more varied level of performance on a range of conditions. Hard chine hulls may perform better on flatwater, providing primary stability.

But soft chines may be better if you’re looking to paddle in moving water where secondary stability can be more important.

Finishing Off

The design of a kayak’s hull can affect its performance in some conditions. If you’re a beginner looking for a stable craft for flatwater, a flat or pontoon hull can be a good choice because of the higher level of primary stability.

For moving water, you might want to consider a more rounded hull with increased rocker. And if you’re touring, you may find a longer length is more suitable.

Hulls are generally designed for a particular purpose with many offering a combination of design features for versatility. So it can be beneficial to think about the type of paddling you want to do, as this can help you choose the best hull.

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