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A rudder can be a pretty useful accessory to have on a kayak but as you know, not all yaks have the benefit of a pre-installed rudder. But that doesn’t mean you can’t install your own.
We’ve put together some information on how to choose a kayak rudder as well as some notes on how to use it. We’ve also given our take on some recommended kits that may help you out, so you can get a better idea of what’s out there.
At A Glance: Kayak Rudders
8 Best Rudders (And Systems) For Kayaks
1: Bullnose Clamp On Rudder (best generic trolling motor rudder)
- Length: 11 inches
- Width: 5 inches
This Bullnose Clamp On Rudder is designed to be mounted onto trolling motors. It features a clamp that allows you to attach it to any trolling motor that has a 1 ⅛ inch shaft.
It attaches to the shaft just above the propeller and comes with screws that let you secure the clamps around the shaft. This can let you steer and control your kayak, canoe or other small vessel without requiring the rudder to be mounted directly to your vessel.
Because the rudder is attached to the shaft of your trolling motor, it works with the directional controls of your motor, so it’s not controlled separately. This can make it an easier rudder to install since there are no cables and lines to worry about.
- Attaches to trolling motors
- No drilling into your kayak
- No separate controls
2: Walmeck Kayak Rudder Kit
- Length: 20 inches
- Width: 3 inches
The Walmeck Kayak Rudder Kit is designed to be used on kayaks that already have mounting points for rudder systems, as this kit does not come with its own mounting hardware.
It comes with the 20 inch rudder and the cords to let you control the rudder for steering and better boat control.
It might be worth noting that some of the rudders seem to be made with the spring loaded upside down, causing the rudder to be in a stowed position.
However, the spring can be removed and turned the right way up by removing the side plate on the rudder, removing the pin and removing the spring to rotate it before putting it back together.
- Works on a range of kayaks
- May require additional parts
3: Borogo Kayak Rudder Kit
- Length: 17.7 inches
- Width: 5.6 inches
The Borogo Kayak Rudder Kit is designed to be installed on various kayaks and recreational boats so it could be a good option for older boats or yaks that are not made by one of the big brands.
It comes with a stainless steel rudder mount to make it a little easier for installing it on your kayak, but you may find that you need to have a dedicated mounting point on the back of your vessel.
This can be an affordable nylon rudder and can also be used as a skeg. It does not come with ropes to allow for steering so these would have to be purchased separately.
- Nylon construction
- Comes with kayak rudder mount
- No steering system
4: Jili Online 1Pc Adjustable Kayak Rudder (best overall generic rudder)
- Length: 16.7 inches
- Width: 3.3 inches
This Jili Online Adjustable Kayak Rudder is a one piece rudder kit that features a steering system so that you can control the rudder using the foot pedals on your kayak. However, this rudder does not come with foot pedals.
When attached to rotational foot pedals this rudder system can help you change direction or keep you heading in a straight line in strong current or wind. The rudder blade is made out of strong nylon for durability.
This rudder kit can be a good option for a range of kayaks, as well as canoes and small boats. But you may find you need additional parts if your vessel isn’t rudder-ready.
- Can work on a variety of kayaks
5: Ocean Kayak Rudder Kit (for Ocean Kayak boats)
- Length: 23 inches
- Width: 7 inches
The Ocean Kayak Rudder Kit is a complete kit that is designed for a range of newer models of Ocean Kayak boats (from 2013 onwards). This means it may not fit older models and it may not be suitable for other kayak brands.
The kit comes with everything you need to install the rudder on your kayak, in terms of hardware. However, you will need some tools to allow you to actually install it on your boat, for example, a drill.
The rudder features a steering system that can be controlled using the foot pedals that are included with the kit. The rudder can also be flipped up out of the way when it’s not needed.
- Complete rudder kit
- Steering system
- Made for Ocean Kayak vessels
6: Wilderness Systems Rudder Kit (for Wilderness Systems kayaks)
- Length: 15.8 inches
- Width: 2 inches
This Wilderness Systems Rudder Kit is a complete rudder system that is designed to fit all newer Wilderness Systems kayaks, including both sit-inside and sit-on-top vessels, as well as some older models.
It includes all the hardware that you need to install it on your boat, including the cables and foot pedals. It also comes with detailed instructions to guide you through the installation process.
Once installed, this rudder kit can let you control your yak in strong currents or windy weather using the foot pedals.
- Includes all necessary hardware
- Made for Wilderness Systems kayaks
- Comes with instructions
7: Perception Kayaks Rudder Kit (for Perception kayaks)
- Length: 21 inches
- Width: 3 ¼ inches
The Perception Kayaks Rudder Kit is made for rudder-ready Perception kayaks that already have a molded rudder post hole in the stern.
It is a complete rudder kit that comes with all the mounting hardware that you should need in order to install it correctly on your boat. It features the rudder blade and the cables to allow you to steer using the foot pedals that can be installed in the cockpit. The foot pedals are also included.
To help you mount the rudder correctly, this kit also comes with detailed instructions.
- Detailed instructions included
- Comes with all required hardware for complete rudder system
- Made for rudder-ready Perception kayaks
8: Feel Free Beaver Tail Kayak Rudder (for some Feel Free kayaks)
- Length: 15 inches
This Feel Free Beaver Tail Kayak Rudder is a complete kit that is designed for Feel Free Lure and Moken series kayaks. This means it may not work with other Feel Free models or yaks from other brands. It also won’t work with the 10 foot Lure or Moken (or the 2020 Moken).
It comes with all the necessary hardware for installation, including foot pegs for toe control, cables and the rudder.
The rudder can be raised and deployed using the cable, so you can easily stow it if you’re in very shallow or rocky waters.
- Made for Feel Free Lure and Moken kayaks
- Includes foot pegs
- Steering system
Kayak Rudder Buying Guide
What Is A Rudder? How Do They Work?
A rudder is generally a blade mounted on the stern of your boat and can be deployed to help you control your direction. Some kayaks will come with rudder systems already installed and others may come rudder-ready, so that you can install a rudder easily if you choose.
Rudders can usually be controlled from the cockpit, either by handles or pedals. This can allow you to have more control over your boat and can help with steering.
They can be useful for kayaking in open water where you may have windier conditions, or in rivers where there is a strong current. The rudder can help you stay on track, letting you turn the rudder to negate the effects of the current or wind.
If you’ve ever been kayaking in the wind, you may have noticed that your boat will try to face the direction of the wind. This is generally known as weather-cocking, similar to how a weathervane will face into the wind.
A rudder can help to prevent this from happening, giving you more control over the yak and help you to maintain your intended direction of travel. This means the rudder is not steering your kayak, as such, but it is helping you to steer and making it easier to paddle.
Are Rudders Different From Skegs?
Yes, rudders and skegs are different. A skeg tends to be shorter than a rudder and can generally only be deployed or retracted. And some skegs may not be able to move at all.
A rudder, on the other hand can be moved from side to side as well as be retracted when not in use.
A skeg is generally there to help you track straight as it can give the back of your vessel more contact with the water. A rudder can be swiveled to help compensate for sideways winds or currents and allow you to head in the direction you plan to go.
A skeg can also help when paddling in wind or current but because it can only be raised up and down, it may not have as much effect as a rudder might in the same conditions.
Are There Disadvantages If Using A Rudder On A Kayak?
One of the main disadvantages to using a rudder on a kayak is that it can become damaged, especially if you’re not able to retract it before you hit rocks or very shallow water where it could hit the ground.
The moving parts on a rudder could also become damaged, for example, from sand or salt that could get trapped inside the mechanisms and cause it get clogged and stop working.
While rudders are generally not designed to steer your vessel, they can help in steering. But this can have a negative effect on some less experienced paddlers, as the rudder can often be relied upon too heavily when paddling techniques could be utilized instead.
How To Kayak With A Rudder
Deploy the rudder using the foot pedals or hand controls in your cockpit. You can then use the steering mechanism to dictate which direction you want your kayak to go.
Video: Kayak Technique – The Right Way To Use A Rudder
If you’re paddling in wind or strong current that is coming from the side, swivel the rudder to the opposite side. For example, if the wind is coming from the left, deploy the rudder on the right hand side and this should help you paddle straight.
The side where the rudder is deployed is the direction that the kayak will begin to turn. So turning right when the the wind is coming from the left, will help your bow to turn right.
But in strong wind, this is likely to just counteract the effect of the wind, making it stay straight rather than turning left into the wind.
Can All Kayaks Support A Rudder System?
Some kayaks are made with rudder-ready sterns, which means they have been designed with rudder installations in mind and will often have mounting points and holes to make attaching a rudder easier.
This can be helpful if you want to use specific rudder kits that may require additional parts. However, you may be able to purchase the extra parts separately to help you install it on non-rudder ready kayaks.
You may be able to install a rudder on other kayaks that don’t have a rudder-ready stern but this will likely require you to drill holes and install a mounting point first. You could also get creative and custom make your own mount.
How To Install A Rudder To A Kayak
Step 1: Attach The Mounting Bracket
Attach your rudder mounting bracket to the stern of your kayak. If your kayak is rudder ready, you’ll probably find there are holes already drilled for this. If not, you’ll likely have to drill the holes yourself.
Make sure the screws are tight once you have the bracket in place.
Step 2: Install The Rudder
Attach the rudder to the mounting bracket. It should slide into the bracket so that you can then secure it using the lock ring underneath. The rudder should be able to swivel from side to side while it’s in the bracket.
Step 3: Install The Lift Lines
If your yak is rudder-ready you should already have the holes installed in the side of your vessel for this. Secure the lines into the drilled holes using the hardware that can allow the ropes to move freely. This is so that you can lift and deploy the rudder blade.
Video: How To Install A Rudder On The ATAK 120
Once the ropes are installed and are attached to the rudder, make sure that you can lift the blade up with one side of the rope and deploy it with the other. The ropes should basically form an elongated loop from the rudder to the cockpit.
The lifting line should be tight when the rudder is in the stowed position, then you can secure the line and then cut off the excess. You might want to burn the ends where you’ve cut to prevent them from fraying.
Step 4: Install Your Pedals
If you already have foot braces on your kayak, you may need to uninstall them to reinstall them using the supplied hardware. This is so that you can control the rudder using your foot pedals.
Step 5: Attach Your Steering Lines
You may find it easier to measure the distance between your rudder and your foot braces before you attach these lines, so that you know how much you’ll need.
Secure the cable to the relevant part of the rudder and feed it through the holes on the back of your kayak so that it comes through at the cockpit. This line can then be secured to your foot brace pedal.
Repeat the process for the other side of your kayak.
Step 6: Secure The Lines On The Rudder
Now that your lines are in place and connected to your foot pedals you can now tighten them up using the screws at the rudder, securing them and cutting off the excess line.
Check to make sure that all your controls work and you should be good to go.
Attaching To A Trolling Motor
To install a rudder on a trolling motor, you should wrap the clamps around the shaft of your trolling motor. Make sure the rudder is out of the way of the rotating propeller so that it doesn’t affect the performance of your motor.
Video: Boat Rudder, “Bullnose Rudder” For Electric Trolling Motors
Once you’ve found the correct location and the clamps are around the shaft, secure them in place using screws. This should lock the rudder in place.
A kayak rudder can be a useful tool when it comes to steering and maneuvering in strong winds and current. It can be particularly helpful in open water where you may need help keeping your boat heading in a straight line.
Remember, not all situations will call for a rudder and not all kayaks will need one, especially if you tend to paddle in shallow rocky waters or in whitewater.
What are your thoughts on kayak rudders? Could you be without yours? Leave us a comment to let us know. And share this to see what your fellow paddlers think about kayak rudders.