What is a rudder? A brief review

Vad är ett roder? En kort genomgång

If you have ever rented a kayak, you probably know how a rudder works. You steer with your feet, pressing the right pedal when you want to turn right and vice versa. Some feel safer with a rudder, others find it mostly in the way and prefer to steer with the paddle. I usually ask beginners to fold up the rudder when they paddle for the first time. Partly because it becomes one less thing to think about, which can be nice in the beginning. But also because it is good to learn how to handle the kayak helpfully in case the rudder breaks.

What actually happens when the rudder is used?

In addition to steering, the rudder also prevents the kayak from drifting to the side. The rudder and everything that sticks out from the underside of a boat – keel, center table, spars and various types of fins – share a common term. One usually speaks of the boat's lateral plane .

On, for example, a sailboat, the lateral plane consists of rudder, plus keel or center board; on a Viking ship of the tiller plus the long keel that runs the length of the hull, and on a surfboard of the small fin at the back.

On a kayak, the lateral plane is unusually small, regardless of whether it has rudders or rudders. This entails some disadvantages but also many advantages. The disadvantage is that kayaks are quite sensitive to crosswinds. The advantages are many: you can navigate in much shallower water, the weight is reduced, the kayak becomes easier to handle both in the lake and on land, on the beach and on the jetty, not to mention when it has to go on the roof of the car.

As most people know, the rudder is always somewhere in the back of a kayak. And there is a reason for that. Boats have good grip at the front and poor grip at the back. It is almost always the stern that is difficult to control when the boat does not go where you want. The turbulence that forms under the stern when the boat moves forward causes the stern to skid this way and that while the bow is relatively still. With the rudder behind, drift is reduced when the wind comes from the side. In addition, the stern stays nicely in place when the wind comes from behind.

Some kayaks, such as surf skis, have a fixed rudder on the underside a bit in from the stern. Such a rudder cannot be folded up. It is a more efficient placement in high waves, as a rudder sitting at the back risks being suspended in the air as the kayak surfs forward on the crest of the wave. On the other hand, of course, it becomes sensitive in shallow water, not to mention when handling on land. In our Swedish waters, most people, even those in sea kayaks, paddle more often among rocks in shallow water than in high waves out at sea, and therefore folding rudders at the back are the most common. One of the points of sea paddling is that you get to places where larger boats don't venture. You can find your own donut places that few others have access to. And should the folding rudder happen to hit a rock, it just folds up, unlike one that is fixed underneath.

If you've tried paddling with a rudder, you've probably noticed how the kayak brakes when you accidentally press too hard on the pedal. We've probably all made the mistake: the rudder almost goes sideways and what should have been a turn instead becomes a sharp deceleration. It is important to steer carefully, like when you change lanes on a highway: you slide rather than swerve into the other lane. As my driving school teacher used to say: imagine you have an egg between your foot and the pedal! If you need to make a really sharp turn, you usually have to help with the paddle.

Rudders do not fit all kayaks. They work best on long, fast kayaks, preferably with a straight keel line from bow to stern. If the keel line is instead banana-shaped, as on many so-called British sea kayaks, a folding keel fits better. Steering then takes place instead with the paddle and the body. A rudder on such a kayak would also barely reach down to the water, at least if it is at the back. A banana-shaped kayak, on the other hand, is easy to turn and thrives in high waves.

But if you want to "eat sea miles" and get there fast, you should choose a rowing kayak!