You have probably noticed that flatwater kayaks are divided into two groups….recreational and sea-touring. Sea-touring indicates (to me) that the boat is suitable for rough seas and strong winds and is built to cover distance with minimal effort. I would expect a sea touring kayak to be built with different parameters in mind than one used for recreational use. I feel that a recreational kayak should be used in bays, lakes and other protected waters, or in coastal areas only during calm weather. Rough water is generally caused by wind but remember rough seas may have been caused by a wind which was far away, a wind you did not feel.
A sea-touring kayak may be used for recreational use, but a recreational kayak should not be expected to handle the rigors of sea-touring.
PLASTIC OR FIBERGLASS?
If you plan to use your kayak in fast running rivers, Class 2 and above, then polyethelene is the material of choice for you. Otherwise make your selection based on the following three items of suitability.
The design of the hull cannot be changed. The fit of the kayak can be modified. The affordability of the kayak may change as the purchaser can decide to hold off his purchase until it becomes affordable.
1. Is the DESIGN of this kayak suitable for the purpose I intend? Here you will need help from a trusted friend or someone who knows something about kayaks These boats are very personal and must be carefully selected to accommodate the expectations of the owner.
2. Will the boat FIT me properly? Of course not. Unless you plan on purchasing a custom built boat, it is not going to fit properly. You will have to adjust the fit of the cockpit and footrests to suit you - and since you are unique, plan on spending some time on this. However, you MUST HAVE sufficient hip room, leg room, and a comfortable seat to start with, so be sure and mention your height and weight (and age) to the supplier. Old folks need larger cockpit openings as their joints don't bend as readily as youngsters.
3. Is the kayak AFFORDABLE enough ? Keep in mind any additional costs for auxiliary equipment such as paddle, skirt, cockpit cover, roof rack, life preserver, and pump..
If you do not paddle waters where collisions with hard objects are expected, and the three criteria listed above are met, then fiberglass is the best material for you.
Many kayaks are designed for a particular purpose, and builders take into account which material should be used in the manufacturing process. If performance was the only criteria, then fiberglass would be the material of choice, however under some conditions the durability of plastic takes precedence when selecting a boat. Plastic is softer than fiberglass, and will bend where fiberglass may break under an impact. Fiberglass on the other hand has the advantage of being stiffer than plastic and boats built of this material are lighter than those built of plastic. A stiff boat is a fast boat, and light weight allows quicker acceleration. Polyethelene is affected by the heat and will become soft in direct sunlight, allowing the boat to deform. These dents are called "wows" because dent is a dirty word in the kayak industry. Over a period of time a plastic boat will become scuffed and fuzzy due to the surface material being abraded. A fiberglass boat will also become visibly scratched and scuffed but it has an advantage in that it can be resurfaced and brought back to its original finish.
You will often see a plastic boat which is better suited to fiberglass construction; you will rarely see a fiberglass boat which is better suited to plastic construction.
WHAT IS ROCKER? Imagine the curved part of a rocking chair where it touches the floor. Let’s call this a rocker. If you take a rocker (disconnected from the chair) and give the end a sideways push, the rocker will spin. If you take a straight piece of wood and place in on the floor and give the end a push…it won’t spin worth a darn. So, if the bottom of a kayak is shaped with some rocker (hull curved from bow to stern ) it will turn more easily than a boat which has no rocker (straight from bow to stern). This is simply a definition of the shape of the bottom of the boat. More rocker - easier to turn; less rocker - harder to turn. The best of both worlds would be to have rocker AND no rocker then all your bases would be covered. An expert prefers a boat with little or no rocker because he can cock the boat up on its side when he needs rocker, and drop it back to its bottom when he needs tracking. There is plenty of rocker along the side of a kayak..
Tracking describes the ability of a kayak to go in a straight line. Obviously the paddling motion contributes to a zig-zag forward motion. Wind which hits the kayak from the side may cause it to turn upwind (toward the wind) or downwind (away from the wind). In order for a boat to maintain a straight course in a side wind, the amount of affected material in front of the centerline of the kayak must be equal to the amount of material behind the centerline of the kayak. This is a fine line. What happens if the paddler leans forward or back? Boats are described as good trackers (meaning that they go straight) or bad trackers (meaning that it is difficult to keep them going straight). A long, narrow boat will usually track better than a short fat boat. A fine entry at the bow and stern will contribute to good tracking. The thin rudder-like underwater parts of the bow and stern (I call them the bow blades and stern blades) also contribute to good tracking. Janautica makes the only kayaks I have seen where the bow and stern blades are lower (deeper) than the rest of the kayak bottom. This means better tracking and also assures that when the boat is run aground, the bow or stern (both of which are the strongest part of the kayak bottom) will bottom first. Another point to note is WINDAGE. The higher a kayak sticks up out of the water, the larger the target which can be hit by the wind. Notice how Janautica kayaks have the deck and cockpit at hip level which assures low windage, where many other kayaks have a waist high cockpit and higher deck..Janautica kayaks do not require rudders and you can see how much windage is caused by a rudder in the raised position. (Of course in the lowered position its a real drag). It’s easier to paddle a rudderless boat with a low cockpit, and advanced maneuvers are more easily performed. .Low windage kayaks will outperform those boats with high windage, and if you own a skirt to keep the water out, the only excuse for having a high windage kayak is so that you can carry more stuff in it.
ROUND BOTTOM or FLAT BOTTOM?
A flat bottom kayak has more initial stability than a round bottom boat. Initial stability is that secure feeling that you have when you are sitting still in the water and the kayak feels steady under you. The round bottom boat has a smaller footprint, it has less wetted surface at rest and consequently it feels skittish under the paddler. When rolled up on its side a flat bottom boat will offer increasing resistance and then topple over, the paddler has little warning when the boat will capsize.