How does a Skeg Work?


The kayak skeg may be the most misunderstood piece of kayak equipment. Many people think the skeg is used to make the kayak track.

The skeg should be part of the kayak design, not an addition to fix a poorly designed boat. Kayaks with skegs should be designed to slightly weathercock (turn into the wind).

With the Skeg up the kayak weathercocks.

With the Skeg down the kayak turns downwind.

With the Skeg half way down the kayak turns crosswind.

Graphic of kayak with a skeg.

The dominant force (Wind or Current) influences how the skeg works i.e. down current is the same as down wind.

The two main types of skegs are rope controlled and cable controlled. The rope controlled skeg is more reliable, as it does not damage easily and can be fixed in the field. The downside of the rope controlled skeg is you can't fine tune the skeg position. The cable controlled skeg is less reliable, but easier to fine tune the skeg position. If you leave the cable skeg down when you run up on land or over an object the cable can kink. Most cable skegs are easy to fix with tools and an extra cable, which you don't usually carry in the field. If you own a kayak with a cable skeg you should always have an extra cable at home to do a repair. Personal preference is the fine tuning of the cable skeg.

A skeged boat can be packed a bit bow heavy as the skeg will help to compensate, but a trimmed kayak is always best.

The downsides of a skeg are;

  1. added weight, about 3 pounds
  2. added expense, about $200
  3. lost storage space, important in smaller boats
  4. added maintenance, skegs need more work then any other part of a kayak
  5. potential leakage problem, as cable has to run through the boat it greatly increases possibility of leakage
  6. needs to be from a manufacturer with high quality and one that will stand behind problems.
  7. some skegs are hard to operate in rougher conditions

The upside of a skeg are;

  1. easier to control the boat in rougher conditions (not needed in calm conditions)
  2. adjusts for slightly untrimmed kayak
  3. compensates for poorly designed kayaks or unskilled paddlers

While the number of negatives, outnumber the positives, the first positive is very important and for many people will out weight all the negatives.

Should I look for a kayak with a skeg?

Depends on the type of boat you paddle, the difficulty of paddling you do and your skill level. Good paddler in easy conditions don't need a skeg. As we do most of our paddling in easy conditions, the need for a skeg is reduced.

While a boat like the Anas Acuta should have a skeg if you paddle intermediate or above conditions, the space it takes up in a very low volume kayaks outweighs it for most paddlers. The harder the conditions you paddle or the lower your skill level, in the more you need a skeg.

Now you know how a skeg works. Most boats don't need the skeg to go all the way down in order to have the boat turn downwind. Go out and experiment with different skeg settings.