Going on adventures in open waters to explore untouched, serene areas is a dream for many overworked individuals. If you’ve always been a watersports enthusiast, there’s a good chance you might have bought a kayak on a whim, thinking that you’ll instinctively know how to steer it.
However, you may be surprised by how difficult navigation can be, especially in rough weather conditions. Like many other inexperienced kayakers, you’ll undoubtedly need all the help you can get to avoid accidents and enjoy your new favorite pastime.
Kayak rudders can help you keep your kayak sailing in a straight line and make steering a breeze. Nonetheless, because there are many rudder kits on the market, the vast array of options may leave you at sixes and sevens.
Don’t worry about wasting your hard-earned money on low-quality kits, though, because we’ve got your back. We’ve reviewed the best 5 models on the market so that you end up with a kayak rudder kit that caters to your needs. Read on for more insights.
What Is a Kayak Rudder Kit?
If you’re new to kayaking, you may not even know what a “rudder” is. Simply put, a kayak rudder is a small extension that you can attach to the rear end (the stern) of your kayak to increase its stability.
Some kayaks have rudders, but most cheap models don’t come with pre-installed ones. Luckily, the vast majority of kayaks are known as “rudder-ready,” which means that separate rudders can be added to them if necessary.
Usually, kayak rudders come in kits that include all the brackets and pins needed for installation. Even if you’ve never seen one before, the installation process won’t take more than 30 minutes.
The Mechanism of Rudders
Rudders are a small part of an extensive steering system, so you may want to know precisely how they work before deciding that you need one. Generally speaking, a rudder system consists of 4 main parts: the rudder, the cables, the pedals, and the lift lines.
The kayaker essentially controls the rudder’s movement (the blade) through the foot pedals connected to it via the cables. The lift lines can be simply used to store the rudder when not needed — in clear conditions with minimal wind interference.
Why Do You Need a Kayak Rudder?
Now that you know more about how rudders work, you may be wondering why you need one. Assuming that your kayak doesn’t have a pre-installed rudder, here are some reasons why investing in a rudder kit is a worthwhile decision:
Expert sailors are familiar with the term “weathercocking.” In a nutshell, it refers to the way wind changes the course of your kayak. Not only can wind make steering difficult, but it also affects the waters you’re sailing in. If you’re interested in ocean kayaking, you’ll find that sailing without a rudder is unsafe.
In extreme weather conditions, the waves crashing onto the sides of your kayak will negatively impact its stability, throwing it off-course and causing the stern to move in the direction of the wind. However, this problem can be easily solved by installing a rudder since it slows down the stern’s movement, allowing the kayak to stay on its course.
Complementing Your Skills
In an ideal world, kayaks shouldn’t need rudders. However, most of the low-end models available nowadays are not adequately balanced, making it hard to steer without destabilizing them.
Even if you have the most high-end model, let’s face it: maneuvering a kayak isn’t exactly a walk in the park. It comes with a lot of practice and patience. That said, you can still take some of the heavy lifting out of the equation and enjoy your new purchase without a hassle.
Since a rudder stabilizes your kayak, you won’t have to learn any fancy paddling techniques. In this case, sticking with the forward, backward, and sweep strokes should be enough to keep full control of the kayak. Rudders are the equivalent of training wheels on bikes, so we strongly advise you as a beginner to use one.
When it comes to rudders, there isn’t a one size fits all pick. However, here’s an overview of the top picks you can find on the market today.
At a Glance
1. Bullnose Rudder Clamp On - Best for Trolling Motors
2. Attwood 11940-2 - Best Rudder Accessory
3. Canoe Rudder - Most Portable
4. Perception Kayak Rudder Kit - Best Full System
5. Wilderness Systems Rudder Kit - Premium Pick
The 5 Best Kayak Rudder Kits
Finally decided to purchase a kayak rudder kit? Great, now comes the hard part: choosing the best one out of the plethora of brands on the market. To have an easier time picking out a rudder kit for your kayak, check our next 5 selections.
1. Bullnose Rudder Clamp On – Best for Trolling Motors
Do you have a trolling motor kayak and want to take it up a notch? Well, you can’t go wrong with the Bullnose Clamp On Rudder. With this no-fuss model, you’re guaranteed to have a better time controlling your boat since you won’t have to waste your time tinkering with different-sized fittings or trying to make heads or tails of complex installation guides.
Thanks to the clamp it sports, the Bullnose Rudder makes the installation process a breeze. Just use the clamp and a couple of screws it comes with to install it on any 25–50-pound trolling motor with a 23 cm shaft, and you’re good to sail in any open body of water.
This product’s easy installation mechanism makes removing and stowing it a piece of cake, meaning that you don’t have to make any permanent changes to your kayak. Moreover, the rugged impact plastic this rudder is made of can handle rough weather conditions, so you don’t have to worry about replacing it anytime soon.
Plus, since this product is for trolling motor kayaks, you’ll need to use the motor’s directional controls to maneuver the rudder.
Although this makes controlling the rudder easier for beginners, the lack of a separate control mechanism can prove cumbersome for some experienced kayakers, especially that other similarly priced products come with dedicated foot pedals. It also can’t be installed on self-deploy trolling motors.
Overall, the Bullnose Rudder delivers what it promises: easier maneuverability and smoother steering. In some cases, this can extend your trolling motor’s battery life, as it won’t have to use as much power when you take sharp turns.
- Easy to install
- Improves trolling motors’ battery life
- Made of strong impact plastic
- Doesn’t come with foot pedals
- Works only with handle-cable-pull trolling motors
- Relatively expensive compared to other models
The Bullnose Rudder is a worthwhile purchase for trolling motor kayak owners. Its easy installation and sturdiness make it a fantastic choice for beginners who want to have more control over their kayaks without permanently changing them.
2. Attwood 11940-2 – Best Rudder Accessory
Generally speaking, footpegs help kayakers maintain a more comfortable posture while paddling, which gives them leverage and allows them to steer and control their kayaks more smoothly. However, like the Attwood 11940-2 Universal Adjustable Kayak Foot Pegs, they can also be used in tandem with rudders to improve maneuverability.
The Attwood 11940-2 Pegs come equipped with a lock-position mechanism that enables you to adjust the pegs’ position to your liking and prevents them from getting loose due to bumps. This model can also be mounted on any kayak, so you don’t need to worry about compatibility.
If you have a rudder and cables lying around, you can take off the catch tabs that lock the pegs into place and use the wires to connect them to the rudder. Thanks to their lightweight design (only 5.6 gm), they make for excellent foot pedals.
Unfortunately, the mounting screws and fittings don’t come included in the box. So, you need to purchase them out of your own pocket. Furthermore, if you happen to have the screws at hand, you may still find the installation process a bit bothersome since you won’t get an instructions pamphlet with the product.
For what it offers out of the box, the Attwood 11940-2 Pegs are a steal, which is why they’re a must-have if you’re on the hunt for affordable options.
- Use a universal mounting hole
- Can be customized to function as foot pedals for rudders
- Have a locking mechanism for stability
- Don’t come with the mounting hardware in the package
- Entail an intricate installation process
Considering the price, the Attwood 11940-2 Pegs have a superb locking mechanism, not to mention that they double as foot pedals. So, if you're not afraid to make some adjustments to transform the Attwood 11940-2 Pegs to rudder-controlling pedals, you should definitely consider getting this cheap product.
3. Canoe Rudder – Most Portable
If you're looking for a portable rudder that doesn't take much space, then you'll undoubtedly find the Canoe Rudder the best option, thanks to its foldable mechanism that helps you store it virtually anywhere.
Like the Bullnose Rudder, the Canoe Rudder is made out of heavy-duty, high-density plastic that resists wear and tear. This is why it’s an excellent purchase for those who value structural integrity and don’t want to waste money on a product that might break in just a few months.
As opposed to the Bullnose Rudder, this product offers universal support for all kinds of small, recreational water vessels like kayaks and canoes. Regardless of the dimensions of your kayak, you’ll be able to attach this rudder to it.
On the downside, the Canoe Rudder doesn’t come with any of the brackets and fittings necessary for installing it. It also doesn’t have an installation manual. So, you’ll probably have a hard time mounting it on your kayak, especially if you don’t have the necessary screws lying around or have never tried attaching a rudder before.
While this model supports paddle control for better maneuvering, it doesn't include the box's pedals. This means you'll have to splurge more money on separate pedals if you want to have complete control over the rudder.
- Supports most models
- Incredibly sturdy
- Can be used with foot pedals
- Doesn’t come with fittings or an instruction manual
- Doesn’t come with foot pedals
- A bit expensive, considering that the box does not include crucial parts
Buyers looking for portable rudders will certainly like the Canoe Rudder. Its universal support also eliminates the confusion most customers face when searching for rudders that can be fitted on their kayaks.
4. Perception Kayak Rudder Kit – Best Full System
Understandably, you may want to buy a complete rudder system and call it a day instead of purchasing a rudder and foot pedals separately. Well, rest assured that the Perception Kayak Rudder Kit offers just that, as it comes complete with a rudder, two foot braces, fittings, and cables.
The foot braces allow for seamless control of the rudder, helping you glide across the water and make sharp turns without facing resistance.
Regardless of its impressive package, the Perception Kit supports only solo rudder-ready Perception kayaks, so you’re out of luck if you own a different model.
As we've mentioned before, the package includes all the fittings you need, making the installation extremely easy as opposed to that of the Canoe Rudder and Attwood 11940-2 Pegs.
The cable the kit includes is made of Spectra—a material known for its elasticity and strength. With this cable, it’s very improbable for the connection between the pedals and the rudder to get severed, even in extreme conditions.
The Perception Kit costs more than the afore-mentioned options. However, considering that it’s a full package, the price is just right!
- Includes a complete rudder system
- Has all the necessary screws
- Easy to mount
- A bit expensive
- Supports only solo Perception kayaks
If you don’t want to shop for separate parts to build your kayak’s rudder system, the Perception Kit is a steal. The only real downside is its limited compatibility with most kayak models. However, if you’re the proud owner of a Perception kayak, this rudder system will cater to your every need.
5. Wilderness Systems Rudder Kit – Most Premium
Like the Perception Kit, the Wilderness Systems Rudder Kit is another complete rudder system. It has all the bells and whistles that make it the most expensive and premium selection on our list. The system includes a rudder, foot braces, brackets, and a connection line.
The rudder's ingenious design and foil shape allow for minimum drag in open waters and more steering efficiency, whether you're sailing in optimal conditions or strong wind and currents.
What sets the Wilderness Kit apart from other options is that you can select which variety to get based on your kayak model. The kit has two variations: a choice that supports the Tarpon 135T and another compatible with Tsunami, Pamlico, ATAK, Radar, and Tarpon 105, 120, and 140 models.
Both kits have all the screws you may need in addition to a detailed installation guide to help you mount the system correctly, allowing you to save time and energy.
The kit’s components are made from rigid materials, which overall increases the product’s lifespan. Still, some customers had issues with the nylon line, so you may want to swap it with a stainless-steel variant.
- Supports a wide variety of Wilderness kayaks
- Includes all the necessary mounting hardware
- Comes with a thorough installation manual
- The nylon line it comes with is relatively fragile
- Somewhat expensive
For those who own Wilderness kayaks and are willing to spend a little extra, the Perception Kit is an obvious winner. It's the perfect choice for buyers looking for a full rudder system with its two variations and different parts.
What to Consider When Choosing a Kayak Rudder Kit
Since this may very well be your first time shopping for a kayak rudder kit, reading through lists of recommendations might not be enough. Here are some considerations you should keep in mind when buying a rudder kit to facilitate the process.
Not all rudders come as a part of a complete system. Some rudders are sold separately with the fittings buyers need to mount them, while others may not even come with screws.
It all boils down to your needs, though. If you already have a rudder but want to have more control over it, you should go for separate foot braces and connect them to the rudder via a stainless-steel cable.
On the other hand, if your kayak doesn’t have any of the components of the system pre-installed, we recommend full kits, as these have all the parts you’re going to need to build your kayak’s rudder system; not to mention that they’re more affordable than separate pieces.
While some rudder kits are compatible with all kinds of small watercraft, you may find ones that can be mounted only on specific models. If you’re shopping online, you can find all the information you need about compatibility in the product description section.
So, make sure to read it carefully to ensure that you’re getting the right product. You may also ask the seller about specific specs (like the dimensions) if they’re not clarified in the description.
You'll find that low-end kayaks are usually made from cheap materials that are pretty susceptible to wear and tear. This is not to say that all affordable products are bad, but you still need to read the fine print before making any purchase.
As a general rule of thumb, go for rudders made from impact or high-density plastic because they don’t rust or corrode when exposed to salty water, making them the best option for ocean kayaking.
As for the system’s cable, we recommend that you opt for stainless-steel cables, as they’re durable and excellent at maintaining the connection between the rudder and pedals.
Who Needs a Kayak Rudder Kit?
Rudder systems are great at improving the stability and maneuverability of small watercraft. Most kayakers can benefit from installing a rudder system, especially those who go on long trips in open waters or sail in strong currents.
How Long Does the Installation Process Take?
It usually takes 30-45 minutes to install a full rudder system, provided that you have all the parts and follow the instructions manual.
How Do I Know if My Kayak Is Rudder-Ready?
Rudder-ready kayaks have pre-drilled holes in their sterns. If you can't find these holes, it means that your kayak isn't rudder-ready, and you’ll need to drill the holes yourself.
Enhancing your kayak’s stability and steering isn’t a complicated endeavor as long as you have the right rudder system. Based on our previous reviews, we recommend that you go for the Bullnose Rudder if you have a trolling motor kayak since it can significantly improve the motor’s battery life.
On the other hand, thanks to its universal support, the Canoe Rudder might be the best kayak rudder kit for you if you have a standard kayak with no motor. However, just remember to get all the fittings you need before you attempt to install it.