Tag Archives: Kayak Ergonomics

Evolution Of A Fishing Kayak Part Six

Part 6
Mobility: The New Dimension

1. KAYAK MOBILITY DEFINED

Anybody can understand that a 4×4 off-road SUV is more mobile than a common, two-wheel drive car. Most people realize that a skin-on-frame Inuit kayak is less durable than a modern plastic kayak, and you couldn’t paddle it in some of the places that you’re used to paddle in. But what does mobility mean when it comes to modern fishing kayaks?
It basically has to do with whatever limits kayakers and kayak fishermen from going where they want to:
Such limits include spots that are too difficult to launch your kayak from, or too difficult to beach it in. Other limits can be water that’s too difficult to paddle in because of currents, waves, ice, vegetation or submerged obstacles such as wooden logs or rocks.

Weather conditions can limit you as well: Canoes are difficult to paddle on windy days and so are most kayaks, including touring kayaks.
So, if for whatever reason you’re prevented from using some beach or going somewhere with your kayak it means your kayak’s performance is limited in terms of Mobility.

Evolution Of A Fishing Kayak Part Five

Part 5
Versatility: From Specialized Kayaks to Broad-Range,
High Performance Kayaks

1. THE ENVELOPE OF KAYAK DESIGN IN THE MICRONAUTICAL CONTEXT

Ordinary multihull kayak designs offer increased stability but at a price of reducing speed and mobility, and without improving ergonomics. In this sense those designs didn’t really expand the envelope of kayak performance, since the basic tradeoffs that characterized it remained the same.

This multi-dimensional performance envelope was limited by two basic factors: The L kayaking position and the monohull design, and liberating the kayak from the monohull constraint wasn’t enough. This is because unlike bigger boats that greatly benefited by the introduction of multi hull designs, kayaks are personal micro-boats, which makes their design primarily a matter of ergonomics and biomechanics before hydrodynamic issues can be considered.
That is to say that kayak design falls under the definition of micronautics – the art and science of designing watercrafts that weigh less than their passengers, and are affected by their physical attributes, athletic skills, performance and behavior more than by anything else.

In this sense even traditional kayaks and canoes have more in common with surfboards, paddleboards and dinghies than they have with big monohull boats of similar hull shape.

2. TYPICAL TRADOFFS IN TRADITIONAL KAYAK DESIGN

By ‘envelope’ we understand a boundary that limits what is possible to achieve. The kayak design envelope is multi dimensional, and each dimension (axis) is a continuum between two contradicting requirements.
The classic contradicting requirements in kayak design are Speed vs. Stability, and Tracking vs. Maneuverability. This double contradiction can be approached as a set of two broader requirements, which are Versatility vs. Performance.
There are other, less important pairs of contradicting requirements such as Durability vs. Weight, and Solo Performance vs. Load Capacity that define the kayak design envelope, but the first two ones are viewed to be the most important ones.
This classic envelope was imposed by the physical attributes of the monohull kayak. This is reflected in the kayak market by the fact that monohull kayak models are typically designed for narrow ranges of applications and users.
Versatility has hardly played a role as a feature because it was technically limited, and interpreted as lackluster performance in specific applications.
For example, a good fishing kayak had to be made as stable as possible, but because of this requirement it couldn’t be fast or perform well in the surf.

3. VERSATILITY – THE NEW PARADIGM

‘Multi-purpose’ kayaks aren’t new: Long and slender kayaks known as surf-skis can be used for touring (sea kayaking) as well as for surfing, and wide recreational kayaks can be used for fishing.
The problem with multi-purpose monohull kayaks is that they don’t offer high performance in either one or all the applications people use them for.
For example, recreational monohull kayaks and even those of them labeled ‘fishing kayaks’ are neither stable nor comfortable enough to offer the full range or performance that kayak fishermen can get from the W kayak. Similarly, being very long surf skis aren’t well adapted for surf playing, and they certainly don’t enable their users to paddle and surf standing.

Since the W kayak is not constrained by the monohull’s narrow performance envelope it is the first truly and fully versatile kayak:
It is faster than any monohull kayak of similar size, yet it’s stabler than any kayak. It’s small and highly maneuverable yet offers more storage space than any kayak. The W is more comfortable than any other fishing kayak, as well as more mobile than any kayak since you can launch, paddle and beach where other touring kayaks can’t go. The W performs well both as a solo and tandem boat, and both double-blade and single-blade paddlers find it to be perfect for them. The W fits big and heavy users, yet it’s friendly enough for small children to handle by themselves – even in the surf. And last but not least, the W offers four basic paddling positions including two new ones, plus many intermediary positions.

Interestingly, some people found it hard to believe that any kayak could be that versatile, and they doubted the W’s capabilities. Other people who were used to highly specialized kayaks found it difficult to imagine a situation where they would be using the same boat for two different activities (E.G. fishing and touring).
These days more people are willing to question old conventions and accept the fact that paddling and fishing are subject to continuous and sometime substantial progress, like most other technical fields are. Many people now accept the W for what it is, which also means that they evaluate what the W offers relatively to their own, real needs, and even conceive new types of usage.


Evolution Of The Fishing Kayak Part Four

Part 4
Increased Diversity: The Proliferation of New Kayak Designs

1. MULTIHULL KAYAKS

The fishing kayak concept didn’t stop broadening with the monohull sit-in and SOT designs: As soon as kayaks started gaining popularity people began experimenting and inventing new configurations and designs that included more than one hull (monohull).

The first multihull kayaks were ordinary monohull models equipped with a single outrigger (Proa style) or with two outriggers (trimaran style). Such outriggers were needed to compensate for the monohull’s basic stability deficiency. Lately, outrigger kayaks are regaining popularity among kayak fishermen.

Later, catamaran style kayaks appeared in both sit-in and SOT versions. Inflatable sit-in catamaran kayaks are used for whitewater and fishing, and rigid polyethylene SOT catamaran kayaks were introduced as recreational and fishing kayaks.
The inflatable sit-in designs are not true catamarans but rather wide versions of tunnel-hull kayaks (monohull), and therefore slower than comparable monohulls.
The SOT catamaran kayaks are very wide and therefore harder to paddle than similar size monohull kayaks. They also place the paddlers in the L position much higher than the regular SOT kayak does, which results in increased instability without compensating for it by improving ergonomics or biomechanics.

One can no longer claim today that kayaks are monohull boats – The kayak has evolved into a class of small, personal watercrafts that seem to have two things in common: Paddlers propel them using double blade paddles a.k.a. ‘kayak paddles’, and more importantly: most people perceive them as kayaks and call them by this name.
And just to be realistic, these days a kayak doesn’t necessarily have to be paddled since some kayaks are equipped with electric motors (mainly for trolling), and in some cases even with gas engines.


Evolution Of The Fishing Kayak Part Three

Part 3
Ergonomics: From a single, uncomfortable position to the freedom to choose from a variety of ergonomic positions

1. HOW THE TRADITIONAL, L KAYAKING POSITION CAME TO BE

The native fishing kayak was a ‘man’s boat’ – that is a hunters’ boat. What it practically meant was that the native hunter in his kayak had to approach prey such as swimming caribou, beached seals or certain bird species from the shortest possible range in order to effectively shoot a harpoon or an arrow at them. To remain unnoticed from the shortest range the Inuit kayaker needed to stay low above water. In fact, for whaling and long sea trips the Inuit preferred to use their bigger and stabler canoe-like Umiaks.
Since stealth was important for native kayak hunters they paddled in the low, traditional L kayaking position with their legs stretched forward. People around the world used to sit on the floor in similar postures before nearly everybody adopted special sitting furniture such as stools, benches, chairs, sofas, armchairs and other seats.

The kayak is rather unique boat in this sense since native canoes around the world usually offered additional, more comfortable and powerful positions such as sitting higher, kneeling and standing.
Interestingly, the L is not the only position that monohull kayaks offer: Some whitewater canoeists take kayaks and ‘convert’ them into ‘canoes’ just by adding a very low saddle inside their cockpit. This arrangement enables them to kneel inside on both knees in one of the traditional canoe kneeling positions, and paddle with a single-blade paddle (I.E. canoe paddle). The reason why only few paddlers ‘convert’ kayaks into ‘canoes’ is because that particular kneeling position is even less comfortable than the traditional L kayaking position, and this may be the reason why some of these canoeists call themselves ‘pain boaters’…
This leaves modern monohull kayakers with just one position to choose from, and it’s not an ergonomic one. That’s not much in terms of freedom of choice, especially when one considers the fact that in their everyday life modern kayakers are used to a variety of seats and sitting positions that do not include the L position.

2. THE MODERN L KAYAKING POSITION – TRYING TO SOLVE A PROBLEM BY CREATING ANOTHER

Seats and foot rests (a.k.a. ‘foot braces’) have altered the L position without improving much: The backrest prevents the kayaker’s torso from ‘falling’ backwards but it makes it slide down and forward. In order to counter affect this problem modern kayaks offer support for the kayaker’s feet: By anchoring their feet in those small depressions or ‘braces’ kayakers can stop their bodies from sliding down and forward.
However, the combined backrest and footrest system created a new problem, which is constant pressure on the kayaker’s lower back. This pressure is generated by the kayaker’s own legs pushing against both footrests and backrest like a powerful spring. The negative physiological impact of this pressure is felt as fatigue, discomfort in the legs and back pain. The problem is amplified by the kayaker’s inability to switch to other positions. Some kayak seats offer a rigid support for the kayaker’s back and other kayak seats offer heavily cushioned support, but four decades of experimentation proved the L position to be an ergonomic dead end.

3. BIOMECHANICAL ISSUES WITH THE L POSITION

Our legs have the most powerful muscles in our body and they are naturally best fit to do the hard work involved in locomotion and balance. The L kayaking position prevents paddlers from using their legs effectively for balancing, controlling and propelling their kayaks. Therefore, the kayaker’s back, abdomen, shoulders and arms must do considerable extra work. This effort distribution is insensible from a biomechanical standpoint, which means you’re spending energy for nothing and get tired more quickly while your kayak delivers less performance than you need.

4. VARIATIONS ON THE L POSITION – TRYING TO DEAL WITH A PROBLEM BY CREATING DIFFERENT ONES

Manufactures of monohull kayaks who tried to depart from the L position by offering higher seats found that they needed to increase their kayaks’ width considerably in order to compensate for raising the paddlers’ center of gravity (CG). This was done only to rediscover the fact that excessively wide kayaks track very poorly and are harder to paddle.

5. THE NATURAL SOLUTION: THE W KAYAK POSITIONS

The W departed completely from both the monohull design and the L kayaking position.
By offering much better lateral stability and a high saddle the W Kayak has enabled a new set of comfortable positions and a wide range of intermediary positions, as well as the possibility to alter your posture anytime you feel like it.
This is achieved without widening the kayak – In fact, the current W Kayak models are only 25″ wide, which is as wide as some sea kayaks are.
The key to improving comfort and performance in paddling and fishing is the new, full role played by your legs: Instead of pushing horizontally against your lower back as they do in the L kayaking position, your legs support your torso vertically – from below, in the W Kayak riding (mounted) position. This is our legs’ natural position for locomotion and other major physical efforts. For this reason the W Riding (mounted) position is not only ergonomically better (I.E. more comfortable) but it’s also better bio mechanically, that is more efficient in effort terms and more effective in performance terms of power output and control level.

The four basic W positions are: Standing, Riding (Mounted) with your legs on both sides of your body, Sitting with your legs forward (similar to sitting in a canoe), and Kneeling – a position preferred by some canoeists.