A Simple Guide To Kayak Hull Design

Especially in recent years, kayaking has taken over the outdoor recreation scene and has developed into a top way to enjoy the wilderness.

A lot goes into the modern kayak. There are kayaks for racing, white water, fishing, casual exercise, and anything else you can think of. Within different classes of kayaks, there is a long list of features that make them unique.

One of the most essential parts that help define a kayak is the hull. A wide range of kayak hulls are made to maximize specific uses on the water. Although kayak hulls can vary based on the manufacturer, there are many similarities to different hull types. Here is a breakdown of kayak hulls!

Kayak Hull Shapes

Round Hull

Just as the name hints, a round hull features a rounded shape. That seems obvious, but it is worth mentioning because it is one of the hallmark hull types. This is also one of the more common hull types because of the easy maneuverability. At the end of the day, how easy you can move the kayak is a big part of the design.

They also do pretty well in rough water. When there is a bit of resistance, rounded hulls tend to handle that adversity reasonably well.

Different kayak hull designs - Examples of kayak hull shapesPin

V-Shaped Hull

If you are looking for a kayak with some potential for speed, the V-shaped hull is a great option. Because of the deep V shape, it can cut through the water easier than the other types. This ensures ease when picking up speed and paddling on straight lines.

On the flip side, your primary stability (discussed below) will take a bit of a hit. But, if you want some serious speed, you have to sacrifice something somewhere else. To beginners, this type of hull will be a little more squirrelly than the others, but once the skill level improves, this will not be as much of an issue.

Flat Hull

The most versatile kayak hull on this list is the flat hull. Because of the design, you can do a lot with it. The flat bottom gives a good amount of area in contact with the water. This allows for better stability when doing basic maneuvers.

This is also a common hull found on white water kayaks. Because of the build, there can be long and short vessels that work well with the design.

Pontoon/Tunnel Hull

The final kayak hull type is the pontoon or tunnel hull. This is the most stable of all the kayak hulls because of how it is designed. Rather than having one sharp or broad point into the water, a tunnel hull has two. It takes up an upside-down “U” shape to put two high points into the water.

With excellent stability, you will have to sacrifice a bit of speed. Those two main contact points create drag and do not cut through the water and other options. 

Types of Chines

Where the kayak hull meets the kayak side, chines play an essential role in the design and what the kayak can handle. The hull structure determines what can be done, so knowing the types and structures is helpful.

Kayak chine - Soft and hard kayak chine examplesPin

Hard Chine

A hard chine is, as the name implies, one that has hard, sharp edges and points. These are used for cutting into the water and doing special maneuvers in the water. Especially in white water and in kayaking competitions, hard chines could do a great job of performing under pressure.

Soft Chine

Soft chine hulls are relatively common because they are usually made with rounded hulls. Soft chines have rounded, soft edges that can be used to gain a bit more speed when needed. When transitioning from the bottom of the hull to the sides, the edges are far less pronounced and provide a reasonably smooth transition.


Basically, everything else falls under the multi-chine category. Frequently, kayak manufacturers will use a combination of soft and hard chines to get the best possible result for whatever the primary use may be.

Kayaks are designed to fit specific conditions. When the paddler is outside of this element, you will be sacrificing some performance.

Multi-chine kayaks work to mend the gap and provide more versatile watercraft. This is a significant aspect to consider because there is probably a kayak out there made specifically for your needs and wants.

Stability – Primary vs. Secondary

A big part of a kayak’s identity is stability. Your kayak is designed to be stable in a particular set of conditions. It’s important to know how a kayak’s design affects stability so you can choose the best vessel for your needs.

Stability is broken down into two main categories; primary and secondary. The differences between the two are fairly subtle, but they are absolutely worth knowing and mentioning.

Primary stability

Primary stability refers to how a kayak can stay stable on flat, still water. This is the baseline measurement because it can establish some sort of reference for the kayak as a whole.

If a kayak has solid primary stability, it will be very stable when the water is calm. On the flip side, kayaks with weak primary stability will tend to do better in rough waters and feel more tippy in calm water.

Secondary stability

It is safe to say that not all of your kayaking endeavors will be on flat water. When there is a bit of resistance and roughness, secondary stability comes into play. When the kayak is in rough water (leaning or on edge) secondary stability will give you a better experience.

The scale of rough water can vary immensely, and secondary stability will consider that. But when you are paddling on flat water, though, that unstable feeling will be more prominent.


Yet another design factor of a kayak hull is the rocker. Although not a noun, rocker is the term about the curvature of the kayak’s hull.

Kayak rocker - Examples of kayak rockerPin

From end to end, rocker is determined by how curved the hull is lengthwise. If the ends of the kayak are flared up, and the hull is curved as well, it has an increased rocker. On the flip side, the flatter the hull lengthwise, the less rocker.

The amount of rocker is another contributing factor to both stability and performance. Kayaks with high rocker are great for rough water, but they also sacrifice performance on flat water. On the contrary, the flat, low rocker hulls are made for going quick on a straight line in calm water.

Kayak Length and Hull Shape

Because kayaks come in various shapes and sizes, some builds are made for specific purposes. Here, we will break down the three main kayak size categories and some general uses for the sizes.

Kayak length - examples of different kayak lengthsPin

Shorter Kayaks

A shorter kayak includes those that are at 8-feet long or less. Besides kayaks for children, whitewater kayaks take up a majority of this size’s space. Because whitewater kayaking requires a lot of short, quick maneuvers, having a shorter craft is best.

Because of the length, they may not be great for other uses. In terms of general recreation, these kayaks will have virtually no storage space. So, what you can do with them is a bit limited.

Mid-sized kayaks (recreational)

This size of kayak is the traditional and most seen size on today’s market. This is because mid-sized kayaks are generally the size made for general recreation. This category of size usually sits between eight and 12 feet in length.

Some of the smaller fishing kayaks also fit into this category. This is because there is a more fruitful system of storage available. These are also fantastic for day trips and just regular paddling around.

At this length, kayaks are still reasonably light and can be moved around without too much trouble. If you go into any sporting goods store in hopes of making a purchase, there is a good chance this is the size you will be looking at.

Touring/long kayaks

The final size designation is the long or touring kayaks. These sit in the above 13 feet range. The smaller size of this range is dedicated to larger fishing and tandem kayaks. Also, kayaks made to travel long distances tend to be longer because they will grip more water and move faster.

Kayaks can get over 16 feet long and be used to cover a ton of water. These are known as touring kayaks and feature really skinny bodies made to cut through the water.

Wrapping up with kayak hulls

Kayak hull guidePin

As you can see, the build of a kayak and what goes into the hull can get pretty in-depth. There are so many features that culminate in the perfect watercraft.

The kayak’s hull plays a considerable role in what can be done and how certain maneuvers can be optimized. The key is to evaluate your wants and needs in a kayak and see what options will best fit you!

+ posts

Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.

Photo of author
About the author
Steve Morrow
Steve Morrow owns Paddle About, an outdoor recreation and travel blog. Steve loves to travel, kayak, paddle board, camp, hike, and spend time outdoors with his wife and two kids. When he's not exploring the great outdoors, Steve enjoys writing about his adventures and sharing tips for getting the most out of your outdoor experiences. He has a lot of interesting stories to share, and he's always happy to help others get more out of life.