What Is Tracking On A Kayak? (Simplified)

If you are a novice kayaker or a complete newbie, you may wonder, “what is tracking on a kayak?”

For those of you who have a little more experience under your belt, you know that tracking is essential.

A kayak that doesn’t track well is frustrating because you waste a lot of effort paddling.

But what is tracking, exactly? And how can you make sure your kayak tracks well?

By understanding what tracking is and how different factors impact it, you can choose a kayak that tracks well for your needs.

What Is Tracking On A Kayak?

Tracking is how straight the kayak moves through the water. Various things can impact how well a kayak tracks. One of the most critical factors in tracking is the hull design. A longer hull will track better than a short hull but can be more challenging to turn. A rudder or a skeg can also improve tracking and help you paddle straight.

What Factors Affect Kayak Tracking?

Several factors can affect kayak tracking, including wind, water currents, waves, and how weight is distributed on the kayak.

Wind can cause a kayak to veer off course, and currents can make it challenging to stay on track. Waves can also create drag and make it difficult to paddle in a straight line. 

Another factor is how you pack your gear, i.e., weight distribution. If all the weight is concentrated in the front or back of the kayak, it will be more difficult to paddle straight. 

Or if you have more weight on one side of the kayak, keeping the kayak on track will be more challenging.

Why Is Tracking So Important?

There are a few reasons why a kayak that tracks well is so important.

  1. First of all, it’s more efficient. When your kayak travels in a straight line, you’re not wasting extra energy paddling and constantly correcting your path.
  2. Second, it’s less tiring. For example, paddling in a straight line takes less effort than in a zigzag pattern.
  3. Third, it’s faster. You can cover more ground in less time when paddling in a straight line.
  4. Finally, it’s more enjoyable. You can relax and enjoy the scenery when you do not have to adjust your course constantly.

How To Improve Kayak Tracking

As with so many things in life, there is no substitute for experience. The same is true with paddling a kayak. As you gain more experience paddling, you can help control the kayak better, which means you learn to keep the kayak on course.

In addition, the right kayak paddle can make a huge difference – cheap paddles make kayaking more complicated than it needs to be!

Here are some tips on how to improve your kayak tracking:

  • Use a lightweight paddle. If you can afford a nice carbon fiber paddle, go for it, a lightweight paddle will help you move the kayak more easily through the water with less effort.
  • Use a longer paddle. You may need a longer paddle, depending on your height and the kayak’s width. Of course, you want the blades to easily reach the water on each side as you paddle. If you have to reach out to the side with every stroke, you will likely wind up paddling in circles.
  • Keep your strokes even and smooth. Avoid jerky movements, which will make it difficult to control the kayak.
  • Practice regularly. The more you paddle, the better you’ll become at controlling the kayak.

These simple tips can help you enjoy a smoother, more enjoyable experience on the water.

Using A Rudder

A rudder is a small blade that’s attached to the back of a kayak and can be used to help steer the boat. You can raise and lower the rudder and make steering adjustments using foot pedals inside the kayak.

Many beginner kayakers find that a rudder can be helpful because it makes it easier to keep the kayak straight. However, rudders are not always necessary, and some experienced kayakers prefer not to use them.

Many kayaks come with a rudder already installed, but some don’t. If your kayak has a rudder, you’re in luck!

If you aren’t so fortunate to already have a rudder, you might be able to add one, depending on how your kayak is designed. Some kayaks, some “rudder ready,” so you can add one down the road.

Adding a rudder to your kayak can significantly improve the tracking and help to keep you on course even in windy or choppy conditions.

A rudder can also make turning easier, especially if you have a larger kayak because the rudder helps you steer the kayak.

Using A Skeg To Improve Kayak Tracking

A skeg is a small fin attached to the bottom of a kayak near the stern (back end).

The skeg helps keep the kayak going straight by providing stability and resistance to wind and waves.

Inflatable kayaks often have a removable skeg; without it, you will be hard-pressed to paddle anywhere but in circles.

Some hard kayaks have a skeg that the paddler can deploy (lower into the water) when they need it and raise it back up when they don’t.

Some kayakers prefer not to use a skeg, as it can make the kayak harder to turn. However, a skeg can be a helpful addition for beginners or those who want to paddle in a straight line.


Tracking is the kayak’s ability to move through the water in a straight line. Many factors can impact how well a kayak tracks, but using a rudder or skeg can help improve tracking.

With practice, you can learn to keep your kayak on course even in windy or choppy conditions.

You might be surprised at how much easier, and more enjoyable kayaking is when you are not paddling in circles.

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.