Wednesday, August 12, 2009

P&H Cetus skeg system

The P&H Cetus is a superb sea kayak and I am very fortunate to have one on loan for a long term test (and I guess P&H might be hoping for a few photos of it in the magazines (watch out for it in Ocean Paddler #17)!

So far I have only paddled it in flat water conditions, so a full test will need to wait until later. One problem, that did mar its otherwise excellent performance, was ease of skeg adjustment. This was a brand new boat but, straight out the wrapper, the skeg adjuster was so stiff that my daughter could not use it. I managed to move it but it very nearly broke my thumb. It was almost impossible to raise the skeg from the fully down position, when the slider is right at the back of the adjustment slot. I know that this is not an isolated case as a quick Google search will confirm several other reports, also here, here and here.

P&H have developed an all new skeg adjustment system for their most recent kayaks. Previously P&H, like many manufacturers, used a wire cable to positively move the skeg both down and up. These work great but if a stone jams the skeg up and you force the cable down, it bends and kinks where it is exposed, either at the adjuster or above the skeg. P&H have attempted to circumvent this weakness of cable skegs by developing the old elastic/rope idea.

Basically the new system works with a piece of shock cord pulling the skeg down against a thin cord pulling it up. The cord is attached to a slider with a ratchet to stop it being pulled back down. To lower the skeg, you first press forward the ratchet release with your thumb and then allow the slider and the skeg to move back and down.

I told Tim at P&H about it and he said that they were aware of the problem and had just released an upgrade kit with a replacement thinner cord to reduce friction.

The detailed instructions looked pretty easy.

Basically cut the old cord at the slider then pull the skeg out of the box. Next tie the new thin cord onto the skeg in place of the old one then thread the cord up the outer skeg adjuster cable . This proved to be very difficult as the line is relatively flexible and the hole is at the top of the skeg box. I solved this problem by threading the line through an empty Biro pen casing, as a guide. I then removed the guide before I tied the line to the skeg.

Next you thread the line through the hole in the slider, pass it through the small plastic washer supplied in the kit and tie a knot in the line. Was this a cure? Well no, it might have been a little easier at the front of the track (left in the photo)...

...but when the slider is at the back of the track, the hole in the slider does not line up with the hole the cord emerges from and there is a lot of friction. I got back to Tim and was very pleased that the P&H development team had not only already discovered this too but had even developed a workaround: the white plastic widget. As you can see prevents the slider moving right to the back of the track. Tim sent one up the next day.

He also told me that recent production boats had been modified by adding a short vertical bar to stop the slider moving right back.

So was this a cure, resulting in a silky smooth action? Unfortunately not, my daughter was still not strong enough to move it despite a liberal application of silicone spray, as recommended in the instruction sheet.

As supplied, this Cetus came with a piece of 4mm shock cord 50cm long (shown in red). With the slider fully back (again as supplied) the skeg was pulled down by the elastic to about 80 degrees to the keel. This resulted in a huge tension in the shock cord and the attachment point of the blue uphaul cord on the skeg did not give enough leverage to overcome it. I replaced the shock cord with a piece 75cm long.

Next I tied the knot at the slider end of the blue cord a bit short, so that the skeg only came down to about 45 degrees to the keel. (The P&H upgrade kit instructions recommends this angle.) These two changes have resulted in much less tension in the shock cord when the skeg is down as far as it is allowed.

Simon Willis made a video with Doug Cooper describing the operation of the new skeg system for the P&H website. Tellingly, Doug starts off by saying "There's a definite knack to using it though".

There is a another video which shows the assembly and operation of the skeg system here.

So has this cured the problem? Well it is much better but I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of friction on the axle, about which the skeg rotates. If you look at the photo above, you will see a red plastic nut on either side of the skeg. These nuts screw into one another and as supplied they gripped the skeg quite tightly. I unscrewed half a turn and this loosened the skeg off and also resulted in the outer faces of the red nuts being a tighter fit in the skeg slot (previously there was a tendency for the axle end of the skeg to fall out of the slot).

Now I have a system that works well for me, but my daughter says it still hurts her thumb, especially when trying to move it forward from the fully down position. I am also concerned about how any sand might add friction to skeg rotation.

Taking my daughter's complaint seriously, I now dismantled the system again and checked everywhere for friction. I noticed that the slider is a very tight fit in its V channel and there was considerable scoring on both the upper and lower channel faces (remember this is a boat that has only seen 4 days use). I noticed that if you pushed the slider near its mid line (where the steel rod runs through )that it is easier to move than if you push it off centre where the ratchet release is. Again I contacted Tim and he told me that they were also aware of this and had now developed a new low friction slider but unfortunately it would not be possible to retrofit it to existing boats.
Tim told me that they were aware that the overall problem was caused in some kayaks by lots of little bits of friction, at different points in the system, adding up. He also told me that P&H were committed to getting the design right and I have every confidence that they will.
What are my conclusions? Well first of all P&H are to be congratulated on trying to develop a better system than the existing wire skeg control which can be nearly impossible to repair in the field. Secondly, they are to be congratulated on speedily working to develop solutions to problems that have developed in their new design. However, the skeg on my Quest still works much more smoothly than my now finely tuned Cetus skeg, which I have spent two days adjusting. This is more time than I have spent maintaining a Quest cable skeg over 7 seasons and a Quest LV cable skeg over three seasons. I am certainly not going to let this put me off the Cetus, which in 4 days paddling has so far proved to be an outstanding performer and I can't wait to get out in her again.

However, even with its skeg in a finely tuned state, well rinsed and then sprayed with silicone, my daughter says she would prefer to paddle her own boat. So it looks like for now, P&H will need to put up with photos of her in the Quest LV rather than the Cetus.


  1. john f - U.S.A.13/08/2009, 05:47

    I have paddled two Cetus and one Cetus LV, with much better luck with the skeg. I hope P&H sorts this out before I order my boat!

  2. John, I have recently paddled a different Cetus, Cetus LV, Scorpio and Scorpio LV, all with the same basic skeg design, and none were affected.

    P&H have already changed just about every component in the system, so by the time you order your boat I expect you will have no problem whatsoever.

    You will certainly enjoy paddling your new Cetus.


  3. Hi Douglas

    This has been an ongoing problem with the skeg design since Cailean used one for our Canoe Boys programmes in 2007. I agree, P&H are committed to improving the design, but it is taking time.

    Incidentally, I shot a video with Doug Cooper for P&H taking viewers through the maintainence of the skeg system here:


  4. Hey Doug, thanks for posting this. I have a 6 month old Cetus with exactly the same problem. My dealer says there is nothing wrong with the skeg and its because I am pinching the slider. I have tried just pushing with my thumb but it makes no difference.

  5. "P&H have already changed just about every component in the system, so by the time you order your boat I expect you will have no problem whatsoever."

    Solution seems to remain elusive though - shouldn't this be a case of "Don't count your chicken before they are hatched"?

  6. Douglas many thanks for this information. I have a 13 month Cetus with exactly the same problem. I have had it back to the dealer about 3 times now but its no better. They also said it was because I was "pinching" the slider. I couldnt work it at all when my hands were cold in the winter. It is a weak point on what I have found to be a fantastic upgrade from a poly Capella, but the Capella skeg worked!

    I will try and get hold of a thinner line and try all the things you suggest.

    I have always meant to say what a great blog this is.


  7. Interesting to hear of your issues and the work P&H are putting into updating their design.

    My own issues were discussed here:

    I have opted to replace the P&H system with a Kari-Tek Hydro Skeg.

  8. Simon, thanks for the link, I have added it to the text.

    Simon and Dominique, you are both right it is well over a year now and what about all the owners of existing kayaks? If this was my kayak, I would not waste any more time trying to get this skeg design to work. I would take it to Geoff Turner at Kari-tek and get him to fit one of his excellent after market designs.

    David I think you should try and get your dealer to at least supply the thinner cord.

    Thank you Dave :o)
    I think we are all agreed, it's nothing to do with "pinching" the slider. I hope a thinner cord and my suggestions will help.

  9. Hello Solent, I was most interested to read your blog post. I was writing my comment above when you posted your comment.

    Interesting that we have both come to the same conclusion! You will not regret fitting a hydroskeg. I fitted one to my Alaw Bach. It has behaved faultlessly!


  10. Fantastic to see I have not come to a ridiculous decision having the Hydro Skeg fitted.

    Interestingly, a friend of Simon's was kind enough to give some feedback on his Hydro Skeg which was very positive.

    It's great to hear that you also have praise for the system. I have the hydro skeg sat in it's box ready for retro fitting in about a week or so. Looking forward to seeing how well it works.

  11. Yes mine is just the same, my Cetus is less than a year old and my dealer says I have been "pinching" too and not using enough lube! I am going to go for the thin line, (my dealer never mentioned it last week), Not sure what difference it will make as my slider is all scored too. Shouldn't P&H do a recall or at least inform their dealers?

    Great blog thank you, it would be great to sea kayak Scotland one day!


  12. A close friend has just purchased a new Cetus, I've spent a little time paddling it, and now a little time trying to make some skeg adjustments. The skeg system appears to be very similar in design to the early NDK rope skeg, only now it has the fancy thumb ratchet. If you look at angle the small cord has to work with as it enters the skeg box you can see the problem it has with leverage. It's pulling almost over center. The fix may have to be a lighter shock cord and or moving the hole where the small cord enters the skeg box .. a little work but I think it would make it much easier to operate. Also this would keep the cord from chafing. It will soon break as it wears on the edge. I did enjoy paddling the new Cetus though, very nice boat!

  13. Doug, big kudos to you to be ethical enough to actaully post a problem with a product that you were given to test (shwag).
    So many blogs owners would never bad mouth a product where they have "invested interest".
    Your comments give you great street cred.
    And kudos to P&H to actually admit and address the problem.
    Many manufacturers would never admit publicly that there ever was a problem and just "redesign" the malfuctioning item for the next model (year).
    Constructive criticism can only better the product.

  14. I too bought a Cetus this year because my friend bought one of the first and I really liked paddling it. He has a little difficulty with the skeg action but not too much to be bothered about so it doesn't seem to affect everyone. I love my Cetus BUT....My skeg is just about impossible to move forward from the fully back position. (Down to up.) It has nothing to do with pinching, like my dealer says. I thank you for bringing this too attention. I have now ordered the blue chord. At first my dealer knew nothing about it then he was going to charge me for it!!! I am pleased that P&H have put its existence on their website. I hope it will do the trick but reading through here there may be other problems as well. Its a real annoyance on what is the best seakayak out of the 4 I have owned.

    Thanks for your blog, I really enjoy your photos.


  15. Hi Doug, I like my Cetus which is now just about one year old. The skeg slider worked great when new but has gotten stiffer and stiffer. My problem is also moving it forward from the back position. I will try the upgrade kit. My dealer has stripped it down twice but its still stiff. Do you know if Karitek have dealers in USA? I have now gotten to the stage of giving up on the stock skeg.

    Like the others I think its a great kayak and your photos and blog are awesome.


  16. Thank you for your kind comments Steve, I think we are all agreed it is nothing to do with pinching!

    Thanks for your analysis Ron. I agree about the shock cord tension, I tried thinner (and thicker) but settled on a longer length of the same thickness.

    Your point about the pull being over centre is well made. If the skeg is allowed to go down too far, it is definitely overcentre and much more difficult to raise.

    Gnarly, thanks for the comments. I do a few tests for Ocean Paddler. They are supposed to be anonymous but most readers will spot my tests so it would not do to be too partisan. I like to be objective and Tim from P&H said "it would be really good to road test the fix kit". Anyway, there is a great deal of good to say about the Cetus.

    Alex and Rich thank you for your comments. It is interesting that you have also had similar experiences. Rich you should try emailing Kari-tek at they are very helpful.

  17. Douglas,
    I read your recent post about Cetus skeg problems. I have had a Cetus for 2 years now. The skeg got harder to move as time went on, and finally would not move at all. The solution was to spray the metal rod with WD-40. The problem was the metal rod was binding to the plastic slider where the rod went through the slider. When it was bound tight, pushing on the latch only caused it to grip tighter, as it pushes at a bit of an angle.

    It now slides like a dream.

  18. Hello Robert thank you for your reply. The friction on the slider/metal rod does seem to be a key component of several people's skeg problems. In some, like your own, it can be helped by WD-40. In other's including mine, WD-40 and silicone spray have made no difference. I have just tried another spray of WD-40 on mine and it has made it stiffer with a dreadful squeaking noise!

  19. Hello Doug, thanks for this post. I bought a 2nd hand Cetus earlier this year. The Owner said he was changing it for a Cetus LV.

    My skeg has been almost impossible to work. The slider box is full of scratches, much more obvious than your photo.

    My local P+H dealer who did not sell the boat originally is not interested and certainly didn't mention this new dynaema chord last week. He told me there was no issue with Cetus skegs, it was either owners who were pinching the slider or not lubricating it.

    I have also tried WD40- no difference. I tried lighter elastic shock cord, no difference to stiffeness on the slider but the skeg would not come allthe way down.

    I am thinking of following Solent and going for a Karitek skeg but in a boat that is only a year old??

    I found your blog googling for cetus skeg. What a find! worth a sticky skeg, I will be back.


  20. I now have the Hydro Skeg fitted to the Cetus. After 2 wire skegs that have kinked and then the sticky rope skeg it is an absolute revelation. So smooth to use.

    Jeff - it really completes the Cetus. Even after a couple of paddles I am convinced it was worth the expenditure.

    I've put my initial impressions up on the my blog:

  21. Hello Solent, delighted to hear of your new purchase. Jeff, I also recommend the hydroskeg, mine in a Rockpool Alaw Bach, has been faultless.

    My friends lifted and laid me to the water at the weekend so I have had another go with the Cetus system, with all the modifications above, on the water.

    Despite all the work I could hardly move the skeg slider forward and now have a sore thumb. Very disappointing!

  22. Hello Douglas
    I own a P&H Scorpio LV, superb boat !!! But it came with the same problem in the skeg system. I wrote to P&H and they kindly explained to me that some scorpios lv came with the skeg box too narrowl, so they sent me free of charge a new low friction cord and the new 2010 skeg blade for the scorpio line, which is narrower than the previous. Just arrived to Chile so I will install it soon.
    Hope this solves the problem
    Greetings from Chile
    Sergio Covacevich

  23. Sergio, it is very good to hear from Chile :o)

    I am sorry to hear of your problem with the skeg.

    The new cord helped the Cetus I have borrowed but not cured it. It seems the black slider is a very tight fit in its slot. Here in Scotland we have some very fine white sand. When I was last out, the slider jammed completely. I have now used some #400 wet and dry sandpaper to try and make a little more clearance for the slider in the slot.

  24. Hi Douglas
    Thanks for taking the time to answer. Sadly, the new low friction cord plus the "new" skeg, which is narrower didn't work. The skeg blade P&H sent turned out to be a older blade they machined it and made narrower (so much for the new 2010 skeg blade, ???) resulting in the bungee cord slipping out from the blade and obviously not working. And yes, the slider is a very tight fit. Too bad for a company as prestigious as P&H. I wish they could find something to put an end to this.
    Thanks and greetings
    Sergio Covacevich

  25. Hello Doug, Sergio and Solent, I have now got the new chord from another P&H dealer who was much more helpful even though he also lectured me about not pinching the slider!

    Did it help? Not a bit, no difference at all and it was a real faff trying to tie a knot in the right place. Field repairable with cold hands? I don't think so.

    What a shame P&H have spoiled such a great boat. I look forward to a proper fix soon for new buyers but Solent I think I will now follow your lead and contact Kari-tek about their system.

  26. Those of you using WD-40 for skeg wire lubrication should know that WD-40 is not a lubricant but a "water displacer" hence the "WD". This is why one user found his skeg slider harder to use after an application of WD-40. As a kayaker who works in the bicycle industry I have used WD-40 for years but only to remove gummy residue form sticker removal. It is not much good for anything else.

  27. Hello Douglas,

    I have recently replaced the skeg system on my wife's Cetus LV. Now it is an easy one-handed operation for her. You can see the operation at


  28. I have a Scorpio LV with a cord skeg which has been unreliable recently. Inspired by Douglas' helpful comments, I have just disassembled it, including unscrewing the red hexagonal skeg supports. There was sand between the skeg and the supports; the skeg does seem to work better without sand there, and with a layer of silicone instead !

    One minor point: at one end of the hub of the red skeg support was a white plastic cap, which needed to be rotated carefully so that it would fit back on.

  29. Hello Andrew thanks for this helpfull advice. If you still have problems it would be worth contacting P&H.

  30. I havejustfound this blog a few weeks ago and am now following it closely,,, I bought a new Cetus medium about a month ago,,, Sept. from a Western Australian distributor, I LOVE IT,, it reacts to an edge turn instantly, it is beautifully stable in the ocean or rivers, so Far I have only had to lower the skeg about a quarter of the way down, I have found it unnecessary to lower it any further, the seas here in Western Australia will test the best paddlers and boats, my Cetus is equal to the task,,, and Gnarly Dog is always a positive and helpful bloke to people like me,,, Nifty,,,,

  31. Thank you Nifty, I hope to try the Cetus MV soon. Gnarly is a good internet friend of mine!


  32. Thanks for the info on the Cetus Skeg problems. Have tried many kayaks I have decided on the Cetus, but the skeg issues concern me. I have a very old Valley kayak with the cord and elastic system with same bad dynamics (over centre when skeg down) it has never worked well and despite maintenance got worse over the years.

    My current kayak is a Quest LV with standard wire system. I have never had a problem with it. Occasionally I get a pebble stuck in the skeg, but then I never force it. I would rather beach it a free the skeg. I love the P&H boats and I think their service is generally good, but come guys....this is obviously a flawed system. Sea kayaks are not cheap at roughly £2,500. We a customers should should not have to make the best of a flawed system. Why can't P&H use or develop a similar system as Kari-Tek. All versions, cord, wire, hydro and even skeg rudder work well. I recently tested a Cetus at Woodmill. Guess what...the skeg was problematic. So it seems that this is still a big issue.

    All this said; how hard was it to fit the Kari-Tek hydro Duncan?

    Great blogg Douglas, and very informative. Many thanks :)

  33. Hello Ian, the good news is you can currently order a Cetus with the original wire skeg. This is whjat I would do, though I suspect P&H will also be developing a mark two version of the current Cetus cord skeg.