Thursday, October 29, 2015

P&H Skudder, a long term test of a sea kayak skeg/rudder system

I have been testing the new P&H Scorpio mk2 MV since early summer for a test that will appear in the next issue of  Ocean Paddler magazine. During that time I have covered over 700km in all weathers, sea and tide states that this summer threw at us. The boat came with the optional P&H skudder which costs an extra £100. A lot of people have been asking what I thought of it so here goes. The only review I saw before I tried it was based on a few minutes paddling on a small lake. The tester was not particularly enamoured with it so perhaps I was not expecting too much from the Skudder. Sometimes that is a very good way to go into a test!

Design and construction

The Skudder is a combined rudder and skeg mounted in the usual skeg position. It has a decent sized blade to aid control. It is also considerably stiffer than the standard P&H skeg. This is it deployed in skeg mode.

On the Scorpio mk2 the skeg/Skudder adjustment has been moved to the top of the cockpit. The Skudder acts as a skeg if you deploy the slider to just over half way back. 

If you pull the adjuster right to the back the blade fully deploys and is free to turn in rudder mode.

It is turned using the excellent self adjusting SmartTrack pedal system which is found on many ruddered boats these days.

All the control cables are contained within the boat and the rear control lever over the rudder is covered by a flush plastic cover on the rear deck.  For a ruddered kayak the Skudder gives very clean and uncluttered lines.

The cover protects the adjustment lever and cables from snagging. The rear hatch looses a little room compared with a simple skeg box but long thin items can still go up either side and had no trouble packing the boat for camping.

In use
I was not expecting a great deal from the Skudder in rudder mode. I was wrong and as the months on test went by, I found I was using the rudder mode more and more, even without the sail! It is not a panacea for manoeuvring a kayak but unlike some systems I have tried, it does have a big enough blade to be effective, even when paddling at 45 degrees to the wind (when some rudder systems are better lifted as they cause lee cocking if you cannot paddle fast enough). The 5* paddler felt there was no need for the rudder as the Scorpio MV was so manoeuvrable when edged. Initially I agreed but then I discovered that the Skudder works remarkably well for more advanced paddlers when used with edging and steering strokes. Then I noticed that two of the early intermediate paddlers had started to automatically edge the kayak when they were using the Skudder! The beginners loved it.

Paddle sailing
When travelling fast downwind with the sail up, you need to be light footed with the Skudder. It is easy to steer too far one way then overcorrect the other. When paddle sailing downwind on an 11km crossing in F4 conditions with two paddle sailors in Cetus MVs, I found I was actually faster using the Skudder in skeg mode than rudder mode. In F4 winds the Skudder is big and effective enough to tack the Scorpio MV through the wind. Most other over stern ruddered kayaks I have used for paddle sailing in such winds are easier to tack if you lift the rudder first.
Any snags?
Well first of all it proved incredibly reliable and  It did not need any adjustment during the test. Unlike the more expensive Kar-itek skeg/rudder (which I have used over many years) it does not self centre as you lift it. This means you need to centre it with your feet first. Until you get used to this, do not leave it till the last minute before landing!

The only downside is that the pivot pin for the Skudder is in an exposed position at the front of the skeg box. The hinge is unaffected by pebbles, shingle, mud, or fine sand but some coarse shell sands (as found on the Outer Solway) can jam it and If the boat has been sitting on such sand you should make sure it is clear after launching but before getting into the boat.

Overall the Skudder grew on me to the extent that over the months on test I ended up using it most of the time! I got so used to it that when I first got back in my Aries 155 I was pushing the bulkhead with my toes every time I turned, trying to get the rudder to turn!  The Skudder is incredibly well designed and engineered, especially given the price of the boat it is fitted to. It works well in either skeg or rudder mode, indeed it is stiffer than the standard P&H skeg. Given the small price premium being asked I suggest that anyone buying a P&H boat that the Skudder is offered with would be mad not to give it a try.


  1. Great review, thank you. I own both a boat with a rudder and one with a skeg, and honestly I prefer the rudder. I only use it in big wind to help prevent weather cocking, or lee cocking, I don't usually use it to turn. I initially went with a ruddered boat because I bought my boat for the inside passage trip, and didn't want to give up the storage space in my rear compartment. How much does this device eat up space in the rear? The turning mechanism is recessed into the deck, but what is going on inside?

    Thanks again for a great review


  2. Greetings PO Those are interesting comments about rudders thank you. Like you I think rudders are primarily about maintaining course rather than turning. I have paddled a P&H Quest which had rudder and skeg. I found it easier to paddle about 45 degrees to the wind with just a touch of skeg but found the rudder better downwind. I have also paddled a P&H Quest with a Kari-Tek Skeg rudder which I rather liked as it could be used as a skeg going upwind or as a rudder downwind. I have paddled the Rockpool Taran 16 with a rudder and with a skeg. (The owner replaced the rudder with a skeg). I much preferred the Taran with a rudder so I think it also depends on the kayak which is "best". The P&H Skudder has a normal skeg box inside and there is the shallow depression above it which holds the control lever. So the Skudder takes up only a little extra hatch space compared with a traditional skeg but a lot more than an over stern rudder.

  3. A great, very detailed review, nice job. Hopefully they have been improved upon since the first generation Skudder. I maintain a rental fleet that uses Venture Kayak skudder boats and every kayak has had issues with the vertical plastic shaft that runs through the boat from deck to hull. In retrospect probably not a good option for a rental boat, as new or inexperienced paddlers struggle with the subtleties skudder management. For more experienced paddlers I can see some benefits however the more complicated these systems get the harder it is to field maintain when you are out there on a long trip. Thanks for the review! Cheers, a Canadian Paddler.

    1. Thank you CP, sorry for delay in replying, I have not been well. Following your post I completely dismantled the Skudder but did not find any wear or other problem with the vertical shaft. The only sign of wear was as seen in the photo above where the blade rotates in the jaws at the bottom of the shaft. This is caused by certain sized grains of coarse sand. However, though there was visible scoring there was no play. Either the design has changed or (perhaps more likely) rental wear is much greater than 700km I put on it and the 350km others put on it before it went back to P&H. Thanks again, Douglas.

  4. Is the Scudder now and option on all P&H touring kayaks? It would be great to have a retro fit option.

    1. Hello Ian, the skudder is only available on the PE boats not the composite boats. I have been testing the Scorpio MKII MV in CoreLiteX this summer and after my experience of the skudder in a test boat last year, I intentionally specified the skudder on this year's boat. It would be good to have it as a retrofit but I think the changes to the rear deck would probably make it too expensive.

  5. I own a P&H virgo and was told this weekend my skeg is actually a skudder! But the skeg has always been very tight, especially when lifting it. When the slide is moved all the way back, the skeg does not drop beyond 45 degrees. A large portion of it does not clear the boat. There is no way this would turn like a rudder. I am assuming my foot braces need to be unlocked to use in skudder mode. Is there an adjustment to the yellow control cord that would enable the skeg to fully deploy as a skudder? My boat is new this year.

    1. Hello Anon, both the skeg version and the skudder version of the Volan use the same blade but the skudder version has a turning mechanism, rudder control lines and different foot braces with moveable toe pedals to control the rudder angle and a compensatory mechanism to keep the control lines the same tension if you move the foot braces backwards or forwards to suit different sized paddlers. The blade in the skeg version is designed to only drop to about 45 degrees, which is all it needs. That is why the control slider only uses half of the adjustment range, as it is also shared with the skudder version. It would be expensive to convert your Volan to a skudder version and unless you are planning to paddle sail it, there would be little point as the Volan is so manoeuvrable without it. Lastly, with regard to stiffness, make sure you wash out the control slider and the skeg box after every outing. The hinge of the blade is prone to jamming with certain sizes of sand grains. I also find it helps to smear a very little silicone grease on the adjustment slider rod.

  6. Is it possible to get a drop skeg for my P&H Sirius - I can’t seem to get hold of a replacement anywhere. TIA

    1. Greetings anon, the skeg blade is made by Kajak Sport. There are two varieties with the wire either attatching centrally to the blade or at the rear. I think the Sirius uses the central one. Sea Kayak Oban stock them