Tuesday, September 27, 2022

P&H Volan 160 long term test and comparative review.


P&H Volan 160 in its element. Photo by Ian Johnston.

This really is a long term test. I first paddled the Volan MV back in October 2020 but a combination of injury, resulting in a fractured coccyx, chronic health problems and covid lockdown has limited my time to the extent that P&H have since renamed it the Volan 160! So with apologies to P&H, I have at last spent enough time in the Volan 160 to get enough experience for a meaningful test and comparative review. This is an updated and expanded version of a test which was published here then edited and published in Kanu Magazin in April 2022. It includes comments and posts I have made on P&H Owners Group Facebook page since then.

P&H have created the Volan 160 (16 foot) kayak because they saw a need for a shorter, lighter, more manoeuvrable kayak that was still capable of going weekend camping trips as well as being a lot of fun on day trips. I believe they have created something much more. The Volan 160 is a true all round, all purpose sea kayak, which is also capable of multi-day trips rather than just weekend trips.

Design features.

The Volan 160 has relatively steep bow and stern overhangs to maximise its waterline length. It has considerable bow and stern rocker and hard chines run nearly its full length. The sheer line (seam) rises steeply towards the the bow which reduces waves breaking over the bow, pitching and purling. In plan, the wide point on the Volan is about the seat so it is neither a fish form nor a swede form though it tends slightly to the swede form end of the spectrum.

Construction and fittings options.

The Volan 160 is available in four composite constructions. I chose the lightest; the Lightweight Kevlar/Carbon infusion. I added the optional full kevlar/carbon deck, no keel strip, Connect seat, vertical rear bulkhead, custom forward bulkhead position, no footrest, metal flake deck, I chose to delete the forward mini hatch. The boat was built in July 2020 and weighed 20.2kg. 

I have previously used P&H composite sea kayaks in original Diolen, Performance Kevlar/Diolen, Expedition Diolen and Lightweight Kevlar Carbon spec. At the age of 68y, I can no longer easily handle and lift the Performance Kevlar/Diolen or Expedition Diolen constructions ashore, so this time I went for Lightweight Kevlar/Carbon. Since I started paddling a carbon surfski, I have got used to exiting a kayak in deeper water rather than running it up the beach. So I also chose not to have a keel strip to save weight.

I have used the Performance seat and the Connect seat in two previous Cetus MVs and have the Performance seat in my current Nomad 17. I do not get along with the Performance seat as it digs into my lower spine at the coccyx every time I rotate. The lower tab of the seat back also develops a fold with time and that also digs in.

Cutting the lower tab off the backrest of a Performance seat in a Cetus MV after it folded forward and pressed on the lower spine while on expedition.

Connect seat with removable hip pads in place.

So this time I ordered the Connect seat. It would be worth while trying to demo both before deciding. The Connect seat comes with removable hip pads. My hips are 98cm/38” and the fit is perfect. We had to remove them for paddlers with a bigger hip measurement. 

Vertical rear bulkhead and custom front bulkhead with foam pad for feet.

I ordered a vertical rear bulkhead because it gives more space behind the seat and I like to keep my heavy water bag there when camping. The Connect seat has an adjustable strap with quick release buckle to secure gear behind the seat back. There are gear loops at either side of the seat pan.

I like custom forward bulkheads for a footrest as they are so comfortable and versatile. Since starting to paddle a surfski, most of my sea kayak paddling is now also done with feet and knees together and this is easy with a bulkhead footrest. My inside leg is 29” and P&H fit the bulkhead big enough for 31” leg and supply a shaped full size block of foam 3” thick to put against the bulkhead. I cut a 1” thick slice off with a breadknife and use the 2” thick piece. I fit it with a pull cord in its centre so it is easy to remove. Using combinations of these two foam pieces, or none, my boat can easily fit paddlers of 28” to 31” inside leg more quickly than adjusting foot pegs! I have not tested the Volan with the standard twistlock footrests. I do not like them after paddling several Scorpios and Virgos. I see no point in ordering a personal customised  sea kayak with these fitted. They reduce the volume of the front hatch and increase the volume of the cockpit. They are less stiff than a custom bulkhead footrest and sometimes give way if you press too hard.

I ordered metal flake glitter deck, not because I was a teenager in the early ‘70s but because I have found boats with deck glitter are easier to sell on! I deleted the forward mini hatch because it gives me more room for my favoured feet and knees together paddling position. Also, I usually have a deck mounted camera bag, right where the mini hatch is located.

The Volan 160 has all the regular P&H composite deck fittings you would expect.

I was very pleased indeed that the cockpit coaming is now about 1cm higher than in the Cetus MV. This makes it much easier to get your spray deck on quickly.

The skeg adjuster has now been moved to the left foredeck, which I like as I no longer catch my thumb when paddling (as I often do on the Cetus MV). It also keeps it out the way if rafting up. However, it is now more likely to trap sand, so be prepared to keep it clean. I have found the lightest smear of silicone grease on the slider rod keeps the mechanism working smoothly. On this particular boat the skeg adjuster line was fine gauge stainless steel wire. Note that this is not the same as the "wire skeg" option on the P&H website. That refers to the previous generation of skegs such as found on the P&H Quest LV. In that, a heavy gauge stainless steel wire both deploys and retracts a triangular skeg blade.

I particularly like the deck elastics being a different colour to the deck lines (grey and black on this boat). This means if you are rescuing someone you can say grab the black line and they are less likely to grab elastic! 

Two very nice touches relevant to paddle sailing, which I suggested to Graham Mackerreth MD of P&H some years ago, now make a first appearance on a composite P&H sea kayak. Firstly there is now a pair of lateral deck line RDFs perpendicular (with respect to the kayak's longitudinal midline) to a mast foot mounting flat moulded on the foredeck. This means you do not need to add additional deck fittings for the mast side stays. 

Secondly, on the starboard side of the deck, just below the front of the cockpit rim, there is a little hook. This allows a rearward extension of the forward deck elastics to be pulled over the folded mast sail and to be secured on the hook. As the whole deck elastic is continuous, this allows you to pull enough elastic through to secure, but not crush, the sail. It then retracts out of the way when the sail is up…neat! Finally, like all recent P&H composite sea kayaks, even this lightweight kevlar carbon version has a foredeck that will withstand the pressure of a mast foot without further reinforcement by the user being required.

Still on the theme of paddle sailing, note the amount of 3D moulding round the mast foot (red plate with two bolts). This all helps to stiffen the foredeck to withstand the pressure of the mast but without adding too much weight from extra layers of laminate. Note the curved depression that is forward of the spare paddle recesses. Unfortunately this particular kayak had a compass mounting that was about 2mm too shallow for the Silva 70p deck compass. P&H will supply a custom cut gasket that will allow you to fit your own.

Test conditions,  locations, comparison kayaks and paddlers.

The test period was October 2020 until September 2022. This included restricted access to the sea during second Covid lockdown. I used the Volan 160 fully loaded on camping trips totalling 13 days. For comparison I switched to the Cetus MV on one of these trips for a further 2 days. The rest of the time health problems limited me to day paddles with a maximum of 12 km though most were only 6 km. In total, I paddled 518km and others paddled  it 133km.

The Volan 160 was paddled in exposed tidal waters of the outer Solway Firth,  open and sheltered waters in the Firth of Clyde and its sea lochs, open sheltered and tidal waters in the Firth of Lorn, tidal waters between the Isle of Skye and the mainland, fjord like Loch Hourn, the Sound of Arisaig and Wester Ross coast in NW Scotland. In my main Solway test area, I have installed an anemometer on an off shore reef and have a spare sports watch (with GPS and accelerometers) with an app attached to a handle on top of a buoy to measure swell/wave height. Winds varied from F0 up to F7 (offshore) and swell up to 1.5m with one 2m day.

It was paddled alongside P&H kayaks: Delphin 155, Aries 155, Hammer, Virgo MV, Scorpio Mk1, Scorpio Mk2 CLX MV and HV, Quest LV, Cetus (original and MV), Cetus LV,  Northshore Kayaks: Ocean 17.6, Voyager 17.0, Voyager 16.10,  Atlantic Evolution/Nomad 17, Rockpool Kayaks: Alaw Bach, Valley Kayaks: Nordkapp LV and Anas Acuta. In order not to allow the Volan's lightweight carbon kevlar construction to affect the comparisons unfairly, the Evolution Kayaks Nomad 17 was included as it is also of full kevlar/carbon construction. It is also marketed as a versatile all rounder but is a more traditional British style shape.

The main tester was 172cm tall and 73kg. The Volan was also paddled by a range of people from 164cm to 188cm tall and 62kg to 90kg. Paddler experience ranged from complete beginner to 5*. It was padded with GP, Euro and wing paddles.

Ergonomics and fit.

Of all the boats mentioned in this test I, and several others, found the Volan 160 and the Nomad 17 to be the most comfortable to sit in for extended  periods of time. There is a common reason, they have bigger cockpits, with more room for thighs, knees and feet than for example the Cetus MV and particularly, the Nordkapp LV and Anas Acuta. Being an all round kayak, the Volan 160 does not have the aggressive thigh grips that are fitted to the Aries 155. Some of the shorter paddlers felt their legs were splaying wider than in their Cetus MVs. The Volan 160 cockpit coaming length, breadth and height dimensions are similar to those of the Cetus MV but the distance across the cockpit, where my knees make contact with the seams, is 3cm larger. However, due to the 2cm thick skeg slider being moved from just above the seam to the fore deck, the Volan has 5 cm more width for your knees than the Cetus MV. If you like the width of the Cetus MV cockpit you could always stick 2.5cm thick mini-cell foam pads to each seam where your knees contact.

A couple of paddlers who have Aries 155s missed the aggressive thigh grips as I have only stuck 3mm mini-cell foam sheet under the deck. It would be easy enough to stick some thicker strips along the inner side of the thigh grip area if you wanted a more positive location. I have not felt the need and it is interesting that the Nomad 17, which was also highly rated for comfort in this test, does not have aggressive thigh grips either. Lastly, the relationship between the Volan 160 seat/deck and cockpit opening is really good. I can get both legs out on the water prior to landing which I can’t in the Cetus MV.

First impressions.

I like boats with chines and the Volan MV is a very modern incarnation of a chined kayak. I like chines because of the early planing when catching a wave. I like the feel of chines when edging. Also, chined boats let you carve a turn (when planing) by leaning the kayak into the turn rather than leaning it out of the turn as most round hulled boats require. Some people like chines from the historical and aesthetic points of view.  The kayak that Ken Taylor brought to Scotland from West Greenland in 1960 was chined and this kayak went on to influence the British style sea kayaks. Indeed the Anas Acuta has its roots in that kayak. I also like chines in sailing dinghies. I much prefer the hard chined RS Aero, which I currently sail to the round hulled Laser, which I sailed in the '70s and '80s. 

Before I had seen it, I had wondered if the Volan 160 might be a composite version of the Virgo MV but as soon as I saw its size and shape, I realised it was not. The overall volume of the Volan 160 is 28l more than the Cetus MV and I think most of that is in the cockpit. When I sat in the Volan 160 cockpit, it felt so roomy compared with my Cetus MV that I wondered whether I would have been better waiting for the smaller Volan 158 to partner my Cetus MV (which fits like a glove or my Valley Nordkapp LV, which fits like a very tight sock). My first few outings were unloaded and in calm or moderate conditions. The Volan 160 cockpit’s spacious comfort, offering enough contact for control, was only matched by the equally roomy Nomad 17 cockpit (which also uses a P&H seat!). 

My first long trip in the Volan 160 was a very windy camping trip and I did not get that instant feeling of “This is the kayak for me” that I got with the Cetus MV on its first outing. I was having to adjust the Volan’s skeg more than my friend in a Cetus MV and I found I had to concentrate to keep it on course. I had loaded the Volan 160 with all my gear in the same place as I would have put it in the Cetus MV. First, this confirmed that they both had similar volume in each of the hatches and that the Volan 160 would not therefore be a particularly good smaller partner to the Cetus MV. However, over the four days, I gradually moved heavier items back and moved lighter items forward. What a difference this made to the way the Volan handled in the wind. At the end of the four days I knew I had found my new "do it all" all round camping boat and thoughts of waiting for a smaller Volan vanished!

Day trips

I was amazed by the Volan 160’s response to edging and its stability on edge,  this stability is quite unlike that of the Nordkapp LV, for example. For a full size expedition boat, the Cetus MV is known to turn tightly on edge but the Volan 160 turns well inside it.

Several times I have followed a Hammer rock hopping through tight channels and only left the paddler to it when the channels had shallow rocks, which he did not mind scraping over. With regard to cruising speed on flat water, there really is nothing in it between the Volan 160 and the Cetus MV not to mention the other British style kayaks it was paddled alongside.

Even when pushing for maximum speed against the tide (when we had missed a tidal window in the Loch Hourn narrows), the Cetus MV was not noticeably faster. 

Where I have really fallen for the Volan 160 is downwind on an open crossings, it is easier to catch more waves than the Cetus MV or Atlantic/Nomad 17. Going upwind, the Volan 160 is much drier than the Quest LV, Cetus MV, Anas Acuta and Nordkapp LV. You will find you need to adjust the skeg less than in an Aries but more than in a Cetus. As I take a lot of photos, I frequently stop paddling. Like the Cetus MV, the Volan 160 is very happy to lie to the wind at the same angle as when you were paddling. This is in contrast to the Aries, which will start to lee cock as soon as you stop paddling. (To reassure potential Aries buyers, the Aries is very neutral in the wind when you are moving and have used the appropriate amount of skeg.)

Multi-day trips

Volan 160 and Cetus MV.

The Cetus MV, Quest LV, Nordkapp LV, Atlantic Evolution/Nomad 17 and Volan 160 can all carry exactly the same volume of my gear but the Volan 160 day hatch is a bit deeper and the bow and stern end spaces are less tapered and so are more usable and easy to load than on the longer kayaks. When loaded, both the Volan 160 and the Nomad 17 are noticeably drier than the other kayaks when going upwind into a breezy chop.

Cruising speed is obviously important on multi-day trips. Although the Volan 160 is shorter than the other kayaks above, it also has shorter overhangs and so the waterline length is not that much different. As it is waterline length that largely dictates maximum displacement (non planing) speed, there is not really much difference in cruising speed between the Volan 160 and the longer traditional British style kayaks. Also many people are not fit enough or have good enough technique to drive a kayak to its theoretical maximum speed. As you approach the hull's maximum speed, the resistance to forward paddling increases exponentially. Other factors also play a part such as the wetted area when loaded and unloaded. The more wetted area the greater resistance to forward paddling. In rough water a stable boat will be easier to keep to speed than an apparently fast, long narrow boat, if paddle strokes are wasted bracing. Putting the theory aside,  in practical terms we noticed no difference in cruising speed or effort between the Volan 160 and the longer kayaks it was compared with. The only difference was that good paddlers could catch more waves going downwind in the Volan 160 and pull ahead of the longer boats.

GPS track of an 11km tow by the Volan 160 from the Isle of Bute to the mainland.

To prove the point about the Volan 160's effective cruising speed, I managed to tow a medically incapacitated paddler in a Cetus MV with the Volan 160 for 11km (across two shipping lanes in the Firth of Clyde) at an average speed of 6km per hour and without stopping. Both boats were fully loaded on a camping trip. 

If speed was my prime requirement in a sea kayak, because I was on a record breaking mission such as a long crossing or circumnavigation, I would choose an FSK such as a Rockpool Taran for a multi-day trip or a surfski for a single day trip.

P&H's sublime RM Valkyrie, a hybrid surfski hull with a kayak deck, would be another great choice if speed was your priority..

Windy conditions.

A friend, who has recently bought a Volan 160 after making quick progress in a Scorpio MV, said he found the Volan 160 was a bit skittish when unloaded in stronger winds. He was the right weight for the boat but had been setting the skeg then forgetting about it, as he had got away with in the Scorpio MV. I have had no problems in wind, if I trim the skeg more frequently than I would in a longer boat. This is particularly so when the wind is coming from about 45 degrees from the bow. However, even in more extreme conditions, the Volan  more than holds its own and is very neutral in strong winds with appropriate use of the skeg. 

On a very windy offshore day, an unladen Northshore Ocean 17.6 began to lee cock as we were trying to round a headland. The owner had lost weight since he bought it and because it was an unloaded HV expedition boat, it was floating higher than ideal. The wind was gusting into F7 but the Volan 160 remained completely controllable and I was able to return and set up an assisted tow. I had no trouble turning the Volan 160's bow into the wind, even when towing, to keep the Ocean 17.6’s bow to the wind while we rounded the headland. 

Photo Ian Johnston
I am a sucker for deck cargo... big camera case and sail folded on the fore deck (if it is not up!) and often a trolley bag on the rear, so I no doubt experience windage problems more than most. I also like collecting abandoned fishing buoys from beaches and rocks. One of these on your rear deck is a great way to test how a boat handles in a breeze. I carried a 70cm diameter buoy for 32km both upwind, across the wind and downwind. Some of the time I used a sail. During this period the anemometer at a local airstrip averaged 11 knots and gusted to 21knots. The Volan with a buoy handled and tracked very nearly as well as the Quest LV and Cetus MV without buoys! Overall, the Volan 160 excels surfing downwind on its chines in a breeze but also handles going upwind very well indeed. 

Swell and surf.
I am lucky enough to live right on a beach (on the Solway Firth) that is exposed to both long period swell and short period surf. In rough water the Volan feels very secure. It has such remarkable secondary stability that I found it seldom necessary to engage the thigh grips.

(Maybe my experience in surfskis has contributed to this, not a thigh grip in sight...despite the narrow width!) 

In more confused seas, The Volan 160 matches the untroubled feel of the longer boats with low volume ends such as Cetus MV, Nordkapp LV,  Atlantic Evolution/Nomad 17 or the Anas Acuta. However, the Volan 160 is faster than these boats once it catches a wave downwind. In short ,steep waves it is easier to alter course to hold a line on the wave face when you are being pushed into a broach than the above kayaks (and also the Quest LV and Cetus MV). Despite being shorter, the Volan 160 is much less likely to start to broach than the original Cetus in particular. 

In my Cetus MV and Nomad 17, if I am catching bigger swell, I find I need to run pretty straight with the bow about 90 degrees to the swell line, while holding a stern rudder stroke, otherwise it tends to broach. However, in the Volan 160 I find I can run at about 45 degrees to the swell without broaching. This is great fun because it allows you to travel faster than running straight in front of the swell. I am also lucky to have a reef break at certain states of the tide. I like to catch the swell at its steepest, smooth face just before it starts to break. I then run away from the breaking section with the white water chasing after my stern. In full planing conditions on a wave face I find that a little skeg helps.

Note that the Volan 160's bow rocker and high bow sheerline help prevent the bow burying.

My aim is to balance the direction of the kayak with very sensitive edging. I use a stern rudder stroke as little as possible as this acts as a brake.  Some say you should never use skeg when catching swell or surf.  Well, I have been catching and riding waves on a variety of windsurfers since 1977 and all of them have had skegs, some 3 or 4!! My full carbon Think Zen surfski even has a rudder! The above technique only works for me in kayaks with hard chines. I can’t do it on my otherwise excellent Nomad 17. It requires I use stern rudder and run straight on most steep waves. However, when you broach a round bottom kayak like the Nomad 17,  it is more forgiving.

In a chined boat, like the Volan 160, you need to be sure to get the chine that is farthest from the wave face out of the water, otherwise it is another swim! Next to the Aries 155, the carbon kevlar Volan 160 is now my favourite British style kayak for catching swell and waves. 

However, let’s be realistic. If you want to ride and shred waves, stand up and get yourself a surfboard or a windsurfer. Compared with a small board, even a carbon sea kayak is an unwieldy, heavy barge. If you really want to sit down and catch waves get a surfski, preferably carbon, and only paddle downwind!

Aries 155 in  Lightweight Kevlar Carbon 
I was concerned about ordering the Volan 160 in kevlar carbon because one of my previous Aries 155s was kevlar carbon and it slammed, banged and shuddered when paddling out over steep waves and surf. My carbon surfski is even worse and I often fear it will break in half! (I guess this is why surfskiers prefer downwind shuttle runs.)  I need not have worried. The kevlar/carbon Volan 160 has more V in the bow than the Aries and comes down off the back of the wave much more softly and with hardly a shudder.

Going out through breaking waves the bow of the Volan 160 sheds water from its deck better than the other kayaks except for the Aries 155 and Delphin 155. You will still get a wet chest but after being dumped on by an incoming wave, the boat rises predictably and safely. When playing in surf, the shorter kayaks; Volan 160, Aries 155, Hammer and Virgo MV could be spun round between sets much more easily than the longer kayaks. The  Virgo MV with less bow rocker and the Anas Acuta with its fine front end were more likely to bury their bow and broach than the other kayaks. If you do bury the Volan 160's bow, it rises and sheds water almost as well as the specialist Aries and Delphin 155s.

The Hammer was great, secure fun in surf but so heavy compared with the others.  Although the Hammer could catch slow moving surf in the shallow water, it was not able to catch faster moving deep water swells that the Volan 160 could.  

Looking at all round performance in swell and surf, such as might be encountered during a longer trip,  the Volan 160 was my favourite. If your interests lie in just playing in the swell, surf and tide races then yes the Aries 155 / Delphin 155 take it due to their more specialised nature. Would I pair a Volan 160 with an Aries 155?  Well for me, the answer is no. There is too much performance overlap at the wave end of the wave/touring spectrum of my use. Remember though, that if the surf is up and there is enough wind, both my Aries 155 and Volan 160 will remain in the shed and I will be out windsurfing. If there is swell but light wind, I will be on my surfski!

Suitability for beginners.

I am not suggesting a beginner should buy a composite kayak as a first purchase and particularly not a kevlar carbon one. However, three absolute beginners really took to the Volan. It was easy to get in and out of and they felt very stable. They found it much easier to turn than the Cetus MV. It would be a great boat to go on and learn edging in because of its remarkable secondary stability.

Rolling, assisted rescues and coaching.

The Volan 160 has a very predictable roll. It does not roll as fast as a Valley Nordkapp LV, which tends to window blind and roll over again if you are not quick. Due to the rocker, the bow and stern continue to provide some support once you pass the limit of secondary stability in an accidental capsize. This delays overturning and  a good paddler may be able to use a high brace to recover before complete inversion. Those smaller paddlers or those who depend on a vigorous hip snap to come up will probably want to stick some more pronounced thigh grips under the deck. I have not found the need. The back deck is about the same height as the Northshore Atlantic Evolution/Nomad 17 and Valley Nordkapp LV but is a bit higher than the Cetus MV. However, it was still low enough to make back deck rolls easy. 

Assisted re-entries were easy using the heel hook and the spacious cockpit  meant twisting your bum round into the seat was easy. The elastic supported Connect seat back resisted folding under you during re-entry pretty well. The Volan 160 proved easy to empty during an assisted T rescue.  I have found the flooded Aries 155 more difficult to lift due to the pronounced upturn of the bow.

The Volan's stability and ability to turn quickly are a real boon when coaching. I am currently teaching my 9 year old grandson to sea kayak and I am very happy to coach his out of boat practice from the Volan 160.  Needless to say, his kayak, a Jersey Junior also has chines!

Paddle sailing.

TheVolan 160 is an absolute blast when paddle sailing! 

Flat Earth Footloose sail.
I used the Volan 160 with Flat Earth Tradewind and Footloose sails and KCS Pro sail. While the Tradewind is forgiving in gusts and is ideally suited to newcomers to paddle sailing, I preferred the more responsive feel of the Footloose and Pro sails.  They also deliver more power in a gust, which is very helpful when the boat is laden on a camping trip.

Upwind, with similar Flat Earth Tradewind sails, the Volan 160 appears to point as high to the wind as the longer boats. However, like the shorter Aries 155, it slips more to leeward and after a kilometre of sailing as close to the wind as possible it was about 120m downwind of the longer kayaks. I also found I was having to trim the skeg in the Volan 160 and Aries 155 more often than in the longer kayaks.

KCS Pro sail.
Paddle sailing in decent downwind conditions, the Volan 160 truly excels, it will help you catch more waves than most other British style kayaks apart from the Delphin/Aries.  Among the longer kayaks, the Quest LV was a favourite and gave a great paddle sailing downwind as it picked up waves easily and required little effort to keep it on line.

When surfing downwind on the faces of swell, the pressure of the forward mounted sail helps prevent broaching and you can go for  long distances without requiring steering strokes. Do remember with these small Australian type sails that you need to keep forward paddling. Bigger, American style sails, are much more powerful and you do not need to paddle. However, I would not take them out in the rough water, high wind conditions conditions that the smaller sails are designed for.  Also just sitting there in a Scottish winter gets cold! Paddle sailing is the way to go.

In the Volan 160, a combination of stern rocker and its chines, which extend towards the bow, helps catch the wave and stay planing on its face. Similar to the Aries 155 and Delphin 155,  when planing at speed, the response to edging reverses and the boat turns towards the depressed edge. These types of boats are more responsive to edging when paddle sailing downwind than the longer, round bottom hulls of the Cetus MV, Nordkapp LV, Ocean 17.6, Voyager  and Atlantic/Nomad 17.0 which require frequent stern rudder strokes. Note that I would not recommend edging to hold a long course while paddle sailing (that is what your skeg is for!) but edging is ideal for short term adjustments, especially on a wave. Overall, I have had more fun paddle sailing the Volan 160, laden and unladen, than in any other kayak.

Wear and tear.
The Volan 160 has survived over 650km paddling by myself and others and still looks new. There have been only three minor issues:

The stainless steel cable for the skeg adjuster got a slight kink when a beginner tried to put the skeg down while the stern was still on the beach. It has not affected function at all.

In calm conditions there are small but persistent leaks into the rear compartment and rear day hatch. It is not much more than a few cc over the course of a day. However, in rough conditions, especially on a camping trip with a load, the boat takes on several litres over a day. I have not yet discovered its source. In my experience, it is usually the gland where the cable enters the skeg box but I have upturned the kayak and filled the skeg box with water and it is bone dry. I have also removed the deck line RDF fittings but all their inserts are water and air tight.

I have never previously had a P&H kayak with so much stretch in the deck lines. Again it is not a big deal as I just pull it tight and tie a new knot in the end.


I have paddled my Cetus MV and the Aries 155 since they first came out and I have enjoyed every moment of their complimentary characters. However, the Volan 160 is such a superb all rounder that, since I got it, I have only paddled the others for comparative purposes. For me, with a mix of 90% day paddles and 10% camping trips, it is easily the most versatile sea kayak I have paddled over the last 21 years. 

I have decided there is no point in having a Cetus MV and a Volan 160. The Volan 160 does everything for me the Cetus MV does and more. There is less performance overlap with the Aries 155 but even so, there is much less need for the Aries 155 when paired with the Volan than if paired with a Cetus. 

If you are interested in paddle sailing, the Volan 160 is probably the best synthesis of chines, rocker and length for paddle sailing currently available. I have enjoyed paddle sailing it more than any other kayak I have tried.

So my future will be with one kayak, the Volan 160, which, for my weight of 73kg, is a true all rounder. It swallows all the gear my Cetus MV took plus it is a lot more playful. P&H have undersold the Volan, it is way more than a playful weekend camper.

With P&H kayaks we really are spoiled for choice.


Volan 160 in Lightweight Kevlar/Carbon construction
Length: 489cm
Width: 58cm
Volume: 360l
Weight as tested: 20.2kg

Full specifications and details of other constructions and prices at phseakayaks.com

Please do not buy a kayak as a result of reading a review! At the very least, you must sit in one and make sure you fit in it. Ideally you should paddle any kayak before purchase and preferably paddle several alternatives,  in a variety of conditions, before deciding what is best for you. I know many people live a very long way from demo centres and are therefore more reliant on reviews. I have therefore included measurements of several people who have successfully paddled the Volan 160.

Conflict of Interest and acknowledgements.
I have lost count of the number of P&H sea kayaks I have bought or been loaned over the last 21 years. I am grateful that I have had a long-standing, unpaid relationship with Pyranha/P&H in which I have access to new products/prototypes in exchange for feedback. Some of the features on the Volan 160 are a direct result of my feedback on previous models or during general discussion with Graham Mackereth and Mathew Wilkinson. I own several personal kayaks from Dagger, Evolution Kayaks, Pyranha, P&H, Rockpool, Think and Valley so I am not dependent on P&H to go paddling. I am grateful to Mathew Wilkinson of P&H and Mark Mitchell of Sea Kayak Oban www.seakayakoban.com for their help in delivering the Volan 160. I am thankful to all my sea kayaking friends who have patiently put up with my "try this, what do you think of that?, hang on I need a photo!"


  1. Hello Douglas thank you very much for this review. I am 75kg and 173cm My Cetus MV (I bought it not long after your review of it) is now well worn and I am hoping to treat myself to a new boat. I have damaged both shoulders so I will be looking at carbon construction. I particularly like the look of the Volan 160 and it would fit in my garage unlike the Cetus MV. My dealer is pushing me toward the Volan 158. He says it is the right boat for my size what do you think? Thank you Jurgen.

    1. Hello Jurgen, thank you and it is good to hear from you. I have not paddled the Volan 158 but have sat in one. We are approximately the same size so I can say you would have no bother fitting in a Volan 158. What I will say is that it feels a much smaller volume kayak than the Volan 160 much smaller than just being 10cm shorter would suggest. It felt smaller than my Aries 155. I could not see myself at 73kg using it as a camping boat. I have winter camped for 6 days/5 nights in my Aries 155 and I was loaded to the seam. It was a wet trip and the Aries did not handle well with that amount of weight, its turning on edge was severely compromised. The Volan 158 is both shorter and narrower than the Aries 155 (which has a volume of 290l) so I expect its volume will be less than that.

      If you were going to keep the Cetus MV as a camping boat then (at your 75kg weight) the Volan 158 sounds a great day boat to partner it. If you are looking to replace the Cetus MV and are looking for a mix of camping trips and day trips, I think the Volan 160 (360l) would be the better choice, it really is a true allrounder which I think has hit a sweetspot in terms of size. Have you seen Dimitri Vanderpole's excellent review of the Volan 158 in Paddler magazine?

      Good luck with your decision making and happy paddling.


  2. Douglas thank you for your good reply you have seen it clearly. I am selling my Cetus MV so this will be an only kayak which need to do everything. I will demo a 160 but having read your review and also being retired I am thinking I may save longer for a light carbon kevlar kayak. Jurgen.

  3. Good comprehensive review, was wondering how the Volan 160 would compare with a NDK Surf in rough water and waves, have a NDK Surf and looking at replacing with the Volan 160. Robby

    1. Thank you Robby :) I have only had the briefest of paddles in a Romany Surf and it was a millpond.It is a larger version of the Classic Romany which
      I have paddled in rough water. I have also owned and paddled Rockpool Alaw and Alaw Bach kayaks which were developed from the Romany and share similar rocker lines. The first thing to say is that the Volan 160 is like the Romany Surf in terms of having a roomy cockpit. I assume the Romany surf is like the Romany and the Alaw in that it handles rough water well, is very manoeuvrable but does not have a great top speed for catching fast moving deep water swells. This is not a problem if you paddle in the surf zone where the wave slows in the shallow water or if you eddy hop up to catch a relatively stationary wave in an over fall. The Volan is noticeably faster than the Romany and Alaw and yet it’s chines make it just as manoeuvrable on edge. It also planes earlier on a wave than the Romany/Alaw. You should really try a Volan 160, I think you would notice many differences that you would like. It is a much more versatile package : it has great performance in the rough but still able to carry a week’s gear/food. If you have enjoyed the Romany S but are looking for a more modern kayak by the same designer, Aled Williams, the Tiderace Xceed is 6” longer and about 10l more voluminous than the Volan 160. Two friends have them, they are great rough water boats but again not as versatile as the Volan 160, if you occasionally want to take it on a multi-day camping trip. Lots of choice in the current market so we are lucky but it can make choosing hard.

  4. Nice review, very detailed. Would you recommend the Volan to an advanced beginner like myself that doesn't care for tippy boats? How stable is it?

    1. Greetings Anon and thank you. Over the course of this test I put several complete beginners in the Volan and not one had a problem with stability. Due to a combination of its high rocker and sheer, chines and volume distribution it is particularly stable on edge (secondary stability) However, it is not a flat bottomed beginner kayak and the initial (primary) stability will be a little less than that of a flat bottomed kayak at rest on flat water. However, as soon as you start paddling, even in small waves, the Volan will appear much more stable than a flat bottomed beginner kayak. For those at advanced beginner level there should be no problem with stability whatsoever. You should definitely give it a try :)

  5. A few thoughts to add to Douglas' excellent review of the Volan. I was on some of the test period trips where Douglas paddled the boat - I was paddling a 2011 Cetus MV and a 2019 Cetus MV on different trips.

    Sitting on the beach next to a Cetus MV which is a fairly standard "long kayak" the shorter length of the Volan is immediately apparent. I was really surprised when Douglas was able to pack all that we normally fit into a Cetus MV with custom bulkhead into the shorter Volan - it really is very similar in usable volume for camping trips.

    Our usual practice is to pack a Cetus slightly stern-heavy to ensure the best balance and this was also the case with the Volan. After a day of paddling the Volan packed fairly neutrally Douglas changed to packing the heavier items in the back hatch (I think about 60-40). The change was immediately apparent during a day of hail squalls, the boat was handling better and Douglas began enthusing about it!

    I can absolutely confirm that the Volan has a similar cruising speed than its longer sibling and sails just as well at all points of the wind. For all practical purposes the speed is the same, manoeuvrability seemed "tighter" with the Volan which is to be expected from a shorter boat. During a 35km paddle in good conditions the Volan and Cetus seemed evenly matched for speed and effort of paddling.

    The Volan didn't even seem to be affected by having a large inflatable buoy as deck cargo on a pretty windy day in the Inner Sound- sharp eyed readers will note that the buoy was even pre-marked with Douglas' initials!

    The Volan's cockpit is visibly wider than that of the Cetus, and the change in the skeg slider to it's position on the foredeck of the Volan also gives more room. The lack of a foredeck mini-hatch is a difference to the Cetus - I personally really like a small hatch in easy reach for a hat, sunglasses, suncream and a snack, but it wouldn't be a deal-breaker.

    I'd echo Douglas' comment that it's great to have both boats to choose from in the P&H range!


    1. Ian I thought I had replied to your most helpful comment, sorry for delay in response. Yes those were great days on the water. Thinking back to that first windy day in the Sound of Sleat, when I did not have the load distribution right, I wonder how many people get put off by a trial in a boat because of similar? The difference between day one and day two of that windy trip was like paddling two different boats! :)

  6. Hi Douglas, thanks for another in-depth review. I gather from reading your previous reviews that you must have lost weight and we are now almost the same - I’m 75kg and 6ft. When I briefly owned a Delphin and Aries I went for the 150 options and felt they were the right size for me. Luckily, I live half an hour away from Go Kayaking in Runcorn who have demo boats available, but I was assuming that the Volan 158 would be more my size. So my question is: have you tried a 158 since writing this review?

    Cheers, Chris

    1. Hi Chris sorry for delay in replying. Yes I have now managed several paddles in the Volan 158. It really is much smaller than the 160. At 75 kg it would make a great day boat but when I loaded my camping gear (I could not get it all in) it sat very low in the water and felt dead compared to a loaded Volan 160, which still responded to edging.

  7. DOUG WILCOX thank you

  8. Hi Douglas,

    Very nice review...and very comprehensive, as usual! I was pleased to come across it because 15 years back when I took up paddling (I'm 68 now) I did a learning course and expedition with Sea Kayak Oban and was lucky enough to find myself in a North Shore Polar for the several days camping expedition. I was smitten. I just loved that hard chined boat and felt supremely comfortable and confident in it. Alas I could never lay my hands on a used Polar, and ended up with a North Shore Calypso...which I also grew to love and took me on many Scottish island trips. Sadly that's gone, too, and I'm currently paddling an Aquanaut LV...which is ok, but doesn't set me alight ;)

    But I would still go for a hard chined boat if I could find one - and maybe the Volan 160 is that boat? How do you think it would compare with the Polar? I'm 6ft and 75kg, and mostly do camping trips.


    1. Hi Hugh thank you. I have not paddled the North Shore Polar but have paddled it’s successors, the Ocean and the Voyager. All three are larger sized expedition kayaks and certainly the two that I paddled really need to be loaded with gear in addition to my weight of 75kg, especially in windy conditions.. I ended up buying a Northshore Atlantic Evolution to use as a day/ short trip camping boat but it does not have chines. The Volan 160 has a roomy cockpit which is very easy to get in and out of. It’s hatches contain the exact same gear I use on a week’s camping trip that fits in the larger Cetus MV. Like the Polar but more so the Volan’s chines give superb response to edging and make the kayak very stable. The Volan is much more manoeuvrable than the Ocean or the Explorer and cruises at the same speed/effort when loaded. You should definitely try one. :)

    2. Hi Hugh the above comment was from me, Douglas :)

  9. Thanks, as always, for a thoughtful and thorough review Douglas. I had thought that I wanted to move to a 2-boat shed to have one for play (Delphin or Aries 155) and one for tripping (Cetus HV) but reading this gives me pause... something that is versatile enough to be capable and fun in the surf and can also be loaded up for medium+ trips may be perfect for me!

    For my size (181cm/5'11", 93kg/205lbs), I found the Cetus MV thigh braces pushed my legs down just a bit too much, although the width was ok. I find the Cetus HV to be a much better fit for me. Based on your review, it sounds like despite the Volan 160 previously being considered an "MV", that the cockpit might be roomy enough for me?

    I'm also beginning to look at Rockpool boats... the Bach ETO caught my eye as being perhaps similar to the Volan 160. Have you had any experience with it?



    1. Hi Matt thank you :). I suspect you would find the Volan cockpit big enough, bigger paddlers than yourself have fitted easily in the Volan 160. Mind you, I deleted the front mini hatch to make getting in and out easier. Rockpool make great boats and I had a Alaw then Alaw Bach for a period of 12 years. 6 of my friends had them too. We all swapped them for Aries 155s when they came out, which were a lot shorter and more manoeuvrable. The Alaws did have limited top speed if you wanted to cover distance in them, the stern would dig in and start gurgling as you speeded up. The Alaws were however, superb rough water boats but just a bit big for a day/playboat. At 515cm the Eto is 3cm shorter than the Bachs and 0.5cm narrower. I have only had the briefest paddle in an Eto and it was in flat windless water so not much of a test! However, it did not seem to me much different from the Alaws, which is good, but I paddled it back to back with a Volan 160 and it was much easier to get in and out of and edged tighter turns. The Volan 160 is 26cm shorter than the Eto. It is also quoted as having an overall volume of 28l greater than the Eto. How much of that is useable packing space I am not sure. I have not changed my camping gear since I had the Alaws and I do have more free space for non essentials in the Volan 160, which has a custom bulkhead for someone with 32" inside leg. Having had several P&H and Rockpool composite kayaks my experience the build quality and durability of each over the long term has been great with both. I would definitely advise testing both the Volan and Eto. Good luck choosing :)

  10. Several comments above relate to 160 v 158 size comparisons. I (173cm 74kg) paddle a 160 and it fits nicely. I have briefly paddled my wife's 158 and it is WAY smaller, feeling very narrow and with far less buoyancy. My wife is 63kg /167cm and seems to be a perfect fit in her 158. Overall we both absolutely love the Volans, they offer a brilliant combination of manoeuverability with good straight line tracking. Interestingly I have found that I'm slightly paddling faster in the Volan than I was in a Scorpio MV - which highlights the point oft overlooked that waterline length only tells us the
    theoretical max hull speed and very little about actual speed for a given input in normal cruising.

    1. Hi Cam thanks for your feedback. I have only paddled the Volan 158 briefly but I agree, it is MUCH smaller than the Volan 160. You are so right not to confuse maximum speed of a hull with its comfortable cruising speed.Kayaks that are longer can achieve a higher maximum speed on flat water. However, if you are not travelling at maximum speed, there is very little difference in the amount of energy required to drive shorter and longer kayaks. Many years ago, Seakayaker Magazine reported a comparative study of 3 kayaks of 14', 16' and 17'. While the longer kayaks had less resistance to forward paddling at 5 knots, all three had the same resistance at 3 knots (6km/hr). As it happens a lot of people find paddling at 3 knots at a cadence of 60 left and right strokes per minute a sweet spot.

    2. Blimey! Is that 120 paddle dips a minute?.... eek!

    3. Hi Anon... No it is 60 paddle blade dips per minute! Some people measure cadence (stroke rate) as one complete cycle of pulling with both left and right blades, which is about 30 strokes per minute. Other people count the pull of each blade as a separate stroke and this is about 60 strokes per minute. :)

    4. That's a relief - for a moment I thought I'd been doing it wrong all these years! lol