Motorized Kayaks: Is It Time?

Motorized kayaks are here. In actuality they have been here a while. I remember looking at the Ocean Kayak Torque years ago. The price tag turned me off but I liked the idea of being able to move quickly if I wanted and still maintain a fairly quiet platform. For a guy fishing in a $200 kayak, paying more than 10 times that for a kayak with a motor seemed out of reach.

Fast forward to present day. Johnson Outdoors continues to offer kayaks with motors though much more advanced. Several companies have taken regular trolling motors and made mounting kits to adapt to any kayak. Going even further, Torqeedo, a German company, has designed an ultralight electric motor that attaches the same way your rudder does and offers power for long, all day trips. It’s not a stretch to say motorized kayaks are here and have been. The real question is: Is it time?

Is it time to allow motorized kayaks into tournaments?

It has been done before. Sometimes it was as an exemption for wounded warriors or disabled contestants and sometimes as a separate division. A trail in Texas just announced they would allow them though the details aren’t fully out yet. The Kayak Bass Fishing Open in 2013¬†was the first to allow them on a large scale. The question still remains, is it time? And more than that, has the sport evolved enough that contestants will fish against motorized kayaks without one of their own?

Let’s look at a more familiar argument: pedals. The paddle versus pedal debate has calmed over the last year. While more people are going to pedal kayaks, a good majority of winners are still using the paddle. Is an electric motor that much different?

My answer to that question is yes and no.

I wrote in 2014 that I wasn’t a huge fan of trolling motors in tournaments. In 2015 I am changing my mind.

The largest argument against motors, even one that I have made, is that it is no longer a kayak if you add a motor. I don’t necessarily buy into that now. If a motor goes out on a kayak, you can paddle wherever you need to go and in most cases, efficiently. In a 21 foot bass boat, not so much. Does this open the door for bass buggies and aluminum boats? Maybe. And I am not sure that’s a horrible thing. There is a world of difference between an electric motor and a gas powered motor.

The dividing line in the future may not be mode of power but rather length of vessel. Allowing vessels of 16 feet or less under electric, human or wind power might be what the tournament scene looks like in 10 years or maybe five or even three.

The intimacy of a kayak, for me, is not lost with an electric motor. You still sit at the water line, are stealthy and can enjoy that oneness with nature. But again, that’s just me. I can’t help but wonder is the argument really a firm stance against no motors or is there a deeper rooted issue?

Most of us got into kayak fishing as a cheaper alternative to a power boat. The idea of motors means that cost will be higher to kayak fish from a motorized kayak. This also is working on the assumption that a motorized kayak is an advantage. As far as speed, it is, but a motorized kayak doesn’t catch the fish. That is the same argument the power boat trails have had for years over horse power. With all of the pedal drive kayaks at the 2015 KBF Open in Paris, a paddler in a $500 big box store kayak won the $16,000 first prize. More paddles than pedals propelled anglers to the Top 10. You still have to catch the fish.

If it’s not the cost of the motor or motorized kayak that is bothersome, is it perhaps the feeling that the sport is getting away from its origins? Hobie introduced their pedal drive in 1997 but fiery debates over staying with origins really only sparked as tournaments started gaining in popularity. Maybe it’s back to the whole fairness argument. Observing from an outside perspective it looks more like a battle of the haves and have nots. People with access to pedals or motors would like inclusion in tournaments. Those who don’t have access would like them to be excluded. There are a few who waive the banner of “preferred paddler” and that’s valid as well. I am not questioning why you prefer to paddle, just why at the heart of it, you don’t want to include motors?

I don’t have the answers. I have my opinions that are reforming and refining¬†as I see different sides of all arguments both pro and con. I’d like to continue that.

These questions are meant to spark civilized debate. Talk it out. Look at the other viewpoints and then ask yourself why you feel the way you do. Electric motors are here. They’ll be in tournaments on a wider scale very soon. Will that be the end of the sport or just another barrier to break through that sees even greater participation?

We will all know soon enough.

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