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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10 thoughts on “Motorized Kayaks: Is It Time?

  1. There is a bass buggy and Jon boat circuit in Arkansas already. Adding a motor takes away the only thing making kayak fishing unique from all other tournament fishing scenes, human power. My hope is that we were heading towards major league kayak fishing tournaments, not minor league power boat tournaments. I hope the majority of the tournament scene remains human powered and does not sell out by changing rules to suit sponsors pushing motorized “kayaks”.

  2. I will have to politely disagree with your stance on motors not changing the dynamic of the tournament scene for kayaks. If trailer rules are in affect(which Mr. Hoover uses) the advantage is surely minimized but not at all removed. I am in the paddle side of the house and do enjoy competing against the peddle fisherman for personal satisfaction that I used nothing but my strength to propel myself vise having a mechanical advantage. When it comes to trolling motors being able to be used where zero energy is expended save moving your rudder that leads to a large advantage of sheer fishing time and the quality of fishing that can be done in the allotted time. For example after paddling against the wind for a couple miles to reach my chosen fishing spot I am not going to pick up an A-rig to throw all day. The comment was made that “the intimacy of a kayak, for me is not lost”. To me that is like saying there is no difference between running a marathon and driving that same course. I believe both paddles and peddles have their perspective place in the competitive realm of kayak fishing because they are both human powered. If you must put a motor on your kayak to fish competitively then I believe kayak fishing is not for you.

  3. He who has the technology will ultimately have the advantage. Depth finders have become so sophisticated that everything in a 360 degree circle is visible. Prefishing in a bass boat allows the fisherman to focus on way points. Electric trolling motors is something that should be eliminated.

  4. I can see both sides of this debate. On one hand you have a new expensive accessory to a kayak where only a few others exist (power pole, depth finder). The companies making trolling motors see that and are dumping lots of $ into tournaments to get a foothold in the sport. $16000 is a lot of money for first place. On the other hand, my favorite thing about the sport is the physical side. Human power is the essence of kayak fishing. Fishing competitively for almost a decade has made me a very strong paddler and has a lot to do with my success. Who wants to watch a bunch of yaks putt putting along at the launch of a tournament during a shotgun start, not me, sounds boring. I like the human powered aspect of the race. I hope it isn’t lost because of $.

  5. I’m going to have to disagree with Mr. Payne here. The whole point of kayak fishing, and the tournaments was to fish out of small, easily transportable, human powered boats. When you add a trolling motor you have effectively moved yourself into a completely different category of boats.

    Look at it this way: In most states you do not have to register a vessel if it is human powered. The second you add a trolling motor, even to a plastic kayak, most of those states consider it a motor boat. They then need to be registered and numbered. That alone is enough to see a concrete difference in the categories and a good enough reason to not allow them.

  6. I am 53 years old with neck and back injuries and with disability fishing license I don’t have a peddal boat and big fish finder like the winners had at beavers bend so what would it hurt for me to have a used 40 dollar trolling motor to get out further than at the launch point where I had to fish

  7. I believe electric propulsion is the future of kayak fishing and if used correctly, will make the sport safer and accessible to more fishermen/woman(like Mr Wilson), and push the boundaries of the fish that can be caught from this type of vessel.

    I am sure there was the exact same argument when fish finders were first used on kayaks.

    I love the sport for the silence, for how it makes me a better fisherman, for how eco friendly it is and for how I can do everything on my own.

    Maybe the best rule for a competition is to limit the weight that an angler can load on their kayaks according to the load capacity, hence the size of the kayaks and their capacities must be restricted, and not on what electric equipment can be used.

  8. Good article, with many valid points and questions. I have to say my opinion might seem bias given the nature of Solo Skiff. I believe a kayak is a kayak, but adding the dimension of a motor does change the dynamic of the boat. For tournament guys, wow, hot debate. I would say thats an entire series of articles lol…

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