What Does Stability in Kayaks Really Mean? 

Stability in kayaks is one of the most sought after qualities when asking potential buyers for their wants list. Often the buyer will seek out the advice of current paddlers and ask what a stable kayak is to buy.

The answers will come by the dozens and have many different brands, makes, models, and types. Most will recommend what they already own. Occasionally a few additional questions will be asked but so much boils back down to stability and how it is defined.

The buyer is worried about flipping their new kayak, getting wet, drowning, losing gear, and so much more. So many times the person asking the stability question has never been in or on a kayak. How they define stability and how a commenter defines stability can be very different.

If I went to a kayaking page on Facebook and asked a current kayak angler to tell me why he thinks a kayak is stable he would give one answer. Proceeding in the comments after would be an additional 47 different definitions.

To some, stability is the ability to not flip while paddling or fishing. To others it is the ability to stand and fish a crankbait. And still others will say it is the ability to launch through the surf at the coast.

In actuality, it is a combination of all of these. The problem that comes with that is, no discussions around definitions of stability are being had because the asker and the answerers don’t realize their wavelengths could be completely askew.

In the clip below, Mike Zilkowsky does a lot of testing on the Wilderness Systems ATAK 140. This might be an extreme view of stability for some new kayakers. For others, it tells them what they want to know.

The best way to answer the question “Is this kayak stable?” or  “What is a good, stable kayak?” is probably with another question. Ask the asker, “What do you mean by stable? What is it you want to make sure you are able to do?” This will give you a better basis for discussion.

The confusion continues when someone says Angel Armageddon kayaks are the most stable in world and another person 30 seconds later says Angle Armageddon kayaks are lousy because his buddy’s friend flipped one once and lost his new fishing gear.

Jousting about what is stable and isn’t, is a bit pointless.

The two things that will help define stability for any new kayaker should be kayak width and a demo session with the kayaks in question.

Almost by rule a 26 inch wide kayak will not be very stable, regardless of your definition. In contrast a 42 inch wide kayak would be for almost every application. Let’s step back for a second though. Let’s take the kayak out of it and think about a more benign subject.

People have different abilities. Check this out:

Have you ever watched gymnastics in the Olympics? Did you know that the balance beam is only four inches wide? Additionally it is 49 inches off the ground.

If I asked you to do a cartwheel on the balance beam more than four feet off the ground do you think you could? Honestly, I doubt it.

So to bring the gymnastics back to kayaking, we have people who have only seen the Olympic gymnasts on TV asking gymnasts if walking on the balance beam is possible. “Sure it is possible!”, the gymnasts say to the viewers. “I can do flips, twists , and cartwheels on the balance beam!” At what point does that mean the TV viewer can? Shouldn’t we ask if they’ve had any training before guaranteeing a 9.8 score from the Russian judge just because we can do it?

Slow down with your hurry to answer. Ask more questions. Better questions. Encourage a demo.

Making a poor recommendation can be aggravating and in some instances dangerous. Please be careful. Be thoughtful. Be thorough.



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Chris Payne

A lifelong Texan, Chris Payne has been an outdoor enthusiast his entire life and has spent the last 15 years fishing mainly from a kayak. He is known for his thorough and helpful reviews as well as how to articles for nearly everything kayak fishing related. If you have questions or comments, you can leave them on this post or email Chris at: paynefish@gmail.com

2 thoughts on “What Does Stability in Kayaks Really Mean? 

  • October 25, 2016 at 11:15 am

    Have you seen the River Ratz stability tests on FB or You Tube? They test many different types of ‘Stability’. Very good tests.

    • October 25, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      I have! But just because they can stand on the gunwales and paddle doesn’t mean everyone can. That’s why a demo is super important.


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