The many different types of kayak hulls out there will significantly impact the performance of a kayak. If you are new to the sport, knowing more about those impacts will help you prepare for them and, ultimately, choose a kayak that fits your paddling style.
From recreational kayaks for calm lake days to touring kayaks for long-distance expeditions, there is a lot of variety in kayak design out there. The shape of the kayak hull has been molded and adapted for centuries.
That means we are lucky to exist in a time when we don’t have to struggle to try to paddle a certain type of kayak in conditions it is not meant for. It also puts some added responsibility on us to understand the different types of kayak hulls.
Fortunately, we are going to provide an in-depth explanation in this guide. We hope it helps to steer you towards the right kind of kayak for the specific applications you have in mind!
- 13 Different Types of Kayak Hulls
- What is a Kayak Hull?
- What Are Chine and Rocker?
- A Quick Note on Primary Versus Secondary Stability
Types of Kayak Hulls Explained
- 1. Planing Hulls
- 2. Displacement Hulls
- 3. V-Shaped Hulls
- 4. Pontoon Hulls
- 5. Flat Hulls
- 6. Rounded Hulls
- 7. Deep V-Shaped Hulls with Soft Chine
- 8. Deep V-Shaped Hulls With Hard Chine
- 9. Shallow V-Shaped Hulls With Hard Chine
- 10. Shallow V-Shaped Hulls With Soft Chine
- 11. Flat Hulls With Soft Chine
- 12. Rounded Hulls With Continuous Rocker
- 13. Multi-Chine Hulls
- Final Thoughts
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- Planing Hulls
- Displacement Hulls
- V-Shaped Hulls
- Pontoon Hulls
- Flat Hulls
- Rounded Hulls
- Deep V-Shaped Hulls with Soft Chine
- Deep V-Shaped Hulls with Hard Chine
- Shallow V-Shaped Hulls with Hard Chine
- Shallow V-Shaped Hulls with Soft Chine
- Flat Hulls with Soft Chine
- Rounded Hulls with Continuous Rocker
- Multi-Chine Hulls
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In the simplest terms, the hull is the bottom of your kayak. Its shape and design will dictate the speed, maneuverability, and stability of your kayak.
Chine and rocker are two common terms that you will hear when you are researching how specific manufacturers designed the hulls of their kayaks. So we must begin by explaining what they are and how they impact the way a kayak handles on the water.
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On a kayak, chine refers to the point where the bottom (hull) of the kayak joins with the sides (gunwales). A kayak’s chine is usually defined as hard or soft depending on whether this joining point is more or less defined.
A kayak with a harder chine makes it easier for the paddler to continue planing when the kayak goes sideways or begins to spin. You will often find harder chines on the best whitewater kayaks, even if the sharper edges make it easier for the kayak to catch and flip instantly.
A kayak’s chine can essentially vary from zero degrees up to 90 degrees. While the latter would theoretically deliver the best performance, even skilled kayakers would find it impossible to control a kayak with 90-degree chines.
A kayak with softer chines will be more forgiving for beginner and intermediate paddlers. There is no edge to catch and capsize your kayak and it is also easier to predict the kayak’s behavior if you run aground in shallow water or make contact with a submerged object.
At the end of the day, only very skilled paddlers graduate to paddling a kayak with hard chines. This is because it demands great technique and good body control, which only comes with practice and experience.
Our description of chine also would not be complete without mentioning multi-chine kayaks. This style of chine seeks to combine the best features of hard and soft chine to deliver a kayak that can handle a wider variety of environments and conditions.
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Rocker is defined as the amount of curvature in the hull from bow to stern. This is a little different than chine because it is less of a “more or less” equation and more about the style of rocker a kayak has.
Generally speaking, there are two types of kayak rockers. There is continuous rocker and kick rocker.
A kick rocker is when the bottom of the kayak is relatively flat for its majority and then the ends angle up dramatically. The effect is to create a disc-like surface that makes play moves relatively easy while keeping the tips up and out of the water.
Continuous rocker describes a kayak where there is a curvature in the hull all the way from the bow back to the stern. Kayaks with continuous rocker tend to be more maneuverable and make it easier to execute quick turns.
This is because this style of rocker minimizes the amount of hull that is in contact with the water when you are sitting in your kayak. While this only applies to whitewater kayaking, this style of rocker is also preferred for “boofing,” which is a method used to run steep drops with potentially shallow water at the bottom.
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A lot of these hull types will impact the primary or secondary stability of your kayak. So it makes sense for you to know how those two things differ before we progress to explaining the different types of kayak hulls.
Primary stability is the kayak’s ability to remain stable when you are sitting still in the water (or even paddling quite slowly). If you are new to kayaking, you will often know if your kayak has poor primary stability from the moment you sit inside (or on top) of it.
Secondary stability refers to the kayak’s ability to resist capsizing when it is tipped on its side. Most recreational kayakers do not worry too much about secondary stability, but it begins to become more important when you are paddling in rougher waters.
Certain scenarios (such as coastal fishing) call for a good balance of both primary and secondary stability. Other situations (whitewater rapids require a kayak with great secondary stability and the best kayaks for beginners prioritize primary stability) require more of one or the other.
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A planing hull has a flat bottom section with sides that rise up at a very defined angle. Kayaks with this type of hull tend to plow through the water very inefficiently when paddled slowly and can also be a bit unstable when sitting still.
That is why you will find planing hulls on many whitewater kayaks because it gives them certain advantages on fast-moving water. As their speed increases, the planing hull will rise to the surface of the water.
This makes it much easier for the paddler to spin and control the kayak with less effort. Kayaks with planing hulls are not meant for paddling in a straight line, but they are great for avoiding rocks, trees, and other obstacles on a fast-moving river.
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Displacement hulls are found on some of the oldest boats in the world and, naturally, they were and still are used (albeit in smaller versions) on many traditional kayaks used for a variety of purposes.
This type of hull usually has a continuous rocker throughout the profile and cross-section. They move through flat, calm water relatively efficiently because they offer a more rounded and, therefore, streamlined shape than kayaks with planing hulls.
This type of hull also boasts a centerline (sometimes known as a keel) that makes it easier for you, as the paddler, to keep the boat tracking in a straight line. However, the downside to that more well-defined keel is that kayaks with this type of hull can be more susceptible to damage when you run aground or unexpectedly strike a submerged object.
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This is a type of displacement hull that is categorized by its deep, V-shape (no surprise there!). You will find this type of kayak hull on many kayaks designed for racing and touring because it is highly effective at reaching and maintaining higher straight-line speeds.
This is largely because the V-shape allows the kayak to cut through the water with minimal drag. You will find many long-distance kayakers using vessels with this type of hull, but they can sometimes be difficult for beginners because they can feel a little tippy when you first sit inside of them.
That is because they offer more secondary stability than primary stability. However, once you get moving (kind of like riding a bike), they will start to feel more stable.
The downside of this hull type is that the deep shape of the hull makes it harder to make quick turns. You will need multiple paddle strokes to change directions instead of a single swoop like you would need with some planing hulls.
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Many of the best river fishing kayaks out there boast pontoon hulls because they offer incredible primary stability. Keep in mind that this hull type is sometimes called a ‘tunnel’ hull instead of pontoon.
Whether it is labeled as ‘pontoon’ or ‘tunnel’, this hull type combines the best attributes of flat and rounded hulls to provide excellent stability without compromising your ability to make solid headway when you do want to relocate.
This hull type is often used on fishing kayaks because that style of kayaking often involves dropping anchor or remaining in one place for a significant period of time for casting. It also sometimes requires enough stability for the paddler to stand up and fish.
As you might imagine, then, this hull type is not exactly known for its top speeds. However, it will be more efficient than a flat hull when you are paddling on calm lakes, slow-moving rivers, and protected coastal bays.
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Flat hulls are also true to their name and involve a large, flat area at the middle section of the hull. This is a style of planing hull that is used on a variety of different types of kayaks, including whitewater playboats and lake fishing kayaks.
This type of hull is known most for delivering excellent primary stability, but also provides good maneuverability as well. When all is said and done, however, factors like length, width, and rocker will ultimately dictate the final product of a kayak with a flat hull.
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This is another type of displacement hull that is characterized by its torpedo-like shape. While that shape is not quite as dramatic as what you would find on a V-shaped kayak, for example, it still delivers good top speed due to decreased water resistance.
This type of hull also typically provides more secondary stability than primary stability. This can make kayaks with rounded hulls a good choice for any conditions or locations that require quick maneuvers.
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Now we start to get into more technical hull shapes for more specific applications. This hull style is going to be best for intermediate paddlers with decent skills and an interest in getting into longer paddles.
For instance, you will find this style of hull on many of the best day touring kayaks because it will be forgiving for folks still learning while still providing good speed and tracking ability for covering longer distances.
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This hull style combines speed and tracking ability with added planing ability if you find yourself sideways on swift water. It is a specialized hull type that is usually only sought after by more experienced paddlers.
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The shallower V-shaped hull with hard chines is more common for experienced whitewater kayakers. It can be a great choice for rivers with a combination of flatwater and whitewater because it provides speed and tracking on flat water while still offering planing ability on fast-moving waters.
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Kayaks with this type of hull can be great for intermediate paddlers that are taking the first step up from a beginner kayak with a rounded hull. It will provide better tracking ability and higher top speeds while still being forgiving and less likely to capsize if you run into unexpectedly shallow waters.
Some whitewater kayaks for beginners also utilize this hull type because it is less likely to tip if you hit submerged objects (or make contact with objects that were perfectly visible!).
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Most kayaks with flat hulls will also have soft chines so that they aren’t susceptible to catching an edge and tipping when you are spinning or moving sideways. As you might suspect, this hull type is most commonly found on whitewater kayaks.
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You will find this hull type on some of the best crossover kayaks that are meant for paddling both flatwater and whitewater. It will offer the tracking ability of a rounded hull kayak with the maneuverability provided by its continuous rocker.
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As we mentioned above, kayaks with multi-chine hulls tend to be quite versatile for paddling in all types of conditions. It may not be a surprise, then, that this hull style is well-known in Alaskan and Canadian paddling circles.
The chines have less acute angles than kayaks with hard chines, which minimizes the amount of natural turn that occurs when you lean the kayak to one side or the other. Some experienced paddlers come to appreciate (and rely on) the natural turn they get when leaning a hard chine kayak over, but others get annoyed by it requiring corrective paddle strokes.
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As a final note, we should mention that this is far from an exhaustive list of all the different types of kayak hulls out there these days. As you can probably tell, there are many different possibilities to combine different hull shapes with hard or soft chine and more or less rocker.
Now that we know more about the types of kayak hulls, you should be able to narrow down your search for a new kayak significantly. There are, however, several other factors you must consider before you make a purchase.
So we would encourage you to check out our full guide on what to look for when buying your first kayak. It will help you identify the type, size, and features that will suit you best, especially if you are a beginner.
From there, it will be time to take your new kayak out on your favorite local waterway. As always, we encourage new kayakers to enroll in a kayaking course to learn basic skills and build confidence.
You may also have some luck finding fellow paddlers via local paddling groups that organize via social media accounts so that you do not have to paddle alone when you are just learning!