Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Look at Hybrid or "Crossover" Canoes/Kayaks

A Wilderness Systems Commander rigged for fishing:

I'm interested in just about any type of watercraft that can be paddled, as long as it has a practical application in the real world and is not specialized for purposes like playing in whitewater rapids and such.  Canoes and kayaks in their many variations have lots of advantages over other types of boats for a bug-out survival situation as well as for ordinary wilderness travel, hunting and fishing.  Small, lightweight, easily driven by single or double paddles, silent and low profile; a canoe or kayak can get into some of the best wild places accessible by water, unnoticed by other people or wildlife. 

For long-distance travel by paddle, there is no question that the best canoes and kayaks are the "touring" designs with a long waterline for speed and glide, relatively narrow beam, and good load-carrying capacity for gear and supplies needed on a long journey.  I've owned  many variations of such canoes and sea kayaks, and have paddled them thousands of miles on rivers, lakes, coastal waters and open ocean.  For their design purpose, touring boats are superb.

But there are other situations, such as negotiating small, confined waterways like creeks, where long hulls designed to track straight are not optimal.   Also, for some activities, such as fishing from a kayak, the enclosed deck touring boat is not the handiest choice.  It is the surge in popularity of kayak fishing that has launched a whole new breed of boats that excel for this purpose - both in the form of sit-on-top kayaks for rough open water, and hybrid canoe/kayaks that provide a drier ride in more protected waters.

I've taken an interest in this latter category lately because I am looking into options for a canoe or kayak that can be carried across the deck of the 26-foot catamaran I am building.  With so much open deck space, I would much rather have a craft such as this that can be paddled swiftly and silently than a traditional dinghy that requires rowing backward with oars or propulsion by small outboard.  For a kayak that can serve as a tender to my bigger vessel, I don't need the long-distance capability or complications of a touring sea kayak.  What I need is a boat that can be stored on deck with little regard for maintenance, launched over the side with ease and loaded with jerry cans for shuttling water and other supplies between the anchored cat and the shore.  Because of the low maintenance requirement, the only boats that make sense for this use are the "Tupperware" plastic kayaks that are not only tough but relatively inexpensive compared to boats built of materials like fiberglass, Kevlar or wood-composite construction.

While the sit-on-top fishing kayaks with drain holes (or "scuppers") are more seaworthy for tasks like negotiating surf or a rough chop, in most cases a dinghy to a larger craft is not called on to do this, as the larger craft will be anchored in somewhat protected areas in the lee of an island, reef or other breakwater.  The hybrid type of boat is more appealing to me than the sit-on-top kayak because there is more open space inside for larger items, and in addition, many of these designs have enough stability to allow standing up for flyfishing and other activities.  See my post on bowfishing to understand why the ability to stand would be a distinct advantage.  Although at first glance it seems unlikely that such a narrow craft only 12 feet long would be this stable, especially to those of us who have experience with short canoes and pirogues, the designers of these new hybrid boats achieve this stability through the use of a tunnel-hull type design that almost creates a mini-pontoon hull. 

Speaking of this remarkable stability, here's a video of a professional wildlife photographer who trusts his Native Watercraft Ultimate 12 enough to paddle it with a $10,000 camera and lens combo sitting on a tripod in front of his seat.  That kind of trust says a lot about the confidence these boats inspire:

I can see a boat like the Ultimate 12 or Ultimate 14, or the Wilderness Systems Commander serving well as an individual bug-out vessel in places where there are lots of small, twisty creeks like here in Mississippi, in swamps and in small lake country.  

Since I have yet to inspect either the Wilderness Systems Commander or the Native Watercraft boats, I plan to drive down to New Orleans soon where there is a retailer that has plenty of them in stock.  I'll probably take the most interesting ones out for a demo paddle, as the dealer can arrange that, and may end up buying one if it lives up to the advertising hype.  Here's a more detailed look at the Ultimate 12, which seems best suited for my purposes and is also less expensive than the Commander.  Of course it comes in more subdued colors that would blend in better with nature:


  1. There is a recent blog (well, February anyway) about the Fold Cat 375, you might want to check this one out as well. Inflatable pontoon boat, something really nice if space is a major concern.

  2. I like the shape of those Kayaks. It looks like you can hold a lot in them, which is a major thing I am looking for. I just found a great evernew alcohol stove that is lightweight, and I can't wait to try it out! Thank you for the post!

  3. Anon 2:@4, SHTF blog did a great DIY article on building your own alcohol stove, give it a look and save some $$$ in the bargain. Its in teh recent history, maybe a week or so ago.

    Hope this helps.

  4. Do you have a follow-up on your article on hybrid canoe/kayaks? You mentioned that you were going down to take a look at some--did you end up buying or losing interest?

  5. I haven't bought one yet. I didn't lose interest though and still intend to purchase one when I get closer to launching my 26-foot catamaran, as the kayak will be used as a tender aboard it. I'll probably be picking up one sometime this year, likely in the summer.

  6. I have a NuCanoe and the thing is virtually impossible to sink. You have to actually try, hard, to get it to tip. It is a bit more expensive but you can find them used and they track and paddle really well.

  7. Both the Native and the Wilderness are excellent. I got the Wilderness for the larger capacity and the track system. The Native's seat is real comfy and lets water run right through it without absorbing any. I know the Native is more comfortable for standing but the second deck seat of the commander is very useful for certain instances, launching from a dock for example. I am BIG 280lbs and as long as the waves do not crest I feel safe, it is not an open water craft by any means. Though I did go into Lake Michigan in 2-4 ft waves. The launching was the hard part as I took on about 7 gal of water at the beach. once out I just rolled over the waves easily.

  8. I have quite a lot of experence with large waves and wide deep waters. I personaly would not take a kayak less than 17 feet in length, a sea kayak with a good rudder. Carry anything you would need in a storm or extending camping. Before venturing out in the spring put on your PFD and toss your self out into a bay near help and test out your gear, and take a good sea survival course. Life is precious, and having a need of gear left on shore or that is dysfunctional can be quickly fatal... that said my best times have been out on wide waters.


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