Jeff Little was thinking about how design features affect motor performance. “When I think too hard about something, I have to write it down,” Torqueedo sales representative Jeff Little wrote in an email. Attached to the email, Little included an exhaustive report comparing the speed and handling of 12 kayaks powered with the Torqueedo Ultralite 403 electric motor. “Maybe it’s something interesting?”
Little’s findings cover three factors affecting aftermarket motor performance: seat position, weight and length (read the report here).
Rigging the boats with the same motor allowed Little to record top speed and battery range on a dozen models. Then, he took measurements of length and weight along with the percent of the waterline ahead of the seat.
BassYaks owner Stephen Komarinetz has been installing electric motors for over 15 years. While he hasn’t compiled charts and graphs on the factors affecting performance, Komarinetz has made similar observations on design features for aftermarket motors.
“First the boat has to have enough capacity to accept the weight of motor and battery,” he points out. His experience also shows seat placement as a major factor. “Look for an adjustable seat,” Komarinetz adds.
Little and Komarinetz’ research points to one fact: the longest, best balanced boat will be the fastest. The top performer on Little’s chart, capable of hitting 5.7 miles per hour, is 14 feet long and 95 pounds with 45 percent of the kayak behind the seat. The slowest kayak is 13.5 feet and 95 pounds with only 36 percent of the kayak behind the seat.
Length and weight have an effect on speed and performance, but Little’s research found seat position is the most important factor. Little figures it like this: a kayak riding high in the bow will push water instead of cutting through it. Not only does this attitude slow the boat, but it robs battery life and affects handling. Little explains, “The heavy stern carries speed and spins the kayak.” The boat will act like a weather vane as the wind swings the bow. Add tackle, rods, gear and lunch in the stern and the effect is even worse.
Design factors carry over to the topside of the kayak, too. Komarinetz suggests a boat with a wide, flat stern to accept the motor mount and plenty of open, easy-access space inside the hull. “Consider where you can store a battery,” Komarinetz adds.
Recently, boats specifically designed for electric motors are hitting the water. Jonny Boats, by FeelFree, are designed primarily for motor use and secondly to paddle. Peter Murphy, design director, explains, “Jonny has a planing hull like a motorboat, not a displacement hull.” This allows the bow to come out of the water at speed. “A displacement hull will bog down as it goes faster,” he says.
Going another direction, NuCanoe’s kayak and canoe hybrids can be rigged with electric, pedal or gas motor.“More people want to fish with motor power than pedal or paddle,” NuCanoe owner Blake Young insists. Young expects more manufacturers will meet the demand with boats capable of being paddled or motored.
Komarinetz agrees. He warns designers, “Get out of the niche of making heavy, expensive kayaks.” He’d like to see more motor-friendly boats capable of car topping. Komarinetz is looking for a lightweight, well-designed, value-priced kayak just as capable under paddle power as electric power. So far, he says, there are only a few options on the market. Ric Burnley
Longer, leaner boats are best for motor power, but seat placement is the biggest contributor to performance. | Photo: Jeff Little