Canoe Outriggers and Kayak Sponsons

The Harmony Stabilizer system.
Plastic is plastic. Make it work.

Current products on Amazon shown at bottom of article.

June 11th, 2012 update: If you’re interested in simple DIY sponsons, scroll down to the bottom of this post for some tips. I own the Spring Creek sail rig that includes the stabilizer outriggers and use the outriggers without the sail when I’m fishing. To me, they are the best answer, but you can get something less a lot cheaper.

Fishing from nearly any canoe or kayak is possible, but very few are actually designed for that today. Most are built to meet the needs of river travelers and have a tricky point of balance that you simply can’t exceed without tipping. That makes the boat maneuver responsively in rough water, but for fishing it isn’t great. Especially when the boat itself is likely to be moving, hauled around by the fish or spun unpredictably by wind and current, it’s tough to remain aware of that balance point of no return. Dumping a boat with a good load of fishing tackle is expensive even if you’re skilled enough to right it and climb back aboard.

Grumman’s 4 1/2 foot long foam
sponsons clamp to gunwales and
prevent tipping. I used to
distrust foam, but this is
not styrofoam, it’s tough.

Some designs are inherently stable, like the Ocean Kayak Scrambler 11 I just reviewed here. Tipping the Scrambler is about as likely as falling out of it, something that can be done but isn’t too common. Adding stabilizers to any canoe or kayak is easy. If you want to fish from a boat that you know is a natural roller, stabilizing flotation ought to be part of your standard gear.

Harmony’s Kayak Stabilizer Sponsons fit either kayaks or canoes and put a stopping point on the natural instability of a river-running boat. If you get caught up in playing a fish or solving a tackle issue, the boat tips but only far enough to rest on the sponson. Harmony’s system includes hardware for mounting these inflatables. With Harmony’s sponson system you can travel with the floats neatly lashed and deflated, blowing them up only when you’re ready to fish. That cuts down on wind resistance and doesn’t make you look like a novice.

Includes two floats and
all hardware, of course.

Both the Scotty Kayak Stabilizer System and the Sidekick AMA Kit use  outrigger arms and hydrodynamic floats, increasing the rig’s stability without adding unnecessary drag. The Sidekick AMA was designed for Hobie kayaks but can adapt to other kayak types. That might require some modifications. The Scotty Stabilizer System fits to either kayaks or canoes with two universal clamps. The Scotty system also includes two baitcasting rod holders. With either stabilizer setup you can adjust the vertical height of the floats to increase boat speed or lock down the greatest stability possible.

Manufacturers show fishermen casually standing up in canoes and kayaks equipped with these systems, but I’d be very cautious about doing that. Having done this myself, I know it requires some practice and instinctive “sea legs.” The trickiest maneuver is to stand in the bow of a canoe at 3 a.m. when you need to pee. I don’t think you can do that with a kayak, even with floats fully extended.

Floats lock upright for
unobstructed padding.

I find the company description of the Yak-Gear Outriggera little misleading and confusing. According to the company, their patented design creates a reciprocal movement in the outrigger floats. When one moves up, the other moves down. Heck, they all do that. In the fine print they explain that some other systems depend on a straight connecting bar that flexes under load. I suppose you might find one that does that but I certainly don’t think you’d notice the difference unless you broke it. The Spring Creek system is exceptionally solid and I would guess it has less flex than the Yak-Gear’s diagonal arms. That part of the sales pitch seems pointless. The Yak-Gear system does have a neat feature that allows you to raise the float arms to about 45 degrees, clearing the way for a full paddle stroke. The Yak-Gear Outrigger was designed for kayaks and requires some drilling to set up properly unless your kayak came ready for the installation. Owners of canoes have devised their own ways of mounting the system on their boats. The company website illustrates several approaches to that.

Canoe stabilizer outriggers

Formerly marketed through Cabela and Amazon, this and other sturdy stabilizer systems can still be found at Spring Creek Outfitters. Click on the photo to visit their stabilizer page.

The Stabilizer Canoe Floats Cabela once carried are much better than ordinary sponsons. This is the exact system I use, part of the sailing rig I purchased from Spring Creek. This outrigger system and several other version designed for kayaks and canoes are available from Spring Creek, but have not been marketed through Amazon recently. The stout extruded aluminum bar clamps with heavy-duty fittings to any canoe with gunwales and a beam between 37 inches and 40 inches, but won’t fit kayaks. Spring Creek makes different stabilizer systems for kayaks. The two very different styles of boat hulls make different rigs essential.

kayak stabilizer from Wave Armor

The Wave Armour stabilizer system formerly sold through Amazon currently sells under the Spring Creek label. Click on the photo to visit their stabilizer pages.

In all versions from Spring Creek, spring-loaded pins slip into different positions on the bar, extending the floats fully out for the flattest ride or bringing them alongside the hull for streamlined traveling. Floats also adjust vertically, so you can set them to ride the water or cruise just above it. Though I can’t recommend anyone else do this, I found the outriggers reliable enough that I put a lawn recliner in my Mirage and slept overnight on the lake, tied up to the top of a tree in deep water. Kind of exciting and a little colder than I expected, but I never felt endangered. The Wave Armor Stabilizer Kit provides a similar system designed for kayaks, simple and reliable. No longer sold through Amazon, the Spring Creek version can still be purchased online.

Not very breakable.
Available on Kindle.

If you’re the DIY type and hope to save a little money through scavenging and ingenuity, here’s a book that helps. John Wansor, an Alaskan fisherman and boatbuilder living in Seattle, designed a traditional single-float outrigger good enough to hold up in Alaskan conditions, yet small enough to cartop. He’s a welder and a blacksmith, so don’t expect a rig made out of styrofoam and PVC. You’ll need some skills to follow his directions but you’ll wind up with something rugged and useful. I’ve had a Spring Creek sailing system out in 45 mph winds, ten mph above the recommended limit for it, and you spend a lot of time putting it back together under those conditions. Wansor’s rig holds up.

Click one of these links for current offers on Amazon or scroll down for a current selection of related products:

Canoe Stabilizer
Kayak Stabilizer

Boat bumper, you’ll need two.

Going DIY

OK, if you’re like me you’re probably not interested in shelling out a few hundred dollars for some plastic inflatable floats and canvas straps. Some rigs actually are worth the money and I’d rate Spring Creek at the top of that list, a universal system that’s strong and versatile. It’s still a lot of money to spend. If you just want a simple extra safety feature for that critical moment when you don’t want the fish to land you in the water instead of the other way around, check out these two products, or anything similar to them.

Two in a pack.

You can buy two boat bumpers and run cargo straps through both ends. Run the cargo straps all the way around the hull of your canoe or kayak and draw them tight, with the bumpers horizontal just at the waterline on both sides. This DIY rig needs attention and frequent adjustment, but increases the safety margin of a rollable boat. Try them out before you depend on them completely, and learn just how much help they give. If you position them forward they’ll give added stability without obstructing paddling so much, but putting them alongside the cockpit provides the best protection against rollover. With any sponson or pontoon system, you can still fall out of the boat.

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