Canoe Outriggers and Kayak Sponsons

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

Current products on Amazon shown at bottom of article.

January 31st, 2018 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. I no longer find the sail rig there at Spring Creek and their outriggers did not come up in an Amazon search. I updated links today.

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.

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

Spring Creek markets something similar to this now but I did not find them on Amazon. I updated the photo link to their new site. They no longer mention sail rigs for canoes.

I use a similar part of the sailing rig I purchased from Spring Creek Outfitters as a stabilizer for my canoe while fishing. 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.

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.

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.

Cheapest fix. Two cargo straps, two boat bumpers and some rope. Bowline knot for one tie of the bumper, trucker’s hitch for the other. Seems stable.

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. Tie one end of the bumper off with a bowline knot, and tie the other off with a trucker’s hitch so you can adjust tension. It seems stable and 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 a little forward they’ll give added stability without obstructing paddling so much, but putting them alongside the cockpit provides the best protection against rollover. My cheap fishing kayak is pretty darned stable all by itself. I’d probably fall out of the boat before I tipped it over. With any boat, that’s something you have to learn, the limits of what you can safely do.

OK, a story comes up now. I was talking with a fellow in Branson once about canoeing. He had lived in Alaska for a couple of years and did some canoeing on the rivers there. I grew up in the Ozarks, lived there for years, canoeing was something I always did. Plus! I spent a year in Alaska, so we had some things in common. I mentioned the things that happen when you roll the boat, and he was totally shocked, and critical. He said, in my time in Alaska I never rolled a boat. He was very condescending about it.

In Alaska, if you roll a boat, you’re dead. In the old days no one in Alaska even bothered to learn to swim, because if you go in the water and it’s 35 degrees you have a minute of function left, there’s no point in swimming. I have experienced this, crossed a 15 foot wide stream of snow melt one spring in the Cascades, up to my waist. My legs barely functioned when I got to the opposite bank, it took just seconds. So, in Alaska, you don’t roll the boat unless you have a real kayak and are sealed into it and know the Eskimo Roll. Eskimo boats are body suits.

Elsewhere, you can roll the boat and have fun. I’ve rolled lots of boats, even in February, and I have swum to shore towing the boat. If you don’t live in lethally cold water where there’s no point in learning to swim, you need to know this. If you can’t survive by falling in the water, cripes, maybe you shouldn’t be out there in a little boat. Kayaks are like bicycles, you get better with practice.

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