Visit us at

Return to

Building the Ultimate Expedition Kayak

Design and Goals

Although my Perception Eclipse had served me admirably on several expeditions, there were several little design quirks I wanted to change. I felt certain that the deck could be lowered slightly to reduce weathercocking and ease rolling without significantly reducing the dry storage capacity. After experimenting with several different homemade sail designs, I had also accumulated ideas about how to attach a mast and outriggers for use on long-distance trips. The cold, unpredictable waters of Lake Superior had taught me the obvious utility of an electric bilge pump, and midnight voyages down the Mississippi River had inspired a few ideas about lighting to increase nighttime visibility. Several hours spent sitting in puddles of cold water had given me plenty of time to dream up some simple improvements for the shape of the kayak seat. A few practice sessions spent towing other kayaks showed me the need for a re-designed rudder which would not snag on the towline, nor threaten to shred other paddlers during rough-water rescues. And needless to say, a whole host of other concerns had inspired a thousand other ways to re-invent the wheel (well, if kayaks had wheels, that is... and what if they did? hmmmmm.....). The list goes on.

Here is a much-condensed list of some of the most important design features I wanted to incorporate into my "ultimate" expedition kayak:

Creature Comforts & Conveniences

  • recessed rear deck - a recess in the deck behind the rear coaming to allow the paddler to lay back for easy rolling
    Note: I was delighted to find that Joe Greenley had already thought of this idea and named it the "Roller's Recess," which he has incorporated into the King's design.
  • custom-shaped, self-draining foam seat - the seat would be custom-made from minicell foam to maximize comfort and control, and lower my center of gravity as much as possible; it would also include small drainage holes to allow puddles of water to drain through to the floor-mounted electric bilge pump (see below); additionally, the seat could be attached to the hull via industrial-strength velcro, permitting a measure of adjustability as well as (in a very desperate situation) removal of the seat for use as a makeshift flotation device

  • day hatch - to allow quick, convenient access to all those "important" items which need to be ready at a moment's notice, but which tended to clutter the deck of my day-hatch-less Perception Eclipse

Safety, Storage, & Water Management

  • flush-mount rear bulkhead - the aft bulkhead would be mounted nearly flush with the rear of the cockpit coaming to reduce the volume of the cockpit and make it easier to perform the bow-lift technique for solo emptying of the cockpit before reentry

  • additional rear bulkhead - an extra bulkhead in the rear, separating the day hatch compartment from the rear hatch storage compartment, thereby minimizing the volume water could fill if either the day hatch or rear hatch failed; the extra bulkhead would also help support the rear deck from collapse if ever I needed to sit on it to enter the cockpit

  • custom-placed front bulkhead - the fore bulkhead would be mounted just beyond the reach of my feet to ensure maximum cargo space under the forward hatch; on my Eclipse, there was a great deal of wasted space (more than a full cubic foot) between the end of the footpegs and the placement of the front bulkhead

  • electric bilge pump - an electric bilge pump would be mounted behind the seat, with a narrow channel carved into the bottom of the seat in order to channel water to the pump and maximize the amount of water emptied from the cockpit; obviously, given the potential failure of electronics, I would also carry a hand-operated bilge pump mounted under the deck, between my knees, as a fail-safe back-up pump and also, if necessary, for pumping out another paddler's kayak during rescues; the Rule 500 gph appears to be the ideal choice for a kayak-mounted electric bilge pump

  • full-forward deck safety line - the safety/rescue line running around the fore deck would run all the way forward to the tip of the bow (rather than to a point several inches short of it) and slightly raised from the deck, thus making it easy for other paddlers to grab during bow rescues, etc.

Power Management

  • 12V, 5Ah main battery - a small absorbent glass mat (AGM) security alarm battery that would be stored behind the seat or in the day hatch to provide power to the bilge pump; it could also be used as an emergency power supply to run or recharge small electronic devices and lights

  • solar panel - a small, waterproof, 5-watt solar trickle-charger to keep the 12V battery charged and to allow emergency recharging of small electronics, such as a VHF radio, cell phone, or GPS; the Uni-Solar FLX-5 flexible 5-watt solar panel appears to be the ideal choice for this application

  • 10 "AA" battery recharger - a tray of 10 NiMH batteries, which could be attached to the solar panel to recharge the "AA" batteries used in most devices, such as a GPS or VHF radio; after much thought, I decided this was a smarter, simpler way to provide power to my devices than trying to wire the solar panel with special adapter plugs to fit each device; also, it would significantly reduce the pounds of spare batteries I normally need to carry along on extended expeditions

So that's the list of goals—well, part of it anyway. Believe it or not, there are many other subtle modifications I hope to incorporate by the time the boat is finished. But perhaps the most ambitious (and important) goal of all is to build the complete boat for $1,000 or less—about the same price you would expect to pay for a plastic kayak in the 18' size range, and about one-third the price you might pay for a comparable kevlar/aramid boat. Can it be done? In theory, yes. But only time will tell if I can pull it off in actual practice.

Previous Page       Next Page

Return to