General tips and cautions:

  1. Always place the rudder in the raised position when landing or embarking from a beach.
  2. It is usually best to raise the rudder when backing up especially so in shallow water or in kelp.
  3. Surf can be very hard on rudders even in the raised position, never use the rudder in the surf zone even when the surf is small. If you will be playing in the surf, fix the rudder in the up position using a cleat, duct tape, cord, etc.
  4. Before a trip (when you are still home) always check the rudder and especially the rudder cables for wear or damage. Better still make it a habit to do this inspection after a trip to give yourself plenty of time to make repairs before your next trip. The most likely wear point is on the cable near the rudder.
  5. Take the tools necessary to repair a broken cable with you on a trip.
  6. Practice in difficult conditions without using the rudder so you won't be dependant on it in case it fails.

The Feathercraft Surf Rudder:
The Feathercraft Surf Rudder has proven to be one of the most durable rudders on the market. We have made several improvements to this system and include these directions to help you get the best performance from it. The Surf Rudder's blade rotates through 270 degrees to store on the back deck of the kayak. While this is an excellent feature to protect the rudder in surf it is more difficult to raise and lower the blade than with some more vulnerable rudders. If you had us install the Nimbus "Big Wheel" modification to the Feathercraft rudder (which we strongly recommend for any Feathercraft rudder) lifting and lowering are much easier so do it gently and keep the lift lines firmly tensioned so the cords stay on the wheel. Note: Feathercraft has included this improvement on all their Surf Rudders beginning around 1996. If your rudder is older the "big wheel" can probably be retrofitted. If your rudder lifts by sliding the lines rather than rotating a wheel the guidelines in italics should help if yours has a "Big Wheel" ignore the following sentence in italics:

Do not over tighten the shock cord tensioner on the loop of nylon cord used for raising and lowering the blade. Leave a little slack in the cord to let it slide around the tensioner more easily. Remember this is just the opposite with the "Big Wheel".When lifting or lowering the rudder pull forward on the rearmost of the two grabknots. The rudder blade is harder to lift from the water initially and then can suddenly come swinging around over the top to land on the back deck with a loud bang. Although we try to mount the rudder on Mariner kayaks so that the blade will not touch the back deck when at rest, it might still hit the back deck if swung hard enough when misaligned with the holder. To prevent this hold the second cord loosely so you can catch its grabknot to arrest the blade's momentum once it is over the top. From there it is a simple matter to pull easily on the knot while applying friction to the other cord to lower the blade into place. Make sure your rudder pedals are even so that the blade will come to rest in the holder. Learn to raise the blade without looking back over your shoulder. Looking back is an awkward and unstable position. Worse yet with one hand pulling the lifting cord your paddle is not instantly available for bracing.

The nylon cord will shrink the first few times it gets wet and dries. We expect this to happen and allow for it in advance. Do not change the cord length (or move the cord tensioner's attachment point) until this shrinkage has had a chance to occur.

On Mariner kayaks we add a jam cleat on the deck near the grabknots. This jam cleat is not necessary in everyday paddling but allows you to fix the rudder in the up or down position when that is desirable. The rudder should be fixed into the up position whenever you are entering or exiting though surf (no matter how small). The Feathercraft rudder is among the strongest available but the blade could be bent or broken if it is down when the kayak broaches sideways in surf or it hits the beach. If you are planning to play in the surf it is best to remove the rudder altogether (although many paddlers just duct tape it in the up position). We also suggest cleating the rudder in the up position when transporting the kayak by car. If you are shipping the kayak it is best to remove the rudder from the stern of the kayak. Simply unscrew the rudder hold down located just in front of the rudder, detach the cable connectors, and lift out the rudder assembly.

Although we do not recommend rudders we want our customers who choose to put up with them to have the most trouble free kayak we can provide. Fraying and breaking of the rudder cable is a common problem with most rudders. Cable breakage is most likely near the point of attachment to the rudder since this is where the cable flexes the most. We have taken several steps to minimize this problem on your Mariner kayak. An attachment that is free to pivot minimizes the work hardening of the cable strands that eventually results in cable failure. Rudders are most likely to fail at a critical time, such as during a rough crossing when they are under greater than normal stress. We want to give our customers every edge. Our system is not perfect so it is prudent to inspect the rudder system often and fix any problem immediately before it progresses far enough to cause rudder failure.

Field Repair
If your cable breaks or becomes frayed it may not be necessary to replace it. Cut off as little of the cable end as possible (use a wire cutter or tin snips) and swage on a new fitting. While it is best to use a swaging tool an adequate job can be done with heavy pliers or even a rock (if you fold the cable back on itself like the original). If you do not have the fitting in your repair kit a knot tied in the end of the cable (for a stop) should get you back to civilization. Changing the foot pedal adjustment should be enough to temporarily compensate for the shortened cable. With our fixed seat kayak a more permanent solution is to loosen the screw that holds the cable to the foot pedal assembly and pull the cable further out before retightening it. We have provided several inches of extra cable tucked away here for just such an eventuality. With the sliding seat conversion system there should be several other holes available on the footbrace/rudder pedal to compensate for the shortened cable.

Sliding Seat Conversion
The rudder system on the sliding seat/rudder kayaks can be converted to our sliding seat /footbrace system. Simply slide the pedal back until it stops and then lift the rearmost nylon bolt out of the track. Next fasten the pedal to the seat with the wing nut on the side of the seat. [It may be necessary to detach the rudder cable from the foot pedal. This depends on your leg length and several other factors. The wing nut that holds the cable to the pedal makes this easy enough that it probably can be done without any tools. If you want to move the sliding seat/footbrace unit further forward than the normal rudder pedal position the rudder cables must be detached. (Note: This may not be necessary because the sliding seat's forward position is used far less often than the rear position. The forward seat position's primary uses are to aid turning into a strong wind and soften the ride into steep head seas.) Please refer to the Owner's Manual for more details on the uses of the sliding seat footbrace unit.]

To allow the sliding seat/footbrace unit to move to the rear loosen the tether cord that holds the seat from moving back. With the rudder system the tether around the back of the seat holds the seat from sliding to the rear when you are pushing on the rudder pedals. A slip knot on either side of the cockpit can be loosened and retied to adjust the seat position or the trim of the kayak. The seat is free to slide forward without loosening the tether adjustment. Simply pull or push it forward from near the bottom center of the seat. Pushing the seat forward makes loading the back of a kayak (without a rear bulkhead) a breeze.

Crossing Cables
One advantage of the tube mounted rudder cable system is that we can cross the rudder cables under the deck (this is usually not possible with the vinyl extrusion seam rudder cable channels used by many manufacturers). If you chose to have this done you have several advantages over the system used by nearly everyone else at this time. You can turn your kayak far faster because you can lift the kayak with the knee that has been bent by the footpedal the rudder cable is pulling towards you. With uncrossed cables that knee would be lowered out of position when the pedal was pushed forward to turn. You can turn far faster if you tilt a kayak to the side opposite of the direction you are turning.

Tilt the kayak (not yourself) toward the outside of the turn by gripping the deck under the coaming with the knee. Most novice kayakers get this wrong and try to lean into the turn. Leaning into the turn can speed the turn up slightly, but with most kayaks this turn isn't nearly as quick as tilting the kayak to the outside of the turn. We have purposely enhanced the lean to turn ability of our kayaks so it would be a shame to cripple your turning speed to use a rudder. For example, when moving at cruising speed, it takes me a minimum of ten seconds to turn a Mariner XL 180 degrees (if I tilt the kayak strongly to the outside of the turn and use only forward sweep strokes to the outside). It takes me twenty two seconds without leaning the Mariner XL but otherwise using the same technique (see the Paddling Guide for times of our other kayaks). Combining wide sweep strokes with a strong tilt is the quickest way to turn most kayaks. With the cables crossed a rudder won't slow a turn down much if at all. With standard rudder cables that aren't crossed it is not easy or secure to tilt the kayak much this way.

Here is how to practice. At first just lean a little unless you want to risk getting wet. As your bracing skills increase (and once you have learned the point where your kayak capsizes) increase the amount of lean. Tilt the kayak with your knee, but try to keep your center of gravity above the kayak by bending at the waist so your body remains vertical. Mariner kayaks stand above the crowd in how far they can tip before capsizing so once you've learned this technique with be careful when trying it in other companies kayaks.

One further tip: after making a sweep stroke you can securely maintain the kayak's tilt even while bringing the paddle blade forward for the next sweep stroke. At the end of the sweep stroke lift your elbow up and forward to bring your forearm nearly vertical. This is the low brace position. Swing the blade forward for the next sweep stroke by just skimming the water's surface in the low brace position. If you maintain the lean between strokes our kayaks will keep turning as long as they have forward speed without using any additional paddling effort.

Another situation where crossed rudder cables have a big advantage is in steep following seas. In this situation when you start to surf the tendency is for the kayak to broach sideways. Although the broaching tendency of Mariner models is far less than other kayaks on the market, it can still happen. Mariner kayak's broach with a slow "carved turn" not the more typical wild sideways skid. Crossed rudder cables can allow you to lift the down wave knee to hold the kayak level or leaned into the wave and simultaneously angle the rudder. This way when the rudder returns to the water it can help return the kayak to its course.

If you try this with a standard rudder your downwave knee is pushing the pedal forward and is not in a position to grip under the deck to hold the kayak level. When the rudder renters the water it can trip the kayak. This may result in a capsize because the knee is not available to counteract the tripping force. This is especially true if your kayak is skidding to the side like many (non-Mariner) kayaks do while their rudders are hanging over the back of a steep wave flailing helplessly in the air. Is it any wonder most kayakers panic when they feel their kayaks start to surf? Instead of taking advantage of the increased speed potential and the fun of a fast ride they must slow down for fear they might be involuntarily surfed and broached again.

Carrying the Rudder End of Your Mariner
We usually place the rear U-bolt back near the stern. We place it under the parked rudder blade when the Feathercraft Surf Rudder is mounted high enough. It is usually placed alongside the blade if the rudder is mounted in a notch cut into the stern (the parked rudder blade is parallel to the deck in this configuration). It is easier to carry a kayak when the toggle is near the stern or bow because the side of the kayak is not constantly bumping against ones leg. The deck is also stronger in this region (an important consideration if one is lifting a gear laden kayak). To carry the kayak by the stern toggle lift the rudder blade out of its holder and move it to the side you find best keeps it out of your way. If it is still in your way flip the rudder blade into its' in use position but then be careful to set it down while moving it slightly forward to push the rudder blade back.

copyright 1992 & 1998
Matt Broze
Mariner Kayaks