If you learned to ride a bike with training wheels, you understand the concept behind kayak outriggers. They’re an added element to your kayak that is used to give you extra stability and to keep your kayaking from flipping over. Many beginning kayakers use them until they get the confidence and balance they’re looking for. But, many excellent paddlers use kayak outriggers too – for hunting, fishing, photography, and doing anything where they simply want more stability for their boat.
Some paddlers use them with sails, turning their kayak into a sort of Hobie-cat hybrid sail/kayak sailboat. Whatever your reason for considering kayak outriggers, there are some things you need to know, and how to find the best kayak outriggers for your use.
What is a Kayak Outrigger?
An outrigger is a device that acts to stabilize your kayak by extending out from the side of the kayak and providing more flotation. Outriggers help keep the kayak from turning over, much like training wheels on a bicycle help keep a bicycle upright when the rider’s balance shifts. Depending on the brand of the outrigger, the kayak, and the design of both, outriggers can be attached temporarily, permanently, or semi-permanently with bars or plastic tubes. They won’t prevent a kayak from turning over, but they’ll make it very, very difficult for it to do so.
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Most outriggers attach to the rear of the kayak, or close to where the paddler is seated because they tend to be small and need to be placed where the weight shift is most likely to happen. Outriggers can be inflatable or made of a solid foam, fiberglass, rubber, or hard-shell plastic. There are pros and cons to each type of kayak outrigger.
Who Uses Kayak Outriggers?
If you’re thinking people may think less of you, or your boating skills because you’re using an outrigger, relax. Even the pros use outriggers. There’s no shame in embracing an outrigger system. Who uses outriggers?
Fishing is a great sport. It often involves a lot of maneuvering, standing, and actions that can throw a person off-balance as they work to bring their catch aboard a boat. When practiced from a kayak, SUP platform, or sit-aboard kayak, it can be extremely difficult to maintain balance and to keep your boat from flipping over, something which can send thousands of dollars of fishing equipment and electric technology to the bottom of the lake or ocean. Anglers of all skill levels like to increase the stability of their boats with outriggers. This lets them stand and move around their boat with more security, knowing they’re not likely to tip their boat over while landing a big fish. They’re also able to stand up to cast, to sight for potential fishing spots, and to pole paddle in shallower waters where the really big lunkers lie!
Photographers like to get close and up personal with wildlife or to find scenic views from the water they can’t photograph from land. With thousands of dollars of camera equipment on their boats, they’re not keen on tipping their boat over. Photographers often invest in stabilizers or outriggers to ensure a safer, more secure boat. They see the outrigger or stabilizers as part of their tool set and their peace of mind.
Bird watchers love how kayaks and SUP boards can slip into and among the narrowest of waterways where the most elusive birds’ nest and flock. However, they don’t like the idea of tipping over while they’re trying to watch their birds at play. Outriggers and stabilizers provide just the right amount of stability without compromising the boat’s maneuverability in the narrowest of passageways.
With outriggers or stabilizers, bird watchers can stand, sit in a higher level chair, or move around their boat to catch the best view, all without worrying about flipping or tipping over if they make a misstep or get off balance.
Many of us like to try new sports as we get older and have the money, time, and desire to explore. However, as with any new sport, there’s a learning curve. If you’re a new paddler who wants to spend more time paddling, and less time falling in and climbing back into your kayak or onto your SUP board, outriggers and stabilizers can literally transform your experience by making your boat or board more stable, harder to tip over, and have much less of a “tippy” feeling.
Parents with Kids
Parents with kids know that a negative experience with any product, be it a swim float, kayak, canoe or SUP can mean their child will refuse to have a second experience with that item. By ensuring a kayak or SUP won’t flip over, parents can ensure a positive experience for their child. If the parent is new at paddling or using a SUP, yet wants to take their child with them as they learn, an outrigger or stabilizing system can ensure both parent and child enjoy learning to use their boat without having to constantly fall in and reboard a tippy, unstable boat or board.
Believe it or not, more and more paddlers are experimenting with adding sails to their kayaks, turning their boats into mini-sailboats. The challenge with sailing a kayak is that they’re not as wide as a traditional Sunfish or small sailboat, so outriggers and stabilizers can make them much more fun to use with a sail.
Hunters have traditionally used Jon boats and other flat-bottomed craft to navigate narrow and shallow water. But more and more hunters are finding that kayaks and SUPs are more affordable, durable, and practical boats for hunting. Not only can one person carry a kayak, but they’re perfect for smaller lakes and ponds, and they can go places even a 10-foot Jon boat can’t. Unfortunately, not all kayaks are as stable as a hunter wants. When you’re wearing full hunting gear, you really don’t want to swim because you tipped your boat. That’s why outriggers are so popular among hunters. They make hunting from the water safer and more secure.
You don’t have to be skinny or athletic to love the outdoors. Rather than sweat it out in a gym, many adults are taking to the water as a form of exercise they both enjoy and are therefore more likely to engage in regularly. The challenge for the plus-sized or just tall and big paddler is that it’s hard to get a sense of balance when you’re first starting out. Rather than spending a lot of time tipping over and getting back into your boat (a challenge even for physically fit athletes), it just makes sense to use stabilizers and outriggers to help stabilize your boat. Coordination and balance come through repetition and use, so it makes sense to use an outrigger or stabilizer until you’re confident and secure enough to paddle without it. Or, keep it on and continue to stay stable without fear of what anyone thinks!
How Do Kayak Outriggers Work?
Outriggers for any boat are designed to provide extra stability over what the boat already offers. They’re not designed to prevent tipping over, only to make tipping a lot harder.
Most kayak outriggers are designed to be used in the rear, behind the cockpit of the kayak. This means they’ll work and keep you stable as long as that’s where your weight is. Move forward, or in the case of a tandem boat, have someone towards the front of the boat move or shift, and your riggers can “fail” because they aren’t designed to stabilize the entire boat.
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Every manufacturer’s design varies, so be sure to ask lots of questions before settling on any particular design. You’ll want to know how the crossbar (where the outriggers attach) will fit, and if it will fit your boat. Most crossbars fasten to the deck of your boat, usually by drilling and attaching a base. Some crossbars are retractable, and some can be removed for transporting your boat. Before deciding on any particular outrigger, look at several types or models. Will you need to remove the outrigger to transport it? Can you retract it or move it?
What Should I Look for in a Kayak Outrigger?
The number one thing you should look for in a kayak outrigger is whether it will fit your boat and your needs. All outriggers and all kayaks are different. There are generic outriggers designed to fit “most” boats, and then some designed specifically for certain brands of boats. Some outriggers will need to stand further out from the boat for standing and fishing, so the ability to retract and extend your riggers is critical if you plan to fish from your kayak. Check with your boat’s manufacturer for suggested names and brands of outriggers that will work with your boat.
Second, decide what you will be using your outrigger or stabilizer for. Will you be using it to stabilize your kayak or SUP board while paddling? Or will you be fishing, taking photographs, hunting, or bird watching from your boat? Different outriggers provide different kinds of stability; some keep your boat from tipping over, others can level the boat. There are short and long outriggers as well. The longer the float is, and the further it is from the boat, the more stability you’ll have.
Third, decide whether you want an inflatable outrigger, or one that’s made of foam, rubber, fiberglass, or plastic. If you’ll be paddling or floating near rocks, or somewhere you’re likely to puncture an inflatable, a rubber, foam or fiberglass outrigger might be a wiser choice.
Other options to consider:
- Can the kayak outrigger be adjusted? You should be able to adjust the outrigger.
- Will you be paddling while the outrigger is in place? Can you lift or retract the outrigger if desired until you reach your destination?
- How easy is it to adjust? Will it require tools, or can you adjust by hand?
- Is it easy to adjust from where you’re seated? Or will you have to turn around to adjust or deploy it, risking tipping over?
- How many positions does the outrigger have? Many have at least three positions, so the paddler can adjust the stability of the outrigger.
- Will you have to drill into your boat to install the outrigger?
- If the outrigger must be installed, does the retail offer installation, and at what cost?
- How much does the kayak outrigger weigh?
- How aerodynamic is the outrigger? Will it move easily through the water?
- If inflatable, how easy is it to inflate and deflate?
- Is the mounting hardware plastic or stainless steel?
- If you’re buying your crossbar and mounting system separately, make sure the stabilizers you buy will work with the crossbars you’re purchasing.
Not all kayak outriggers or stabilizers are sold with both the crossbar and the stabilizer. It’s possible to buy the crossbars and stabilizers separately. When purchasing an outrigger, check the description carefully to make sure:
- The crossbar(s) for both sides of the boat or one long crossbar is included.
- The stabilizer or float is included.
- All mounting hardware and straps are included.
Installing your Kayak Outrigger
Every outrigger and stabilizer are different, but they all operate on essentially the same principles – a crossbar that holds a stabilizer or outrigger float.
Before you order your outrigger, read the product description carefully to make sure exactly what you’re getting with your order. If in doubt, contact the seller or manufacturer via email or call their customer service department before you order.
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Some companies list their instructions online. You can also search Youtube for how-to videos to gauge how difficult, or easy, the installation will be. Any outrigger that requires mounting to a kayak or deck will also require a drill and basic power tool skills. Don’t worry, it’s not hard to drill and mount an outrigger if you take your time and have basic tool skills.
- Once you get your outrigger, make sure you have all the parts, including mounting plates, screws, and any bolts you may need.
- Read through the instructions several times to make sure you understand how to install the outrigger.
- Dry fit the parts to see if they fit, and if they “look” right. It’s hard to fix holes in plastic once you drill them out. Plus, unless you do fix the holes, they’ll leak. So, measure twice, drill once.
- There is usually a photo on the box or in the instructions that comes with your outrigger or stabilizer. If there’s not, go to the outrigger’s website to find a photo you can reference as you install your own kit.
- If you’re honestly not comfortable installing your own outrigger, see if your local sporting goods store offers installation (additional expense, but worth it).
- Keep your instruction sheet for future reference in case you need to reorder a part that has broken, fallen off, or gotten lost. Having the instruction sheet helps you quickly identify the part and the reorder number.
After Installing Your Kayak Outrigger or Stabilizer
Anytime you install an accessory, like an outrigger, sail, rudder or another device to your boat, it’s a smart idea to put the boat in a swimming pool or shallow water where you can test it. This is especially true with an outrigger. You want to make sure the device has been securely installed and you want to test the stability of the outrigger. So, put your outrigger through its paces and see exactly what it takes to tip it over, or not, before loading your boat with gear, or putting your child or dog on it. Testing your accessories is just a part of the process.
Make sure you have a good life jacket, and that the water you’re testing in is shallow enough for you to easily recover or pull your craft to shore. Each time you’re able to tip your boat, check all the fittings and the outrigger to make sure nothing has been broken or damaged. The more familiar you are with the capabilities and limits of your outrigger, the more you’ll enjoy it.
Top Picks for Kayak Outriggers
The Hobie Sidekick Ama is a set of inflatable outriggers that install onto the rear of your Hobie Mirage Kayak. The outriggers attach to a rear mounted crossbar. The float height is adjustable; just a simple twist and click and the height is adjusted to high, medium or low depending on your preference, the water conditions, and the weight of the paddlers. The Ama outrigger floats are easy to inflate by mouth or with a hand pump. And, they’re simple to deflate for easier transport. The complete outrigger weighs five pounds, adding little or no extra weight to your boat. The turned-up ends of the floats make this outrigger more aerodynamic as you move through the water. It’s a great outrigger for those want more stability for standing in their kayaks to fish, photograph wildlife, or hunt. As awesome as it is, it cannot be used on an inflatable kayak as the attachment points for the center crossbar require drilling holes to mount clamps on the hull of the kayak.
To see how to install this outrigger watch this installation video:
Inspired by Nature builds all of their outriggers and stabilizers in the United States. All mounting hardware is stainless steel to prevent rust. Made with furniture grade durable PVC pipe, this outrigger is tough but lightweight. The orange color ensures your boat will be visible to other watercraft.
Whether you are a serious kayak fisherman or a beginning kayaker, this outrigger offers a high level of stability in a variety of applications and scenarios. Fishermen can use them for added stability to stand and sight fish on a lazy lake or in the ocean. When not in use, the outrigger mounts can be used as rod holders or with other Scotty Accessories. The included standing 4-foot long assist cord and carabiner make it easy for anyone to stand or sit including young, old and those with back issues. Beginners can practice paddling and being in a kayak without the fear of tipping over or getting wet.
One of the frustrations for many parents is the fact that younger children often will not get back in a kayak after tipping over. Their fear of flipping again can make them lose out on a lifetime of kayaking fun. With an outrigger, just as with a set of training wheels on a bicycle, you can ensure that your youngster has a flip-free experience until they’re confident enough to paddle without the stabilizers. This outrigger features 30-inch long outrigger arms that attach to your Kayak with Scotty 350 Rod Holders and Locking Scotty 241L bases. The floats are made of compression molded PVC which is tough, durable, puncture proof and will absolutely not absorb water. The pipes, or crossbars, are made of furniture grade PVC. Furniture grade PVC is UV resistant against fading and is black all the way thru. Furniture grade PVC can take a beating; it’s 5X stronger than plumbing-grade PVC pipe.
The company uses Scotty’s Locking 241L bases – with a locking mechanism. Normal 241 bases do not have a locking mechanism. This is extremely important when out on the water.
**You will need access to underneath the deck of your kayak where you will mount the mounting base. If you can’t access this area for whatever reason (as with some sit-on kayaks), you will need to use well nuts for mounting. These are offered at an additional cost
Stand-up platforms (SUPS) are amazing watercrafts, and they’re all the more fun when paddling with others. The challenge is, they’re hard to learn to balance on, especially for young children and older adults. If you’re an adult who wants to paddle with your child or dog on your SUP, balance can be even more difficult! Now you can convert any SUP to a stable platform for fishing, yoga or for bringing a dog or child along. This is a great outrigger for beginners, rough water, and plus-sized paddlers. The Airhead SUP Training Wheels set is constructed of durable PVC and inflates and deflates in seconds with their patented speed valves. Once attached the set weighs less than two pounds. No drilling needed.
Your SUP simply slips between a set of straps and you’re set to go. The rugged nylon straps get placed over and under the board: one strap on top and one on the bottom of the board. You can adjust the straps so that the pontoon sides of the stabilizer hug the sides of your SUP.
This outrigger will also work on sit-on kayaks, and some sit-in kayaks as well. Although it hugs the SUP or kayak rather than extending out to the side, it still provides a great deal of stability without the need to drill holes in your boat or attach hardware. Easily removed when you’re ready to load and transport your boat or SUP as well. Use this stabilizer for:
- SUP fishing, photography, or hunting
- Extra stability in rough water
- Beginners who want a little added security
- Plus-sized paddlers who would like more width and stability for their board
- Paddling with your child
- Teaching your child to stand-up paddle
- Paddling with your dog
- For the increasingly popular SUP yoga
4. Lixada Kayak PVC Inflatable Outrigger Kayak Canoe Fishing Boat Standing Float Stabilizer System (without metal bar)
These stabilizers are a great addition to your kayak, providing added safety, stability and security. Made of durable blue and white colored PVC, these floats are highly puncture resistant and tough. You’ll also need to purchase the metal bars that hold these stabilizers in place as this product is only the floats themselves. Check with the retailer to ensure you’re getting a set of (two) floats, as some retailers sell each float separately and without any crossbars.
The Airhead Stabilizer can convert any SUP into an ultra-stable board. With this stabilizer, your SUP can become a stable platform for fishing, yoga, or bringing a dog or child along. They are also great for beginners, plus-sized paddlers, and for use in rough water. This pair of stabilizers uses sturdy nylon straps that slip over your SUP or kayak to add extra security and stability to your boat or platform. The rugged nylon covers protect the PVC bladders inside. These stabilizers have speed safety valves for easy inflation and deflating and transport.