A skeg is a brace which extends down into the water from the keel of the kayak, generally in the stern. It is used to trim the boat in less than ideal paddling conditions and can assist in tracking and increasing kayak stability. Skegs are built in many different shapes and from many different materials. Wood is probably the easiest material to work with, and this article will outline the benefits and process of building a homemade wooden skeg.
Building the Skeg
Cut a piece of 3/4-inch cedar or oak into the shape of a semi circle four to six inches deep and about one foot across the flat section. A simple semi-circle has a good hydrodynamic shape and can be easily adjusted based on your personal preferences. However you could use any shape that suits your fancy. Sand the rounded edges smooth. Leave the flat edge square. Oil the skeg with danish oil. Do not use a polyurethane. A urethane finish will crack under duress allowing water into the wood. The finish will then trap the water under the finish causing mold and eventually rot. Purchase one- foot piece of aluminum channel at the local hardware store. Screw the male side of the track to the skeg.
Attaching the Skeg
Use aluminum, stainless steel, or brass screws to screw a female channel directly to the keel of the kayak anywhere from one to three feet from the back of the boat. Make sure to silicone the screw holes to prevent leaking. Make sure you attach the aluminum channel straight and square with the hull. A crooked skeg will cause the kayak to track crooked. Slide the skeg into the channel you have attached to the boat hull. The pressure of the channel is normally sufficient to keep the skeg in place. If it seems loose, pre-drill one hole at a diagonal through the wood and aluminum channel and into the keel. This will lock everything into place.
If after using the kayak you want to change the size or experiment with different skeg shapes, you can easily remove the skeg to change or rework it.
Using the Skeg
Paddle the kayak for awhile before making any further changes. The kayak will feel different with a skeg. If it seems to drag too much you can always cut the skeg down in size. Remember that more is not necessarily better. Too much skeg will cause the boat to feel like it is dragging in the water.
Skeg Versus Rudder
A rudder can also can deal with the weathercocking tendency of kayaks and also offers easier steering and directional control. A skeg does not offer the directional control of a rudder, but the benefit of a skeg over a rudder is that you can maintain solid foot bracing, which is required for advanced rolling and paddling maneuvers.