Mike Buckley - May 2009
Love 'em, or hate 'em, the majority of modern sea kayaks are designed to incorporate a skeg. Many are operated by a slider system controlling a wire to raise and lower the skeg and it's common for the wire to kink, become clogged with sand or grit or even (sometimes) to break. Other systems are operated by a cord or thin rope, and one of the latest innovations on the market (from KariTek) operates the skeg by hydraulic fluid.
As a matter of course, if you have a brand new boat with a wire controlled skeg I'd strongly recommend pulling the cable and lubing it with furniture polish. This simple act will help ensure a much smoother action, even from new. Don't ask me why it's not done at time of manufacture!
The two most common causes of skegs failing are easy to prevent. Retract the skeg before landing or if there's a risk of it grounding on something, and if it does become stuck (usually this happens coming off a beach if sand or pebbles get stuck in the skeg box) and won't lower easily, do not force it down with the slider - have someone pull it down at the skeg itself. This will usually also clear the obstruction. See later for more thoughts on that. This discussion has some thoughts on preventing stones getting into the box.
This article details how to repair a wire operated skeg where the skeg wire has been damaged, but the general principles of how to remove the skeg will also apply if it's necessary to remove the skeg and wire for maintenance.
The "patient" is an early P&H Capella, but the principles apply to virtually all boats - where it's known that another manufacturer uses a different system, or the procedure differs from that shown, then that is noted.
For other manufacturer's boats and variations on the theme, notably rope operated skegs, specific known problems and thoughts on making your own skeg system, click here to go to the end of the article where there are some links and notes.
It's an easy job to do. Here's a brief summary of how to remove and replace a skeg and it's wire - it might just be all you need to know!
1: Loosen the tiny grub screw in the slider using an appropriate allen key. 2.5 mm will probably be the one you need. Do not remove grub screw or you will lose it in the gravel and never find it again.
2: Grasp skeg with the appropriate hand for your natural dexterity.
3: Pull skeg out of the skeg box - and keep pulling. You will now see that the skeg pivots on a slot.
4: Remove skeg - for the non-mechanically minded this involves slipping the skeg away from it's pivot bar using the slot.
5: Pull all the wire out. Flush the conduit with water from a hose pipe to remove any sand - wipe off the wire - lube it with furniture polish (NOT with oil or grease of any form!).
6: Reverse the above to fit the skeg. Remember to tighten the grub screw! Job done.
Wilderness Systems offer this video on cable replacement, which may also be of help.
If you need more detail, or you need to replace a damaged wire, read on:
P&H skeg wires are bonded into the skeg itself, so replacing a damaged wire usually requires the purchase of the entire assembly at a cost of about £35! This article shows you how to replace just the wire. Valley (and some others) secure the wire to the skeg with a grub screw, which makes the process easier. You could consider Toby Speight's cunning modification to make the wire "field replaceable" in the future using the readily-available electricians' terminal blocks, epoxy resin adhesive, and hot-melt glue.
Wire can be sourced from a number of places - I used 3 mm 1 x 19 "Denwire" following a recommendation on the forum. In my view, you're looking for a stiff rather than a flexible wire, so I felt that the alternative 7 x 19 (19 strands, each made from smaller wires of 7 strands) would be too flexible and therefore kink too easily. 7 x 19 also strikes me as having rather a lot of "unravel potential". The Wire Rope Shop has been mentioned as a source.
Note though that this suggestion may not be best for Island Kayaks boats, which use a continuous loop system, so the more flexible 7 x 19 wire may be a better choice.
There's more to wire construction than you'd imagine. Most chandlers will have suitable stainless steel rigging wire but the wire which is often available in ironmongers and DIY stores seems to be too flexible.
This sort of wire is incredibly difficult to cut so I'd suggest being very specific with the exact length needed. I ordered 2.3 meters on their on-line ordering system - they sent me 2.6, which was too long to fit into the wire conduit on this Capella as the end is closed off in the cockpit. Some boats will have an open conduit end, or the cap can be removed.
Not having a proper wire cutter suitable for such heavy wire I resorted to holding the wire in a vice and used a cutting disc on an angle grinder. Which did the job nicely. Make sure the direction of the disc's rotation is appropriate to the lay of the wire, otherwise it will open up. Everyone should have one, but not everyone does of course, so I recommend getting the right length in the first place. I tried ordinary wire cutters, a cold chisel, a hacksaw and a brick bolster to cut the wire - none of which worked! A Dremel with a suitable cutting disc is also reported to have worked. Please take all the usual safety precautions as I accept no liability if this goes horribly wrong!
Michael Wilkinson mailed me in November 2014 to comment that the method he used for cutting the cable to length was to drill a hole with the same diameter as the cable through a small block of wood. He then fed the cable through the block. This was then held in a vice and he used a hacksaw to cut through the wood and the cable. As the cable was completely enclosed without room to move, he says he achieved a perfect, straight cut without the slightest fraying of the cable. Again, probably worth making sure the lay of the wire and the cutting direction of the blade are suitably aligned. It does seem like a neat, safe method.
Another way would be to use a proper Bowden Cable cutter - alternatively, your local cycle shop will probably be able to cut the wire as they'll certainly have one. Some boats have an open conduit end in the cockpit, so cutting the wire may not be necessary. Note that it seems that replacement P&H skegs with the wire already bonded in are provided with a wire some 250 cm in length.
Tools & materials needed:
Allen key - also known as a hex key - to loosen the grub screw on the slider. It'll probably be 2.5 mm, or suitable small cross-head screwdriver - probably Phillips No 1, as appropriate.
Drill with 3.5 mm bit to clear the wire hole in the skeg and remove the original bond if the wire is bonded to the skeg.
Acetone to clean off the surfaces.
Araldite to re-bond the wire.
Electrical tape to blank and finish the bonding.
Furniture polish to lube the wire.
A vice is helpful, but not essential.
Total cost, including postage, was just over £5.00 for the wire. The new slider is under £3.00 direct from P&H who gave excellent service and advice.
This particular boat has clearly been "repaired" previously - the original slider has been replaced with an electrical connector - - -
The standard slider is secured to the wire with a small grub screw - a 2.5 mm hex key is needed. Sometimes however, a small cross-head screw is used instead - usually because the previous owner has lost the grub screw.
P&H tell me they can no longer supply the original, round slider for the early Capella so an alternative will be used in this repair.
As can be seen, the wire has kinked badly - it was sticking in the conduit, and may have been forced, bending it. Another common cause of the wire being bent is people lifting the wire rather than sliding the control. P&H's early solution was a sticker telling you what to do!
For comparison, this picture shows the slightly later system used on a 2002 P&H Quest - and many other boats. The slider itself runs on an integral steel bar which prevents it from being lifted - it's still possible for the wire to be kinked though.
(Valley use a broadly similar system, and there is a known problem with a small number of sliders where the incorrect materials were used and the system rusts badly. This thread on the forum is worth looking at for details of how to deal with the problem, and has links to some pictures of the Valley skeg slider control.)
The slider is secured to the wire with a small grub screw - generally, a 2.5 mm hex key is needed.
I now carry one in my repair kit, just in case I need to do a field repair.
2: Continue lifting and you'll be able to slide the skeg blade clear of the pivot pin.
3: Remove the skeg completely and withdraw the wire from it's housing. This particular one has clearly been troublesome and someone has used oil to try and lube it. The anti-rattle strips have also been damaged.
Oil, WD40 or other spray lube products or grease really isn't recommended as they will only attract grit - it's better to use some form of silicon on the wire - furniture polish is ideal. If all you're doing is cleaning the wire, then use a hose to flush the conduit, clean the wire, apply some furniture polish and re-assemble.
Now it's off to the workshop - -
1: P&H and others bond the wire to the skeg blade - (Valley, and some others, use a grub screw). To remove a bonded wire, secure it to something and pull the skeg. If you're lucky, it'll just pull out. If it doesn't, then various methods have been suggested - one is to heat the wire with a blowtorch and that will cause the bonding to melt, freeing the wire. Another suggestion involves placing the entire skeg blade in boiling water to heat it, remove, and then pull it off the wire.
I drilled either side of the wire to destroy the bond, secured the wire in a vice and pulled it out - only moderate force was needed but this could have been just because I was repairing a previous repair and not dealing with the original bond. I then cleared the cross drilling with a larger drill bit and a coarse file and finished with a finer one and chamfered the edges a little with a counter-sink tool just to tidy it up.
2: Clear the wire entry hole (I used a 3.5 mm drill bit to make it slightly oversize - the wire is 3 mm on this boat) - I drilled on into the skeg as well to help the wire locate.
I cleaned the skeg up with acetone to remove the oil residue and any other contaminants.
It looks as though heat was used to remove the wire when it was repaired previously.
3: I also replaced the damaged anti-rattle strips using the "fuzzy" side of self-adhesive velcro and drilled a hole to attach a length of paracord.
This makes it much easier for a buddy to pull the skeg down when the boat is afloat if the skeg has jammed with gravel or sand, and is much easier than fiddling around trying to grip it with pliers and you'll certainly not get a grip on it just using your fingers.
Mark the hull somehow to show where the cord is - it really makes it much easier to find when at sea.
Trying to force the skeg down with the slider is a common cause of the wire becoming kinked. If the skeg has jammed, pull it down instead of forcing it with the slider - wire doesn't like being subjected to compression forces.
If you leave the wire skeg down when you run up on land or over an object, the wire can kink. So learn not to do that! If it's a club boat, this is an essential learning point for your members.
4: Mix some epoxy resin - I used Araldite.
One side of the hole has been blanked off with electrical tape to retain the epoxy and create a nice smooth finish.
(At this point, you could consider Toby Speight's cunning modification to make the wire "field replaceable" in the future rather than bonding the new wire into the skeg.)
5: I also cleaned the wire off with acetone (nail varnish remover will do - or any similar solvent) to remove any oil or grease, and smeared some epoxy on the wire end before gently inserting it into the hole and on into the body of the skeg. One strand unraveled a bit which will probably be a good thing as it gives something for the epoxy to grip.
On reflection, splaying the wire a little once it's been inserted would be a good idea, again just to provide more grip.
6: I then filled the hole with epoxy, working it well around the wire with a toothpick - another piece of tape went on top and I ran a straight edge over it just to squeeze the resin into the wire as much as possible, but also to give a nice smooth finish on both sides.
I also dressed the other end of the wire with a smear of epoxy to stop it unravelling when being fed into the conduit
Leave it to set overnight.
7: The end result 24 hours later! Quite pleased with it overall.
If you dressed the control end of the wire with epoxy, now's the time to check if it needs a rub down with sandpaper to make sure the diameter is the same as the rest of the wire or it won't feed into the conduit and the slider control.
1: Furniture polish applied over the length of the wire.
Any silicon type lube will do - but don't use oil or grease or spray lubes like WD40.
2: As the original round sliders are no longer available, P&H suggested the later "T" shaped slider with the end cut off at the point where the supporting bar would normally go. A hacksaw and sandpaper created a reasonable fit for the slider in it's recess on the boat.
P&H supply the slider with the correct hex key - which is nice.
The hole was slightly too small for the wire, so I opened it up a little using the 3.5 mm drill.
3: Re-assembly really is as simple as just reversing the removal process shown earlier - take care to prevent the wire from unravelling as you feed it into the conduit at the skeg box if you've not dressed it with epoxy when you were working on it earlier.
Once the wire emerges from the conduit in the slider recess, feed it through the slider and on into the conduit at the other side. Adjust the slider so that the skeg is able to drop enough and then tighten the grub screw.
This particular repair has worked very well, although as the second picture shows, the wire tends to sit a little high when the slider is run back to drop the skeg so a little care will need to be taken not to lift it! Then again, that's what the sticker says! The Denwire seems to be less flexible than the original, so may be less inclined to kink anyway.
As a final tip, it's worth checking the wire conduit in the boat to make sure it's well secured along it's length - if it can flex away from the hull that can be a cause of a "sticky" skeg. I've used Araldite and also Sikaflex to secure conduits to the boat's structure.
Variations & Known Problems.
Tom Fuller notes that some later Capellas (this one is a 2004, 3 hatch version) use a different slider arrangement where the wire runs thro a guide tube, the slider knob being secured thro a hole in the tube. The wire is moulded into the skeg. The slider uses a crosshead screw. Click here for a .pdf with his description and pictures.
There is also a known problem with getting the wire to pass through into the guide tube, and John Norris documents the solution - click here for a .pdf of his description and pictures (also linked from Tom's article).
P&H Cetus / Scorpio / Delphin
The P&H Cetus, Scorpio and Delphins have a known problem with some of the early boats - the skeg is controlled with a cord and bungee system and has a new design of slider with a ratchet system, and can be very stiff to operate.
Douglas Wilcox has produced a very detailed overview of the problem together with some suggestions which may help fix it - click here to go to the relevant post on his blog. See also this discussion and this one.
This discussion on the problem as specific to the Scorpio may - or may not - help.
Even the Mk II version as fitted to later boats is known to be problemantic. This may be down to a badly fitted axle and this discussion has pictures and thoughts on how to adjust it.
This blog has a superb write-up and pictures on how to completely replace the original P&H system on a Cetus with the excellent Kayaksport version.
The Island Kayaks range use an off-set skeg arrangement, with the wire being attached to the skeg using a grub screw - click here for a .pdf with details of the slider and skeg attachment. Thanks to "jamesl2play" for the pictures.
Jim Tait had a problem with a skeg which kept dropping, despite the slider being adjusted correctly - this discussion details the problem and the fix.
See also this discussion on replacing the entire wire on the "continuous wire loop" system. Note that in this particular application, the use of the more flexible 7 x 19 wire may be better than the 1 x 19 recommended for other applications, and it seems to use thinner wire at 2.5mm.
There is a known problem with the skeg on some Rockpool boats being very tight - there are two possible causes.
1: The bolts securing the skeg pivot tighten up. Loosen them.
2: "Goeffm" comments that he found that the nylon insert in the skeg was a very tight fit in the skeg itself. The skeg is supposed to pivot on this insert, which simply acts as a spacer for the pivotting bolt to tighten up on (and thus loosening the bolt to improve a tight skeg really doesn't fix the problem). He suspects that the nylon absorbs water after a short period of time, expands and binds up so he did a little work with a Dremel and gave the insert a smidgeon of clearance. After putting it all back together he has a lovely smooth functioning skeg.
kayakacademy.com have a detailed outline on how to remove and replace the cable on Tiderace boats.
Tiderace seem to use the superb Kajaksport slider control, some details and pictures of which are in this excellent blog post on how to retrofit one to a P&H boat. This discussion contains links to full instructions on the Kajaksport skeg system, including how the slider is assembled.
Some Valley boats suffer from rust appearing on the slider bar - Valley are aware of the problem and can provide replacement parts. See this discussion - includes links to several helpful pics.
"Heyaz" provides the solution he used to deal with a skeg control which had rusted solid - "the previous owner had allowed the slider to seize solid and I came up with a pretty neat solution....
I reamed the grub screw out of the nylon slider knob and carried on down - carefully!! - until the skeg wire was released.
Having slid the wire back out of the guide tube it was a fairly simple job to carry on reaming away until the slider knob was moving once again.
I then removed the knob from the guide tube (the tube slides forwards in the skeg slider box leaving sufficient clearance to remove the knob). Once removed it was simple enough to drill out the knob to an appropriate size and press a 5mm stainless nut deep into the cavity so formed. This can be secured with Araldite (lubed a bolt and left it threaded through the nut until the epoxy set then wound it out.) Just needed to cut a 5mm allen headed cap screw to the right length to replace the grub screw for securing the slider to the new cable; the cap head sits just flush with the slider so is not going to chew my hand whilst paddling.
All a bit of a waste of time as Valley are sending me a new slider & grub screw as we speak, but may be of interest / use to others!"
See this video on YouTube for full details on removing and repairing the skeg cable on these boats.
To remove the slack in the cable on a Rogue, see this video.
Fixing rope operated skegs
For some ideas and techniques for fettling rope operated skegs, have a look at this article on Sean T. Noonan's site.
Making the wire "field replaceable"
Toby Speight's very clever and easy modification to make the wire easy to repair / replace in the field, using only hand tools.
Making a skeg system
Superb illustrated article by "gnarlydog" on making and fitting a skeg using carbon fibre to create the skeg box and polycarbonate sheet for the skeg blade.
Andy Waddington built a wooden skeg system [on archive.org] and his article is worth a look.
Suppliers of materials / parts
The Wire Rope Shop has been mentioned.
All the various kayak manufacturers can also supply wire and/or complete systems - site links in the Retailers & Manufacturers section.
Go Kayaking (formerly Kayaksnorthwest) may be able to supply slider controls, but don't have the very early, round ones.
Kari-Tek produce a fantastic retro-fitable skeg system. They also sell wire.
Wire lengths needed
Island Kayaks - Expedition : 159.5 cms - but see the note above regarding "continuous wire loop" system.
P&H Capella (Mk I - square hatch version) : 230 cms - 3 mm.
P&H Capella (2004 - 3 hatch version) : 220 cms - 3 mm.
Point65N XP18 Classic: 198 cm
Valley plastic Aquanaut HV : 220 cm.
Valley Aquanaut : 215 cm.
Valley Anas Acuta - old style - 1998 with skeg control forward of the cockpit : 200 cm.
Valley RM Nordkapp - 208cm - you can push a bit extra inside the skeg and beyond the slider, so probably 207cm for perfection.
Wilderness Systems - 229cm - according to the video linked above.
(These measurements are as provided by forum contributors, but can't be guaranteed as 100% accurate)
See comments earlier in the article on cutting the wire if necessary.
© Mike Buckley - article originally written May 2009 - last updated 23-Feb-2016 .
Also, if the boat you are working on has any specific details worth recording here, please let me know. It's also helpful to hear of any "tricks or tips" which have worked for you and I'll consider adding them to the article. Thanks.