Have you ever ended up going for an unintentional swim during your paddling trip? I certainly have and can say that it’s not a fun experience; getting cold, trying to recapture all your gear before it floats down the river - it’s not my idea of a good time. Fortunately, I’ve discovered a remedy for this problem, adding stabilizers to my kayak.
So what are the best kayak and canoe outriggers and stabilizers? One of my personal favorites is the Scotty #302 Kayak Stabilizer. It’s lightweight, easy to put together, and it gives your kayak or canoe a pretty decent buoyancy boost to keep you upright. It’s not too expensive either, which makes it a great choice if you’re on the fence about whether an outrigger system is something your boat needs.
Last update on 2019-12-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
These outriggers and stabilizers are essentially clip-on pontoons that add buoyancy to your boat and make capsizing much less likely. They can’t guarantee that you won’t tip over, but they come pretty close.
Given their simple design, you’d think that it wouldn’t be that hard to choose a set of them. However, depending on which ones you get, they can be a pricey investment and it’s important that you have a good understanding of their features before making a purchase.
Reviews of the Best Kayak & Canoe Outriggers and Stabilizers
1. Scotty #302 Kayak Stabilizer Kit
But let’s start from the beginning: it’s easy to install with a mounting kit that looks pretty similar to a rod holder setup (actually, two Scotty rod holders are included in the mounting kit). That does require drilling several holes, but it’s a fairly easy process.
Once mounted, the pontoons provide 30 lb of extra buoyancy for your boat. They can be a little troublesome to inflate as the highly durable material necessitates a special attachment to hook it up to a bike pump.
However, one of my biggest problems with the Scotty is that there’s no way to tilt the pontoons out of the water while you’re paddling. To get them out of the way, you’ll need to store them in the hull, and I think that’s an oversight for a product as expensive as this is.
Still, the Scotty is one of the best kayak and canoe stabilizers out there and I think it’s a solid choice for anyone getting their first set of outriggers.
2. Hobie Sidekick Ama Stabilizer Kit
The Hobie Sidekick Ama is a close second in my favorite outrigger systems. It’s probably my preferred choice if I’m doing a more permanent setup on a fishing boat.
The pontoons on the sidekick are made from the same durable fabric you’d find on whitewater rafts and they’re connected via some beefy aluminum tubing. Despite the tough construction, it still weighs less than nine pounds.
Unfortunately, the pontoon valves cannot be inflated by mouth; instead, they have the sort of valve you’d find on an air mattress. So be sure you don’t lose the attachment to hook up the pump.
The thing I dislike most with the Hobie is the way it mounts. You need to attach an aluminum crossbar with four screws, and then the pontoon arms slide into the crossbar.
Having the outriggers connected to each other does give it quite a bit more stability, but it also prevents it from fitting on all boats. You need a flat or concave deck under the crossbar mounts or it will block the center section from being screwed in. If that works with your boat, this is a fantastic piece of equipment.
3. Inspired by Nature Canoe Outriggers
Finally, someone is thinking about the canoe paddlers out there! Most of the outriggers and stabilizers are designed for kayaks and just won’t fit in a canoe, at least not without significant modification.
These Inspired by Nature Canoe Outriggers can be mounted to your boat in minutes with a few easy to use clamps (there is also a bolt-on hardware if you’d prefer a more permanent setup).
Unlike many of the other outrigger systems, this one uses non-inflatable pontoons; they’ll be ready to go with no pumping required. The mounts even include a tilt system that lets you pull the outriggers up when they’re not in use, which makes paddling a lot easier.
Unfortunately, these stabilizers don’t perform as well as they should, given their high price tag. Their easy mounting system works against them by providing a loose attachment point to the boat that has these pontoons feeling much less stable compared to their competitors. The non-inflatable design also takes up quite a bit of storage space too, making them a niche market item.
4. Baoblaze Heavy Duty Inflatable Outrigger Stabilizer
This Baoblaze Heavy Duty Inflatable Outrigger Stabilizer might be one of the best setups for budget-minded paddlers as it costs half or even a third of what some of the more expensive ones do but still gets the job done.
I really like the four-piece design of two inflatable pontoons connected to a two-section aluminum shaft. The connected shaft makes for better stability than systems that mount the pontoons separately and the pontoon height can be adjusted to get them right on the water line.
However, it’s not without its drawbacks; you still need to bring a pump to inflate the pontoons and it will require a special nozzle. The aluminum shaft also won’t mount on all kayaks or canoes as it requires a flat or concave deck behind the cockpit.
Installing the outriggers can take a while too as there’s some drilling needed to get the hardware in place. It’s still one of the best options for an inexpensive outrigger system with great stability.
5. Brocraft Kayak Outriggers
Brocraft’s outrigger system is essentially a less expensive version of the Inspired by Nature one: non-inflatable pontoons with tilting aluminum arms. So it comes with many of the same drawbacks of being only moderately stable and taking up a lot of storage space when it’s not being used.
The major difference from the previous stabilizer setup is when it comes to mounting; Brocraft’s model must be screwed into the boat. For only a little more money you can install a track for the arms to slide onto so it’s a bit easier to assemble and disassemble at the put-in point. The instructions for doing this aren’t great and most of us would rather not put holes in our hulls unless absolutely necessary. However, you can’t beat the price, so this could still be a good option for paddlers on a budget.
Why Do I Need an Outrigger or Stabilizer
Kayaks are designed to float, why would I need to add any extra stability to them? It’s a fair question until you think about how you’re using the boat.
High-performance kayaks and canoes are engineered to work well when used by experienced paddlers that have great balance and know the motions of an efficient paddle stroke by heart.
When you’re just starting out you could get a recreational canoe or fishing kayak that’s wide and stable, but incredibly slow. Then you could upgrade in a year or so, once you’ve progressed in the sport.
Another option would be to buy a boat designed for paddlers a year or two above your skill level, and then add a stabilizer system while you improve your technique. It’s sort of like training wheels for your boat.
What Does an Outrigger Do on a Canoe or Kayak
Perhaps a more common reason for using an outrigger system is that you’d like to do something with your boat that it’s not well designed for.
Perhaps you have a kayak or canoe that’s excellent for fast-moving rivers, but you’d like to do some fishing or take great photographs from it.
Maybe you want to take a few camping trips, but loading all your gear exceeds the boat’s weight limit.
Any of these activities will destabilize or sink your boat and throwing on a pair of stabilizers during these activities can increase your buoyancy and make the experience a whole lot more enjoyable without much extra effort.
Outriggers and Stabilizers Buyer's Guide
Buoyancy and Stability
As the whole point of adding stabilizers is to get extra buoyancy, you could have probably guessed that this was the most important factor to consider. Fortunately, it’s not a very difficult decision either as most outriggers have a similar buoyancy rating, somewhere around thirty lbs.
What does vary between them is how stable that extra buoyancy feels. The way the pontoons mount to the kayak or canoe can be rock solid or kind of shaky and you’re definitely going to notice the first time you stand up in the boat.
For maximum stability, look for outriggers that have a solid connection between the two arms rather than separate mounts on the sides of your boat.
Inflatable vs. Non-Inflatable
Outriggers and stabilizers come in two varieties: inflatable and non-inflatable pontoons. The former are much more common because they take up a lot less space when not in use (the aluminum tubes connecting the pontoons usually break down too).
These inflatable pontoons are usually quite durable and there’s very little risk of puncturing them. However, it is possible to get and a hole, though nearly all come with a repair kit that will keep them holding air.
Getting them inflated isn’t the easiest process though; most are made from tough materials that can only be blown up with a pump. Forget your pump on the way to the put-in point and you’ll be out of luck.
To avoid these problems, some paddlers, particularly those with a big garage to store all their gear, choose non-inflatable stabilizers, which can be less expensive too.
The materials used in your outriggers and stabilizers will determine how long the setup is going to last. This is especially true if you’ll be using it in saltwater, which has the tendency to corrode lightweight plastics and steel.
So let’s start with the frame - most are going to be constructed from durable aluminum that’s quite similar to your paddle’s shaft. While it is lightweight and incredibly strong, a few frames use carbon fiber, which greatly increases the cost and shaves only a few ounces.
Then there are the pontoons; if you’re getting an inflatable model, look for ones made from PVC or more exotic fabrics like Hypalon – the same material used in inflatable kayaks and whitewater rafts.
The pontoons on non-inflatables are less critical so long as the plastics used are not susceptible to saltwater corrosion.
Some DIY-minded paddlers will even build their own pontoons out of foam pool noodles, but these usually don’t have the same stability as commercially produced outriggers.
This is one of the more overlooked problems when choosing outriggers and stabilizers because you only need to deal with it once. How you install the stabilizers will determine how much flexibility you have in the future though.
For instance, most systems require you to drill a few holes on each side of the boat to attach the mounts, which can then hold the tubing connected to the outriggers.
However, some models can plug right into the existing rod holders (assuming you’ve installed them behind the cockpit where the pontoons won’t interfere with your paddle stroke). Others can attach using a clamp system if your cockpit rim is shaped correctly for it. These are both great options if you don’t feel like putting holes in your boat.
When it comes down to it, I’m still going to choose my outdoor gear based on the price. It doesn’t matter how nice a piece of equipment is or how much it could improve my experiences; if it’s outside my budget, I’m not going to buy it. However, I can decide beforehand how important of an investment this will be for me.
Buying a kayak or canoe stabilizer is a bit different than purchasing something like a rain jacket or pair of hiking pants: you’re not paying for a brand (none of the manufacturers are household names), you’re paying for quality.
If you want your outrigger system to stand up to repeated uses, you’ll need to pay more. But don’t spend money on features you don’t need or sink too much into a product you won’t use very often.
As an example, if I only plan on using an outrigger system on the few occasions each year when I overload my kayak for a camping trip, it’s probably not worth it to get the latest and greatest. I just need some extra buoyancy and if the system is hard to attach, I only need to do it once in a blue moon.
However, if this is something I’ll add to my fishing kayak setup and deploy it on most of my trips, you can bet I’ll be investing a bit more in my outrigger system.
My Choice for the Best Outriggers and Stabilizers for Kayaks and Canoes
I stand by my original choice and believe that the Scotty #302 is one of the best kayak and canoe outriggers and stabilizers. It adds a solid thirty pounds of buoyancy to your boat, which is pretty close to the maximum gear weight that you’d be bringing on a camping or fishing trip.
I also have no trouble standing up in a boat they’re attached to. I think that the aluminum arms and thick PVC pontoons will endure years of abuse, and they’re fairly easy to remove when you don’t need them.
It’s not the cheapest stabilizer reviewed, but I think you’ll find it to be one of the most versatile and a good addition to your gear collection.
Top Rated Outriggers and Stabilizers
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Last update on 2019-12-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API