How it’s Built:
Crafting a New Boat, Design to Delivery
Sit-on-tops are the quintessential everyman kayak. The SOT is stable, comfortable, maneuverable, durable and cheap. It fits the bill for weekend paddlers, anglers and resort liveries alike. But those looking for the ease of an open deck without sacrificing speed typically defaulted to the long, slender lines and the intimidating learning curve of a surfski. So how to incorporate the glide and performance of a ‘ski into a stable, compact SOT? That’s the question Necky Kayaks designer Tom Swetish faced when he set about shaping the Vector 14. — Conor Mihell
By definition, sit-on-top kayaks are “A-to-A boats,” Swetish says. “You put in, paddle around and come back to where you started. That’s all good, but we wanted to play around with an A-to-B boat—one that’s fun to paddle and allows you to progress your skills and go on overnight tours.”
Swetish got his initial design cues from paddling surfskis. He took the hydrostatic properties of a 19-foot surfski that he designed and built for himself, and merged them with Necky’s popular Looksha 14 sit-inside kayak. That gave him the basis of the Vector’s hull. “Most SOTs have immense primary stability but you have to practically fall off to put them on edge,” Swetish says. His goal, in hydrostatics-speak, was a more linear stability curve, essentially ensuring that the boat would be reasonably comfortable while sitting on the water flat (primary stability), yet also stable on edge (secondary stability).
Then he turned off the computer and started to dream up a hull shape. The Vector’s bow profile is inspired by a surfski, designed to cut the water “smoothly and quietly” (turbulence and noise reveal wasted energy) with enough volume to prevent the bow from burying while surfing a wave. To ensure a blend of maneuverability and tracking, Swetish incorporated several inches of stern rocker that’s offset by an integrated keel that acts like a fin on a surfboard. “But once you leaned the boat, that keel element would actually lift out of the water and loosen up the stern,” Swetish explains.
The Necky design team went through three styrofoam prototypes in producing the Vector 14. Swetish’s initial impression: The 14 was a wet ride because its seat was below the waterline. He knew a “wet-butt boat” wasn’t going to pass muster with Necky’s marketing team. Dryness is typically achieved in an SOT by raising the seat—and compromising performance. “The rule we use is if you raise the seat one inch, you need to add two inches to the beam” to compensate for a loss of stability, Swetish says. “But that makes it a lot more piggy.” To maintain a narrow beam and appease marketing, Swetish once again turned to his surf ski and incorporated two scupper plugs with one-way valves in the seating area to drain water.
The Vector 14 could be described as a sea kayak without the deck—a byproduct of design that Swetish says is one of the boat’s best attributes. “Paddlers’ mindsets change when they go from a sit-inside to an SOT,” he notes. “There’s no longer that risk of an ordeal if you go over, so you paddle differently. You start to play a bit more.”