Seabird Qanik Review

After a few months of owning and paddling a Seabird Qanik sea kayak, here are some impressions. First, it is a beauty, especially for those to whom the long pointy west Greenland design is the one that appeals most. And, surprisingly, it is not a difficult kayak to paddle. It doesn’t feel too tippy for someone like myself, who only had just over a year’s experience with sea kayaks (previously paddling a Tahe Reval Mini PC kayak). The kayak feels stable in waves and is easy to turn in wind (with the skeg retracted), and with the skeg down it tracks very well. And the other big plus is the storage space. This is a compromise Greenland design with decks not so high that they impede rolling, but high enough (more at the front) to store kit for lightweight, multi-day trips.

Seabird Qanik bow

But there are problems. Although the design of the hull is excellent, there are some serious construction issues. One is the thickness of the hull. The Qanik I bought has a Diolen/Fibreglass composite. For some reason, the factory left the hull remarkably thin. It was easy to depress the underside of the hull with your fingers, and when pulling the loaded kayak up over the waterline ridge of a beach, you could see the hull shape being inverted. The material was plenty flexible to flip back into place afterwards, but the sight was unsettling. In the end, I decided to stiffen the hull with extra fibreglass and epoxy (two layers of 190 gramme fibreglass in the cockpit area, and a single layer in the wider part of the rear section of the hull). That has added enough stiffness so that the hull doesn’t deform under normal loads.

Another problem is the seat in the keyhole cockpit. The seat supports have holes allowing the seat to be moved forward or back in three different positions. From the factory it arrived in the position furthest back. That was way, way too far back. It was too close to the back edge of the cockpit to roll comfortably and lie on the back deck, and also too far back for the Palm R3 neoprene spray deck (the spray deck design assumes the paddler will be significantly further forward). So the seat was moved all the way forward. That still left enough room to get the legs in the keyhole cockpit (my trouser measurement is: inside leg, 32″/82cm).

Then there is the stability of the seat. With my Tahe Reval kayak, there was never any movement of the seat when edging or rolling, but the Qanik seat kept clicking to the side when doing those things. The seat seems to be designed to rest on the inside of the hull, and perhaps gain some stability that way. But it didn’t quite rest on the hull, which wasn’t, in any case, rigid. To make things worse, the movement of the seat meant that the front lower edge of the seat began to dig two slit-like holes in the inside of the hull.  In the end, I drilled an extra two holes to increase the bolt supports from 4 to 6 and put a layer of rubber (inner tube) between the two parts of the seat support, and added an extra rubber support under the front edge of the seat, keeping it in contact with the hull at all times in a way that wouldn’t dig any more holes. I also added some adhesive to the bolts to stop them coming undone (because even though they have self-locking nuts, those nuts were definitely unlocking).

On a side note, the stitching of the seat’s back band was starting to come undone after a few weeks, but it was a simple matter, with a needle and thread, to correct the mistakes of the doubtless overworked chaps in China.

The thigh braces: In the Seabird brochure, I could see what looked like large, supportive and adjustable thigh braces. Compared to the feeble and immobile plastic cockpit flanges I had had on the Tahe Reval Mini, the Qanik’s thigh braces looked like a real plus. Wrong. They are hard plastic, and seem to have been molded around the legs of an anorexic paddler who sits with her legs straight out in front. However, the bits of the cockpit rim that supported the solid thigh braces are close enough together to be padded with foam on the underside after ditching the default braces. That also creates just enough room to put the knees between the braces for an alternative leg position when the water is calm.

The photos below show the cockpit with extra bolts, added padding at the hips, and foam strips to replace the solid plastic thigh braces.

Seabird Qanick cockpit #1

Seabird Qanik cockpit #2

The cockpit shape: In my experience of looking for a spraydeck to fit the Qanik keyhole cockpit, finding a good fit ain’t easy. The internal dimensions are 76 x 37cm (29.9″ x 14.6″). Palm assumes that a cockpit with a length between 73-82cm will have a width that is at least 42cm. The Qanik cockpit is much narrower than that. Initially, I assumed it wouldn’t matter, but it does. If there is too much neoprene in the width of the spraydeck near the back, the bungee refuses to sit nicely under the back rim of the cockpit while you move your hands to the front to complete putting the spraydeck on. In the end, I took the knife to the Palm spraydeck to reduce the width near the back and to move the body tube further back.

The hatches: Size-wise the hatches are great. What wasn’t great was the amount of water coming in, especially the big hatch at the back. The problem turned out to be not the hatch covers but the rigid hatch rims, which weren’t attached to the hull material in a watertight way. Solution: silicon around the join between the rims and the hull.

Photo: You might be able to make out the smear of silicon added that makes all the difference.

Seabird Qanik hatches

The skeg: Not sure whether this is a general design limitation or just an error in the way the factory fitted the skeg on my particular boat, but once the skeg has been fully retracted there is no way of dropping it again with the handle by the cockpit. To retain control of the skeg you need to retract it so that there is still about 8mm or so of skeg protruding from the hull. And I have had to tie a short length of fishing line to the skeg (using the hole provided) for those times when it’s in too far and can’t be moved by the handle. The gap in the skeg box also seems to be unnecessarily narrow, meaning the skeg is even more likely to get stuck in the up position.

Photo showing how far you need to leave the skeg out, plus the fishing line for when it gets stuck in the skeg box.

Seabird Qanik skeg

Separate issue: Does it turn you magically into an ace Greenland roller? My hope was that the Greenland-based design would make a big difference to my rolling. To be honest, it hasn’t. The lower back deck definitely makes it easier to end the standard Greenland roll lying on the back deck. But if you weren’t able to do a hand roll before buying a Qanik, you won’t suddenly feel that a hand roll is in reach after buying one. An exceptionally low volume kayak might make a bigger difference, but the Qanik isn’t exceptionally low volume.

All in all: Clearly they kept the price down by cutting three or four corners in the factory. Because Bjorn Thomasson’s design is a gem, if you buy this kayak and then sort out the flimsy hull, the moving seat, the leaking hatches and the sticky skeg, and manage to find a spraydeck that fits, you will have a kayak that is a joy to paddle and feels safe out at sea.

Below is a video of the Qanik on a trip around the Pilio peninsula in Greece.

And another video demonstrating the obvious: The Qanik rolls!