10 minute steering tune up for kayaks

10 minute steering tune up for kayaks

How to maintain and install your rudder cable tensioners

If you haven't looked at your kayaks rudder cables in a long time, or if you have time to burn and want to have precision steering in your kayak this blog will help you to thread the eye of a needle in your kayak.

Most of the top kayak manufacturers use metal cables for ocean or river kayaks and spectra rudder lines in flatwater kayaks which is a cheap sailing cord that can withstand a high tension. This cord is usually a brightly coloured string cord that can be readily bought at a sailing shop by the metre. The higher quality kayaks will utilise graphite and Kevlar cord to give greater strength under tension and lower elasticity than spectra cord which means they won’t break or stretch. This will keep you going where you want on the water for a much longer time.

Over time spectra and Kevlar cloth rudder cables collect dirt or salt from the water splashed over them, rub on their guides or fray where they are knotted into your pedals or tiller bar. So regular maintenance is needed which we recommend being completed every 4 to 6 months.

To tune up your kayak, the first thing to do is to check your kayak for any issues which could lead to bigger problems:

  • Is the current setup steering straight?
  • Are the rudder cables still tight?
  • Do the pedals or tiller bar move evenly to turn your kayak left and right? Do you have something blocking your turning?
  • Is the rudder wheel/bar attached to the rudder shaft on securely?
  • When the tiller bar is centred or the pedals are even is your rudder perfectly aligning with the centre of your kayak to keep you going straight?
  • Check if the cable tensioners are holding tension.
  • Are there any rub marks on the cable guides or on the knots where the cables attach to the tiller bar/pedals or the rudder wheel/bracket?
Rudder cable guide not rubbing the cables
  • How dirty or covered in salt are the rudder lines?
  • How secure are the rudder cable guides? Is the glue or fibreglass holding?
  • If using metal cable guides, are the clamps secure and is there any rust?What we're trying to avoid:

Nelo Cinco metal rudder cable broken

Cable tensioners:

The cable tensioner is an essential part of your steering. It allows for easy and secure adjustment of your steering system keeping the rudder, tiller bar or pedals aligned perfectly and reliably. These little plastic barrels also allow the paddler to tension their rudder cables and the sensitivity of their steering according to the conditions and the user.


My old training partner used to have their rudder cables guitar string tight when racing on flat water and then in moving river water he would relax the tension on the lines to allow for more forgiving steering through the swirls and eddies of a fast-moving river. To install these cable tensioners into a kayak with cord rudder cables, follow the below how to:


  • Marker pen
  • Cigarette lighter

A quick How To video on installing your kayak or surfskis rudder cable tensioners:


  1. Remove the existing knots or cable ties
  2. Overlap the rudder cable, pulling tight on either end to make the tiller bar and rudder in line with the centre line of the kayak.
  3. Keep holding the overlapped rudder cables and hold a cable tensioner over the centre of the overlap. Then using the marker pen mark out either side of the rudder cable tensioner on the front and back rudder lines.
  4. Optional: Use the cigarette lighter to melt or heat to a point the rudder cable ends. This will make it easier to thread through into the cable tensioners.
  5. Un-screw the cable tensioner with the threaded male piece to be for the rudder cable at the front of the kayak and the female part of the tensioner barrel to be for the rear rudder cable which leads to the rudder.
  6. Thread the rear cable through the female barrel. Move it past the pen mark on the cable and tie a simple knot where the mark is.
  7. Thread the front tiller or pedal rudder cable through the male screw end of the cable tensioner. Thread it onto the rudder cable until the bolt head end of the cable tensioner aligns with the pen mark. Then tie a simple knot on the loose end of the cable to keep the head of the tensioner in line with the mark.
  8. Screw the two ends of the rudder cable tensioner together and tighten the black nut so that the cable tensioner doesn’t unscrew.
  9. Repeat steps 1 to 8 for the second cable tensioner on the other side of the kayak

Adjusting your rudder, pedals or steering to centre

Adjusting rudder cables can challenge some paddler's spatial reasoning but don’t fear, we have you covered with these quick tips in the video below:


Great work! Now your kayak should have perfectly aligned steering to give you the precision to sneak up the inside of a turn at your next club race or training session on the water.

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  • Kieran Babich
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