Outfitting a Kayak for Wildlife Photography

kayak wildlife photographyThis second article in the series on kayak photography will discuss the outfitting of kayaks for wildlife photography in particular. The information, advice, and opinions presented pertain to sit-on-top style kayaks that are generally considered to be more stable than white-water or sea kayaks. The rigging, outfitting, and general opinions and techniques that I am presenting are by no means the only way to do things, they are simply what are working for me at the moment based on experience, and may change in the future. All of the pictures, techniques, hardware, and rigging that are being presented pertain to the kayak I use, the 12′ NuCanoe Classic. (link to manufacturer website can be found below) The rigging and techniques presented can quite possibly be utilized with other manufacturer’s kayaks as well.

Anchor System – Many kayakers do not utilize an anchor system. I personally have found a small anchor to be very useful at times, and have it ready to deploy at any moment.  I use a 3lb. folding anchor that is about 12′ long  with retractable flukes, and the anchor takes up very little space when stowed. I have 20′ of rope attached with a carabiner tied to one end which I clip to the forward carrying handle. I stow the line and anchor in the bow, ready to be deployed at any time.

Trolling Motor – Of course a trolling motor is not necessary for photography from a kayak, but rather a efficient means to cover much more area and potentially see much more wildlife! In addition to providing propulsion, safety is increased when dealing with any wind or currents that may be present. These inconveniences which may tire a paddler quickly, are simply not an issue when a trolling motor is utilized.

I use a Minn Kota Riptide. This is Minn Kota’s higher-end Salt water model and provides up to 55lbs. of thrust. This gets the kayak moving pretty good at full speed with no head-wind.  If you are only visiting fresh-water locations, then a less expensive model may be perfectly adequate. I wanted to cover all possible locations including salt-water, where certain subjects can only be found. The salt-water edition has special coatings to prevent corrosion, as well as salt-water resistant parts. Minn Kota motors are considered to be high-end motors, and feature several forward speeds, as well as REVERSE! I can’t tell you how convenient this feature has been on numerous occasions. You will need to acquire a tiller-extension handle to allow you to sit well forward of the motor controls,  and be able to steer and control the speed and direction by rotating the handle accordingly. The motor comes with a transom mount that fastens down with two large screw-clamps. I needed to add a spacer between the mount and the hull to strengthen the attachment point and improve the angle at which they meet. One thing I plan on doing in the future is shortening the shaft on the motor, as even the shortest shaft available is too long for a kayak. At the same time, I will lengthen the leads that go to the battery so I can place the battery in the bow to better balance the kayak with me in it. These both will be two huge improvement,s and provide much nicer trim when under power.

red-winged blackbirdSeating – The seat that comes stock with the NuCanoe is a simple, hard plastic cushion that offers no back support. This is adequate for very short paddles, but for longer days on the water, something a bit more luxurious is in order. I use NuCanoe’s Captain Seat. If offers sculpted padding and superior back support for long days on the water. You want something that is adjustable, and can be removed from the kayak. It just makes sense to get a seat designed by the manufacturer of your kayak, and they are likely to offer several different options. The Captain’s seat also has a zippered storage pouch on the back for holding small items like wallets and keys; very handy indeed!

Battery – What you DO NOT want is a standard car battery for a trolling motor application. You need a marine approved deep-cycle battery, higher capacity the better. (this means more run time for you!) These batteries are not cheep, and a good one will set you back $190.00. I use a Trojan SCS 200 which will provide about 1 1/2 hours of good cruising. Along with the battery, you need a battery case to keep the water off of it, to provide an easy way to carry it to and from the car, and with some models, a way to see the current battery state. I use the Minn Kota Trolling Motor Power Center which I purchased for around $60.00. It protects the battery with a box and cover that is secures with a webbing cinch strap and Fastex buckle. What is nice about this case is that it integrates a power status display which can be extremely helpful when out in the field. It is essentially a “gas gauge”, and has proven very accurate. To top things off, the case has two power-points, one on either end that are similar to an automobile’s power-point. This can be handy is you need to run a fish-finder, charge your phone or GPS etc…

PaddleIt goes without saying that even though you have that electric trolling motor to scoot you around in style, having an oar is an absolutely critical piece of equipment to carry on all outings. It not only serves as a backup in case of motor or battery failure, but it can be used to paddle in very shallow waters where your prop may encounter difficulties such as kelp and/or sunken snags. The oar can also be used to check water depth if you plan on stepping out of the kayak. In reality, any double-bladed kayak oar will do just fine. There are models made out of carbon-fibre that are very lightweight and make long paddles a breeze with very little fatigue. Having a two-piece paddle is nice as well, as you can break it apart and stow it down in the foot-well of the NuCanoe out of the way until you need it.


Folding anchorAnchor line and carabinerMinn Kota Riptide trolling motorTiller extensionBattery case positioned behind seat in sternMinn Kota Trolling Motor Power Center battery caseBattery status indicatorCannon Wave Carbon-fibre 2-piece paddleCaptain's Seat

In the next article of the series we will discuss various accessories that you will need/want to make life easier, safer, and a bit more convenient. Stay tuned!!

Related articles in this series:

The NuCanoe – A Kayak Photographer’s Dream
Accessories for Kayak Wildlife Photography
Kayaking for Wildlife and Nature Photography

NuCanoes WebsiteNuCanoe Kayaks

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