A Review of the “uKai” Kayak
By: Michael Gilbert
Ruckle Point Provincial Park – September 13, 2015
I was recently introduced to and asked to review the uKai Kayak for Mr. Alex Luo. Although there have been many makes and models of “take apart” kayaks, few, if any, were of the “hard shell” variety. This intrigued me and I accepted the opportunity to do a “test drive” just to see what this new form of on water transport had to offer. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the uKai Kayak comes in many forms of “ABILITY”. All of this adds up to desire-ABILITY.
Let’s be clear here. Most kayaks have a range of cap-ABILITY that will pre-determine who will most likely purchase it. This would include the paddler’s size, weight, level of skill and what it is to be used for. It also includes that group of the paddling population which the kayak was specifically engineered and designed for.
In the uKai’s case it was specifically created to provide a recreational paddling opportunity for people who want a full sized, hard shell ocean going kayak but who have no place to store something that is 5.3 metres (17’5”) long. And it has been totally successful in accomplishing this.
For paddlers or wannabe paddlers who live in major urban centres and living in condominiums or apartments where a full size kayak just won’t fit, the uKai is made for you.
The uKai kayak is a full size ocean going kayak which is made up of 5 individual modules which are so easily put together and taken apart. Each module is self-contained and completely functional which, when combined with all other modules, seamlessly creates a complete integrated system called a kayak.
The entire system comes apart to be placed in three separate carry bags made of tough nylon with carry handles. The largest bag is the one carrying the centre module (cockpit) into which also fit the bow and stern modules along with the simple and unique rudder system. The other two bags carry the modules located just to the front and rear of the cockpit module.
Although a bit bulky, all bags are easily stored within a closet, storage unit or a storage area provided each condo or apartment resident by their building management. No more do you have to search for a friend with a house or pay monthly storage fees at the boat club. Because it may be stored where you live it has access-ABILITY which means it is ready to go on the water when you are. No prior planning is necessary.
The maximum a bag and contents weigh is 21.4 lbs.. The weight of the two other units come in at 18.4 lbs. and 14.4 lbs. respectively. The total weight of the kayak itself is 54.4 lbs.. Simply put, they are each very light and easily carried by hand. Because there are three bags it probably means more than one trip from storage to vehicle but that would be necessary at any rate with having to bring paddles, lifejacket and other necessary gear as well.
The size of the bags mean they are easily fitted for transport to the beach in most vehicles. You probably need to make use of both rear seat and/or trunk areas for most cars. My Jeep accommodated everything without any trouble at all leaving a huge amount of space for other items (or people).
So who is the uKai Kayak made for in terms of paddling enjoyment?
I took the uKai on an afternoon paddle as well as a four-day expedition paddle. It performed very well for me in both scenarios.
The central cockpit (where you sit) is roomy with a very comfortable “Stellar” seat and back rest. There was lots of storage room around the seat for a blowup paddle float, a 2 l. water dromedary bag, sponge, tow bag and rescue sling. For the longer trip I had my 10 l. dromedary water bag stored behind the footrests without problem.
I am 5’8” and 165 lbs.. There was lots of leg room and space between my feet and the module’s forward bulkhead. While testing the kayak and showing it around, including having people of differing heights sit in it, I came to the conclusion that the cockpit is comfortable for folks 6’1” or less. Anyone taller will most likely find it somewhat cramped for leg room.
Even so there is still lots of room in the cockpit to easily move your legs around and remain very comfortable on a long paddle. Or, you can firm up your points of contact to be able to remain solidly in place while performing a roll. Moving the foot rests is simply accomplished by an easy push / pull system that locks easily in place. For people who might be a heavier than I, I think the space the cockpit provides is quite ample and would remain very comfortable for most paddles.
For the multi-day paddle there was camping involved so a lot of equipment had to be brought. I was pleasantly surprised at how much gear easily fit into the two large storage compartments provided by the two modules immediately to the front and rear of the cockpit. I could easily have taken enough gear and food for a minimum 10 or 12 day trip.
The only drawback with the storage was the lack of ability to actually use the screw-on day hatch as there was no separation of a day compartment to the rear compartment. It was redundant as such.
Most importantly none of my gear in the compartments ever got wet meaning the hatches remained completely watertight during the time I had use of the uKai. This included rescue practice and rolling practice where the kayak had its compartments completely underwater.
Putting the uKai through its paces was a lot of fun. Having the time to do both a day as well as multi-day paddle allowed me the opportunity to properly test the kayak’s responses and ability.
The kayak itself was solid. This was, of course, a concern seeing as you are strapping 5 separate modules together and, at least initially, hoping they stay together. Well they did and gained my full confidence in the system engineered to keep everything as one.
Probably the most pleasant surprise was the st-ABILITY this kayak provided for the paddler. It is very stable for its 23” width and provides the paddler with lots of confidence. Even with this stability the kayak is easily put on edge to enhance its turn-ABILITY and overall performance. It proved very responsive to forward, reverse, draw and pry paddling.
The only drawback that was expected was the speed of the uKai along the water surface. With the locking strap system used to join the individual modules the actual hull is no longer 100% smooth. This does have an effect of slowing the kayak down through in-water friction although not significantly. It does show over the long haul a bit more and tends to tire the paddler out more quickly but it did attain speeds of 6.6 nm/hr. in a test paddle with an easy average of 2.8 nm/hr. during the multi-day paddle.
There was the opportunity to paddle this kayak in some higher conditions including waves, swell and current. In all cases the uKai provided performance greater than expected. Once again, the kayak’s stability was the key and made for an awesome ride.
Due to its fairly high profile in the water, the uKai did have a propensity to weathercock. This was particularly noticeable in following side seas with winds over 15 nm/hr.. This was one of the few times the rudder system was deployed. It is a simple, efficient system that is very easy to use and is able to both deploy and retract the rudder into and out of the water. The only deficiency here was the length of the rudder itself which tended to come out of the water in fairly small waves and, thus, losing it ability to assist with the kayak’s tracking ability.
The hull seems to stand up to a lot of wear and tear – especially on beaches for launches and landing. Possibly some greater attention to detail may be needed to ensure long term dura-ABILITY. Attention to the quality of stainless steel deck hardware to prevent visible rusting in a short period of time. Attention to deck lines, perimeter lines to prevent them from pulling loose. Attention to the actual deck layout of lines and elastic for securing storage of items on deck as well as being able to use paddles as outriggers for self re-entries. Attention to in cockpit padding to prevent it from coming unglued in a short period of time.
For what this kayak has to offer it is very affordable at $2,999.00.
The uKai Kayak has achieved what it was designed for very successfully.
It is a kayak that has made kayaking available to almost anyone who wishes to pick up a paddle. Storage is no longer a problem due to its 5 module system that neatly stores in 3 easy to use bags. Another big part of this is everything fits perfectly in most vehicles for transit to the shoreline. For someone living in a condominium or apartment in the city, this is a full sized, hard-shell kayak you can use and be proud of.
The uKai kayak is good for both novice and intermediate skilled paddlers. It handles very well with both great stability and good edging. It is very buoyant as each module is completely separate with their own front and rear bulk head walls. It also handles very well in flat or rough water going towards how solid the engineering is.
By my second use of the uKai Kayak I was able to put it together in under seven minutes which was about the same time it took me to take it apart and put it in the storage bags. All this means is an easy to use kayak that is easy to put together and take apart; is storable, portable, transportable and fun to paddle.
Never had room for that kayak you so wanted to own but couldn’t? Well, now you can!
Mike Gilbert is currently President of Paddle Canada – a federally recognized Canadian national association representing recreational paddlers in the sports of Ocean Kayaking, Whitewater Kayaking, Canoeing and Standup Paddle Boards. He resides in Richmond, British Columbia and currently is certified by Paddle Canada as a Level 2 Instructor with Level 3 Skills. He is also a certified Day Guide and trained as an Overnight Guide.
(Notes from Ukai Kayak: Thanks for Mr. Michael Gilbert’s review and feedback. After our first batch of small amount of Adventurer kayaks, we will pay greater attentions and aim to correct all the deficiencies Mr. Gilbert pointed out for our future models. It has been a success to get an overall positive review from Mr. Gilbert, especially for what we aimed for – easy transportation and easy storage, and we will keep improving on all the other details as we grow.)