Bad, Bad, Naughty Cam

As a sea kayaking coach I see lots of kayaks & gear on the water each year. I have the opportunity to see how students actually use their gear, how it works for them and how sometimes it really fails.  Take these Cam-Clips for instance.  I’ve ranted about them in the past, but they never seem to go away either. They’re like a bad dream that just lingers in your memory and ruins your day.  Why?  Well, the first time I was introduced to these Current Design’s hooky-strappy things, a student was working on a layback roll.  When they rolled the kayak, they put their back against the hull, slid a bit, and hooked the shoulder strap of their PFD under the cam lever! They were stuck. It was a really scary moment for them and not a very pleasant introduction to rolling a kayak either. Even after I rolled them up, they couldn’t just sit up. They had to slide back off the clip, (after we figured it out.) then sit up.  It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that under duress and upside down, a person may never realize they have to slide to their left to get free.. Then what?  

From this angle (pictured above) you can see more easily how something could get caught under the latch. That’s the issue that bothers me most, but it’s not the only issue.  Another is that they don’t seem to do a very good job holding the hatch covers on the kayak in the first place, unless under the strictest set of circumstances. They hold for a time, but seem to loosen up with use.  My experience has been that most every time a student brings their Current Designs kayak with these latches to class, they are regularly struggling to get them strapped down (Not to mention keep them that way!). Most often they loosen up or come off during rescues, cowboy recoveries and others situation where they may be working on their back decks. On thing is sure.. you don’t want to be fiddling with open hatches in the middle of a rescue situation!

Of course, I wasn’t the only one seeing the problems a few years back and soon came another odd solution.  They put a snap in the cam lever.  Doesn’t this seem like even more crazy engineering?  What’s more, the snap won’t stop the issue with folks getting hung up on the end of the clip, or prevent the straps loosening over time.

Now even if the problems that I’ve mentioned weren’t showing up in the research stage, they should have known something was a foot when they had their copy writer work on the manual.  You can learn a lot about a product, when you look at what it takes to tell someone else how to use it!! Just compare the amount of steps (and text) that are needed to explain the act of closing the hatches compared to a standard rubber cover for instance.  A kayak hatch should go on and off with as little “ceremony” as possible. What’s more, to adjust them, you have to release the cam, adjust the straps then re-secure them to see if they’re tight, if not, undo & redo.. It’s fiddly to say the least.  You should never have to disengage something to adjust it if at all possible.  Imagine when strapping your kayak down to your auto-rack if you had to completely undo the straps to tighten them, then try again..

There are already fine ways to create and secure flush-mounted hatch covers that are much less apt to catch on the paddlers clothing or come loose in rescues. I’m sure there was a good reason why CD went through all the trouble of reinventing their own wheel here.  But the problems seem to outweigh the benefit. Listen, today’s blog was inspired by me watching two students struggle with these hatches just yesterday.  Two people, two boats, same issues. They shouldn’t have to struggle with their gear when they are there to learn.

That said, there is nothing wrong with Current Designs Kayaks on the whole. They make a wide variety of boats to fit a wide variety of people, they seem well-made and durable.. but those straps… they really need to go… Ugh!

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21 Responses

  1. Tom H

    Another thing that can catch on deck lines and bungees is a non-locking carabiner. I see people with these attached to their life jackets, often on the shoulder strap.

  2. Moulton Avery

    Nothing wrong with those CD kayaks other than, well, um, the hatch covers… That snagging incident raised the hairs on the back of my neck, Derrick. Under most circumstances, that would qualify as a “you just drowned” incident. Maybe they missed your earlier critique. Send them a link to this one.

    1. Hey, me too. I did email CD the first time around.. didn’t get a response. My hope is that if I post (again) maybe others, especially owners who’ve had issues will also report their experiences.

  3. deborah

    Well, my experience is entirely different, because I did upgrade to the new snap over type straps.

    Have owned a CD Suka for three seasons. I agree the original type (which was/is used by Pygmy and some of the old Eddylines) did come loose far too easily. I did experience a snag one time (once) doing a cowboy scramble. And I have done many many (more than 100) of those in 3 seasons but it did happen. So I wanted to change them out for the newer strap type.

    In 2010 I did upgrade to the new snap type latches on both stern and fore hatches. I’d also like to say here that the accessory manager Jeremy gave me *two* sets at *no charge* and shipped them direct to Grand Marais last year via Downwind Sports due to a shipping snafu on the one set I ordered. So that’s big ups for Current Designs responding to a customer need.

    Since then zero problems doing cowboy scrambles, carrying a swimmer on the stern, going thru (what for you guys is moderate) surf, etc. Regularly climb all over the boat from toggle to toggle playing around & doing agility stuff. Never has anything come loose or caught on my PFD. I do like my PFDs to have as clean a front as possible, including knife position & how the whistle is attached. But that is me & personal preference.

    I am a beginner at rolling, but at my height 5’3″ I’m not at all worried about laying my shoulders on the back deck and catching on a strap. If anything I slide down into the cockpit so the arch of my back is lower. The rear hatch is pretty far down there on the Suka, the Caribou, and the Isle, in any case. Can’t speak to the Solstice series but can’t imagine it’s radically closer to the cockpit.

    It’s simple and quick to take these on & off if, like anything else, it’s done regularly. I really like how it can be done one-handed and in cold weather because my small paws are very cold sensitive.

    All straps (on anything) stretch a bit but then contract as they dry. It’s just good practice to check them periodically. At least one can tighten the straps. With a rubber hatch, if they are softening and getting loose,
    it usually means it’s time for a new hatch. And with some incidences of the newer hatches being very prone to premature UV degradation, I’ll take my hard shell fiberglass hatch covers.

    Once on the water, another paddler can open a hatch for me much more easily than trying to pry off a tight rubber cover. I swear I cannot open a lot of Valley hatches for my friends, (day hatch or otherwise) even when there are delicious treats inside lol

    Of course, a little coaching is required to do the “Chinese puzzle” of a CD hatch but the people I paddle with, at least, get it :)

    I love the look, the low profile & operation & watertight performance of these hatches. And, I never have to worry about taking them off for travel, or wondering if a hot day causes them to bellow & blow off.

    Perhaps, as far as being in contact with the straps, it’s easier for me at my size and weight, I can see where that might matter.

    Oh, and thanks to the generosity of Current Designs, I do have an extra set of the new snap over straps, which I can make available to a deserving CD owner ‘-)

  4. Thanks for that Deborah, I like the low profile look as well. I can’t count how many times I’ve watched students with these straps find that they are coming loose in classes.. Mostly the older clips I’m sure. Of course there are a lot of variables.. but I think the bottom line is that they should rarely if ever come loose, and they shouldn’t demand that the owner learns the ‘puzzle’ to get them to work properly… that creates too much room for human error. I mean, if I had to figure out how to get a rocket to Mars, I’d fail.. It would be my fault.. but no one in their right mind would put me in that position in the first place. :) The point is, if there is a simpler way.. that would be best for the consumer.

    Also maybe CD, seeing the issues with the older clips, would offer the new clips to customers with older boats. I know that would cost some $$ in the long run, but it would be better than what would happen if someone did get hung up in a serious situation..

  5. Derrick – my first exposure to this style of hatch clip came when a fellow kayaker launched but had forgotten to strap down his rear hatch. I volunteered to strap it down for him. Hmm. “How does this thing work?” Hmm. “I don’t understand it. What am I suppose to do?” Hmm. “What do you mean it is easy?” Hmmm. “WTF@!?” Another kayaker came over to help and went through the same process. 15 minutes later the problem of how to work the latch was finally solved. When the latching mechanism is so difficult to understand that that two adults exposed to the latch for the first time can’t make it work, there is a fundamental problem with the design.

    Many kayak companies spend big bucks on proprietary designs and patents before mass usage discovers any design flaws. Redesign is a costly process and so is replacement of parts. In a case like this hatch cover latch mechanism that can potentially get hung up on people’s PFD straps, it should have been recalled and replaced long ago…assuming the company has received complaints. With the abundance of cheap clipping mechanisms on the market, there is no reason why CD should still be using this flawed method. That is one of the reasons why I don’t own a Current Design kayak…

  6. deborah

    Easy for me to learn, took under 5 minutes. The CD rep showed me when I bought the boat. I have shown three paddling partners how to undo and re-do mine when there was something tasty or necessary (like a first aid kit) in my hatches whilst we were on the water. Everybody could do it in well under five minutes. I have seen people struggle far longer, or give up, trying to open a rubber hatch for another paddler. I’ve been one of them! So we can can go back and forth and trade anecdotes.

    None are lacking in credibility. None are decisive either. Given the small population that reads, and the smaller segment who comments, on this blog it’s ALL anecdotal & nowhere approaching any statistical credibility.

    Businesses, as far as their products, go by statistics. That is the business model, in the outdoors industry as well. Maybe not for the little two man shop that shoots out a few dozen glass boats a year, but the ones who employ, say, 50 and upwards to several hundreds.

    CD did recognize an upgrade was needed. Think of the scale involved if they had voluntarily issued new straps free of charge to *every* pertinent boat owner of the last 20 years or so (as regards the Solstice) or the last 10 years or so (as regards the Caribou). There is a saying “Everything is easy to the man who doesn’t have to do it.”

    Meanwhile, thousands (maybe 10 or 20 thousand) of CD owners over the last decade (for the Solstices) are using them and not seeking redress. And the Solstices and Caribou continue as legendary, well regarded designs and some of the best selling seakayaks in the present CD roster.

    And how do we know that individuals who ask haven’t received free replacements? CD dealers are a wide network, and do have some discretion, as all dealers do. I called the company direct because I bought a *demo* from a *rep*. Maybe had I bought the boat new from a dealer it would have triggered a different mechanism. I don’t know, I won’t be able to test that out, but it’s a valid question.

    It is entirely human, because most of us are self-focused, that if a certain person can’t do a certain thing, then that person tends to dismiss it or bestow a negative connotation. People say that about a static brace or acquiring a roll. Or doing yoga before paddling. Or the cowboy scramble re-entry. Meanwhile other people just shrug and go ahead and do any and all of these things.

    One other consideration: Even in the event that one strap is loose or undone, there are still two others holding the hatch cover on. Very little if any watertight properties are compromised.. whereas given a soft or misaligned rubber hatch, the entry of water is exponentially increased.

    Redundancy is often beneficial on the water.

    These hatches were, and are, one reason of the many I DO choose to own a Current Designs boat and would
    happily recommend them to others.

    But I guess first comes a statistically driven dexterity test to ensure they are worthy 😉

    1. Deborah, you should be a CD rep. When I demo’ed a Storm before purchasing my latest kayak, he spent hours trying to get the rudder to work and when it finally was working, it wouldn’t adjust to fit my legs. He never did get it working for me. Many things influence a person’s decision whether to buy one kayak or another. The old saying that one person’s pleasure is another person’s poison holds true for kayak purchases. Anyone buying a kayak should base their decision on their own personal tests. It is always good to see several sides to the same issue. Thanks for sharing your opinions on the CD hatch straps.

  7. deborah

    thanks Derrick :)

    But all metaphors aside, I hoped to put less fight & more reasonable discussion into this thread. Not really trying to score punches or change minds that are already made up.

    People are of course entitled to opinions – I have them, so do we all. I would only hope they would be based on the latest information, and that input from actual regular owners carries some proportional weight.

    I posted mainly for those who may be interested in this issue, and who may now wonder if it knocks a Caribou or Solstice (for example) off their list. And with the relatively few performance seakayaks for small paddlers, it would be a shame to drop the Suka off that list. As one SeaKayaker test paddler said in 2008, the Suka has “the narrowest seat I have seen; this boat is for small or slimhipped paddlers only” (p. 8 August 2008 review). Some of us need a seat like that in a performance boat :)

    In that same review, two reviewers commented “1 or 2 of the three straps holding the rear hatch cover came loose” during scrambling on the aft deck during re-entries” (p. 9, ibid)

    In their response at the conclusion of the review, the Current Designs team said ” Our design team previously identified this situation and is working on several approaches to alleviate this…” (p. 9, ibid). They described it as a “small shortcoming.” I don’t agree fully w. that characterization. I *do* agree that the snap over straps have definitely alleviated the situation, in my situation, anyways.

    As an avid student who’s taken many classes including 10 symposia in four seasons, I’ve had many classes with a myriad of skill opportunities.

    – in rescues, which include swimmer on the aft deck and the solo cowboy scramble.
    – learning the layback sweep roll
    – agility class climbing from cockpit to bow and back & shimmying from cockpit to stern and back.
    – surf classes a few in which I hopped out of the boat more or less gracefully and then lost hold, so the boat
    tumbled in the waves a few times.

    The new straps on both hatches remained secured.

    I am very focused on safety (too much so for some people elsewhere, but I’m fine w. that).
    I would never (as in no way, Jose) keep a boat that would compromise my safety.

    I do have another capable seakayak. IF my Suka as presently configured were a liability, it would be no chore or sacrifice to put it up for sale. I would also hope I had the moral fiber to describe any problems w. the straps to a potential buyer and let them evaluate. I prefer to sleep well w. a clear conscience.

    In that spirit of full disclosure, I hope my comments are not born of owner puffery, or animus to any other poster, but a clear and well considered viewpoint. Thanks as always for another fine blog topic which is a real service to CD owners and potential owners alike.

  8. deborah

    Hi Rob, I’m not a rep. I’m no one at all in the paddling industry, thus I have nothing to sell, or to sell anyone on.

    I’m just a paddler.

    Currently I own boats not only by CD but North Shore (Shoreline Fuego) Pyranha FusionS, Dagger Blast and Hurricane Aquasports Phoenix 120 SOT. Quite a variety, five different layups… different things they excel at.

    Given all the problems you had trying to get a CD Storm ready for you to paddle, I can understand why it left a bad taste in your mouth. I’d walk away from any demo that was that much hassle. So it’s very valid that you would feel put off by that boat, that time, but since CD has around 40 kayaks in their lineup you might really want to give them another chance in the future.

    Or maybe it’s just one more reason to avoid rudders… JK. We should all paddle what we enjoy, it’s our recreation after all, we’re not professionals… good talkin’ with ya.

  9. Um, if I may… I started talking about this in 2009 based on the fact that someone could potentially drown if they layed back and got hung up on the cam. I’ve seen it and can demonstrate it. While we can talk about personal preference and whether the strap system works or not, if someone get’s hung up and doesn’t live to tell the story it will quickly go from who-likes-what to something much more than academic. That’s my main concern.

  10. Moulton Avery

    The bottom line is safety. The issue is a potentially fatal design flaw. The question is whether the manufacturer takes the problem seriously enough to acknowledge and correct the flaw. The answer appears to be “No”. That’s what I find so troubling. It that’s the case, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that safety has been sacrificed on the alter of indifference or commerce. What does CD have to say about this issue?

  11. deborah

    Derrick, you are right to bring our focus back to your topic.

    Can you pls. provide details about the incident you witnessed. What happened as the student was attempting/doing a roll? A layback roll? or another type?

    Has it happened more than once in your presence? with different students? different boats?

    Were the straps the old type without the round snapover cover, or the new types w. this cover?

    Do you think that the straps could have been overly loose, in need of being tightened (meaning not tightened down sufficiently over the hatch covers)? Did you or the student check for same before the rolling session began? My personal experience is the straps should be checked a couple of times in say, a month, and always esp. after a road trip of some hundreds of miles, which will loosen to some degree any type of strap or rope.

    p.s. when I layback on the Suka the back of my pfd is not touching any part of the rear hatch.. even the closest part of hatch (closest to the coaming). I am small, but the Suka is proportionately smaller as well (compared to the original Caribou, for example for people taller and heavier than me). I am having trouble visualizing how tall one must be before the back of the pfd lays squarely on the back hatch cover straps.

    I’m not questioning that you saw what you saw – just trying to understand it better.

    1. Deborah, pls read the first paragraph. It’s very simple to demonstrate. The boat in that incident, if I remember correctly was a caribou, but it could be any one with those cams depending on the hight of the paddler and distance of the hatch from the cockpit.. Of course the paddler has to be able to lay back on the deck and they have to, then slide across the back deck. (left to right?) This can cause the shoulder strap of the PFD to hang up under the cam in certain situations. Boat type shouldn’t matter per se, unless the hatch is simply too far back to get in the way. The new cam looks a bit shorter and that may make a difference, but there are a lot of the old ones still out there.

  12. My problem with the cam hatch straps is that no-one in the local canoe club knows how to operate them. Every single time I borrow the club’s CD Titan, someone has jerry-rigged the cam straps, tying them together, or using the hooked lever as a simple hook. I always have to fix it before using the boat. I should really make some instructions and diagrams that show how to use them and paste it to the hatch.
    Thanks for the post,

  13. deborah

    this is meant as a joke so pls. nobody blow up: some ppl should just stick w. snapping tupperware lids on and off.

  14. John P

    I have had problems with my Caribou snap latch strap fittings- the snaps break and the latch catches my PFD or spray skirt when doing a reentry. I’m interested in replacing them with something else that mantains watertightness but is lower profile & smoother to slide across. My thought is to look for the correct width fastex buckles and try those instead. Anybody do that yet & have experience or ideas to pass along ?

  15. Rnykster

    Deborah – Based on comments, it seems others are having problems with the straps too. When someone shows you how to latch it like they taught you, sure, it might only take you 5 minutes to learn it. When we were trying to strap someone’s back hatch down, we were on the water taking verbal instructions from someone who could not turn around. Neither of us had ever seen this hatch design before. We finally had to go to the front hatch to see how that one worked and after seeing it, we still had problems getting the rear hatch latched.The CD hatch is one seriously flawed design.

    Can you imagine an automobile coming out that no one but owners could open the doors on?

  16. deborah

    what fun to return to this venerable subject. In the meantime thousands of ppl paddling these CD boats.. and thousands more paddling Pygmy kits which use them. Hundreds of instructors teaching students how to roll their CD boats w. the dreaded cam straps. I can only hope this streak of luck continues thru the end of the Mayan calendar.

    Seriously, before paddling one could show other ppl how it’s done. It’s easier to show this on land then when on the water. Takes all of two minutes. If I could learn to do it w. one hand then other ppl have a reasonable chance of learning how to do it with two. If we are being smart about our group safety then we do equipment checks.

    As for snagging – we have all seen that a lot of gear can snag in many places on a kayak. It is certainly something that needs attention. The answer can be many-fold – change technique, change the gear worn, or re-do the kayak appointments. In this case ppl here seem to favor jetting to solution #3. Logic might call on us to look at all three options.

    The other real life experience – these hatch covers with their *three* straps and tether are far less likely to come off than the rubber covers which can implode or wash off (particularly in the case of hatch covers which are poorly designed and/or which are dried out from UV or lack of maintenance – been there, seen that, esp. in rescue practice). There are many paddlers who, frankly, do not give much thought to maintaining their hatch covers (or their slack rigging, frayed bungies, or their stuck skeg sliders… but I digress) & frankly I would rather do an arduous or lengthy paddle w. someone who had these CD hatch covers and a well maintained boat.

    And for those with the magnificently tight rubber hatches, that is a blessing for buoyancy but a bane when other ppl are asked to remove/replace said covers. I seriously cannot budge a lot of Valley hatch covers – on or off – for instance, when I’m on the water. I can’t apply enough force or it seems inordinately difficult to stretch the rubber over the damn hatch lip. And I’m not the only one. Yet I don’t consider it a bad design. Yet there is little outcry about it… it’s more often than not attributed to the user. Hmmm.

    As for car doors, manufacturers have through time and diligence, made them nearly idiot proof. Because there are a fair quotient of idiots at any one moment on the roads. And yet ppl still jam the locks, slam their fingers into them, lock themselves out, etc.

    If ppl truly want an idiot-proof kayak there are always canoes. 😉

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