Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Development of the Native Watercraft Slayer Fishing Kayak


When we decided to make a new fishing boat for Native Watercraft it made me both nervous and excited.  Having designed 60+ kayaks of all kinds I wasn't too worried about dialing in the hull performance but, The Slayer would be my first fishing-focused design and when you couple that with the history of Native Watercraft in kayak fishing...  it all got just a little intimidating.  The UltimateManta Ray, and Mariner Propel kayaks are standards in the industry.  I knew that our design had to be great because some of the best guides, pros, and fishermen would be going over it with a fine-toothed comb, and fishermen are a bunch of picky bastards :).   What I mean is that each fisherman really knows what they want out of their equipment.  For a designer, it actually proves to be a fantastic asset to have the opinions of experts helping guide the process, but it also means you better do it right.  Plus  sometimes people want exactly opposite things done on the boat.  This diversity of opinions drove the base principles for the Slayer:  A deck layout simple enough that the purist would appreciate its clean lines, yet featuring enough attention to detail that any gear hound would get to dog heaven outfitting it, and below all that a hull that fit the performance needs of any fisherman.

(I apologize to all the bad ass fisher ladies out there for only saying fishermen in this article.  I guess I could say anglers more.  You know what I mean though... right?)

Outfitting discussions

The initial deck concept for the design uses the open floor plan of the Ultimate as a starting point and expands on that in a Sit On Top.  The open floor plan allows paddlers to place equipment where they would like rather than where the boat manufacturer dictates.  We achieved that by offering several flat open deck surfaces along with nearly 12 feet of groove track to allow any accessory to be mounted just about anywhere on the boat.  We also put in a simple access hatch for installing and mounting electronics.  Basically, we tried to make every surface available for personal configurations and leave the floor in front of the fisherman clean for fly casting, standing, or to just bring fish on board. There is a lot more to designing a fishing kayak than throwing a bunch of clutter on the deck and calling it "features".  Real thought needs to go into all the options and uses of the space.

If you really want to sit higher you always have this option.

The hull concept came from four basic tenants that our guides really wanted.  They wanted a boat stable enough to stand up in easily, that tracked well, was fairly quiet through the water, and had a shallow draft so that you could get into areas and fish where other craft couldn't.  In the end, the Slayer ended up drawing about 3 and 1/2 inches of water with a 200lb paddler and 30 pounds of gear in the boat.  With the extended width of the design, as you add weight the draft hardly changes.  A nice side effect of having a shallow draft is that it turns easily.  The Slayer is stable enough to stand on one side of the center line and not tip over.   As far as tracking goes, you can paddle straight ahead then coast and the boat will track straight until you lose all your momentum.  All these characteristics makes the Slayer a boat that can perform well in rivers, lakes, and oceans.

The seat was also a big part of this design.  It is one of the things that Native boats are known for: all day comfort.  We worked hard on the proper bend in the seat frame to give good lumbar support and keep the frame from contacting your body which would create hard spots that could become irritating if you spend a lot of time out on the water, like most fishermen do.  The sewing department came up with an ingenius design to help the seat spring open and shut down in place when it is closed just with simple tension in the seat cover shape.   I love the fact that all our seats are sewn and stretched over our seat frames in our factory in North Carolina.    They do a great job.

Standing on one foot on the side of the boat!  Yes close to the dock just in case.

As you all know we got the word out there on the Native Facebook Page and Native Owners Group Forum where we did our regular Automatic For The People questionaire and you all nailed it.  We had hundreds of comments and suggestions on boats, ideas, accessories etc... and we tried to put as many of those concepts in place as we could while maintaining a simple open floor plan.  Some features that you all suggested that really made this boat awesome were the Hi/ Low seat, Easy Standing capabilities, more Groove Track than we have ever put on a boat, cooler seat, plano box storage, and a hard shell hatch cover for the front storage tank.  It was the combination of you all letting us know what you like, our guides offering their expertise, and the design team all working together to make this boat happen.   

The hardest part of a design is taking all that information from talking with folks, phone calls, questionaires, paddling trips, etc and boiling it down to a point where we can create sketches, computer models, and then a final 3D model that will become the form from which we will produce a mold to make plastic boats.  It takes us a several months to create the computer model from the ideas and sketches, and in that time we share the model and ideas with our guides and production crew to make sure it's a great boat for the fisherman that our production crew can build.

Design discussions with our pro staff.

Working out the details of the 3D model on the CNC machine.

Once we have the model of the boat we make a temporary mold so we can make prototype boats.  Those prototypes start off a really fun part of the R and D process.  With the first Slayers still warm out of the mold, we ran out the door and took the protos to a nearby lake to test the hull performance, seating, trim, and stability.  It performed above expectations, with just a few flaws that we knew we would want to address.  We were able to easily stand on one side of the boat.  It tracked very well even with a breeze going across the lake.  The only problems were a little hull slap in the chop that we had that day and some water was getting into the rear storage well.  But other than that it was an exciting first shot at this design.  We also got to check out a few ideas that we thought could be fun options including the cooler seat, removeable hard shell hatches, and tackle box bungee in front of the paddler.   

Nice day out on the water.

The next step was to get the boat in front of some of our guides and see what they thought, and test in real live fishing environments.  Unfortunately, that meant the R and D team had to go fishing with all of our guides. :)  Everyone seemed excited.  Not only did they give us a bunch of feedback but they put us on fish!  Their input lead to some great changes in the boats.  You will notice some of the Slayer prototype shots feature a hatch and rod lays between the legs and all the guides agreed they preferred that area clean.  As a designer, I loved watching how everyone really used their boats, where they naturally put their tools, rods, boxes, etc... and how they used everything. Of course it was also fun for me to get out there in the boat and figure out how I would address the different issues: how I would store gear, move around the boat, and use the different features.

Even I caught some fish!

After paddling with the staff, we had to go back to the model and make changes by hand to reflect what we learned during testing.  A little more free board in the stern storage compartment, less clutter, smoother entry line to eliminate hull slap, more groove track, hard handles, etc... it took us a month to make those changes to the model, then we made another prototype mold and then more testing!! :-)  We took off for Florida and spent a few days making sure the design was right.  I even caught some fish.  At that point we put the model on a truck and shipped it to the mold maker.  Our molds are sand casted Aluminum that are buffed to a mirror finish.  Now you know what makes our boats so shiny.  A shiny mold.  It takes 3 - 4 months to get the mold made.  Once we get the mold back the production team starts tuning it in to insure we distribute the proper thickness of plastic throughout the boat.  The assembly team gets up to speed on building the Slayer, and the sewing department puts the finishing touches on the seat itself.  It takes the whole company to put a new design into production, and we think the Slayer was worth the wait.

Making final changes to the model.

This is the production mold shiny shiny!
Many features make this boat a unique, precisely thought-out, and well-executed fishing craft.  Starting at the bow of the boat and following through to the stern, we crafted each element of the design to make it ideally suited to fishing.  Here is a list of a few:

  1. Padded hard carry handles as opposed to the soft floppy luggage handles that were the standard.
  2. Drained bow storage area with accessory hatch cover and accessory-fitted Medium Fish Bag.
  3. Nearly 12 feet of Groove Track, all over the boat, for attaching any accessory you want.
  4. Hull access for installing electronics.
  5. Tackle box storage-- rather than making you put things in the boat, just put your box in the boat.
  6. Padded rod and reel lays for quietness on the water.
  7. The most comfortable seat in the business. 
  8. Hi/ Lo seating
  9. Secure easy access plano box storage.
  10. Flats behind the seat for mounting any accessory if you don't want to use the groove track.
  11. Large rear storage well fitted for 5 gallon bucket, regular milk crate with rod mounts, large milk crate, and fitted Native storage bags.  The Fishing Buddy and Large Fish Bag.
  12. Large scupper holes for quick drainage and long lasting boat construction.
  13. Rudder compatible.
  14. It comes with the Tag-A-Long wheel for easy transport.
  15. A hull that tracks well, is super stable, easy to turn, and has a shallow draft.
  16. Enough hull rocker to get over waves but as low profile as possible to avoid windage.
  17. Nothing sharp and very few places to catch lines.

Thanks to these guides and fishermen for their help in creating the Native Watercraft Slayer and influencing all of our designs.

Philip Ruckart - www.kayakfishingnc.com
Dee Kaminski - www.reelkayakfishing.com
David Harper - https://www.facebook.com/david.harper.180?ref=tn_tnmn
Neil Taylor - www.strikethreekayakfishing.com
Mark Patterson - www.nckfa.com
Rich Jones - www.kayakfishingtheeverglades.com
Mark and Kris Lozier - www.1stlandingyakfish.com
Steve Gibson - www.kayakfishingsarasota.com
Nathan Raycroft - www.anglersnook.net
Keith Hendrickson - www.nativeownersgroup.com

I hope we see you out there on the water soon!

Here is a link to an album of photos of the Development of the Slayer

Here is to the crew that makes Native Watercraft and Liquidlogic Kayaks happen!

Shaneslogic Comments