Last summer I was introduced to the wonderful world of kayaking thanks to a morning tour with Kitty Hawk Kites down in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A few rentals later, I decided I needed a boat of my own. Accordingly, I spent a fair amount of time researching my decision online and considering the kayaks I had tried to date. I traveled to several local outfitters and ‘dry tested’ a goodly number of boats. Unfortunately, I was not able to wet test, though all sources recommend doing so before purchasing. Ultimately, I chose the Jolt 116, and I am very happy with my purchase.
As indicated above, I am a beginner to kayaking. Prior to acquiring my Jolt, I’d kayaked in a Necky (Sky, I believe) on a small canal, a Dagger Element on a small lake, and a short (<10’) kayak (name unnoted) on a moderately-sized river. This summer, I paddled a Pungo (14’) on still water, and I’ve also paddled my friends Acadia 12’6”.
As for me, I am a short (5’3”), small-framed woman carrying a few extra pounds. Since I live in western PA on the banks of the Ohio River, I was especially interested in finding a kayak that would permit me to paddle around meandering creeks but at the same time would handle moderate to large, slow moving rivers.
In light of my paddling interest, I narrowed my choices to boats roughly 12’ in length. I felt this size would permit maneuverability in tight areas but not be so short as to be unmanageable on larger bodies of water. It would also be small enough to car-top and portage short distances. I was looking for a boat that offered a goodly amount of maneuverability but would track well and move speedily though the water.
Having said all that, how does the Jolt measure up? Very well!
Beginning with the physical construction, I am pleased to report that OT’s polylink 3 material provides a good stiff hull. Some other kayaks seemed rubbery or more flexible or just plain old cheesier. On the down side, this kayak is not light for its size. At 47 pounds though, it’s not a backbreaker either. I’m especially pleased with the cockpit combing. It’s a separate piece of black molded plastic fitted over the opening’s edges. This provides a smooth edge to brace your knees/thighs against and a more comfortable handhold when entering/exiting/carrying the boat. It gives the construction a more finished look and feel.
Since the previous reviewer mentioned that the bolts/screws protruded far into the hull, I checked mine before purchase, and I do not have the same problem. All metal fastenings are shorn off at reasonable lengths and don’t seem particularly sharp. Like the other writer, I also have grab straps instead of the more comfortable rubber handle-style grips. I will be picking up a set of grips since they do make two-person carrying easier.
This kayak has one hatch – in the rear. I really like the ease of opening it. Twist two recessed latches, and the hard plastic hatch hinges back to reveal a generous opening and storage area. Unless you’re a contortionist, you won’t be able to open the hatch while in the boat, but a partner could easily do so from a neighboring kayak without upsetting either vessel. Under normal paddling conditions, the hatch stays dry. After swamping the boat, it doesn’t. No front rigging is provided, and the rear rigging is minimal. Likewise, this kayak does not feature a perimeter line, a notch behind the cockpit to facilitate paddle float rescue, a paddle park, or a cleat for locking/securing the boat. These little extras would have been a nice touch.
For me, the cockpit is a near perfect fit (30” inseam, 43” hips). I can certainly see where it might involve some thigh-wedging for the previous reviewer, especially if he is an average-sized guy as opposed to a gal like myself. At 16” x 34”, the cockpit is definitely smaller than many other kayaks I tried, and there’s not a great amount of space between the seat and boat top (though it seemed deeper than the Necky Gannet). Note however, I definitely prefer the snugger fit. Without the need for foam padding, I can establish good contact from my feet through my knees/thighs to my back, and yet I can still enter and exit the boat without any difficulty. I can even sit semi-cross legged or bend my knees up in front of me. In nearly all other kayaks I tried (except Necky’s Manitou) I felt as though I was floating around in the cockpit. I preferred the Jolt’s seat to any other I tried. It offers firm lower back support yet is comfortable enough for the long haul. While seated, I can tug on the adjustment straps to increase support or loosen them if I want to kick back a little. I even favored this sturdy seat over the notorious Wilderness Systems Phase III which seemed excessive (a bit too much like a camp chair – not conducive to good posture).
The boat itself falls into the fish form category, advantageous for the fact that the hull is narrow enough at the cockpit so as not to inhibit paddling despite my short stature. Like others have mentioned, I have however managed to knock my knuckles or catch my finger on the foremost skeg rigging. This is probably my greatest irritation with the boat as I have to pay close attention not to become lax in my paddling lest I scrape skin or rip a nail.
With regard to handling, I am especially pleased with my Jolt. The boat seems very stable when entering and paddling. I’ve only managed to swamp myself and dump the boat when seriously fooling around (wedging myself against a tree in fast-moving water and leaning toward the flow – duh – and again when attempting to board midstream – not a good strategy). As stable as this kayak is, it is also wonderfully maneuverable. With the skeg up, I can practically spin in circles; paddling straight with the skeg up is doable though the boat does waddle a bit. In shallow, rocky, fast-moving water, I put the skeg up to increase handling and to avoid dragging it across the rocks. In most other situations, I deploy the skeg and magically the boat tracks straight as an arrow. I have no trouble keeping up with my partner in his 12’6” Acadia. In fact, he feels less confident in tackling some of the rapids or tight areas I’ve enjoyed in the Jolt, so I feel as though I’ve got the best of both worlds. Initially when shopping and researching I pooh-poohed the idea of a skeg as a gimmick for beginners. Now that I appreciate the versatility it’s provided, I wouldn’t be without one (granted I am still a beginning paddler!).
To date, I’ve enjoyed paddling my Jolt on the Ohio River (on both calm and very choppy days) and on a few of its tributaries, both large and small. This kayak has performed admirably regardless of conditions and has been a real joy. As a beginner, I feel as though I can handle the boat successfully. More importantly, I believe that the Jolt is versatile enough to to challenge me for years to come; I don’t anticipate feeling the need to ‘upgrade’ unless I decide to pursue serious whitewater. None of the other kayaks I’ve sampled have given me the same thrill that the quality and handling the Jolt provides. Really, I could have written this review in one four-word sentence. I LOVE MY BOAT!This is a long-term report and an addendum to the first report I wrote below. I still feel this is an excellent boat, but I wanted to point out some observations that have come to light. The Jolt is a very fast boat that tracks and turns well. There are not too many “hybrid” boats out there that allow you to deploy or retract the skeg while still in the boat, a definite plus for whitewater with plenty of flat water in between. Secondly, like most plastic boats, it’s durable. Not just for scrapes/collisions that occur on the water, what I mean is that mine was recently launched from the roof of a friend’s vehicle that stopped short, causing the Jolt to become a ballistic missile while barely suffering a scratch. Overall, an excellent design.
Now for the complaints and the reason I’m knocking off two points. This is obviously a high performance boat, why then, would Old Town put a generic seat in it is beyond me. The seat back is so high that not only would it make rolling difficult, but also, the neoprene spray skirt, which is sold specifically for this boat, is nearly impossible to put on! The seat bottom itself is also too high and causes any one over 5’6” to literally squeeze their thighs under the deck. This is unfortunate, because the deck is nicely sculpted to wrap around the knees and provide excellent bracing. I ditched the seat back for an IR ratchetback backband and am using the same seat bottom since I’ve grown accustomed to the thigh wedging ritual, but a better seat bottom is something OT should think about.
My only other complaint is the fit and finish. While there were careless scrape marks from drilling holes at the factory, those are of no real consequence. The problem here is the bolts and screws. My Jolt came equipped with grab straps rather than the usual OT handles and one of the screws holding on the bow strap was protruding into the hull by at least an inch. This was rather sharp and could easily puncture anything placed there. The same problem with the flange of the stern hatch, the bolts (there are a lot of them) protrude enough that they would abrade and possibly tear any dry bags you stuff in there. These problems are easily fixed by cutting and filing down any sharp edges, but this is something the consumer shouldn’t have to do. Are you listening OT?
Lastly, I would like to retract my comments in my previous review regarding weight and floatation. I wouldn’t exactly say it’s a lightweight boat, I would say it is an average weight boat. And as for floatation, it was OT customer service that told me floatation is built in. While this is true if the kayak is swamped when empty, it is not the case if there is an occupant in the cockpit. A bow FLOATATION BAG IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. The hull material, which allegedly provides floatation, does not, but does give excellent insulation from cold water. As a side note on OT customer service, the bungee which retracts the skeg was cut (my fault), but customer service shipped me a replacement right away, free of charged, no questions asked, which indicates that at least they are aiming for customer satisfaction. At the time of writing this, the Jolt was introduced less than a year ago, and I’ve had it for several months. So far, I’ve used it on: a great deal of flatwater, class 1 and 2 whitewater and light sea kayaking. The hull design seems somewhat flat, but doesn’t give any indication of slowing you down, while the moderate rocker gives the impression of the perfect ratio between agility and speed. I had been looking for an all around kayak and I found it in a big way. Wow. I mean WOW.
Interesting features of this boat: The spring-loaded skeg (by far, the best feature), when deployed, allows the Jolt to track like a much larger boat. In fact, other kayaks that are 2 feet longer have had a hard time keeping up. The bulkhead storage compartment with hatch is just the right size, for 2-15L dry bags in addition to some smaller items. An additional 35L (or larger) bag could be placed in the bow if necessary, but in my opinion, the bulkhead is more than you need for a weekend (or longer) and keeps you from carelessly weighing yourself down. The overall design seems to look comparatively “low-profile” and makes me wonder whether the designers were going for something like wind stability or just a more aggressive look, probably both, and they’ve succeeded.
So, to break it down, these are the main things I like about the Jolt: Very lightweight for an 11’ 6” boat, only 47 pounds. Built in floatation, no float bags needed. Aggressive profile design and aesthetic cues are very visually appealing. Watertight bulkhead with hatch is just enough to keep me from overpacking, (though once I still managed to weigh it down in shallow water). Spring-loaded skeg is there when I need it, gone when I need more agility.
Dislikes: None really. Though it costs more than most folks are probably willing to spend on a rec. boat, in my opinion, I think that OT sport (Old Town actually) really outdid themselves with this one, and I think that the next few years will find some of the other recreational kayak manufacturers emulating this design.