Updated Summer 2020
Short answer: Yes.
It’s easier to go straight while paddling as hard as you like, and most IKs come with one, some flat-floored models have up to three. Just about all can be easily removed by hand, because in shallow rivers you might want to remove it to avoid grounding.
If you’re IK does not have one it’s easy to glue a skeg kit (see below).
A few years ago Gumotex introduced a slip-on, black plastic tracking fin (skeg, above) which was near identical in shape to one I’d had made in the oversized, alloy skeg days (left). Smaller made better clearance still worked fine, but metal does bent.
I’ve fitted these plastic skegs to older Gumotex IKs and other IKs. The kit is under £20 + glue, and the plastic skeg is tough. Just make sure you glue the patch on really well; it helps if your boat is made from a matching rubber fabric as the supplied Nitrilon patch. or make your own patch from same fabric.
I fitted the tough Gumotex skeg to my Grabner Amigo IK (above) and at sea used it all the time. But on the shallow River Spey (below) this boat didn’t handle at all well without a skeg, possibly because the the tailwind pushed the high stern around. It was really quite annoying as a few years earlier my broadly similar Sunny managed the Spey fine, so skeg-free tracking clearly varies from boat to boat.
If you’re an experienced paddler you’ll have acquired the knack of going straight without a skeg – handy for paddling shallow rivers where the skeg would ground. A little more paddling finesse and constant small corrections are required, especially if powering on.
It’s good to learn the technique before you need to: fix your eyes on a tree or marker on a distant bank and paddle as gently as you like towards it, not looking away and keeping the nose of the boat in line with the marker. By using very light strokes you’ll see it can be done if it’s not too windy when again, a skeg helps with tracking (going straight).
I even found I could paddle a ten-foot Solar 300 (below) without a skeg. Once you know you can go straight without a skeg, it’s just a matter of adopting the same finesse but with a bit more power. Only when you attempt the speeds of a Maori war party will the bow deflection or yawing get too much because you can paddle faster and still go straight with a skeg. Out at sea or on busier rivers, I always use a skeg.
I’ve often thought a hinged retractable skeg with a spring or just weight could be a good idea: it would pivot backwards when dragging in shallows, then drop back down when there’s enough depth.
It seems SUPs need skegs and in the US, FrogFish have made such a thing for boards, but you hear the spring can be a weak point. I’ve envisaged something more normal skeg size. I can imagine in rapids drifting sideways into a rock and snaping a long skeg. SUPs don’t normally do rapids. Especially if your kayak has a rudder mount, I think it would be quite easy to make one, if you think it’s worthwhile.
IK&P Tip: drill a small hole in your plastic skeg and attach a ring or zip tie, or find some other means of attaching it directly to you boat during storage, not chucked in the bottom of a bag. It’s annoying to turn up and find you forgot your skeg.
On a shorter, wider, slower packraft the consensus seems to be that skegs make little difference. I can believe it before I knew it and now I know it. The bow still yaws or pivots a little left to right as you paddle; less so with a load mounted on the bow.
Tracking – going straight – is not the same thing and not a problem on a packraft because you can’t go that fast. You move along with a moderate left-right bow shuffle which it’s true, does limit your speed, but speed is limited by a packraft’s hull shape anyway. Or is it?
If anything, a packraft skeg fitted under the bow rather than the stern might limit this yawing, but I imagine you’ll destroy the instant turning ability for little actual benefit. Good for crossing a long lake in a hurry maybe. Can’t say I’ve seen this idea mentioned, though I am sure someone’s tried it.
In 2011 Alpacka invented the extended stern (right; bottom) which has the same effect as a skeg. It’s been widely copied by other manufacturers and it definitely works.