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Arctic Tern 17 Kit

Width (in)
Weight (lb)

Arctic Tern 17 Kit Description

Pygmy Boat designer, John Lockwood, created a new sea kayak in 1998 with a graceful Greenland style hull. He named her the Arctic Tern in honor of the sleek, migratory birds which accompanied him on a 2-month solo wilderness paddle in Canada’s Northwest Territories. A world innovator in computerized hull design, Lockwood carefully crafted this stitch-n-glue kit boat with versatility in mind. He gave the Arctic Tern a strong tracking keel. When you want to alter course quickly, lean over on her hard chines and cut fast, graceful turns. The sweet balance between tracking and turning in this hull results from Lockwood’s years of CAD boat design expertise and 30 years of extended wilderness paddling.

Arctic Tern 17 Kit Reviews


Read and submit reviews for the Arctic Tern 17 Kit.

Arctic Tern 17 Kit Specs and Features

  • Structure: Rigid / Hard Shell
  • Cockpit Type: Sit Inside
  • Seating Configuration: Solo
  • Ideal Paddler Size: Average Adult, Larger Adult
  • Skill Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced
  • Ideal Paddler Size: Average Adult, Larger Adult
  • Skill Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

Pygmy Boats
Arctic Tern 17 Kit Reviews

Read reviews for the Arctic Tern 17 Kit by Pygmy Boats as submitted by your fellow paddlers. All of the reviews are created and written by paddlers like you, so be sure to submit your own review and be part of the community!

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I purchased my Arctic Tern…

Submitted by: gianttrack on 10/2/2018

I purchased my Arctic Tern 17 kit roughly 20 years ago while living in Florida and spent many hours in it paddling the Intracoastal Waterway. I have taken in on an 8 day/150 mile float down the Upper Missouri River in Montana and found it to be the perfect match for me, carrying all supplies and even 10 gallons of water with no upset to the handling or stability. Hatches and bulkheads really enhance the design and make for a very functional boat design. I have two other kayaks, but this is the one I will take on my next extended float trip.
The hard chines make it a quick turning boat, even though tracks very well and paddles easily when not leaned into a turn. The boat is perfectly stiff and durable, probably much stronger than fiberglass alone, due to sandwiching of the plywood between fiberglass and epoxy. Clear varnish adds the perfect finish and is easily renewed. I have dragged the hull over gravel with only surface scratches. Any deeper gouges can easily be repaired with a smear of epoxy and a coat of varnish. Building requires no experience, just patience and care. The hull pulled together perfectly straight due to the precisely cut pieces. I love this boat and have often thought of building another model, since the process of building was so satisfying.


When I first tried several of…

Submitted by: banjopatty on 5/4/2016
When I first tried several of the Pygmy boats I was instantly taken by the AT 17. It just felt right. I wasn't sure how hard it would be to build but figured what the heck. You only live once. Well I can tell you, if you have any doubts about your ability, just throw them out the window now. You can do it! If a 50 year old woman with no woodworking experience can do it, so can you.

I have said over and again I don't know if I enjoy paddling more or building more. It was that much fun. I felt the instructions were very easy to understand. I had a couple of questions and the crew at Pygmy were so very helpful to set me straight.

As for paddling this boat, she is very stable and has some speed also. You can even pack the kitchen sink in this one but remember you will have to paddle all that weight. I would recommend paddling one first before you buy the kit to make sure it fits you. It's a little big for me as I am 5'8" and 130#. But I still love her, she's my baby.


Funny story how I got into…

Submitted by: paddler234771 on 9/17/2012
Funny story how I got into building a couple of Pygmy kayaks. Friend asked if I wanted to go for a ride one day to Port Townsend. Well sure i said. Now i am a custom home builder who likes projects Always something going on. "So what are we going to Port Townsend for?" I ask. He said I am going to build a wood kayak. So I went along for the ride. Got to Port Townsend by the time we left the store yep I bought two Artic Tern kits. Never paddled in my life. Needless to say I could probably build half a house in the time I had in building these boats, but was extremely fun building and simple construction. Took me couple months to build both. Don't use as much as I should but as many people say, I am in the Pygmy family now. Was a good experience building and they are beautiful kayaks. Anyone interested should build one; worth the time.

I've had a chance to paddle…

Submitted by: guest-paddler on 6/29/2012
I've had a chance to paddle my friend's AT several times. It's one of the most versatile yaks I've ever paddled. If you're an average-size paddler and want to build your own boat, it's the best option I know of. The materials and durability are excellent, and I'm told the construction process isn't too difficult.

The AT is 17' long, with a 23" beam, and moderate rocker: As such, it strikes the (seemingly) perfect balance between speed, stability, manueverability and volume (cargo capacity). It's plenty fast and spacious enough for expedition touring, and nimble enough for recreational day paddles. (Though it's not ideal for the latter, no yak will be perfectly suited for everything).

I've paddled it in everything from calm weather and flat water to winds of 15 mph, and swell about 5'. It seems to handle everything well: It's plenty fast and the rocker makes it gives it good primary and secondary stability. It's size and characteristics are suitable for average-ish size paddlers (about 5'6"-6').

So you're probably wondering why I'm not giving it a 10. There are two minor issues I have with it:
1) The stock seat is mediocre, and 2) The cockpit is a bit too large. Fortunately, these issues are pretty easily rectified:
It's easy to replace the stock seat with something better, and install thigh braces.

The versatility and outstanding quality of the AT make it once of the best choices for anyone, regardless of whether you're building it yourself or not. It's a better yak than most production boats which cost 3-4 times as much.


I built my Arctic Tern in…

Submitted by: bbonnen on 7/15/2011
I built my Arctic Tern in 2005 so it's 6 years now. Previously I had built an Osprey Triple (also reviewed on this site) with minimal woodworking experience and excellent phone support from Pygmy so with that experience under my belt it was even more fun the second time around. 6 years ago I would consider myself a beginner level paddler - now I would say pretty good intermediate skills.

This is a beautiful boat and will be a conversation piece wherever you go. It's very light and easy to cartop. It came in right at 39 pounds and after adding a skeg it is 43 pounds. It rolls easily and turns very sharply when on edge. Initial stability is more than adequate for a beginner and with experience you will not be wishing for another boat and I have paddled quite a few now. Unless you are into competitive racing it is plenty fast.

Last year I did an 8 day solo trip in the Everglades / 10 Thousand Island area of South Florida and had plenty of storage room. With good planning and packing I'm guessing you have enough storage for a 2-3 week unsupported trip. Speed was good and it was easy to paddle fully loaded - I'm 5'11" and weigh 210# - probably had around 150# of water and gear.

The stock seat is adequate but I replaced it with one I bought from Redfish Kayaks which I prefer. Paddle with it for a while first - it's no big deal to customize the seat. I got fancy and secured the hatches from underneath with a bungee system - it was very pretty with a nice clean look on the deck and fine for day trips, but if you really want watertight hatches use Pygmy's system with the straps on the deck. I ended up reverting to this. I added a skeg but if you're an experienced paddler you may prefer to go without. I would not add the rudder - developing basic paddling skills will turn you easier and faster. And if you're a first time builder with no fiberglassing experience get someone to help you when you glass the deck and hull if possible - if not don't let it get in your way. Add footbrace studs to avoid drilling holes in the side for footbraces. Add perimeter deck lines for safety and convenience. Add knee braces if you surf or roll. Pygmy sells these as accessories on their site.

The suggestions are nitpicking and customizing - this is a fantastic boat and an easy 10.


I wanted a Pygmy boat the…

Submitted by: guest-paddler on 2/3/2011
I wanted a Pygmy boat the first time I saw one on the beach in Oregon back in 2006. Beautiful. After doing some test paddling at the Pygmy shop in Port Townsend, I bought two -- a Tern for me and a Coho for my partner. I agree that the Coho has less initial stability, even though I like its lines a bit better. I put them together in six weeks, with the Coho trailing the Tern by about 5 days (see for complete details of my construction experience).

These boats went in the water for the first time in the San Juans and then the following year in Bowron Park, BC, so they've been used for day paddles and week-long expedition paddles. With no previous experience, I think they performed great.

I give them a 9 rating only because the stock seats, thigh bracing, and backrest could be improved. In this regard, the hull design would accommodate whatever the owner wanted to do. I intend to buy another Pygmy, probably a triple Osprey for fishing...


I built the AT17 in 2004. The…

Submitted by: ssimpson on 10/22/2009
I built the AT17 in 2004. The pieces were expertly milled, the instructions clear (although relying on online sites documenting the process was helpful), and the resulting boat a pleasure to paddle. I've had hundreds of hours and many miles of paddling from glass-smooth protected lakes to Lake Erie small-craft advisory weather and the boat handled like a champ at all times. I like the tracking and the hard chine makes turning uneventful and accurate. It looks great.

I haven't gotten around to changing the backband and seat yet. Those included with the kit are reasonable alternatives but are primitive. It can carry a fair amount of gear and not feel sluggish in the water.

Overall, a strong, lightweight (~42lbs), good-looking and reliable boat. It tracks well, has reasonable glide and speed, and was a pleasure to build.


In the summer of 2007 after…

Submitted by: paddler232396 on 1/21/2008
In the summer of 2007 after some initial research I decided on a road trip and went to Port Townsend (I live in Portland, Oregon) to try most of Pygmy’s models. My preliminary impressions of various boats I tried
== Coho is a superb kayak overall: good speed, handling, cargo volume, however I found it's initial stability a bit low.
== Osprey standard is a bit small
== Osprey HP is super fast but does not want to turn unless you install rudder.
== Queen Charlotte line is somewhat outdated and does not provide the cambered deck feature which i find super useful- you don’t scrape your knuckles on the deck’s edge (why all kayak designers don't implement this feature in their kayaks ?)
When all was said and done I settled on Arctic Tern.

AT was voted the best sea kayak kit by the readers of the "Sea Kayaker" magazine, but I chose it because it just felt and handled right - all things considered it came on top (for me) Here is what I like about AT:
- Turns very well with leaned turns - no need for any steering device
- Tracks well without a skeg.
- Large cargo volume
- Excellent primary and good secondary stability.
- Dry ride

Here is what I dislike:
- Not as fast as I would like - Coho and esp. Osprey HP are faster.
- ??? I guess these are all the bad things I can say about this kayak.

In general, I think all Pygmy boats are superbly designed, both from the "mathematical model" and the "hands-on experience" standpoint. The designer (John Lockwood) has been at this for so long he's learned a thing or two (or three), what cannot be said about some of the "garage tinkerers" in the kayak building community (As the saying goes "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing").

Besides the kayak, you need to also consider other things, like construction process. Pygmy kayak construction process differs from CLC and other makers. I'd say Pygmy process is very good, but the instructions that describe the process have, uhm, some room for improvement. If you choose Pygmy, make sure you read (and re-read), (and re-read) the manual until you really understand what are they talking about.

If you happen to read this: How hard would it be to re-write your instruction to make it clearer for a beginner builder to understand? You are selling great boats and I would (will) buy another kayak from you (as soon as I have time to build one) but the fuziness of your instructions (not everybody is a skilled woodworker with 5 kayaks under his/er belt) is the only minus point in this review.

So, if you are an "advanced" beginner to "beginner" advanced paddler, go and build this bird, (or maybe the tasty fish) When all is said and done, you will wake up in the middle of the night, pet the cat, then go down to your garage and look at the boat with warm fuzzy feelings.


Ignore the number. I built…

Submitted by: guest-paddler on 9/5/2006
Ignore the number. I built it. It's my baby. Would you rate your baby anything other than 10 out of 10?

I just thought I'd add my thoughts for anyone considering building this boat, who might have doubts about their ability to do so. I'm the guy who got a D in middle school shop, never had the patience or fine motor skills for model building. But this seemed like a nice middle-age challenge. Still, I feared this boat would sit partially completed in my garage for years before I gave up on it. Well it didn't. I built it in about three months, probably putting about 120 hours into it, and loving every minute of the build. I made mistakes, but none that couldn't be corrected. The builders on were always ready to give me advice and guidance every step of the way, God bless 'em. People who see it on my car are stunned by its beauty, and assume I'm a master woodworker, which amuses me to no end. It has many small imperfections, and as the builder I'm aware fo them all, but they are beautiful imperfections that make the boat my own. I have to say I've never felt so attached to a material possession before in my life.

Now for how it paddles. First, I'm not a master paddler. I've been paddling rec kayaks for about seven or eight years, mostly on lakes and slow rivers, and once a year I spend a few weeks at the ocean, paddling in calm conditions.

I'm 6 feet tall, about 195 pounds, with size 11-12 feet. Lots of room in this boat for someone my size. In fact I need to fit it out to make it fit me more securely.

It tracks like its on rails and I can't imagine ever needing a rudder. I've paddled it in stiff winds with no weathercocking, in chop and confused seas at the mouths of tidal rivers, and it handles beautifully. The hard chines allow me to lean hard and hold it on edge with no little threat of capsizing.

Other things I like about it: it is incredibly light 41 or 42 pounds. Extremely easy to cartop and to carry to the water. It is also incredibly sturdy. I feared a plywood and glass boat would be like a delicate piece of fine furniture that I was always worried about. No worries, this can handle a fair amount of abuse. Sure, like all boats, it will collect scratches on the hull over time, but it's still as beautiful as ever. And after a few years, a sanding and a new coat of varnish, it will look like a new boat again.

If you are thinking about building a Tern, don't hesitate. Do it. Building this boat and paddling this boat will be two of the most rewarding things you ever do.


Maybe time to chime in here.…

Submitted by: grayhawk on 5/12/2006
Maybe time to chime in here. I am 5'11" and 180 lbs. and have had eight kayaks.

The Arctic Tern like most Pygmy boats is a larger volume EXPEDITION boat. It is designed to paddle with 250 to 350 lbs. of paddler and gear and at this it excels. With weight it will set down in the water but still leave enough freeboard to keep you dry.

This is an active paddler boat as are most hardchine boats, meaning it is very easy to turn if you lean it to the point where the chines take effect. It is very neutral and does not need a rudder or a skeg if loaded properly.

As a day boat it is OK to pretty good especially if you are a medium to large paddler but MUST be outfitted. The cockpit is very large and comfortable but you must be in contact to take full advantage of its design. I replaced the blow up seat with a carved Minicel, added a white water back band and thigh braces. When you are in contact it is a completely different boat.

I have had better day boats and if you are small or do only day paddling a smaller volume boat may better suit you. It does take some attention empty in a following sea. If I could have only one boat for day paddling and camping this would be the one.

I love this boat and give it a 10++ for what it was designed to do.


I've had a 17 foot Arctic…

Submitted by: Pamyak on 5/11/2006
I've had a 17 foot Arctic Tern for about 3 years now, bought it already put together. I find it very stable and a good boat to start paddling in. I would say that you need to carefully work on fitting it for yourself, even consider getting an after market foam seat and backband. The inflatable seat makes my legs fall asleep.

The Tern rides high in the water (ok, I have never paddled it loaded and I am not a giant) and bobs like a cork in intersecting waves. It goes straight like a dream and is reasonably fast. It turns with less than grace. Even leaned, a lot of muscle is needed to get this boat to turn.

I took it to a class on rolling and decided this is definitely NOT the boat to learn to roll in. I'd love to hear from from someone who has rolled these! On the other hand, it's so stable it won't be an issue for most people.

Your enjoyment of this boat will be determined by your size and shape, and where you paddle. The light weight makes it a joy to move and load, even onto my vehicle. And, it's strong like a brick wall! I left the end of my front rope dangling this weekend, ran over it, and BENT the roof rack without damaging the kayak. Wow. Glad it wasn't my fiberglass boat.


Ok...Let me begin by saying:…

Submitted by: guest-paddler on 8/22/2005
Ok...Let me begin by saying: Hard chine has a tendency to 'grab' a wave rather than roll over it like a multi chine.

While I can't speak for other 'kit' boats, the Artic Tern seems to ride extremely high in the water and is very sensitive to where the center of gravity is.

I'm 6' and 230lbs and while I fall into the weight limitations for the boat, too much of my 'bulk'(I'm longer in torso length than in leg length and built solidly around the chest and shoulders)was above the coaming and resulted in a high center of gravity and very unsettled secondary stability in chop and swells. A fellow paddler who weighed in around 200lbs and was shorter in torso length found the Tern both extremely stable and quick thru the same conditions I experienced unnerving 'edginess'. I wasn't all that happy with the limited foot space a factor I corrected via a shearwater full width adjustable foot brace design.

Ease of entry and exit (even for a big guy like myself) was excellent and the initial stability allowed getting in and out on floating docks a breeze and the boat displayed excellent tracking and fantastic edging allowing it to be paddled for hours without fatigue.

Because I had a second layer of glass along the keel my Tern weighs in at around 46lbs. Still; for a 17' boat this is a fantastic weight and allows me to car top the boat with ease even after a long paddle.

So: For my particular needs I gave it only a 6. I really believe this is one of those boats that require a paddler weigh in at no more than 210# and not be long of torso.

Were I to do it again, I'd opt for the multi chine hull. The multi chine is far more forgiving in rough water and offers more secondary stability.


I cannot speak more highly of…

Submitted by: paddler230881 on 11/17/2004
I cannot speak more highly of the design, performance, or beauty of this or any other pygmy kayak. Every single aspect of them is absolutely outstanding.

Here's the one thing-everything pygmy says about how long it will take and how easy it is, is.... more than stretched. I think I will spend that long just sanding, by the time I'm done with mine. I can't say I'm a decent woodworker, though, and I am doing just fine in building it, albeit by trial and error and cutting and sanding my mistakes.

But, I've paddled several others, and I absolutely, absolutely cannot say a bad word about anything about the boat itself.

I can say one thing that's related, though. You're shooting yourself in the foot to paddle, let alone build, such an incredible boat, and not have the paddle to go with it. I know, I know, it's hard to spend half as much on the paddle as the boat itself, but seriously, anybody paddling the equivalent quality boat in composites would insist on a carbon fiber paddle, and they didn't build their boat. If you must get wood, the lightest wood paddle that pygmy sells is pretty good, although still hindering such an awesome boat. I'd recommend a Kalliste, by Werner, to go with a pygmy.


I am a beginning paddler at…

Submitted by: paddler230179 on 6/9/2003
I am a beginning paddler at best, and took a sea kayaking class this past weekend. My instructor had an Artic Tern that he built a couple years ago. I got to paddle it for a little while, as I've been thinking about building my own. It was a dream to paddle. It seemed like it combined the best of all worlds. It is very responsive when you lean it, straight as an arrow, and extremely quick. It was very easy for me to lean, and has great secondary stability. The initial stability was a bit tippy, but I had so much confidence in the secondary it didn't bother me a bit. It also had a ton of cargo room. The only thing that my instructor didn't like about it, was that it sits kind of high on the water. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a high volume touring kayak.

I have recently completed…

Submitted by: guest-paddler on 7/16/2001
I have recently completed this model and have found the experience to be very rewarding. Unlike any other kayak I have used, this one gives rewards of fine preformance and personal satisfaction knowing I made it.

The beauty of mahogany radiates through the fiberglass sheathing inside and out. With the added compass rose design or whatever you chose to individualize the kayak, it becomes a one-of-a-kind.

The medium volume packs well for week long trips and handles superbly in rough water. I use it primarily for camping, day touring and fishing on larger lakes and rivers. Lake Michigan's chop is fun to punch through with little water over the deck.

At 5'9", 175 lbs. with full load or not I can easily lean and brace with good stability. Straight line travel is a pleasure with little correction needed. It is not necessary to add a rudder although the option is available.

I my opinion you won't go wrong for the time and money spent.


I use this medium-volume boat…

Submitted by: guest-paddler on 1/12/2001
I use this medium-volume boat for day-boating on river, creeks, and lakes, fishing in lagoons, the Atlantic, and the Gulf, and camping. Last year I took it for 8 days in the 10,000 island, starting the trip with 60 pounds of water. It performed superbly.

If carefully loaded, the boat has a minimal tendency to weathercock. It tracks strongly and has a tendency to broach in following quartering seas. It cuts nicely through head-on seas with a medium-volume bow that lifts sufficiently but not so much to cause pitching.

It responds well to edged turns, but not as crisply as a Chesapeake 17. The boat is an excellent cruiser for all-day 3.5 knots loaded. I am building my wife an Arctic Tern 14. She has been using my Arctic Tern 17 while I used a Chesapeake 17. The Arctic Tern 17 is a little too much boat for her, at 5'5", 125 pounds. It fits me well at 5'9", 160 pounds.