Kayaking is a fantastic aerobic exercise that engages a range of muscle groups, including the shoulders, abs, and glutes. It’s also a fantastic option for people looking to explore beautiful scenery and hidden locations that are difficult to reach by land or large boats. However, before anyone sets out on a kayaking adventure, they should have a solid understanding of their abilities and other factors that affect their speed. Having a good understanding of kayak speed is important in being able to time your kayaking trip accordingly – and timing can be the key to a successful and safe kayak trip.
FACTORS THAT IMPACT AVERAGE KAYAK SPEED
Paddling speed is dependent on many factors, including paddling technique, water conditions, weather conditions, hull design, and hull load, as well as the paddler’s strength, skill level, and endurance. A kayaker’s skill level will make a significant impact on their speed. Generally speaking, a novice kayaker will move at a much slower pace than one who is experienced. Keeping this in mind, along with the factors noted above, the average kayak speed of a moderately experienced kayaker moving across calm waters in a 12′ long, 30″ wide, plastic kayak can move at a pace that is roughly around 3.5 miles/hour, or about 2.5 knots. In other words, you can kayak a mile in roughly 20-30 minutes under average circumstances.
This speed can be expected to be maintained for several hours, similar to that of a brisk walking pace. A beginner level kayaker should expect to be a bit slower than this, likely around 2-2.5 knots. Meanwhile, a highly experienced kayaker can go significantly faster than 3 knots per hour. A physically fit paddler with excellent arm strength and seasoned techniques can reach maximum speeds of 5 mph. The maximum hull speed (known to be the theoretical maximum speed a kayaker can paddle without beginning to plane) is 1.34 times the square root of the length of the hull at the waterline, and experienced, strong paddlers have the potential to reach this in shorter vessels. In this article, we will explore the factors that impact kayaking speed and provide you with an understanding of average kayaking speeds.
CONSIDERING THE TYPE OF KAYAK
Modern kayaks can be broadly categorized as touring boats or sea kayaks, whitewater kayaks, surf kayaks, racing kayaks, fishing kayaks, and recreational kayaks. The type of kayak you use will play an important role in your kayaking speed. Generally speaking, wider kayaks will be slower than narrower kayaks. The fastest boats usually have a beam of 22″ or less, with a very rounded hull shape (to minimize resistance). Similarly, longer kayaks are typically faster than shorter kayaks. Long, sleek touring kayaks are the fastest type of kayak available, followed by shorter recreational kayaks and then wide fishing kayaks. On flat water, a sprint kayak is the fastest human-powered vessel you can find. Sit-inside kayaks tend to be faster than the sit-on-top style (which raises your center of gravity, allowing for more wind resistance).
While a lighter kayak is able to accelerate more quickly, it is less strong overall and therefore does not move as swiftly through windy conditions as does a heavier model. Despite this, some kayaks that are quite light can still maintain a pretty solid speed, depending on what they are made of. For example, fiberglass, carbon fiber, and diolen composites tend to be faster than a model made from polyethylene. Much of this has to do with the rigidity of the boat. The more flexible the boat is, the more it will cause drag. The most commonly used kayaks are paddle kayaks. Although a popular and well-known choice, these kayaks are typically much slower than peddle versions, such as the Hobie Outback. Be sure to choose a kayak that will work the best for your skill level and needs.
CONSIDERING THE DISTANCE
When going long distances, the kayak’s speed becomes largely dependent on the stamina of the paddler. It’s best not to approach long-distance kayaking by starting out with a quick burst of energy. Instead, try to maintain a stroke that is consistent and that you can withstand for up to an hour, as opposed to tiring out after just a few minutes.
If you are kayaking across a multi-day trip, keep your endurance in mind throughout the course of your journey. You will likely have much less energy after the first day or two, so you may want to expect to travel at a slower pace after a certain stretch of time. This being said, make sure you are keeping your body properly fueled, so you can maintain as much speed as possible without over-exerting yourself.
CONSIDERING THE BODY OF WATER
The type of water you are paddling on is another important consideration when it comes to determining how fast you are able to kayak. For example, kayaking over rough, open water is exponentially more challenging than paddling down a calm river or stream.
In alignment with this, paddling against a water current will significantly slow down your speed. For example, if you paddle at the same speed an opposing current is moving, you will not move at all; if you paddle slower, you will go backward. On the contrary, if you are moving with the current, you will be able to move at a speed that is faster than your average speed, because the current will help push you along faster. With this in mind, it is important to understand the current speeds in whatever body of water you choose for your kayaking journey. Be sure to select one that is most appropriate for your skill level.
This is also true for various weather factors, such as wind. Whether or not you are paddling with the wind or against it will alter your speed capacities. Obviously, paddling against the wind will be a much slower ride that requires more energy to go the same distance as it would if you were going with the wind. The speed of the wind will be the ultimate determining factor here. Wind moving at a speed of fewer than 10 knots will not hold back the majority of novice kayakers too much, however, if the wind is moving at 20 knots, a novice paddler can pretty much expect to remain still if they are paddling into the wind.
Much like the wind, remember to take a look at the choppiness of the water. Will there be steep water hills to climb? Will there be waves to conquer? And if so, how big do they tend to be in that area? These are all important questions to answer before you set out on your kayaking adventure!