How Fast Does a Kayak Go?

A kayak is not only good for a bit of summer fun, it’s also an amazing way to travel on water (whether it’s rivers or the sea), and it helps you get around pretty fast.

Plus, it can also be quite a fitness workout! And whether you’re racing your friends for fun, or an actual professional, with practice you can kayak faster and faster!

But how fast does a kayak go?

Well, there isn’t an exact value of speed, because it depends on how fast you yourself are moving the kayak forward. And even then, it depends, as your own kayak abilities aren’t the only factor.

Things such as the wind, the water currents, the type of kayak you’re using, your paddling technique...there’s a lot that goes into the final speed of your kayak at a specific time. 

How fast does the average kayak go?

A mildly experienced kayaker, with moderate fitness levels and moderate circumstances and weather conditions, will go at an average speed of around 3 miles per hour.

More experienced paddlers, with a higher fitness level, will reach a speed closer to around 4 or even 5 miles per hour, in the same circumstances and weather conditions.

If you’re a beginner, your speed will probably be around 2 miles per hour, until you develop a proper technique to help make you faster.

Of course, these average speeds change depending on the many factors to be considered, such as the weather, the water currents, the quality of the kayak, and many more. Here are a few of those factors, summed up:

  • Wind Speed:

The stronger the wind, the more it will affect the speed of your kayaking, one way or another. If the wind is behind you, pushing you forward, your speed will be higher with a lot less effort.

On the other hand, if the wind is against you, it will take a lot more effort to advance, and it will be a real struggle to achieve any sort of speed at all. The best weather conditions for kayaking are no wind at all.

A nice summer day is perfect, although you ideally don’t want it to be too sunny, or else you will become hot and sweaty very fast.

  • Current Speed:

The current works much like the wind, but it affects the kayak speed from underneath. If the current is carrying you forward, you’ll be a lot faster with less effort. But if you’re trying to kayak against the current, you’re going to struggle to even get anywhere without a lot of effort being put in.

If you ever find yourself caught by a current, trying to go straight against it is a bad idea, as it will tire you out very fast. Instead, try and advance against it in a diagonal way, so that you can slowly make your way out of it and be free!

  • Paddling Technique:

Paddle strokes that are closer to the kayak, and in particular, closer to its hull, will be a lot more effective to pick up speed and advance at a higher pace. They will also be a lot more effective, so you won’t be wasting any amount of effort.

On the other hand, if your paddle strokes are too far from the kayak, and aren't done properly, you’ll be using up a lot of effort, and you won’t be doing much for the speed. But don’t worry, paddling technique comes with time and experience, so you’ll get faster the more you practice.

  • Power:

This factor is kind of an obvious one, but the stronger you are, the faster you will be able to kayak. You’re pushing your boat forward by using your arm strength and a paddle, so the more strength you have, the more powerful and effective the paddle strokes will be, and the faster the kayak will go. (We told you, kayaking is a great fitness workout!)

  • Endurance:

A burst of speed is good, but can you maintain it? For your speed to be constant, you have to be able to keep up the paddle strokes, and that takes endurance.

It will be no use to have a few good strokes if you then fall back because the thrust will then be inconsistent and the kayak will never pick up as much speed as it could.

  • Design of the Kayak:

Not all kayaks are built the same, and certain designs are better suited for speed. The easiest design choice to go for, if you want to go faster, is to get a longer kayak.

What is the maximum speed of a kayak?

Okay, so we know the average speed of a kayak, and we know that a lot of factors go into determining the actual exact speed of a kayak for each person and circumstance. But theoretically, what would be the maximum speed of a kayak? How fast could a kayak possibly go?

Well, in theory, the maximum speed of the kayak is calculated through the length of the kayak. The value is known as the hull speed, and it is considered to be the maximum speed of each particular kayak, and it is commonly calculated in km/h.

The formula for the maximum speed is as follows:

The square root of the length of the kayak x a factor of 4.5.

So, for example, if the length of a kayak (also known as the waterline) is 4 meters, then the highest possible speed would be the square root of 4, multiplied by 4.5.

The square root of the length (4) = 2.

2 x 4.5 = 9.

So the end result, and the maximum speed of this specific kayak, would be 9km/h. (around 5.5 miles per hour)

This is why professionals will take care in picking their kayak, and will go for a kayak specifically designed for speed so that it has a higher possible maximum.

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