How fast does a kayak go?

How fast can you paddle a kayak

Although the above variables are purely hypothetical, they should give you an idea of how long it takes to paddle a mile in a kayak.

But here’s the thing…

You can’t swing a paddle by just watching videos and reading books.

The real test will be how quickly you can paddle and how well you can apply what you’ve learned in a real-world kayaking situation.

Paddling at 3 mph is safe for experienced and fit kayakers who have mastered the art of paddling. A novice or amateur paddler can maintain a kayak’s average speed of about 2 mph.

For many people, this is a more realistic situation, as it is equivalent to paddling a mile in 20-30 minutes.

You can paddle at speeds of over 160 mph if you are a seasoned pro and use a high-quality kayak. Here are some terrifying speed and distance records, such as how far you can paddle in a single day.

Factors affecting the average speed of a kayak

Paddling speed is determined by a variety of factors such as paddling technique, water conditions, weather, hull construction, hull loading, and the paddler’s physical strength, skill, and endurance. The skill level of the kayaker has a significant impact on speed. Kayakers who are new to the sport are usually much slower than experienced kayakers. Taking this and the other factors into account, an experienced kayaker paddling a 12″ long by 30″ wide plastic kayak in calm water can expect to travel at about 3.5 mph (about 2.5 knots). Under normal circumstances, one mile can be covered in about 20-30 minutes.

This pace is comparable to a brisk walk and can be sustained for several hours. You should expect to travel slightly slower than this speed as a beginner kayaker, around 2 to 2.5 knots.

At the same time, skilled kayakers can achieve speeds of up to 3 knots per hour. A physically fit paddler with good arm strength and technique can paddle at speeds of up to 5 miles per hour. The theoretical maximum boat speed at which a kayaker can paddle without flying is 1 knot.

At the draft line, the speed is 34 times the square root of the hull length, and a strong and experienced paddler can reach this speed in a short boat. In this article, we’ll go over the factors that influence kayak speed so you can get an idea of what a kayak’s average speed is.

Read about the different types of kayaks.

Touring kayaks, sea kayaks, whitewater kayaks, surf kayaks, racing kayaks, fishing kayaks, and recreational kayaks are all types of modern kayaks. The type of kayak used has a significant impact on the kayak’s speed. Wider kayaks are generally slower than narrower kayaks.

The fastest boats have a hull shape that is less than 22 inches wide and very smooth (to reduce drag). In the same way, longer kayaks are faster than shorter kayaks. The fastest kayaks are longer, sleeker touring kayaks, followed by shorter recreational kayaks and wider fishing kayaks.

Sprint kayaks are the fastest human-powered boats on flat water. Sit-on kayaks are generally faster (sit-on kayaks have a higher center of gravity and therefore more wind resistance).

Lighter kayaks can accelerate faster, but they don’t move as quickly in the wind as heavier models because they have less overall power. Depending on the materials used, even relatively light kayaks can achieve significant speed. Composites such as fiberglass, carbon fiber, and nylon, for example, are faster than polyethylene models. This has a lot to do with the boat’s stiffness. The greater the resistance, the more flexible the boat is. The paddle kayak is the most common type of kayak.

Take into account the distance.

The kayak’s speed over long distances is largely determined by the paddler’s endurance. It’s best not to kayak for short periods of time if you’re going to kayak long distances. You’ll need to make sure you can paddle steadily for an hour rather than getting tired after a few minutes for this.

If you’re going on a multi-day kayak trip, keep track of your endurance throughout the journey. You’ll want to travel at a slower pace after a while because your energy level will be significantly lower for the first day or two. In this case, make sure your body has enough energy to keep up with the pace without becoming exhausted.

Type of water

The type of water you’re paddling in also has an impact on your kayak’s speed. Kayaking in rough open water, for example, is significantly more difficult than kayaking in a calm river or stream.

Paddling upstream, on the other hand, will result in a much slower speed. You will not make any progress if you paddle at the same speed as upstream, and if you paddle slower, you will fall behind. Paddling upstream, on the other hand, allows you to go faster than the current’s average speed. It’s crucial to know the flow speed of the body of water you’re kayaking in to do this. Choose the best option based on your own abilities.

This holds true for various weather elements, such as wind. Whether you’re paddling against or with the wind will affect your speed. Paddling against the wind is obviously slower and requires more energy than paddling in the opposite direction. The wind’s strength is the deciding factor. For most novice kayakers, a wind speed of 10 knots or less is no problem, but when the wind reaches 20 knots, novice kayakers come to a halt when paddling against the wind.

You should also consider the conditions of the waves in the water, in addition to the wind. Is it necessary for you to climb steep water slopes? Will you be able to ride out the storm? If that’s the case, how large are the waves in that area? All of these questions must be answered before you begin your kayaking adventure.

How long does it take to go a mile in a kayak?

You’re probably wondering how far you can go and how long it will take when you’re planning your water adventure. One of the most frequently asked questions is how long does it take to paddle one mile in a kayak.

Many factors influence how long it takes to kayak, but we’ll look at a few of them in this article to help you figure out how long it takes and how far you can go.


The speed at which you can move is one of the most important factors in the time it takes to go a mile. An experienced paddler’s average speed is around 3 mph, but this is highly dependent on other factors.

The faster the kayak moves, the lighter the load. On the other hand, if two people paddle together, they may be able to paddle faster because their combined weight is less.

Paddling at about 2 mph is typical for a beginner or recreational paddler. But, especially when competing against other paddlers, the more experience you have, the faster you can go.


The weather and the water conditions have a big impact on how fast you can paddle. You will make faster progress if the water is calm and there is no current than if the water is rough and the current is fast and flowing backwards.

Paddling in the wind, whether upwind or downwind, slows you down significantly. Whether you’re in the ocean, a river, or a lake makes a big difference. You can cruise at about 5 mph if the current and wind are in your favor.


Another important consideration is the kayak you are paddling. Because kayaks are narrower and go faster the longer they are, racing kayaks are usually trimmed for speed.

It also depends on the weight of the kayak and the amount of luggage you have.

Kayaks’ top speed is usually equal to 1.34 times the square root of the hull length at the draft line.

How to increase the speed of your kayak (if Lightning McQueen is your boat )

You’ve been out on the water for a while and are already putting in some impressive work. You’d like to take it a step further and learn how to accelerate your kayak. So, let’s get this party started, Lightning.

There are a few things you can do to improve the speed of your kayak. The first and most important task is to concentrate on the motor of your kayak. You’re the one. You can greatly increase the speed of your kayak by increasing your power and perfecting your paddling technique. It will also improve the quality of your kayak’s equipment. You can go faster if you choose a longer boat with a narrower hull to reduce friction and wave resistance. Also, choose a paddle that rocks gently to allow you to maneuver at high speeds comfortably.

How fast do you usually kayak?

Kayaks typically travel at speeds of 2 to 5 knots on the water; at 2 knots, you can move from place to place without worrying about deadlines or time.

You usually have a destination and a time to get there when traveling at 4 knots.

If you’re going faster than 4 knots, however, you’re either paddling a tandem kayak or panicking because you forgot to pick up your birthday present (and for good reason).

What physical factors affect the speed of a kayak?

Scientists and engineers discuss drag and efficiency when discussing the factors that affect the speed of a kayak or any other boat. To put it another way, what forces affect the kayak’s forward motion, where do they come from, and how does the kayak react to them?

The less drag there is, the more efficiently the kayak can handle it and the faster it can go.

What effect do frictional forces have on kayak speed? In general, the more friction there is, the more drag there is. The kayak’s speed decreases as the resistance increases.

Only read if you’re curious about recreational hydrodynamics.

A kayak’s hull is a rough surface. It appears smooth at first glance, but the longer you look at it, the rougher it becomes. A thin layer of water gets caught in the bumps as the kayak moves through the water. Water that has been retained by the shell collides with water that has not been retained by the shell. With the other water layers, a chain reaction occurs. All of this occurs in a space known as the boundary layer. The boundary layer is where 99 percent of the friction happens.

What factors influence the amount of friction in a kayak? The greater the wetted surface area of the kayak hull in the water, the greater the friction. Furthermore, the greater the friction, the longer the boat’s bottom is in the water (the waterline).

When this information is applied to the school equation, it is clear that a long kayak with a larger surface area in the water has more friction than a short kayak with a smaller surface area.

What effect does wave drag have on a kayak’s speed? Two waves are created as the kayak’s hull moves through the water: the first is the fan wave from the kayak’s bow. The first is a divergence wave, which is a fan wave off the kayak’s bow that has little or no effect on the boat. Transverse waves make up the second wave pattern.

These are positioned perpendicular to the kayak’s travel direction. This indicates that energy is being lost as the water is pushed from the bow to the stern.

The wave resistance of a kayak is determined by several factors, including displacement, waterline width, waterline length, and form factor (undercut, stern/elbow shape).

A kayak’s maximum speed is limited by its ability to resist waves. However, wave drag does not begin to affect the kayak until the speed exceeds 4 knots.

What does all this talk about efficiency and drag mean? The most efficient kayaks have a long waterline and a low displacement-to-weight ratio. They have less drag and can reach higher speeds with constant paddling effort due to their high hull speed. Because the drag created by standing waves is greater than the friction created by a larger wet surface, this is the case.

If you want to increase your kayak’s speed, a longer boat that moves more efficiently in less water will be more effective (assuming you can develop the speed you require in the first place).

How the shape of the kayak affects speed

As previously stated, the length of the kayak and the displacement to weight ratio have an impact on the maximum speed that can be achieved. Other factors that affect a kayak’s speed will be discussed in this section.

Shape of the hull – a shallow V-shaped hull is faster. The hull of a kayak usually has a shallow bow or a flat V shape. The flat canopy offers excellent stability and maneuverability. It is, however, not very quick.

The flat V-shaped design improves tracking stability and smoothness. The fewer course corrections you make, the faster your kayak will travel.

Pick your poison: hard scales or soft scales. On the underside of the hull, where it connects to the sides, hard-shell kayaks have a prominent leading edge. The transition from the bottom to the sides of the hull is much smoother in soft-shell kayaks.

Although there is a lot of anecdotal evidence as to which approach is faster, there does not appear to be enough data to support either approach.

The smaller the rocker, the faster you’ll be able to go. The degree to which the hull flexes from bow to stern is the rocker of a typical kayak. A kayak with a high rocker has a more pronounced bend from bow to stern, making it easier to maneuver, particularly in rough water. They are, however, slower. Kayaks with a low curvature move more quickly and efficiently. When you’re in rough water, however, this advantage vanishes. There is a trade-off between speed and stability, as is often the case.

Faster than a fish-style kayak is a Swedish-style kayak. The widest part of a Swedish-style kayak is behind the cockpit. Their entrance is long and thin. This makes acceleration and tracking much more efficient.

The front part of the cockpit on fishing kayaks is the widest. The exit is narrow and the entrance is blunt. The bow area of the boat is more buoyant, making it more suitable for use in the surf zone.

The Swedish boat, on the other hand, may be a better choice if you want to increase the speed of your kayak.

The cockpit should be relaxing. The easier it is to steer the kayak, the smaller the cockpit is. A touring cockpit with built-in hip support may be the best boat for you if you want to improve your kayaking skills and speed.

The narrower the hull, the faster the boat will go, but the less stable it will be. A wider hull is more stable than a narrower hull, to put it simply. They do, however, absorb more water than boats with narrow hulls. In general, kayaks with longer, narrower hulls are faster than kayaks with shorter, wider hulls (in ideal conditions).

(People are the same way.) Some people are built for marathons, while others are built for 40-meter dashes. Keep in mind that the narrower the hull, the more work you’ll have to put in. A narrower hull is advantageous if you want to cruise at 6 knots. A wider hull, on the other hand, is better for stability on a multi-day trip if you want to go a little faster. A lighter hull isn’t always the best option.

Plastic boats are slower than fiberglass boats. In almost every way, a fiberglass boat is faster than a plastic boat. The frictional resistance of new, undamaged fiberglass is lower than that of plastic. Several things will happen to you over time. Plastic is more prone to scratches than metal, making your kayak even more durable. Fiberglass is usually the faster option.

Scratches and dents in fiberglass can also be repaired. You can restore your hull to its former glory with a little knowledge, sandpaper, epoxy spray, and touch-up paint. You can also hire a professional to complete the task for you.

That is the source of the issue. Fiberglass is almost always more expensive than other materials. It’s usually more costly. As a result, you must price it based on the desired speed.

Paddling speed is greatly influenced by the shape of the kayak. It is, however, complicated. Shorter boats have less friction and are slower, whereas longer boats have more friction and are faster. You’ll be paddling at a speed that favors narrower boats if you paddle your kayak at 5-6 knots.

How can I improve my paddling technique to increase the speed of my kayak?

Take a look at the illustration below: The body requires about 0.02-0.03 horsepower to travel at 3 knots (about 3.5 mph) (horsepower). A healthy person can do this effort for many hours and compare it to walking.

The body requires 0.1 to 0.2 horsepower to reach a speed of 5 to 6 knots. A world-class marathon runner, on the other hand, generates about 0.3 horsepower over the course of four hours. In other words, you can increase the speed of your kayak if you have the skill and endurance, but the upper limit may be lower than you think, especially over long distances.

Ensure that your body is in the proper position. Place your head on the back of the seat (as you should). Sit up straight and lean against the posts or supports with your feet firmly planted. Adjust your seat to the proper rowing position.

If you’re sitting and paddling, bend your knees into a diamond shape and press your thighs into the hip straps, or your hips and calves into the kayak (if the boat is sitting). Your legs should be spaced apart slightly.

Sitting correctly allows for maximum upper-body movement. This lowers the risk of shoulder injury while also increasing the number of points of contact with the kayak. You have more control if you have more contact points.

Paddling will be done with your entire body, not just your arms. Consider the “paddle hand box” as you practice your technique. Keep in mind that when your hands (and paddle) are in front of your torso, an invisible box is formed. Rotate your upper body as you paddle so that this box is always maintained. This is a fantastic way to keep your shoulders firmly in their sockets.

While rowing, maintaining the “lower box” necessitates both arm and trunk strength. Using your large muscles not only protects your joints, but it also keeps you from becoming fatigued as quickly.

Because rowing is a full-body workout, don’t forget to include your legs. While rowing, press down on the pegs with the balls of your feet. This will provide you with the torque you need to rotate your upper body effectively.

Pulling on the paddle isn’t enough. Also, push it. While guiding the bottom paddle through the water, push the top paddle out from under you. This is a highly effective strategy. You can move through the water faster and longer while using less energy by using your muscles to push and pull.

What do you do with your paddle when you’re not using it? Deep in the water, around your toes, place the paddle blade. (As you move the bottom paddle through the water, simultaneously push the top paddle into the air (turn around and pull the paddle out of the water once the bottom paddle reaches thigh height.) Place the front paddle in the water while lifting the back paddle and begin grabbing the other side of the kayak.

Remember that the longer the paddle blades are submerged in the water, the greater the resistance and the slower the kayak will be.

To make the paddle move better, increase the angle of the paddle. To put it another way, when you submerge the paddle in the water, make sure it’s almost vertical. The paddle blade will be closer to the kayak’s hull as a result of this. Closer paddling to the hull will allow you to move forward more quickly and reduce the zigzag effect. The kayak will move faster if you paddle vertically and close to the hull. Quick action is required.

Allow your grip on the paddle to loosen. You’re not a gymnast (though you could be), and you’re certainly not swinging on a rope like an eight-year-old. So let go of your grip. A firm grip on the paddle will quickly tire your forearms and cause blisters.

Wrap your fingers around the paddle’s handle gently. Then, using your thumb, secure their position. Pull the bottom of the paddle toward you and press down with your thumb on the paddle shaft. With the palm of your hand, press down on the top paddle.

Pro tip: Wrap your paddle in tape if you feel it isn’t providing enough support. When field hockey tape gets wet, wax gets dirty and leaves marks, and peelable grips are too small and thicken the grip. Duct tape comes in handy.

Use a paddle rope if you’re really worried about losing your paddle.


As a result, everyone’s time to paddle a mile is different. The general rule is that you should paddle for 30 minutes per mile, but as you can see, this varies greatly depending on your ability, the conditions, and the kayak.

You may not be able to maintain a fast pace for the duration of your trip if you are paddling for an extended period of time. If you’re planning a trip, aim for a 2 mph average speed and always leave time to stop.