How to Deal with Wind While Kayaking

Knowing the forecasted wind direction and speed can make the difference between an exciting outdoor trip and a stressful kayaking experience. Read for more information on dealing with the wind while kayaking, including precautionary measures and techniques to maneuver your kayak.

Wind Speed – How Does Wind Affect the Paddling Experience?

It doesn’t take much for prevailing wind conditions to affect your kayaking experience. In the worst-case scenarios, your kayak might capsize or strong offshore winds might prevent you from paddling back to shore. These safety hazards are especially a cause for concern when kayaking in a large expanse of water or remote locations. Here’s a simplified guide on how windy speed might affect your kayak tour.

  • Light winds up to 5km/h are generally safe, but they can alter the course of most kayaks. You may have to compensate by paddling more on one side.
  • Winds of between 6-10km/h can pose a challenge for inexperienced kayakers. In open waters, they can generate waves of up to 1m and they can easily rock your kayak. The headwind reduces the paddling speed by around 33%.
  • Wind speeds of 11-19km/h are strong enough to create whitecaps and build waves as high as 1.5m. Such conditions reduce paddling speeds by 50% and are dangerous for paddlers.
  • When the wind speeds exceed 20km/h, it is advisable to avoid open waters as it generates very dangerous conditions which can cause waves that are over 2m high.

For reference purposes, consider the Beaufort Wind Scale, which was developed by Sir Francis Beaufort of the British Royal Navy to measure wind speeds based on observable wind effects.

Wind Direction – Tips to Deal with Wind While Kayaking

While kayaking on a windy day, the intensity of the challenges and level of safety risks largely depends on the direction of the winds.

  1. Headwind: A headwind is a wind that is blowing directly against your kayaking course – i.e., coming straight at you. It’s a relatively safe and easy way to paddle since you can see the waves and determine the best way to maneuver your kayak. However, the waves will significantly slow down your progress and you may be forced to exert additional physical input to keep your vessel moving. In circumstances where the wind speed is too strong, you’re better off avoiding headwinds.
  2. Tailwind: A tailwind that’s blowing from behind in the direction of your kayaking route is both beneficial and challenging. On the one side, the additional boost from the waves speeds up your progress similar to kayaking downstream – but only if the winds are small. On the other hand, the bigger waves may pose a serious safety concern since you can’t see them approaching.
  3. Crosswind: Winds that are blowing from either side of your kayak pose the greatest challenge to both novice and experienced kayakers. Keeping the course and maintaining balance becomes an uphill task. The kayak tends to steer off its course and turn in the direction of the wind – i.e., weathercocking. To counteract the effects of weathercocking some kayaks are equipped with skegs or rudders. (PS: The depth of a skeg can be adjusted in accordance with the strength of the wind).

Precautionary Measures

Planning to enjoy more and more kayaking adventures? If so, always take some basic precautionary measures before hitting the trail – don’t tempt fate! Here are a few safety guidelines to mitigate dangerous windy conditions.

  • Safety gear: Ensure you carry along and learn to use all safety equipment, including a towline, paddle float, spare paddle, communication devices, whistle, and a personal floatation device (PFD). It’s also important to wear appropriate clothing (dry suit if in cold weather) and carry enough water for hydration.
  • Float Plan: Create and share a float plan of your planned route, launch/return times, members of the kayaking group, and your action plan in case of emergencies. Leave copies of the plan on your kayak, car, and with a loved one.
  • Know the Limitations: How skillful and knowledgeable are you or your group? Are your equipment and crafts well-suited for the prevailing weather conditions? In the case of a group, it’s advisable to plan for novices or the weakest member.
  • Risk Assessment: Know all the possible risks by assessing the weather forecast, the topography of the kayaking location, offshore winds, and guidelines provided by state or local authorities. Useful websites such as Wind Guru can help you plan for the wind (
  • Contingency Plan: What is the best course of action in the case of an unprecedented emergency? Always have a contingency plan for challenges such as unexpected wind conditions, a lost craft, broken paddles, cold water immersion, fatigue, or a capsized craft.

Paddling in windy conditions can be challenging, potentially dangerous, and impact your enjoyment of the trip. Wind conditions have significant implications on the level of enjoyment and even your safety. This means that it’s imperative to understand the prevailing wind patterns in your location and the techniques to maneuver your kayak safely before heading out.