Kayak Wind Speed: What Is Safe And Dangerous?

Knowing the safe wind speed for kayaking can be important no matter where you plan to paddle. Both beginners and experienced paddlers can benefit from learning about the effects that various wind speeds can have on the water and your kayak.

That’s why we’ve put together a quick guide to kayaking wind speeds to help you decide what’s safe and what’s not.

We also have a kayaking safety guide.

Kayaking on a stormy weatherPin

How Much Wind Is Too Much For Kayaking In?

Generally speaking, anything over 25 mph (or 22 knots) is too windy for kayaking safely. This equates to a Force 6 on the Beaufort Scale and means rough waters with large waves and spray, making rescues difficult.

Recreational Kayaking

Recreational waters tend to be a little calmer and generally more sheltered than the open ocean. So the water can usually be less rough in windy conditions compared to the sea. However, this doesn’t mean that you can go out paddling in all conditions, as it can still be difficult and dangerous to paddle in strong winds.

Recreational waters are typically flatwater environments. These are usually lakes, slow-moving rivers, ponds, and shallow or sheltered bays.

The larger the body of water the more “lake fetch” there is. Lake fetch is the longest length of open water that wind can travel. The longer the stretch of unobstructed water, the more powerful the waves will be, as the wind has longer to build up energy.

Wind speeds of up to around 8 to 12 mph, or 7 to 10 knots, will generally be considered the maximum wind speed for safe paddling on recreational waters. This will generally apply to lakes and could still be tricky to paddle if you’re a beginner. Smaller lakes or small, sheltered rivers, could be manageable at up to 20 mph.

Kayak Fishing

The maximum wind speeds for safe kayak fishing will tend to vary depending on the type of water you plan to fish in. For kayak fishing in open water, wind speed can have a greater effect on the condition of the water, making it choppier and more dangerous as the wind picks up speed.

Video: Safe Kayaking - Estimating Wind Speed Using The Beaufort Scale

For kayaking in open water, anything more than 8 mph could be difficult for kayak fishing. If you plan to fish in smaller lakes or rivers, you may be able to head out in stronger winds, with limits similar to recreational kayaking. However, if you plan to stand up to fish from your kayak, you might want as low a wind speed as possible.

Remember that your fishing gear may add height to your kayak, which can affect how your kayak handles in the wind. Even at 4 mph, the wind can blow your kayak around, making it more difficult to hold your position or track straight.

Sea Kayaking

Sea kayaking in strong winds can be particularly dangerous because of the effect the wind can have on the sea. If you think about how lake fetch can affect lake conditions, then you can probably appreciate how much impact the wind can have on an ocean or one of the Great Lakes.

The Beaufort Scale can be useful for sea kayaking, as this was created by Sir Francis Beaufort in the early 19th century to classify the wind force at sea for the Royal Navy.

The scale can give you an idea of the condition of the sea at various wind speeds. Anything from Scale 0 to 5 can be paddled safely, with Scale 5 being winds of 19 to 24 mph. Scale 5 will generally be difficult to paddle in, with waves and white caps, and probably not ideal for less experienced sea kayakers.

If you’re a beginner, you might want to limit yourself to a maximum of Scale 4 (13 to 18 mph winds) and remain close to the shore. For safer sea kayaking, Scale 3 and under can be more suitable (up to 12 mph/10 knots). 

Whitewater Kayaking

Whitewater kayaking can be less affected by wind speed than other types of kayaking. This is because rivers are generally less affected by the wind.

However, you may find that in strong winds, trees can be brought down, which could affect the flow of the river. Downed trees can also be potentially hazardous for whitewater paddlers, creating obstructions.

In exposed sections of rivers, you may also find rough water where there is normally flatwater, as storms can create increased flow and current, as well as movement caused by strong winds. For safety, it can be best to stay off the water when the wind speeds reach 25 mph.

Staying Safe If The Wind Picks Up

How To Paddle A Kayak In Strong Winds

Headwinds

Paddling into a headwind can be pretty exhausting as you’ll have to use more effort to paddle against the wind. In very strong winds, it could almost be impossible. But it can be easier than paddling in a crosswind, as there’s usually less chance of you being blown off course. The waves can also be easier to see if they’re coming straight on.

It may help to keep your paddle strokes shorter so that you can increase your speed to power against the effects of the wind and maintain your stability.

Video: How To Paddle Your Kayak In Wind

Tailwinds

Like headwinds, this can be easier to paddle in than a crosswind. But if you’re in open water, it can be difficult if you’re not able to see the waves coming from behind you, which could take you by surprise or make you feel seasick.

However, a tailwind can help to power you along, so you can paddle at a faster speed and get to your destination quicker.

Waves can be dangerous, especially if you don’t see them coming. So it can be important when paddling in any rough conditions to know how to self-rescue, so that if you capsize, you’re able to re-enter your kayak or swim safely to shore.

Crosswinds

A crosswind can be difficult to paddle in, especially if you’re in a more basic recreational kayak, as the wind can cause your kayak to weathercock. Weathercocking can happen to all kayaks. This is where the bow of your kayak will turn into the wind.

A crosswind is where a skeg or a rudder can be useful, as these can help you counter the effect of the wind and minimize weathercocking by helping to anchor your stern in the water.

Video: How To Sea Kayak In Heavy Wind

Depending on the strength of the wind, you may also need to paddle more on the side of your kayak that the wind is hitting, as this should help to prevent your bow from turning into the wind - allowing you to head straight.

Remember, you may also have to contend with waves hitting you from the side, which could also affect your ability to paddle straight.

What Gear You Should Always Bring

When you’re heading out to paddle in windy conditions, it can be a good idea to let someone on land know where you’re heading and when you plan to return.

You may also find that you want some additional gear to protect yourself, for increased comfort, such as paddling gloves and a windbreaker jacket.

●    Quality PFD
●    Whistle
●    First aid kit
●    Spare paddle
●    Rescue kit/throw bag/tow line
●    Paddling gloves
●    GPS or compass
●    Paddling jacket/windbreaker

Final Words

Wind can have a varying effect on water, depending on the size or location of the body of water. While we’ve included a top wind speed of 25 mph as our maximum for kayaking safely, this may not be safe for everyone.

However, you know your own skill level, so it’s best not to attempt to paddle in winds or conditions that you’re not comfortable with. Stay safe out there.

Let us know your thoughts and remember to share.

You might also want to check out our general kayak paddle stroke guide.

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