Whether you are kayaking down a river, across the rolling swell of the open ocean, across a still, foggy lake, or down the various tributaries of the mighty Mississippi River, it’s always a good idea to know how long it’s going to take. So, how long does it take to kayak a mile?
There is actually a formula for this—HS=1.34 x the square root of LWL. HS is hull speed, and LWL is the length-of-the-load waterline represented in feet. All you have to do is plug in the numbers, and you can get a good estimate.
Let’s say that your kayak has a waterline length of 10 feet. Take the square root of 10, which is 3.162, multiply it by 1.34, and you have 4.24 knots. That comes to nearly five mph, which means you will travel one mile in about 12 minutes.
How Fast can Kayaks Go
Of course, the problem with the above formula is that it really doesn’t account for anything else. It’s a mathematical formula that is accurate only so far as the paper it’s written on. In a bubble, its precision personified. In reality, it doesn’t account for the speed of a river, friction against incoming waves, wind, and your own strength.
The average kayaker can travel across the water at about 3, maybe 4 miles per hour. Fortunately, you can account for your own speed across the water by timing yourself and knowing the distance you traveled.
Use the formula, Speed = (60 x Distance) ÷ Time. If you travel one mile in 30 minutes, the formula will put you at two mph.
Factors affecting speed
This is where things get tricky since many factors can adversely affect the speed you travel in a kayak. Some will increase your speed, such as rowing downriver. If you want to figure out how long it takes to kayak a mile, you have to consider the potential factors.
Hull design plays a huge role in how fast your kayak cuts through the water. Large, flat-bottom kayaks and heavy kayaks are slower in the water, providing incredible stability at the cost of overall speed. Larger rockers make for faster kayaks at the cost of agility.
The materials that go into the hull matter as well. Fiberglass composites are generally faster than their thermoform plastic cousins. The only drawback with fiberglass composite kayaks is that they will often cost you a small fortune.
Touring kayaks are designed with a more streamlined hull, a sharper V-shape, and a narrow body. They tend to slice through the water faster and better than traditional or recreational kayaks.
That’s not to say you can’t go fast in a recreational kayak, just that some have hulls that are expressly designed for speed. You would think that whitewater kayak hulls would be designed for speed. However, the speed is generated by the rushing water of the river.
The most popular kayaks among whitewater rafters will creep like a snail across flat, calm water. Sea Kayaks and Touring kayaks typically feature a narrow beam and are longer than recreational kayaks. Their hulls are made for speed and long-distance kayaking.
Length equals speed (usually), and width always detracts from speed. Long, thin kayaks are capable of slicing through water like a hot knife through half-melted butter. They lack side-to-side stability, but they aren’t made for inexperienced kayakers.
Long and narrow kayaks are made for speed, and manufacturers tend to get that one right most of the time. The wider a kayak is, the more kayak material touches the water. The more material touching the water, the more friction is created. Wider kayaks are more stable but sacrifice speed in the process.
Weather, currents, and tide
These are crucial components. It’s difficult to go kayaking on a day when all three of these factors weigh heavily in your favor. The wind is a huge factor, and it makes a big difference whether you are sitting on top of the kayaking or seated inside the kayak.
The higher you are, the more drag you create as you move through the wind. Lightweight, plastic kayaks struggle in windy environments as well. Heavy winds can slow your progress down a lot. Of course, if the wind is at your back, that will increase your speed to a high degree as well.
The tide can really be brutal—so brutal that an outgoing tide when you are trying to come back in is more than enough to exhaust and overwhelm you. Speed isn’t much of a concern when you paddle for an hour only to see the shoreline grow more distant.
The weight of a kayak changes things, sure, but it’s the weight of all the gear you are carrying, along with your own weight, that makes the biggest difference. The weight of the kayak, yourself, and all your gear are the determining factors here.
If you want to go fast, it should be just you and you alone in your kayak, with no extra provisions along for the ride. The weight forces your kayak to sit lower in the water, and as we mentioned above, the more surface area of the kayak that touches the water, the slower you go.
How fast can pedal kayaks go
Pedal kayaks are making a name for themselves in the kayak marketplace. They are best suited for anglers and kayak racers. You still use paddles with a pedal kayak, but much of the speed is generated through the pedals. In favorable conditions, a pedal kayak can reach 8 or 9 mph.
Leg power is stronger than arm power 99 times out of 100. Combine the two, and speed becomes a luxury rather than an effort. All of the above-listed factors play a role in the speed of a pedal kayak as well, so keep that in mind if you are looking into one.
As you can see, kayaking a mile in a certain amount of time relies on several factors. Most of those factors are things that you can’t control. Fortunately, you can control the type of kayak you purchase and how much weight you throw on it.
If you’re competing with yourself, trying to beat your times, you’ll have to use the formulas above and estimate much of the rest. It’s either that or you find your way out onto the water only on very calm days.
The good thing is, the more you head out in your kayak, the better you will get, every time.
Visit the OutdoorWorld Reviews homepage for more expert information including kayak racks to transport your kayak to and from the water as well as covers for storing them and of course personal locator beacons to stay safe on the water!
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