Abeam Seas

This may sound naive (terminology maybe wrong too) should you change course if the seas are coming at you at a right angle?

Should I tack (I know a sailing term) at one angle into the wind slightly then tack the other way to avoid taking the seas at a right angle?

In the past I’ve plowed ahead regardless of the wind angle, now I’m wondering if I may have been taking unecessary chances.

I normally would not avoid beam seas
But if I need to head instead slightly into somewhat steep wind waves (i.e. a bit more facing the wind) then I find that hard (a rudder handles that a bit better but I have a skeg). In that situation the steep waves will tend to force me to be fully parallel to the waves rather than the intended almost parallel. So in that case I might try to paddle more directly into the waves for a while. I can often avoid this situation by anticipating it and altering my course earlier in the day.

When new to paddling beam seas do feel trickier (as do bigger following seas) but you get used to it and can even enjoy it.

probably not
Beam seas typically present less difficulty in terms of directional control than rear quartering. I’ve actually taken somewhat of an opposite approach on occasion. In a rear quartering sea, it’s often possible to take off closer to straight down the wave, and let your kayak gradually turn abeam to the wave, and let your momentum bring you back in line with where you started. It can make traveling a good distance in rear quartering seas a lot of fun.

You seem to be already considering your navigation tactics, so if directly parallel to the waves is your needed direction, I see no reason anything else makes life easier.

If these waves are so nasty they’re knocking you over, like surf breaks - not so much open water whitecaps, then you have to adjust. But if you’re not getting knocked over, I wouldn’t see the point.

A reflexive brace
is essential for paddling with a short, steep sea on the beam. Bracing and leaning into the wave face may not be intuitive but will work to keep you upright and moving. Can even be fun.

Handling Beam Seas
I have to agree with what’s been posted so far. Beam seas, unless they begin to break, cause the boat to turn significantly, or present a capsize risk, don’t require much in the way of special handling. Once they become significant enough to approach or surpass the paddler skill level, it’s a different story (adding rebound waves, for example, can significantly change paddling approach).

So for most conditions, an occasional brace, paddling fast to catch and surf a breaking wave, and making the necessary correcting strokes, are the way to go. A rudder or skeg makes handling said conditions easier, but most beam seas can be handled without same (though it takes more effort and correcting strokes to hold course and you will tire more).

Depending upon boat design, tacking, as you mention, is a valid strategy (and if you are just playing around on a day paddle rather than trying to reach a specific destination, may be preferable). Paddling against the waves gives you more opportunities to surf and paddling into them is, well, pure fun (I love paddling into breaking waves, but I’m just odd that way).

The old solstice design was one of my favorite boats for this because the low volume bow didn’t even respond to these waves, it just plowed through like the sleek submarine it was. If I were in same and the waves were coming from the right direction, I’d probably keep paddling straight into waves for the shear joy of it and my corpse would end up in Alaska or Hawaii, depending upon wave direction.


Never really minded…
Never really minded beam seas until I hit 6 ft breaking swell. You got to have loose hips! :wink:

One thing that tripped me up was bracing into a wave only to catch nothing but air on the back side. Can you say too late? I found out my combat roll worked pretty good that day. It’s really just gaining experience and becoming more comfortable out there.

I find a quater or third skeg locks the kayak in just enough without loosing manuverability.


Beam seas
As others have said, there is no set guideline for when to turn into the waves rather than taking them on the beam; your own skill and confidence will tell you when to steer off.

That said, as with all paddling skills, one should always strive to gently stretch one’s skills by pushing the limits a bit. That’s how you learn and grow. Or die. :slight_smile:

Take as many waves as you can on the beam, but when a particularly steep or tall wave approaches, steer into it a bit, then resume your course. When returning on the ferry after a week of paddling on Lake Superior’s Isle Royale NP, we endured 3 hours of 8-foot waves, and the captain frequently angled into the occasional ten-footer to help keep an even keel.

Here’s an article on paddling in beam winds, which usually accompany such waves:


Good luck!



Yes, if you get caught in a situation…
where they are more than you can handle.

If you feel that you are in a dangerous situation, that is the only thing to do

Jack L

Beam Seas
All this has been solid advice. Beam seas come in all varieties and generally don’t cause problems unless they decide to break over your deck, in which case some bracing may be in order.

Sometimes it is very difficult to keep pointing in exactly the direction you want to travel, but much easier if you point off a few degrees in one direction or the other. You can compensate for it later.

A few thoughts
Practice your rescues and rolling in those seas (in a safe location with onshore wind) as well as experimenting with different angles.

Practice turning in all directions in any given sea state. We read sometimes about an accident or close-call that involves people getting in over their heads, and being unwilling to turn their boats so that they can stay together. They end up getting separated because they are not comfortable turning their boat through all angles to the seas and wind.

So rather than just looking for the easiest angle to the seas, make sure you are practicing paddling at all angles to the seas you encounter. This is how you gain skills and experience.

One tip I’ve found useful for short, steep beam seas is to plant your forward stroke in the peak of the wave. That helps keep you from tripping over your paddle as the boat slides sideways down the front or back of each wave. So as a wave crest approaches from the right, time your strokes so that you stab the top of the wave as it gets close to your right side, and then with your next stroke stab the top of the same wave after it passes under your boat to the left side.


Mind games
Nate’s last point is a very good one, especially if you can throw in a bit of bracing action on those strokes you apply to the wave crests.

This helps convert the potentially capsizing energy of the wave into a stabilizing force, since you are essentially leaning onto the wave, twice. Kind of a jujitsu principle, where you use the force of your opponent against himself.

You’ll eventually come to see the waves not as opponents trying to knock you over, but as big heavy landmarks you can lean on. This mental inversion can be very confidence-inspiring during a long, rough crossing.

Good luck!



Practice / Exercise
If you can get to a big lake when the wind is blowing and waves are coming in, try to find ~ 2ft high waves close to shore , paddle so you are parallel to shore and let the waves hit you as they break, practice bracing on the oncoming wave and letting your hips let the kayak roll under you. Lean into the waves, and let then side surf you, throw your paddle away or hang onto it with just one hand and get comfortable with the waves, after you are fine with 2’ waves do it with 3’ waves then 4’.

Once you get the confidence that you can handle a breaking wave beam seas will become fun. Flat water paddlers most often encounter boat wakes with trepidation, but very few boat wakes really should be able to capsize a kayak unless you go chasing freighters or tugs.