Dangers of wind on return time/energy

-- Last Updated: Apr-17-06 9:11 AM EST --

I was on a paddle yesterday where we were in significant headwind conditions both going out and coming back. If reminded me of an experience many years ago when I made some very wrong decisions to slow down to conserve energy I thought and almost did not make it back as a result.

One of the lesser known dangers of large lake and open ocean kayaking is the dramatic effects of wind on boat speed, AND the magnifying effects on the expenditure of energy. The bottom line is that yet another counter-intuitive situation develops where a "Perffect Storm" of dynamics occur which may result in a cascading series of decisions ending in a lethal outcome.

What are these effects? As taken from Burke's "Kayak Navigation", few paddlers realize that simply staying in one place against winds of 14 knots requires about the same energy as moving forward at 3 knots in calm conditions. This means a kayaker must work twice as hard to move forward at 3 knots per hour, something many kayakers find difficult if not impossible.

Most kayakers will slow to 1.5 knots per hour. If we increase the wind to 25knots, many kayakers will not make any headway at all a dangerous situation.

A significant number of folks not only underestimate the power of the wind on their forward speed, they make a dramatically wrong decision about the best way to get back under such conditions.

For example, if one has 6 nautical miles to return to shore against a 20 knot wind and you use the energy it takes to go 3 knots in calm waters, your forward speed would be at best, 1.5 knots, taking you 4 hours to port.

If you slow down even .5 knots it will take you 6 hours! Thus it could be a disaster to take the intuitive approach for everyone to ease up and take their time getting back. The hidden magnification of how much energy is exerted upon the boat and paddler by merely staying out there longer is lost on most of us.

I am not advocating kayakers speed up unless they can maintain that to shore, but by simply maintaining one's prior speed before the wind picked up, or at least going as fast as one can and still make it back at that effort level could be life or death.

This is where good technique, and the use of group in line towing could be practiced so that less energy is expended maintaining speed and by use of a group tow, the entire group is not forced to slow to the speed of the slowest paddler, and the slowest paddler is not forced to go at their limit or beyond by group pressure.

Have any of you found this out the hard way like I did one time?

Oh yeah…
Much as it is VERY tempting when the wind roars up and gets obnoxious to cool it a little and give your shoulders a bit…

I find that against that kind of wind that it is much easier to MAINTAIN momentum than to slow down and try to build it up again. Much, much easier. If you have time and find somewhere to beach that might be nice but it’s not always an option (like you said out in open sea). I started out on a college crew team and when I hit a strong wind I always sort of revert to my old port side rowing days. I’ll do power tens or vary my stroke and yes, I coxed a little too so sometimes I just yell a little. (Generally I’m by myself for the yelling) but it keeps me focused on the paddling and not on the frustration. I will say that I probably tried to do too much with my squatty little rec boat and boy am I finding the same routes to be totally different animals in the Tempest. Much faster and easier so I am going farther! Woopee!! I do find that I miss my sliding seat a lot more in wind. Losing that leg power has been a major adjustment for me. Maybe my next boat will be a skulling shell…different thread…

great post
good advice and good to think about. thanks


My take…
I think I am disagreeing with you if the particular paddler is in good physical shape and is used to paddling in conditions like that

I think a paddler that is in good shape can slow down and enjoy the experience, and still arrive at home without being worn out.

It is a great warning for newer paddlers, and something for all of us to think about though.



yes, with limits

– Last Updated: Apr-17-06 10:58 AM EST –

Yep Jack, that is what I meant by better technique, better conditioning, equals more reserves to handle taking longer by slowing down.

The post is meant for more advanced folks in two regards. One, everyone, advanced or not will be subject to using more energy the longer they are out there, in other words it takes energy even staying in place, etc.

Most important for advanced folks as you say is to understand the effect on newer folks, and that they the advanced may have to convince newer folks not to slow down, or to allow the advanced folks to tow them so everyone goes at a faster pace. Otherwise the cascade effect is that everyone stays out there too long, becomes exhausted and then the advanced folks may get themselves overwhelmed dealing with them if they don't intercede earlier. Good reply, thanks Jack.

Another tip: Make hay while the sun shines; I mean when the wind slacks a bit, spin those blades, even if it’s just for a moment or two.

Also, stagger your cadence to take advantage of the energy in the wind waves that are coming toward you. Your blade should slice into the back of each wave, just behind the crest. This lets you take advantage of the wave’s energy, and the challenge keeps your mind off the aching shoulders, empty belly and full bladder…

If it’s windy…
before I even start, I may not go out at all. That being said, I’d rather deal with headwinds when I’m paddling than a tailwind. In a headwind, I don’t stop. Keep paddling, stay closer to to the shoreline, find the lee side of a lake or river for easier paddling.

Probably the toughest paddle I’ve had was at Raystown last fall. About 6 miles of headwind back to the campsites. A few gusts stopped us dead in the water. Talon can attest to the wind we encountered. As someone said, it takes less effort to keep going than to stop and then get up to speed again.


Question #1
How did you end up 6 miles downwind in the this age of VHF and Weather Radios and advanced meteorology? Even the lowly wrist top barometer has uses.

Question #2, in your scenario, is there a shorline across the wind we may reach, where I may then go along the shore back to the put in? In other words, point to point, isn’t always what it’s made out to be.


Can’t stop in the wind
In a heavy headwind situation, “stop” is really not a stop but moving backward.

Also, when the wind kick up that much, the water is no longer flat. So the going is doubly hard.

What I found even more difficult than head wind is a strong wind off the front quarter. It doesn’t stop you dead in the track, but it slow you down your forward momentum significantly. AND it move you sideways so you have to either do corrective stroke or use your rudder/skeg to counter act that. Both of which robs your forward momentum in addition to the wind.

I was in an outing when we encounter such condition ~45 degree off the front at 20 knot with occasional gust of 30. During one of the big gust, I was right next to a buoy and can tell I’m moving BACKWARD! Some of the folks with only skegs have trouble holding course. A few turned into the wind and did a dog-leg course home. Some others had to be towed. Interestingly, all of the more “beginer” paddlers who has rudders managed better. They just dropped their rudder and slowly work their way to shore.

Raystown Lake
Is a man made lake, the dam backed up the river into a lake with a very snakelike form. When we started off in the morning, winds were light. As soon as we turned around and started heading back, the wind picked up. It usually does in the afternoon everywhere. As we paddled back, wherever there was a lee, we paddled towards it. Then had to face the full force of the wind once we got out of the lee. About half of a mile before our takeout, we were in the full force of the wind, some gusts over 25 mph. Had no choice but to tough it out and paddle in.

Actually thought it was pretty exciting. I remember saying to Talon, “that was fun, wasn’t it”?

Don’t have a VHF or wrist barometer. Never felt the need for the barometer or a VHF. Always carry the cell phone though. My kayak handles conditions like this well. And I’m strong enough to paddle hard for a long time. Have had a lot of afternoon practice in high winds locally here.


There have been a couple of high wind
points that I have struggled to make in the late afternoon land breeze.

What I do…

– Last Updated: Apr-17-06 1:36 PM EST –

I agree corrective strokes in such conditions slow your forward progress and sap your strength as well. That's why I make adjustments to my heading, allowing the wind to blow me back on-course while I'm underway. Although simple formulas and charting can be utilized to determine the amount of correction required before setting off, I also make guestimates for corrections while I'm on the water, without having to drop the paddle, by considering current wind conditions versus course made good. My rule-of-thumb is to add 5 degrees into the wind per hour left to travel, for every 10knots of wind speed.

Agree about quartering winds
Rather deal with a headwind than a quartering wind anytime. MY CLC 17 is a high volume boat and I hated to paddle it in a quartering wind. The boat weathercocked so much that my corrective strokes were the only strokes I did.

Other answers ?
Having not gone through the BCU training etc I usually take a Quartering angle track to shore, with off shores and then beat along the coast right along the surf break zone, the land features usually provide wind break except where valleys and canyons open up onto the water. You can work the pre-breaking near shore swells, coasting up the backs and surfing down the valleys to save energy. They give you a wind break. With long open water crossings it pays to turn back and wait it out. Timing is the issue so you are going the right way with the lighter winds and not there when it’s above 15-20 knots.

Food and Water

– Last Updated: Apr-17-06 3:04 PM EST –

Food and water are key to avoiding a 'bonk' caused by an unforeseen headwind. I take a little extra... on the bike and in the boat... in case someone else starts to fade. I keep a length of rope in the rear hatch of the yak just in case.

One of my early lessons…
…paddling where I could not land with dark approaching, and my only light in the front hatch out of reach…now the marker lamp and headlamp are in the deckbag where I can get to them, ditto the energy foods and drink…

I also never paddle, even for a short day trip, without the minimalist needs for an overnighter…food, water, sleeping bag, clothes and a sil nylon poncho/tarp. (It sure makes any decision to wait out weather easier to make).

Good seamanship …
We should know the prevailing winds for the area we want to paddle. Also with our modern technology we can get the latest info on storms and strong winds.

And we should also know our abilities in certain conditions, and how our boats handle windage.

Good thread
Doug Alderson’s Sea Kayaker Handbood of Safety and Rescue has a good discussion of why it is good to maintain speed if you can (paddle hard to save energy). Even if you have the strength to keep going for longer, it can get you out of trouble. Things like building weather, changing tides, darkness, etc. might be avoided by getting off the water sooner, or at least getting near your destination sooner. Kind of like mountaineers moving fast through the avalanche zones.

Magoo’s tip about paddling the back of the waves makes sense but I hadn’t heard it that way before. I think I tend to do it just because it is easier to correct direction when you are on top of the wave.

Now if I just increased my stroke efficiency 10% or so…

nope no shoreline but good thought!
nope no shoreline but good thought!

how can this happen in the age of VHF, great weather reports, etc.

Agreed, it happens least to those of us who are aware of all these things and who make sure to be in tune with it prior to going and who know and watch the signs for it.

Still, we all know the limits of the science of forecasting so as the ad says, “sooner or later you own General”. Thems that fail to plan for it are planning to fail, sounds severe, but shi you know what happens. So for me at least I like to consider this especially as the consequences will likely go to the strongest and more advanced paddlers to assist the less skilled and less strong.

these are great ways, remember thread?
Super answers, Me also. Do remember the thread precludes, NO shoreline, open ocean, now what? Not being a hard guy, just looking for what you all do when no shore options to duck into.