-- Last Updated: May-23-08 1:18 PM EST --

As many of you may know, I have been on a long quest for the perfect boat. Speed was originally one of my biggest criteria, but has now become much less important to me.

In my quest for the perfect boat and for a "fast" boat I have learned a lot.

The following is based upon what I have found from owning and paddling various boats (and thoroughly testing them with GPS to determine speed), research I have done, and my personal opinion and observations which may or may not be completely accurate.

I have done a lot of thinking about this topic and this morning just spontaneously started writing to summarize my thoughts. The following is the result of my thoughts. I have not proof read it so excuse any errors. It was just spontaneous thought. This is paper and is a bit lengthy but is hopefully worth the time to read:

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT: Paddling speed is affected by several variables. In reality there is little difference among boats for most of us as paddlers. At a sustainable paddling effort, most of us will see no more than about a half knot difference among different boats; however, we may experience varying levels of exertion required to maintain that speed. For most of us the shorter boats (16 foot range) will achieve a slightly lower cruising speed, but probably will do so with a lower level of required exertion. The result over the course of a day may actually be a higher average speed with less fatigue using the shorter boat.

What are the advantages then of the longer boat: more carrying capacity in terms of both volume and weight, and better tracking. The difference in speed is negligible and comes at the expense of maneuverability. In my opinion, the increase in speed is small in proportion to the loss of maneuverability, thus making it an inefficient trade (you give up a lot of maneuverability for a little bit of extra speed). Unless we actually require the extra capacity then the shorter boat may be better for most of us.

Of course the longer boat will track better and maintain directional stability, but this is not as big a factor as one might think. The shorter boat will be less affected by the wind and even when pushed off course it can be more easily corrected and brought back on course than the longer boat, so this “advantage” is largely an illusion.


Speed is affected by four main variables: the boat, the paddle, the paddler, and the conditions. For this analysis we will assume that conditions are calm and assume that the paddle used is the same so that we can focus on the interaction of only the boat and the paddler.


The following variables affect the sum total affect of the boat on paddling speed:

Tracking: amount of yaw with each stroke. Affects “speed-made-good.” Yaw will cause energy to be wasted because speed imparted to the boat will be in the wrong direction and not precisely along the desired course (simple vector physics).

Frictional resistance: Advantage with shorter boats. Affects largely acceleration and efficiency and is a factor for top end speed.

Waterline length: Advantage with longer boats. Affects bow wave and top end speed. Size of bow wave becomes larger factor than frictional resistance with regards to its affect on speed only above a certain speed threshold.

If we were to graph speed vs. resistance and make two curves, one for resistance caused by friction and the other for resistance caused by the bow wave effect, this speed threshold would be the intersection of these two curves.

The combination of these factors will affect the amount of energy required to propel the kayak at a certain speed along the desired course. The resistance at a given speed = the amount of energy the paddler needs to impart in order to maintain that speed.

All boats will have a certain effective top end speed. The top end speed for all boats will be different, as will the amount of effort required to maintain this top end speed. If we graph speed vs. resistance we will see that the resulting curve is essentially exponential. The effective top end speed is where the curve goes asymptotic. At this point on the curve the required energy to propel the boat faster gets drastically larger for drastically smaller increases in speed. It is the point of extreme diminishing marginal returns.

Other results of these factors will be how quickly the boat can be accelerated to top end speed.

A final thought about the boat is somewhat more related to the individual paddler and that is boat fit and suitability for the paddler. The interface between the paddler and the boat is critical. The boat must fit the paddler properly so that he can impart power efficiently to move the boat forward. A boat that is too tight at the hips to allow proper rotation, or too low at the deck to allow the paddler to fully utilize his legs in his stroke will hinder its performance. Furthermore the paddler’s weight will have an effect on freeboard and the waterline length.


Ultimately the paddler has a far greater affect on achieved speed than the boat. The greatest component affecting the paddler’s ability to propel the boat at high speeds is his paddling technique. Good technique will allow the paddler to impart a greater amount of energy in the correct direction to move the boat across the water along its course, and will allow the paddler to impart a greater amount of force relative to his overall body strength. A good stroke will allow the paddler to use the larger and stronger muscles of the body (back, legs and torso muscles). In this instance, a smaller and weaker individual using good technique will be able to impart more energy to the paddle than a bigger and stronger individual who is using poor technique and utilizing smaller and muscles of the arms and shoulders. This will become even more noticeable over time, as the larger muscles of the body will tire much less quickly than those of the arms and shoulders, thus allowing the paddler with good technique to maintain the same speed over long distances.

The next factor affecting the paddler is his physical conditioning. For paddling I believe that the following components of fitness are important: muscle strength/power, muscle endurance/stamina, and aerobic capacity. The physical condition of the paddler will determine how much power he can impart to the paddle and for how long he can sustain that amount of power.

The last component that the paddler brings to the equation is his paddling cadence. Assuming that the paddler is able to impart a certain amount of energy to the paddle with each stroke, his cadence will determine the total amount of time per minute that energy is being applied. The faster his cadence, the shorter the lag time between strokes, the longer the amount of time that this energy is being applied to move the boat forward. Each stroke of the paddle can be thought of as pressing the gas pedal on our car. When driving we generally apply a constant force by maintaining our foot on the gas pedal, but not with paddling. Paddling can be thought of as continuously pressing and releasing the gas pedal. The faster that the paddler does this, the more times that the gas pedal is being pressed in a given time.

Paddling speed / cadence is also somewhat affected by how fast the boat is moving. The faster the boat is moving, the faster the water is “moving past the boat” and the faster the paddler will have to paddle in order to impart the same amount of energy.


So how do all these factors play out? Well, let’s make our analysis simpler and more realistic. We will assume that the paddler is a constant…which is true when we are looking at how fast we can paddle a given boat.

My assumption is that we all cruise with a given paddling cadence. My next assumption is that when we paddle “hard” we will exert up to a certain maximum amount of force based upon what we feel comfortable with based upon our fitness level. Our paddling force will be at this level OR LESS.

One of two things will happen. Either the boat will “hit the wall” BEFORE we reach this threshold, or it will do so after (in which case we will never achieve the boat’s top end speed).

I believe this is significant for most of us as paddlers. If the boat hits the wall before we reach our maximum level of exertion we will naturally adjust our paddling. Who would continue to paddle harder when it is obvious that we are not gaining any more speed? The result is a boat that while not quite as fast for us, is easier to paddle. We will naturally back off our level of exertion and paddle the boat at its maximum effective speed, but at a lower level of exertion than our maximum. This maximum effective speed will be a typical touring speed anyway. For me with a 16 foot boat I find this to happen between around 4 and 4.5 knots.

With a longer and faster boat we will push ourselves to our maximum level of exertion and stop there. The boat will have “more speed” in it if we were to sprint, but we will stop at the level at which we feel comfortable. The result….SLIGHTLY faster speed, but a higher level of exertion.

The faster boat will generally be one with a longer water line. The advantage of this longer waterline is noticeable only at higher speeds. At lower speeds the longer waterline is detrimental because it increases the total wetted surface area of the boat and therefore increases frictional resistance. Paddling at lower speeds will require more effort than with a shorter boat and as a result the boat will accelerate slower and will require more effort to do so.


For most of us who are touring paddlers (even those of us who consider themselves fit and skilled paddlers) there is little difference among touring kayaks. The difference at which we can paddle various boats with a sustainable effort will differ by no more than about a half knot; however, the shorter boats, while slightly slower will generally require less effort to paddle because we will hit the wall with that boat sooner and therefore never reach our maximum sustainable amount of effort. The end result is a slightly slower boat but one that requires less effort to paddle and therefore one that we may be able to maintain a higher average speed with over the course of a long day given that we will not tire as quickly.

A good deal of the difference in speed between these boats at a touring effort may actually be a function of tracking and yaw more than the effect of the shorter waterline.

Another thought is that often a boat that is “fast” may actually only give the perception of greater speed. Such factors as glide and acceleration affect the perceived speed of the boat, but this is another topic entirely.
Even with a truly “fast” boat, most of us will not apply the maximum force necessary to push that boat to its maximum speed. The end result is that it is not truly much faster for us on the water in actuality.

For most of us, unless we need the capacity of a longer boat or unless we truly need the speed of a racing boat, the 16 foot day boat may offer the best and most efficient compromise and be our best choice.

Whew! So what is the perfect boat?


so much for my philosophy…
last one off the river wins.

same issue

– Last Updated: May-23-08 8:40 AM EST –

Your post really hits home with my current problem. I formally paddled slower than desired, an Impex Montauk 16 footer, with a very strong group of fast paddlers with longer boats. I assumed that my boat was the primary issue with my struggle to keep up. In choppy waters, one comment was that my "shorter boat got stuck in the trough of the waves." In pursuit of a fast straight tracking boat, I purchased the known fast Impex Outer Island. While I could certainly detect some speed increase over the Montauk, I still seemed to be a slower paddler than the faster paddlers. What was going on? I soon concluded that I was probably more a factor than boat design. Whether it was my forward stroke technique, stamina, or simply maximum energy output for me personally, I am not sure.

So here it is a couple of years later. I now paddle with a different group of paddlers, larger, that paddle at a much slower pace than the former group. Speed is not a primary goal.

More important, the destinations are different. Instead of larger lakes with straight A to B paddling for miles, this group goes on smaller water bodies often, with side trips into nooks and crannies, inlets, and outlets of lakes, and other tight spots. I am finding this impossible to do with my OI, even with good edging. I am having zero luck selling the Outer Island, perhaps due to it's known hard-turning aspect.

To your point, if I still had my Montauk or equivalent 16 to 17 foot more well-rounded boat, i'd be happier right now.

Today, having a more well-rounded boat that turns is as important as one that has speed. I do not want to go to far though in sacrificing speed by obtaining a boat known to be slow by real owners. (NDK Romany, Avocet). Thus, finding middle ground is my goal, and the boats that seem to fit this for me might be:

WS Tempest Pro 165 Composite
Necky Chatham 17
Valley Aquanaut LV Composite

18’ baja
with a blown 455 Holman Moody on nitrous I guess ;-).

very interesting
good read.

how would it apply to K1, C1, etc.? – where paddlers are constantly trying to keep the boat at, say 6mph-plus for a couple of hours or more.

Interesting about the OI
I took my OI off Pnet just recently and got re-acquainted with it all over again these last few weeks and am really glad it is still in my fleet.

Funny thing about the OI. I can turn it fine. Yes it is less responsive with a rear quartering wind and you are trying to paddle back up wind and it may take an extra stroke to get there but a lot of what I am finding is that it needs a serious lean and aggressive start to the turn, and (this is most important) the skill to maintain that lean into the turn instead of just doing a lean over and back up and expect the boat to keep turning.

It is definitely a fast boat. I was able to cut my distance time by 25% compared to one of my plastic boats.

OI was never designed to go into nooks and crannies even though I have taken mine on numerous occasions into the mangroves in Florida and even into Sparkleberry Swamp in SC among the flooded trees where maneuvering is a challenge even with a 16 ft boat.

No boat is perfect. if you are into long crossings and want to get there less tired and quicker than most the OI is for you. Additionally it is the closest to a Greenland boat with that wonderful low deck and it is certainly one of the most beautiful boats on the water. rolls effortlessly, great glide, low windage, (I could go on and on) I have never once felt unsafe in that boat or felt that it was squirrely.

I put mine up for sale because my friend Tripp and I were going to build two wooden ones and I was going to use the proceeds from selling the boat to buy the wood and epoxy. This woudl have enabled Tripp to have one also. Unfortunately with his passing this is not going to happen so my OI is off the market. Wouldn’t even consider selling it except for another one in wood with an ocean cockpit.

If you plan to paddle and play close to shore with some surf the OI may not be the boat you should be in but the same can be said for so many other boats that this is kind of silly to just single out the OI.

Just like any other piece of equipment from a greenland paddle to a boat, they all have their strong points and weak points.


cadence and 'glide’
there is also a point where increasing the cadence (to increase speed) comes at too high of an (energy) cost.

To test this… take 2 paddlers of similar style and strength, in similar boats. Have a third person clap a steady beat (acting as a metronome). One paddlers takes a stroke on every beat, the other takes a stroke on every other beat. What you find is the every-beat paddler is expending roughly twice the energy of the every-other-beat paddler, but they are not going twice as far, or twice as fast. There is usually a greater difference when accelerating compared to cruising.

Over very long distances this will make a difference, and at some point the every-beat paddler will have traveled twice as far as the every-other-beat paddler.

If you change the ratio from 2:1 to 8:10 you will probably find it takes a greater distance for the ‘10 stroke’ paddler to cover 20% more distance than the ‘8 stroke’ paddler.

Note: we are not talking about paddling 20% faster, but taking 20% more strokes.

More rocker than Keef Richards.
Over the years, I have learned to appreciate rocker more than any other attribute of a boat, including length.

Increase rocker will increase ability to turn, edge, and playboat. Rocker allows better stability in the soup. It will decrease speed.

I love my VSK Avocet RM for its playfulness and low profile and manageable length. However, I would not wish to try and keep up with friend BBrasil in his Outer Island. Not even close. At higher paddling speeds, there is a definite “water plow” feel to the Avocet (unladen).

Less of the plow in the 17 foot 1 inch Prijon Barracuda, and plenty more speed, but in the chop–bring your swim trunks. Shallow V hull and almost no rocker makes for a pitchy ride indeed. Sort of the same feeling as if you are at the put-in and you have the stern of the boat on land and the bow in the water and you try and get in. Hold your breathe!

So, I enjoy the input from all paddlers above as we all seek the ideal boat. For me, the Nordkapp RM is pretty darn close, with a balance of rocker and speed, and even unladen, with the extra few lbs of plastic, the boat does well for me.

I will have to compare it to the dead-tracking OI when I buy it from Bbrasil this summer.

canoe application
I agree with your general conclusion. I believe that regarding tandem tripping canoes there’s an overemphasis on speed. The real difference in efficiency at a touring pace just isn’t that great. I have done extensive side by side wilderness tripping with 18’ wenonahs (Sundowners) and 17’ grummans. In easy paddling with the current, there’s virtually no difference in the time it takes you to get from Point A to Point B. Flatwater paddling where you are moving right along, but not racing, the Sundowner is probably 5-10% faster. If you’re really digging in as you paddle into a brisk wind and chop, the difference is greater. Having said that, the Sundowner feels significantly more efficient, but the watch/gps tells you the difference isn’t as great as it seems.


– Last Updated: May-23-08 10:15 AM EST –

pretty good read.

you are off the mark a bit on tracking. It is always assumed longer boats track better:

"Of course the longer boat will track better and maintain directional stability"

This is NOT always the case. Many short boats track waaaaay better than many long boats. If we were to design a long boat that tracked well I might say it is hard to turn. Case in point...OI. it is EZ to turn a good tracking short boat, it's short. It's hard to turn a long tracker.

Longer boats maintain speed/ glide in the direction their pointed but the actual freedom to YAW is actually more in MANY of the boats you know and love.

12' Tsunami vs 18' Tempest? best tracker?

The Tsunami. hands down.

most race boats? rockered, long waterline, poor tracking- add rudder. a deep forefoot and skeg ADDS to the wetted surface. hence the name- DEADwood.


My conclusion …
tear up your paper and go paddling in the boat that you enjoy the most

You have a bunch of stuff that might relate to you, but not to a lot of other paddlers.



A couple of comments
Paddling cadence: I wonder if a faster cadence is more effective because there’s less delay between strokes, and thus less loss of momentum. And if paddling at a slower cadence but “linking” strokes (i.e. minimizing the time between recovery on one side and catch on the other) is just as effective.

I know when my students “get” that concept and start linking their strokes, their forward stroke (and their speed) improve immediately, because in order to link strokes, you have to have proper technique: torso rotation, pushing with the offside hand, catch and recovery at 45 degrees , so that when you bring the rear blade out of the water at 45 degrees behind you, the front blade is ready to go in the water at 45 degrees in front of you.

The result is there’s almost constant pressure on one blade or the other, so you don’t lose momentum between strokes, there’s less energy spent accelerating to recover lost momentum, and mirabile visu, the boat moves faster!

The other comment I have is there’s a noticeable difference in speed when I paddle a Boreal Ellesmere (17’) vs. an Eddyline Nighthawk 16 (15’10"), which have comparable widths.


– Last Updated: May-23-08 11:35 AM EST –

I have been out comparing for my next kayak, and I generally agree with the OP's original points.


First a disclaimer: I do indeed see some ways in which I can improve my paddling technique to be more efficient.That said, I have found significant differences in cruising speed between my Tsunami 145 and:

1) Tempest 165/170. Its easier to keep up with my group. Top speeds seem about the same but the Tempest requires less effort. Not dramatic, just simply more efficient.

2) Impex Cat Force 4 -- A striking contrast on longer trips. A huge difference for me.

3) Eddyline Fathom. It's only 16.5 Ft but I found it much easier to stay on speed with the rest of my group. A really nice boat.

4) QCC 700. There is no legitimate comparison. The QCC makes the Tsunami feel like a barge. I seem able to put in twice the distance with half the overall effort. Pretty much the same with the 600 but I didnt put as much time in it so I don't really know.

I hear this "it's the paddler, not the boat" argument a lot but I just dont buy it. Not discounting the importance of technique but I am finding that the boat makes a much bigger difference than you seem to be giving it credit for.

Someone else can have the soapbox now.

couple more thoughts
trilliumlake - experiment with ‘glide’. Touring style kayaks usually lose very little speed between strokes - at least over short distances or durations of time. As you approach the upper end of the practical speed for a given kayak you will lose more speed during the ‘glide’. This is because it takes more energy to keep the kayak near its top practical speed. But, at a cruising speed there is much less speed loss during the ‘glide’. Therefore, you only need minimal acceleration during each stroke to maintain the cruising speed. In the exercise I mentioned above the speed and power of each stroke is the same, what changes is the length of pause between each stroke. During that pause the kayak is gliding and losing very little speed.

I agree with mctec… if it was the paddler and not the boat then people would compete in the Olympic trials with all manner of kayak. Obviously there is a difference. However, that difference can be negated by poor paddling technique, and/or poor fitness level.

I Agree
"Ultimately the paddler has a far greater affect on achieved speed than the boat."

My better half is a great case in point. She has 2 main sea kayaks, a Nigel Foster Silhouette and an NDK Explorer LV. The Silhouette is noticeably faster, and has much better glide.

Yet when she only had the Silhouette, she had issues keeping up with the pack (Unless we had following seas, and then she would out-surf us all). I tried coaching her on improving her forward stroke technique, which wasn’t all that great, with minimal effect. She had this annoying tendency to rock backwards when she pulled on the paddle, which killed the catch on the water. I couldn’t break her of it, no matter how hard I tried.

Then, she got “the barge”. After about 2 group paddles, she was ready to sell the Explorer, because it was in her words: “A pig”. But ego finally won the day, and she improved her technique out of necessity. Now she can keep up with anyone in the Explorer, and blow people away in the Silhouette.

A few more tweaks to her forward stroke, and she’ll be even faster. Much bigger effect than the boat has.

Paddler matters most , then the boat
"…if it was the paddler and not the boat then people would compete in the Olympic trials with all manner of kayak. Obviously there is a difference. However, that difference can be negated by poor paddling technique, and/or poor fitness level." paddlemore

I had been staying out of this until seeing the thread come around to views that make sense to me. Jed Luby can smoke me paddling his Romany no matter which of my boats I’m paddling. But, I can better keep up with him in my Aquanaut than my Romany. I can feel the difference in drag among my four sea kayaks. Paddling my Romany the other evening felt like pushing water after recent times paddling my Nordkapp LV.

Both the paddler’s skills and the equipment matter. The paddler’s skill is the first most important factor.

You’re learning Matt
Clearly an analytical guy. I contrast this post with some of a couple of years ago and it’s clear that you are thinking for yourself and arriving at conclusions that fit science / hydrodynamics, NOT marketing.

Flatpick caught you on some absolutes, and I agree with him, but I’m guessing you see that now.

It is absolutely true that for many average powered paddlers an 18 foot kayak is not ideal.

I’d only add to your post that the longer boats have only “slightly” more resistance at lower speeds, so this tends to be exagerated to be more of an effect than it really is. The far bigger factor is windage and sea state forces on a long boat, especially for a small paddler. A 100 lb. paddler will do far better in a 20 knot wind in a more manageable shorter boat. And to your point, the weaker paddler can’t utilize the speed potential of the longer boat at all.

But, lest we forget, there are powerful, conditioned sea paddlers out there that can and do realise the benefit of a longer hull for catching swells, fast 5 knot cruising, beating current etc. These folk get frustrated by a short hull as their style is more A to B speed. Likewise there are super strong sea playboaters that will push a slow 16 footer along just fine and enjoy the play aspect of said boat. They will never compromise play performance for a half knot of cruising speed.

Lastly, for a lot of sea kayakers factual observation and hydrodynamic understanding is not what desire. Thats OK and they need to do whatever makes them happy.

If true speed is the driver, none of the Brit Greenland hulls are very fast, as that is not their design intent. Get a KayakPro, Epic, etc.