Do Kayak sails slow paddling?

I’m all for getting any free energy you can and sails seem like a fun idea.

Could a sail slow you down too? In practice do sails cause wind resistance?

Anyone have experience with Kayak Sails?

Most kayak sails I have seen have a way to lower them, so they would be mostly out of the wind.

If the sail is up, it may be impacted by wind if you are going into wind or otherwise in a direction that you can’t sail.

Kayak sails could also impact your paddling speed if they are in the way of proper paddling form (whether up or retracted).

Many kayak sails also want some form of dagger or lee board system to allow for better side to the wind sailing, and this system may add drag and also potentially be in the way of proper paddling form.

And kayak sails can be a huge hassle should you flip over.

A friend let me try his Epic V6 with a sail this last summer. It was a downwind sail only, and folded together quickly and easily, really almost instantly and quite small, to stow for paddling upwind. I don’t recall there being any problem at all getting it out of the way. It was a solid, steady 15 knot day out at Cape Lookout, and I moved downwind fast enough to feel no inclination to attempt to assist downwind progress with my paddle. It seemed nothing short of a great idea for my little 45 minute demo. I’m sure a regular user could get into pros and cons of different types, but the fact that I could jump on an unfamiliar boat with an unfamiliar paddle, and instantly enjoy this unfamiliar sail, well even given limited use, it’s probably worth a go. It was kind of a quick folding little round kite, and he had a couple little pieces of hardware to clip onto. No mast.

I’ve used a sail with a tandem canoe for going upriver when the wind was favorable for that. We developed more speed that my paddling partner and I could ever do just from paddling, so for going upstream it was a natural thing to do.

I can’t imagine what you mean by wind resistance. Of course there’s wind resistance - that’s what makes a sail work. If the wind is in the wrong direction for that resistance to be advantageous to you, you take the sail down and paddle. Sails fold up into a tiny package that has a much lower profile (flat as a pancake) than many of the items you will commonly see stowed on a kayak deck. If you are thinking that a working sail provides air resistance in opposition to your forward travel, you need to re-think which way that air is actually moving relative to your boat.

In the 300 mile watertribe races I participate in, kayaks without sails quite often beat the kayaks with sails (in the same class). I don’t use a sail just because I’m a stubborn minimalist.

In theory, the kayaks with the sails should always win, because they can move faster (7mph+ in some cases) with a brisk wind, but the “kayak sailors” often seem to enjoy sailing more than paddling, paddle only when necessary, and they keep fiddling with the sail in an unfavorable/light wind while a person under paddle-power, doing a more constant speed (5mph or so), catches and passes them by (the Tortoise vs the Hare). The kayakers with sails also sometimes come into the checkpoints shivering and cold, from sitting still for long periods. Some, but certainly not all, sail rigs can get in the way of an efficient kayak stroke, even when stowed. Finally, some years the wind isn’t favorable for sailing, so the sails just add dead weight and get in the way and deflect spray.

Having said all this, a superb kayaker and sailor, who paddles AND sails at the same time, who has a rig that doesn’t interfere with paddling, and knows when to drop the sail when it’s a liability, and has a strong stroke, would be a strong contender and very hard to beat.


Sail work or they would have been on the Nina, Pinta & Santa Maria. Good sail should take you into the wind also no? Like to get one for my tandem Libra XT. Guess I’ll be calling Marshall in the spring.

Sailing a kayak to windward is an effort that to me seems like an act of futility. First of all, you cannot sail directly into the wind; you must tack back and forth and for that to even work, you have to have some kind of device, like a center board, or side board to resist being blown sideways. Even with all that, you would be challenged to sail any closer to the wind than maybe 45 degrees and I would doubt that to be possible.

If you want to sail, why not do it in a sailboat? But then the challenge would be, how to paddle the thing efficiently–right?

Can’t get a sail boat on the roof

From what I read you can tack back and forth at 45° angles straight into the wind.

Magooch is right. The hull needs to have lots of resistance to lateral motion (side-slippage relative to the water) for upwind sailing (tacking) to work, and for that you need a big keel or leeboard.

Correct. The closer to 45 degrees the more things slow with a single mast like SeaDog/Flat Earth/Falcon Sails, with an unmodifed kayak. More upwind then leeboards like on a Kayaksailor rig is needed. Off too upwind dropping the SeaDog Sail to the deck takes less than 2 seconds.

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Two kinds of sails to consider. Downwind sails, and foils. Sailboats often have both - and often several sizes/types of each. Years ago, I began to collect the components to, essentially, turn a canoe into a sailboat. That lead to actually owning a series of sailing dinghies and eventually a 20’ sailboat. What I have found in the process is that unless your sailing craft can tack really close to the wind and get up on plane (or is way too large to paddle), you can probably get to your upwind destination faster by paddling your canoe/kayak straight into the wind. If your destination is directly across the wind, that is another story. Downwind is going to depend a lot on the size of your downwind sail and the speed of the wind. While you might sail across the wind faster than the actual wind speed, you will not outrun it going downwind without working against a lot of drag.

So, the answer is “maybe”. A sail can slow your arrival to destination if you are tacking into the wind vs paddling an efficient hull straight into the wind (we’re talking personal size displacement hulls here). It can slow you down if you are going downwind, and that wind is less than the speed at which you can paddle. If you are using an efficient upwind “foil” sail to get to a destination directly across the wind (“broad reach”), it can get you there faster (and less tired :wink: ). OTOH - if you have the rigging (mast, stays, etc) for a real efficient sail that you can’t raise because of the current lack of wind or inconvenient wind direction, you will experience significant drag from the rig itself - unless you have the time and the means to take the rig down.

I gave up on the idea of anything other than a downwind sail in a canoe, but that is mostly because I have a sailboat. If you enjoy sailing just for the sake of sailing (and I do), or you have favorable prevailing winds that work (as in allowing you to stay mostly on a single tack) for your intended route(s), it may still be worth it to you to have a “real” sailing rig for your paddlecraft. If you just want to take advantage of wind when you can to get where you’re going, you may be best off with a collapsible downwind “sail”.

The sailing rig for my Shrike includes two skegs, one in the conventional place for downwind work, and one near the bow for sailing to windward. On a reach both skegs are down.

My one experience around people using kayak sails was on a long trip. These people were normally faster paddlers than me but once they put the sails up, they actually slowed down so much that I and the other group member had to keep stopping to wait for them.

The reason is that the wind was light and they stopped paddling, so of course they slowed to a crawl.

AND the sails were useless for heading anywhere but downwind, when they didn’t need auxiliary power anyway.

I’ve had a Pacific Action sail for years, have not used it in some time, but on a boat like mine, I was impressed with the speed I could achieve in the proper conditions. Since the PA sail is best used for a downwind run, it has it’s limitations. I found having a GPS to find the right point of sail helps a great deal. Once at Raystown, Mike McCrea and I decided to try the sail in a VERY BRISK WIND. We first paddled into the wind shadow created by a hill to our west. Once there we both put up our sails and gradually sailed into the full force of the wind at our back. This was only the 2nd time I had used the sail. Mike had a bit of a head start and took off in his Barca Lounger of a boat, wide and stable. Me on the other hand, I was in an 18 foot kayak 21 1/4" wide. I soon caught up to him and passed him, when all of a sudden my boat was flying, scared the crap out of me! According to my GPS, at one point I hit 22 mph, I was skipping across the wave tops. Kayak was rocking back and forth and had to brace in order to stay upright. I desperately wanted to stop but could not put the paddle down for fear of tipping. I started humping the boat on one side in order to turn and gradually I was perpendicular to the wind and was able to snatch the sail down. I had broken out in a cold sweat and was relieved that the worst had not happened.

One another occasion on a trip to Assateague, we sailed over 12 miles without taking a paddle stroke, the wind was much milder on this occasion.

I replaced all the lines on the sail to thicker ones, I installed clam clamps for the lines which allowed me to drop the sail in short order. Also put a rudder on the boat when I sail.

Have not sailed for years at this point, someday I’ll try it again, but will be careful as far as the wind speed.

@nickcrowhurst said:
The sailing rig for my Shrike includes two skegs, one in the conventional place for downwind work, and one near the bow for sailing to windward. On a reach both skegs are down.

When see sailing rigs like this, I tend to think the designer doesn’t really understand how a sail works - or else doesn’t intend for it to be much more then a downwind rig. I would want a loose footed sail with more potential belly (adjustable), higher aspect, and less surface area up high. Might even just go with a light jib with some kind of whisker pole setup. But maybe a kayak doesn’t need or can’t handle an efficient sail. My sailing-based bias tells me that a kayak would have to be wider than ideal for paddling, to really take advantage of an efficient sail…unless some kind of outrigger was employed (more drag/weight to manage when not sailing) as with the Hobie Adventure Island.

How close to the wind can you sail with that? How much leeway does it suffer? Can you run the sail loose footed - or does it have to be sleeved over the boom, as in the photo?

Your questions require mainly quantitative answers, which could be addressed to the vendor at
Any answers from me would be qualitative, and hence of little value.

I like sailing my kayak. I sail it when I am tired and/or it can help me travel faster than I may otherwise have been able to. If I was travelling directly into the wind the sail would add no value, thus tacking would be required. If speed was measured in reduction of distance from desired destination then perhaps speed would be slower. However, why would one raise the sail to slow oneself down? The sail should only be raised when it increases the speed or decreases the effort to obtain the desired speed. Or of course just raise it for the pure pleasure of sailing. Why not?
Its about the journey otherwise I would use a power boat. Sail on…

Fir me I’m not running a race so if I said into the wind and it takes longer than paddling it’s for the joy of it. As stated above it’s the journey not the lap times. I get a thrill holding up my paddle and feeling the wind pull me…

Those questions I asked were mostly rhetorical (although I’d find the answers interesting), and just an example of things to think about when deciding on a sail…or whether to have a sail. I don’t mean to sound like I think sails are a waste of time, because I don’t. Well, actually - I have to admit that for most of us who do not live on the coast or the Great Lakes, myself included, sailing in general is literally a waste of time - but a fine and lovely waste of time it is!