Drafting and racing ettiquette

I was in a race this weekend-a 12 mile river race. After the original " charge" the race settled down to distinct groupings. I was in a group of 6 , kayaks and canoes, for quite a while. I drafted off of these guys for 45. min every now and then I would do my share but it was minimal. At the end of the race I had achance to pull ahead of some of them and I was actually doing it when I suddenly felt guilty. these guys pulled for 90% of the time so I felt I owed them. I did reciprocate at the end by giving them each a beer.

As we were discussing the race I asked which was the most efficent way do draft. Should one follow directly behind the boat in front or catch the wave off of the sides of the forward. Strangely we never did resolve which was better. So I pose this qyestion to the board.

different opinions
we hashed through this a while ago. i don’t think it’s good sportsmanship to draft off someone the whole race and then sprint for the win at the end, others feel that all was fair in love war and kayak racing. there’s no real right answer.


Long Story
I am one of the slower paddlers in my area (S. Texas) and paddle with a GP so racing has never been a major interest. While visiting New York the memebers of the Yonker’s Paddling and Rowing Club brow-beat me into paddling in their race as part of the Yonker’s paddlefest. Their best paddlers were not in there at the time, but their was one gentlemen in a CD extreme who I had heard talking a lot about wing paddles and races. I think it was about a mile race (1/2 mile out, circle a marker kayak and then return).

My plan was to sprint real hard at the beginning to get in a little clear water so I would not get hit by paddles or kayaks. I was then going to slow down and watch everyone go by. The gun sounds, I sprint like crazy not even looking up, and when I do I do not see anyone in front of me. The gentlemen in the CD Extreme is about even with me and about 4 boat lanes over to my right. No rules were discussed so I think what the heck and hang a right hand turn and swing right in behind him almost touching him. I am amazed in that I have to completely stop paddling several times to keep from running into him. I keep waiting for someone else to catch us but no one does.

We come to the turn around and my plan is to just follow him around. Suddenly he throws in a reverse sweep and comes to a dead stop leaving me about to spear him with my bow. Rather than stopping I edge strongly, throw in a couple of sweeps and just keep paddling. I am waiting for him to catch up and come on by me when I noticed that he has gone quite a way back to the shoreline. I was thinking the current was with me now so I stayed out more toward the middle of the Hudson. I figure he has me beat so I am paddling strongly, but not hurting myself. As we angle back together toward the finish line I realize I am still ahead (probably due to the current boost). Suddenly all those repressed competitive urges kick in and I am paddling for all I am worth. Driving my legs and doing those stomach crunch thingees that are supposed to make GP’s paddle faster. I cross the finish line in pain and breathing so hard I can not even talk. I few minutes later I managed enough breath to ask if I had won. “Yes, you won, but if it had been another 10 yards he would have caught you.” was the answer.

Back home when I displayed the trophy everyone just nodded as if to say “Well he must have been the only one entered in his class”.

I vote for drafting by staying right behind with bow almost touching the other guys stern.


don’t some races specify?
…no drafting?

not this one
everybody was drafting. As Mark mentioned, if I was very close to the stern I did feel a draft and also off to the side where the waves from the boat angled. At a certain distance directly behind the stern I felt the opposite, like ai was going backwards. I am pretty new to this so perhaps i am just sensing wierd river currents.

In a Olympic style K1 you will always want to draft on side of a kayak - sitting on the bow generated wave.

To get maximum effect, your own bow should be close(30 cm) to where the other guy’s blade exits the water. This takes a good deal of concentration and requires an efficient rudder.

In a sea kayak I suspect you’re often better of drafting behind your opponent as the bow wave typical will be smaller - because of the lower speed.

The last paragraph is my own theory only based on a couple of sea kayak races.


In My Sea Kayak
I feel significant advantage if I stay directly behind the boat ahead. If there’s a sweet spot off to the side I can’t seem to find it.

Personally, if I were in a 2 or 3 boat breakaway and hardly took a turn at the front, I wouldn’t challenge the leader. If I were in a bigger group, I’d feel sure that at the end it’s going to be a sprint finish and it’s every man for himself.

some races specify
no drafting, but personally i think its just smart racing. Play your strengths, I’m not great at cardio endurance, but i can stay with someone if i have an objective, and I’m strong in a sprint.

This has been batted about before. I agree with Kudzu, but some folks feel ‘all’s fair in love and racing.’ Coming from a bicycle racing background, drafting is like gravity, it’s not just a good idea-it’s the law.

Holding the sweet spot off a bow wave requires a good deal of skill and concentration, but the best ride. Stern drafting is the next best, but keep in mind that in order to come around (VERY slowly I might add, unlike bicycle racing.), you need to pop up and over the bow wave-that’s tough.

I personally don’t have a problem with drafting as long as folks pull their weight (Wheel/stern/bow sucking is never good etiquette.); it’s tactics, just like anything else, part of boat to boat or wheel to wheel. Adds an element of interest, in my view. Otherwise, you might as well run individual time trials. I’m thinking about races like the Blackburn, which has a no drafting rule. And how at the start, everyone shoots out of the gate into draft formation, until they settle in for the long haul. Kinda’ fun.

I race a lot and draft a lot

– Last Updated: Aug-02-07 6:31 AM EST –

My take:
When I am drafting I will be directly behind the boat in front as close as I dare without hitting him, (just a couple of inches). - 6 MPH would be perfect, thank you.
I don't think it is drafting, even though it is called that. I think it is the fact that the front guy is just ironing out the water for me.
I think true drafting is actually a little off to the side and riding his stern wake.
It is just like cycling, and is amazing how you will even have to miss a stroke just to keep from hitting him.
I will gladly take my pull, (if I can) and have even suggested to the guy in front that I'll take it when he is ready.
What you have to be careful of is to make your move at the right time if it is a sprint at the end. - There are two wakes that you have to get over; his stern wake, and his bow wake. If you wait too long you'll never get over his bow wake.
If you make your move to quick you'll burn, and he will beat you.
I race in about fourteen races a year, and I have never been in one where drafting has been prohibited.

Oh if I were only young again, and could draft some of you swifties !


Does "riding his stern wake"
mean that you’re positioned on his “hip” off to one side with your bow trailing him near his stern? If so, where would your bow be positioned relative to his stern and how far off to the side would your bow be?



fluid vs. aero
As fluid dynamic theory isn’t much different than aero dynamic theory, this thread reads like a nascar blog!

Interesting concept, and useful, if I were a racer.

I do have a question about what was written about races that prohibit drafting:

Who decides? It sounds like an enforcement nightmare to me.

Hopefully one of the better racers
will jump in and answer that for you.

Like I said above, I draft directly behind, in the flat water.

I have tried the stern wake, but found that it takes more concentration to keep the bow on top of the wave.



Drafted, been drafted

– Last Updated: Aug-02-07 9:54 PM EST –

been on both sides of the draft, and its all racing IMO.

One year I seemed to be racing my VCP Aleut Sea II a lot, and that boat was an awesome boat to draft. Everytime we'd be pulling a train, and not once all year was anyone able to out sprint us at the finish. More times than not, they would panic when they found out how difficult it was to climb from the surfing trough over the peak of the wave, we'd pull away and put more time on them. At a Great Cross Sound race years ago, Steve Bennet shouted "I hate to have to do this to you after you pulled us the last 6 and a half mikes, but you know I gotta try and sprint by you for the finish"! I shouted right back, "hell, it wouldn't be racing if ya didn't, but don't be so sure I'm the one whos gonna be feeling bad!" We shut 'em down.

Once at Deep Cove, a sprint boat was on the shoulder of the bow wake. He placed his bow right at the exit spot of my wing blade. i was getting pissed as my paddle would hit his bow every now and then and it was screwing up my stroke. He was so intense he looked possessed. Instead of yelling at him, I tried to distract him by yelling questions at him about the corse and which lines he thought I should take since we're pulling him and an entire train of other boats. He snapped out of his trance and shouted back to me "Huh?" and we pulled away and left the train behind, and saved my Epic wing blade.

Another Effective Technique
to discourage a wash hanger crowding you off your bow wake and disrupting your stroke is to (inadvertently) deliver a wingful of water back into the face and chest every now and again.

Oops. :wink:

I was just about to say that
I have use that and it has been used on me.



Not unlike
sitting in the rear of a K2 with a partner that doesn’t make a clean exit with his paddle blades.

I remember some long sessions last winter where I’d get shoveled freezing cold water in my face at every forward stroke.

Speaking of K2s - when a K2 drafts a K2 the kayaks are almost in line. I’d like to shoot an overhead photo one day to see the wave pattern.


Oh, no !!!
When we demoed the Westside Bullitt I got the same, but the paddle she was using in front was way too long and we blamed it on that.(and yes it was freezing cold water)

We will have the boat shortly and are hopeing that with her normal paddle that won’t happen.

Keeping our fingers crossed,


overhead shot

– Last Updated: Aug-03-07 12:45 PM EST –

Last year at our marathon trials someone shot a picture of the lead four k2s in a diamond from the top of the finish tower. The angle is slightly oblique but the wave pattern is clearly visible.

Too bad we can't attach photos to posts. I'll send you a copy if you like.

Ausable Race

– Last Updated: Aug-03-07 1:11 PM EST –

By looking at the times at the recent Ausable River Race I would say that there was alot of drafting going on. It's a real part of the game. Do not know of any races where it is not allowed.