Everyone gives different advice about following seas!

I’m about to buy a kayak to head out on the Coral Sea. I want to get my skills up so I can paddle 8km from Townsville to Magnetic Island in the morning, and come back in the afternoon, when there will usually be an onshore wind at my back, with accompanying following sea - usually mild, but of course you can be surprised.

I’ve been perplexed about the seemingly contradictory advice experienced paddlers give online about kayaking in following seas.

Half the advice says steer with your paddle to keep going straight ahead, because if the wave turns you sideways it will tip you over.

Half the advice says steer with your paddle to go diagonally down the wave, so you can surf it and not plunge the kayak nose into the wave trough by going straight ahead, which could tip you over.

Each half seems to say the advice of the other half will tip you over.

I’m confused.

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Really neither approach should tip you over once you have learned how to handle waves, especially if you are correct that they will not be too big.

I suspect that you are getting advice intended to keep an unskilled beginner out of trouble. Frankly if that is the case the advice you should be getting is to get some training before you try this so you are not an unskilled beginner.


It depends on the size, period, steepness of the swell or actual breaking waves.
It also depends on wind and chop conditions. It also depends on the length and design of your kayak hull. Best to get some experience close to shore in waves and paddle with more experienced kayakers before you set out .


Agree with the advice. Its important to understand that advice is based on one person’s experience. You clearly found recommendations for two ways to handle the same situation. That doesn’t mean either recommendation is wrong. It depends on the boat, paddle technique, experience and preference.

Considering that you’re confused reveals that you have neither the knowlege nor the experience to face the conditions you anticipate. Rather than take the suggestion at face value, its up to you to validate the information. The consequences are valid, maybe you could go back to the source and ask more questions.

Reading the two posts before mine, it looks like your decision dilemma became more complicated than you originally thought. If you’ve never faced those conditions, nobody can tell you what to do.

I know certain passages that I travel all the time. More than once, I would pass a point because conditions were manageable, then turn around after 15 minutes because I sensed changes. By the time I returned to the beginning of the passage, conditions had already deteriorated beyond what I wanted to face. Things change fast with just a reverse in the tide or wind. If you can’t comfortably read it, there isn’t anyone to offer suggestions. Maybe it would be better to keep asking for advice and practice a bit longer.

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Thanks to all of you for these helpful reflections. I’m seeing that firstly I just need to get out there for a fair bit of shore-hugging playing around, perhaps in gradually increasing winds over time, and build my body intelligence in practice. If I’m close enough to swim to shore easily and wear a PFD I imagine I should be safe. I have a couple of friends who may join me from time to time too (I already have one kayak that is more a river kayak with a flattish bottom that I can loan, while I learn to use the more seaworthy kayak I intend to buy soon). I like your comment, Jyak that “If you’ve never faced those conditions, nobody can tell you what to do”. Yes the Townsville Kayak Club has skills days, but they’re on the river, probably teaching the basic strokes that are the sort of thing I can learn from videos, which for quirky personality reasons is my preference. And it’s clear to me now, thanks to this excellent advice, that conditions like following seas take me into the realm where there’s no substitute for some safe experience.


YES! That is the approach I took early on with onshore wind and waves. If you have a mishap, the waves and winds will push you and boat to shore. As SeaDart said, when you learn that one boat, it’s great, but it is that one boat. Different hull designs and volumes act differently.



Depending on you boat, the tail wind might be more of an issue than the waves. The wind will try to cause most kayaks to “weather cock” - to turn into the wind. With a tail wind, that means it is almost trying to make a 180. Some kayaks are worse than others for this.

If the boat has a rudder or a skegg, these would be used to offset some or all of this weather cocking. If you don’t have a rudder or skegg, you can reduce it some by moving weight toward the back of the kayak and some more advanced strokes (like shifting the grip on your paddle more to one side) and boat handling (edging).

Any waves created have a similar effect to the wind - trying to turn your boat sideways. A rudder would help limit the turn the most. Skegg less so. So choice of boat and accessories could help. Those same advanced strokes and handling also work.

I looked at a map of your area of Queensland and was wondering if the onshore wind be coming over the island? If so, the island would actually limit the wave formation a bit. But if the wind was coming directly from the open coral sea, without land breaking it up, then the waves could be considerable.

But keep in mind a tail wind and/or following waves does make the paddling much more difficult, and for most people not due to the sightly increased risk of capsize. The boat constantly trying to turn requires a lot of effort to keep the boat headed where you want. Your speed drops considerably, and the effort required for what speed you get jumps up considerably.


Most kayaks and canoes do not surf very well. Larger following seas can literally cause a boat to pitch pole. You can land on your head. For small to moderate waves say under 2 1/2 feet most people can learn to “steer bt the seat of your pants.” You can feel the movement of the waves as much as you can see it. This is easily learned in a sail boat.

Following seas are much more dangerous than some people believe. Use a lot of caution especially in salt water. Best of luck with your crossing. Practice rescues, go in a group, wear clothing for immersion. Learn to self rescue.


I would contact Magnetic Island Sea Kayaks for information. I imagine like most shops they will be happy to discuss conditions and give advice. They are probably familiar with what you want to do and can tailor their advice to your level of experience.

An 8km open water crossing with possibly unlimited fetch is not something I’d recommend for a beginning paddler, and certainly not done solo or without experienced paddlers to accompany you.

For what it’s worth, in short chop I prefer to go directly into or downwind to waves. A rudder can help to maintain your course and reduce the chance of turning and burying the bow, possibly turning the boat sideways and increasing the chance of capsize. A kayak is not a surfboard and it takes quite a bit of skill to ride a wave diagonally. I don’t have any experience with a skeg. I would definitely not be out in conditions where there was a possibility of pitchpoling.

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Not really unlimited fetch here, as the Great Barrier Reef has a suppressing effect on the waves - it’s why there are no surf beaches here. So the waves are on a smaller scale even with a wind blowing, though there can definitely be swell, chop, whitecaps. And the wind scales up to cyclones, though won’t be going out in that! The discussions here have really been helpful. I started out thinking I wanted a fairly fast kayak, but now I’m valuing stability and seaworthiness more. I’m realising that the safer I feel, the more I’ll enjoy it, and that’s more important than arriving a few minutes sooner. And it looks like it will be good to connect with the Townsville Kayak Club, as it seems that could put me in touch with groups paddling to the island. Not there yet though!

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Lots of people start out wanting faster. Then they get into wind or choppy seas and encounter the downsides of a faster hull, at least for a beginner. Longer waterline, less rocker and harder to turn. Not a fun problem to have when you are a half a mile or a mile from shore.

You are moving in the right direction.

You may want to check out a video by a guy named Kayak Hipster in the states that talks about why a stable kayak is usually not the best kayak for waves and conditions.

Basically, a wide, flat bottom boat, which is about as stable feeling as you can get, wants to stay parallel with the water surface. Great when the water is flat/horizontal. But if waves form, which means the water surface is not horizontal, that boat will be trying to stay parallel to the now non-horizontal surface.

A kayak that allows you freedom to use your body to adjust its angle and hold at different edges is usually better, as it won’t be trying to flip you as quickly.

Some skills needed to make this work.


There is no substitute for local knowledge. Find the local guy or club, paddle with them.
That turning to the side with a following sea is called broaching. Many things come into play, waterline or hull length, hull basic shape, (Is it strictly a displacement hull or is it a planing hull?) (Hull shapes flat , wide, or shallow arch bottom will plane out just like a surf board. Long slender deep V bottom is a displacement hull , will resist planing ) Rudder? Size of rudder? Skeg? There is no one size fits all solution or advice. THAT IS why you are getting conflicting advice. Their experience, with their boat and rig, etc.
Okay !! Now for my two cents worth. And listen carefully to me. Paddling on any water, especially an ocean ON A SCHEDULE, (going out in the morning coming back in the afternoon. Please, please forgive my profanity, Is GD foolish, dangerous and WILL get you killed. “Now back to our regularly scheduled and polite broadcast.”
I have learned to have extra food and paperback books to sit and read, “I ain’t goin’ out in THAT !” I could think carefully, that Sunday afternoon, and I have to be home to go to work early Monday AM. Has killed many people. Too common. And I do have direct experience.
First on the list, learn a rock solid, do it often for fun, roll. I have watched kayakers in the Grand Canyon flip and roll forward, backward, either side, and they do it for the pure fun of it. If you are going to venture onto open water, you need that skill and to that level. The level at which it is automatic and fun. Find an instructor, or learn online with a friend or two, shallow water, pool ,etc. make it fun’


@paddler236278 very good recommendations to build on the other suggestions.

For paddlers new to the sport, it’s important to realize that conditions at home are very different than what you may find on the water. Wind velicity and direction often varies within short distances on the water. Wind typically builds as the day progresses. The rate of heating/cooling is differnt on land and water, which can created cells that work with currents or intensify waves. Its important to know the direction, speed and duration of winds, especially if it persists overnight or for periods over 12 hours, because it will influence currents greatly.

Even though I have local knowledge of the upper Chesapeake Bay, I wouldn’t consider my knowledge adequate to navigate the open water south of the Kent Island Bay Bridge, without accompanying a kayaker familiar with the area and conditions. The reason is the waterway has vastly different currents - the wider expanse and collective outflow would have a cummulative effect. Fighting currents could be like trying to swim out of a rip current. Never take published tide charts at face value. Tidal flow can be influenced by storm runoff, nearby pressure systems such as hurricanes, and persistent winds. A more accurate reflection of tidal conditions comes from observing water flowing around aids to navigation, fishing floats moored in the channel, or the direction of sea grasses.

An enclosed waterway, such as a lake, reacts very diffently than open tidal water or the ocean, but that doesn’t diminish the threat from an unexpected storm, especially if the wind follows the length as opposed to narrower width. Consulting or accompanying a person with local knowledge should not be ignored.

Consider the weather forecast before starting out and keep in mind that conditions may be rougher away from land. Check again when you are actually at the launch. Also consider taking the ferry back if conditions deteriorate more than expected in the afternoon.

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Just got back from what is probably the last of the season. Air 70°, water 67°, wind SE 6 MPH. Water felt cold. Front coming in Sunday night bringing colder temps. Tide was about .5 mph. No waves for the first time this season.

Hey Jyak !! I will be bidding on permits for some white water in a little over one month. (Green River, San Juan ) Depending upon the river, lotteries are Dec Jan for permits mostly beginning in Ap, May, June. The Grand Canyon lottery is in Jan for the following calendar year (Lottery in Jan of 2024 is for permits in 2025}
Interested ??

Oh, and I hope I won’t disappoint you, I am a canoe nut.

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Go for gold! Canoes are just different paddle boats. It depends on how you plan to tackle the beast. People who paddle canoes are crazier than kayakers. If you can canoe, you can kayak!

I hate tolls, paid parking, standing in lines, and lotteries to select winners. But hopefully the God’s will smile on you. If not seek open water!

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Hi jewelsea, I have a kayak that combines seaworthiness with pretty good speed (which is an important source of joy for me). So don’t give up on the possibility of both.

What kayaks have you paddled so far?

BTW, my kayak is a Current Designs Caribou, in case you were wondering. If you have big feet it wouldn’t work for you, though.