Fastest Recreational Kayak

What would be a popular recreational kayak that has for main attribute its speed? I am looking for a used kayak, 12-14 feet. I have trouble determining speed inclination of a kayak from the manufacturers’ specs. Often, recreational kayaks are described as being stable. I can compromise a bit of stability for speed. I wouldn’t mind a sea kayak but there are more expensive.

1 Like

Kinda depends
on where you draw the border between recreational kayaks and shorter sea kayaks.

I don’t know that it is the fastest “recreational” kayak but the Wilderness Systems Tsumani 120 or 125 seem to be pretty efficient rotomolded kayaks. I suppose some would describe these as sea kayaks.

Compromises need to happen

– Last Updated: Mar-27-13 4:07 PM EST –

Fast usually means a few things in the kayak world :
-- plumb bow
-- skinny (i.e not 30 inches wide)
-- a long waterline (usually 14 ft or more)
-- light weight
-- costs some cash when bought new
-- skilled paddler using good technique

Decent 14 ft kayak, 24 inch wide ,reasonably quick :

Maybe you can find one used in your area,
-people are always swapping boats.

Basic shape you're looking for is this, but shorter :

Similar threads exist, its a common question,
and most of the time, money is the key element

Ulitmate top speed or easy cruising?

– Last Updated: Mar-27-13 4:21 PM EST –

The longer the boat, the faster it can go before becoming "trapped" between two waves of its own making, one at the bow and another at the stern. Essentially this is because the longer the wavelength, the faster the waves travel (and the boat travels with them). This is called hull speed, and it's not an ultimate speed limit but for practical purposes it acts that way. Very slender boats can be more easily forced to go faster than this, but most boats won't go faster than hull speed without Herculean effort on the paddler's part. You can calculate hull speed pretty closely (in miles per hour) for most boats as the square root of the waterline length x 1.54 (the formula you'll find most places gives the speed in knots, but most people find mph easier to deal with). Note that waterline length is generally less than the total length.

If you are more interested in ease of paddling at "practical" cruising speeds, other factors come into play, and other types of advice will be helpful, but if you are willing to paddle hard and make the boat go as fast as possible, get the longest one you can.

Since you probably want ease of paddling too, look for sharper entries (how "pointed" are the bow and stern - more pointed is better, but plastic boats won't usually have a "knife edge" splitting the water), narrower width, and a rounder bottom (as seen in cross section). All of these (especially narrower width and rounder bottom) decrease stability, but no rec boat will be too unstable for comfort. Any hull that has multiple "keels" or various kinds of grooves and ridges onthe bottom will require more effort to paddle, because these shapes increase wetted surface area for a given amount of displacement. The least wetted surface area (and thus the least resistance to being pushed through the water) will be provided by a hull who's bottom is semi-circular in cross section, but only a pro can keep such a boat upright. The faster boats among your likely choices will only "trend" toward having a rounder bottom instead of a flat bottom.

1 Like

Performance wise,
…“recreational kayaks” are designed to be for what you might call “lily-dipping”, i.e., platforms for casual paddling in fairly placid waters with the emphasis on stability for fishing, birdwatching, photography, etc. They tend to be over 25" in width and less than 12’ in length with fairly high volume, high gunwales, flat hull and large cockpit for easy entry and exit by nervous beginners. I’m not dumping on them – they are great for what they are designed for and probably constitute the majority of kayaks used nationwide. But speed is not a factor with them. All of their specs create a boat that does not respond well to attempts to accelerate quickly and push continuously at a rapid pace. The width and hull profile make them plow water at speed and can make them grumpy about tracking straight. You need something more slender with a hull that slices the water for speed.

It sounds like what you want is a touring kayak (not necessarily a sea kayak). Exact models would depend on your size and budget but most would be 14’ to 18’ long and 24" or less at the cockpit with a vee shaped hull. Many come with a rudder or skeg but you would not necessarily need that for flatwater day paddling. I have often found good used older models of this type for under $500, even as low as $300, which is about what you would pay for a new rec boat. In fact I just sold two great touring kayaks last year for $380 and $400 respectively.

It’s kind of like cars and bicycles. If your main desire is for speed you don’t buy a Beetle or a 3-speed cruiser.

What size are you and what kind of waters do you plan to paddle? And what are you looking to pay? That would help us make some suggestions.

Stretch target

– Last Updated: Mar-27-13 4:20 PM EST –

If you can stretch that budget just a bit

Pyranha Speeder

Maybe a few used ones around.....

for example

– Last Updated: Mar-27-13 4:24 PM EST –

These are some Craigslist posts of used kayaks in that "touring" range -- I keep a lookout in several areas of the country for boats for friends and family who are interested in buying one. All are under $1000 -- even some of the pricier ones come with stuff you would need to buy like a paddle and PFD so they are a good deal. No idea where you are but these are just some examples of the kind of kayaks you can find that would be faster than the average rec boat:

KayakPro Namu
The KayakPro Namu I would think would be a contender for fastest recreational kayak, the small version 13’6", the medium 14’9". Take a look at the hull and you’ll find clues to what might make a 14 footer faster or slower. The fast boats seem to tend to avoid any concave surfaces in contact with the water, including along the sides leading to the bow and stern ends. They typically will have the plumb bow and stern as you see on the KayakPro Namu to maximize waterline. You might see the bottom of the hull rounded clear to the ends, instead of tapering off into a sharp v, or even more resembling a fin for some distance near the ends. I think these might be some things you could look for in evaluating recreational kayaks for potential speed to thin the herd before deciding which ones to test. But there’s a lot to how you want the kayak to track, and the stability you require, and endless other considerations, and that’s why you find so many different approaches.

Unfortunately, you may not find KayakPros around, and they may be pricey compared to what you’re thinking of spending. But I thought I would offer it up as something to look at as an example of a fast 14 footer.

All great advices
Thanks everybody, I like the technical info provided and the referrals to some kayak models. I see I should have provided more information. I am in Ontario, Canada, and you won’t find many used sea kayak under $1000. My budget is $500. Not so many touring kayak at that price either.

I want to use the kayak for training as I will be entering solo adventure races this summer. The boat could also be used for the races, if suitable.

Thanks again. Will be spending my evening following all of your links and researching some more!

Kayaks are not fast
Paddlers are fast. It’s really about the engine.

There is surprisingly little difference in the drag vs. speed curves of any 12 to 14 foot kayak at the speeds that most normal paddlers will go.

So unless you are a truly competitive racer it’s a waste of time to worry about how “fast” your boat is. Just go out and enjoy yourself.

a slow rec kayak is a great workout machine. Not so good for racing though.

If racing…
a used pack canoe like the Placid Boat Works spitfire might be worth considering. Still double bladed to paddle, but one of these may be faster than a lot of beamier kayaks.

Race on flat water or down river?
Not much adventure in flat water. If down river you might look for a used old school downriver whitewater boat low volume long pointy ends - these go cheap nowdays ~$300 if you can find one.

It makes sense
So then, for the same paddler, over 20k (13miles), what could be a time difference between a 14’ and a 16’ boat? It still confuses me to do this math. Thanks.

depends on the engine.
Differences in boat speed is more important the faster you go.

For me, at my Max sustainable effort over 20k the difference might be about 20 minutes.

For a stronger paddler the difference would be more. For a weaker paddler it would be less.

Help with math, but not the final answer

– Last Updated: Mar-27-13 9:50 PM EST –

First, the math because that's the easy part. Ignoring the fact that waterline length will be slightly less than boat length, hull speed of a 14-foot boat is 5.76 mile/hour, and that of a 16-foot boat is 6.16 mile/hour (note that it's actually pretty silly to report these speeds to the nearest 0.01 mile/hour, but this is just a math exercise anyway).

When paddled at hull speed the whole time:

The time for the 14-foot boat to finish the race =
13 miles x 1 hour/5.76 miles = 2.26 hours, or about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

the time for the 16-foot boat to finish the race =
13 miles x 1 hour/6.16 miles = 2.11 hours, or about 2 hours and 6 minutes.

Based on that alone, the 16-footer should give you a better time. However, it will take more effort to keep the longer boat at top speed, and no two boats are identical in all respects other than length so any comparison like this is affected by more than what's in this over-simplified way of looking at things. It's also unlikely you'll be strong enough to push either boat at its top speed for the full duration of the race. Still, if both boats were paddled at the identical speed (at least for "fast" speeds), the shorter boat would be closer to its maximum and that would almost certainly require more effort, so a strong paddler should be able to finish the race in substantially less time with the longer boat (on the other hand, the shorter boat will be a bit easier to paddle at slow or moderate speeds, all else being equal). The difference in time between the two boats cannot be predicted with anything close to the degree of accuracy that seems to be implied by the math. Throw in various other factors and it's even possible you'd be faster in the shorter boat, especially if it's a substantially better design than the longer boat, but on average I'd bet on the longer one giving you a quicker time.

my approach
I know I can sustain about 4.5 knots over any significant distance in my boat.

The speed vs drag curve for my boat shows that speed has 5 pounds of drag.

Therefore my sustainable thrust is 5 pounds.

Next I looked at the curves for some short boats and some 14 foot boats and saw at a drag of 5 pounds there is about half a knot difference.

rec boats and the word speed
are mutually exclusive. If you go looking to get a rec boat with even a notion of enjoying some speed you will be sorely disappointed. The problem with rec boats is the width. To fit an adult they need to be wide to get enough floatation. That combined with the poor paddling position and long usually heavy paddle mean you are not even going to get close to hull speed. If you can at all swing the cost, an old used glass boat will be miles better.

Curve is the word

– Last Updated: Mar-28-13 12:23 AM EST –

The graph is not a line, it's nowhere near being linear in nature

Power vs speed kayak graph rockets skyward almost exponentially
due to the frictional forces on hull shapes

The paddling horsepower needed almost doubles going from
5.5 mph to 7 mph due to frictional drag.
Athletes need an ouput of 0.1 – 0.2 horsepower
to achieve 5 - 7 miles per hour
World class marathon kayak racers can achieve 8 mph and more
at near 0.3hp output.

here’s one in Toronto

– Last Updated: Mar-28-13 12:29 AM EST –

Actually two, now that you've told us where you are.

If you can deal with the funky paint job, here's a racing kayak for sale in Toronto PLUS paddle for$490. Light and designed specifically for speed. Would take some getting used to but if you learned to paddle it you would smoke most people in regular kayaks. Not likely to be many customers for it -- offer them $350 and see if they'll deal on it:

Also an old Olympic style whitewater boat that should be pretty fast with the right paddling skill for $300 (I used to have one like it). They tend not to track very well so you would have to get the skills right. And fit could be a problem if you are a big guy.