High wind paddling

The other day I went out on the LI Sound off Madison for some rough sea kayaking, which was very enjoyable under our expert leader. However, the wind picked up so much that , in the end, try as I may I couldn’t keep my kayak heading straight into the wind . I didn’t lose face ( although my hair got a bit ruffled) because the two other kayaks at that point had decided to turn back . What is the technique for paddling against very high winds ?

The rough sea was managable.

high winds technique
Drop your rudder in the water, and off you go.

Using a “low gear” paddle when heading into a strong headwind is highly recommended. It allows one to maintain a pleasant normal cadence even though one is paddling at a low speed.

With my greenland paddle, paddling into a force 7 wind is hard but manageable. With my euro paddle it’s a struggle.

Not sure
what your paddling, but a rudder of course would do the trick, if you have a skegged boat, pulling the skeg up should get the boat to turn into the wind. I think most boats with skegs are designed to weather cock slightly with the skeg up and lee cock with the skeg fully deployed by adjusting the skeg you could balance the boat for given conditions.

Keep weight forward
When heading into the wind, keeping your weight forward of the CG point will help … and conversly heading downwind. This beomes very apparant when canoeing solo on windy days! Bob

grit your teeth and
paddle harder.


high winds
We’re in the season of gales right now in the Great Lakes. About a week ago my husband, a friend Cliff and I paddled in very stiff winds-it was really quite a job but good fun as I was looking forward to riding the surf home. At times as we paddled (with all my strength) we were just standing still. I tried a variety of strokes but the thing that helped most was when my husband who was only a few feet away from me yelled over to me, above the high winds, to relax between the strokes. There was not much “between time” but I tried relaxing rather than fighting with all my strength and that really seemed to help. Had a fantastic but tricky ride home on the waves :slight_smile:

What Boat Were You Paddling?

Thanks to all the replies. paddling a Current Design ‘Gulf Stream’. I has a skeg , which I dropped down, pulled up, all to no avail. Next time I will try all the actions advised by your goodselves, like relaxing between strokes, gritting my teeth and paddling harder, fiddling with the skegg and will let you know.


what I found
is that I can hold my own with a lot of effort in a 40-45 mph wind (not be blown backwards) and I could make slow progress against 20-30 mph winds. I learned this last year in a small inland lake, so the waves were small. In a large body of water everything would be different. But, it was nice for me to see how I could handle high winds in a fairly safe environment. Keeping a higher cadence and trying to relax for the brief time I had between paddle strokes did help alot. I also think leaning forward a bit helps.

Keep in mind that in high winds if you come out of your boat it will be blown away before you pop your head above the water if you don’t hold onto it. Your paddle too.


What length and style of paddle are you using? Also what is your height? You did say that you were paddling a Gulfstream and 1/2 down on your skeg should hold it if you are not sweeping with your stroke and pushing the bow over. Any movement of the bow will be accentuated in strong head winds. A tighter more vertical stroke will keep the bow better in line. We got caught at the mouth of the Russian River in CA and it took us 1 1/2 hours to paddle 1 mile against the wind and tide. If you stopped paddling you went backwards. The real problem is when you have a tail wind.

high wind
I’m 5’ 6 weigh 175 and am 65 years old. I was using

a reconsized regular paddle, the name of which escapes me at the moment, feathered. All this info has been very helpful and I can’t wait to go out there again to see what works.


Help Me Out, Please

– Last Updated: Oct-21-04 5:17 PM EST –

You said:

"couldn't keep my kayak heading straight into the wind ."

Does that mean you couldn't make forward progress straight into the wind, or that your boat kept pointing away from the wind?

Tack into the wind

May be unorthodox, but…
when the wind gets really unruly (30-40 mph), I lower my upper body like a road cyclist. It actually does help. Might not be a great position if you have to brace suddenly; OTOH, your weight is not up as high in the first place so perhaps the chance of capsizing is less.

I tend to do the same thing
and don’t have any trouble bracing that way. Probably doesn’t do great things for stroke form, but when the gusts hit it’s kind of hang on, grit your teeth, and try to keep the boat moving as best you can anyway.

spend more care
where you put your blade. You cannot waste energy simply paddling “harder”. Your capacity to put energy out is finite. You have to paddler smarter than paddle harder. Bad technique will waste energy long before it moves the kayak.

Tacking would cause control problems
It’s much easier to keep a kayak on course if it’s headed straight into the wind. This is not only due to wind effects, but also due to the fact that the waves will most likely be coming from the same direction as the wind. As soon as you turn significantly off-axis, the waves will cause the boat to tend to broach, so you’ll constantly be fighting to maintain course. It would just add to an already tiring situation.

On the other hand, a small ferry angle can be used to cross a body of water with a strong wind running parallel to it.

Paddle length
I dont know why everybody measures paddles by overall length but the critical measurement is the shaft as blades vary in design. When you are paddling normally check to see how much of your paddle shaft is unwetted. That is the correct length of the shaft. Select your paddle based on the correct shaft length and you will find paddling much easier. I just changed my wifes paddle to a 200cm and her tracking and speed improved considerably. She was using a 210cm and it was too long for her height and boat width. If your paddle is over 210cm you probably have too long a paddle.

Put Weight Forward
I have a 16’ tandem rec kayak, and have found myself battling the wind on inland lakes when I don’t take the effort to balance the boat. With proper balance, boat handling eases considerably!

If you are paddling into the wind, and the boat is turning AWAY from the wind, move yourself or your gear more forward.

If the wind is behind you, you’ll probably be happier with more weight in the back.

If the wind is at an angle, you’ll have to play with the weight until you hit the “sweet spot” of balance.

Hope that helps. Good luck.