How much faster is a sea kayak

I know it's a broad question, but has anyone compared a touring kayak vs a recreational kayak in terms of time or average speed over the course of a couple hours? If so, what were the conditions and how much better did the touring kayak do?

Last weekend 6 of us paddled 20 miles
on the Edisto River. There were 2 16’ poly sea kayaks, 2 Tarpon 160, and a couple of rigged out 14’ fishing


It was a hot , humid day so noone was in a hurry.

The sea kayaks had to constantly wait for the rest of us, esp. in the 2nd half of the day.

The Tarpons were next and the fishing kayaks last.

The 2 sea kayaks were paddled by people 10-15 years younger than the guys in the Tarpons, but I can’t accept that age was an issue since I paddle a Tarpon.

10 years ago I had little trouble keeping up.

It depends on the motor,to answer your
question. I can easily get the Tarpon to 5 mph but can’t sustain it.

Rec boats have more wetted surface area than sea kayaks so there is more resistance to overcome. Padddler weight is also a factor.

avoiding absolutes, my take is
that in general, longer and more slender craft will move with less resistance (faster) than short and wide when propelled by same capacity and skilled paddler. Some is due to hydrodynamics and some to wider boats require a more wide and sweeping stroke which tends to turn these craft off the desired straight course reducing efficiency and speed. A huge effect on speed is the paddler’s skill. This can be acquired and refined without spending $$ on equipment. Also do not let folks shame you for what you do or do not paddle. Enjoy what you have and learn to extract maximum benefit. Take some lessons, read some books, watch some video of pros and of yourself.

All the time
I have owned 8 different sea or touring kayaks from 13.5’ to 18’ long and frequently have paddled them on flatwater trips with people paddling rec boats. In every situation, I have had to slow down substantially or wait for the rec boats to catch up, even when they were clearly paddling as hard as they could and without slacking off. In some cases I have switched boat with the people who were lagging in the rec boats to try to improve the group pace and even with my experience and better paddling technique it was a real bear to get even close to 3 mph in a rec boat. In fair conditions I can easily maintain 4 mph in any of my touring kayaks and my 18’ ultralight sea kayak can hit 5 mph if I really push it

You seem to be asking for “hard data” on the speed differential but that really is not very realistic. There are wide ranges of efficiency in both rec boats and sea kayaks as well as wide differences in the paddling expertise of kayakers themselves. There are some physical limitations on forward speed that are simply inherent in short kayaks no matter how powerful and skilled the paddler might be. But they are complicated, and (for instance) a 10’ Eddyline Sky (technically a rec boat, but a well designed one) could be easier to paddle to speed than some heavy high-volume sea kayaks.

There are good articles explaining the complexities of “hull speed” like this one:

a better measure
though Willowleaf provides some good metrics - you will be able to travel at the same pace much more easily. Add some texture to the water, and the difference will increase.

Length and Sleekness

– Last Updated: Jun-13-16 7:21 PM EST –

Length and "sleekness" are probably the two most important factors here. All kayaks are theoretically limited to "hull speed", which is the maximum speed at which the bow and stern waves can travel (the boat cannot go faster than these waves without a huge amount of propulsive force). The longer the boat and therefore the greater the distance between those two waves, the faster the waves, and the boat which is stuck between them, can go. Where "sleekness" comes in, is to reduce how abruptly the boat "hits the wall" of theoretical maximum speed. A sleek boat can more easily be pushed pretty close to the "maximum speed", or even beyond, whereas a fat boat starts requiring super-human strength at speeds well below the theoretical maximum.

Put those two factors together and the result is pretty noticeable, just as other posters have already observed. Comparing a 10' rec boat to a 16' sea kayak, the 10-footer has a theoretical maximum speed of 4.8 mph, while for the 16-footer that speed is 6.1 (these figures are rounded down just slightly as a lazy way of partially taking into account that the waterline length will be a little less than the total). For the rec boat, you'd be lucky if you had the power and endurance to cruise any faster than 3.8 to 4.0 mph, and most people would cruise quite a bit slower than that, while with the sea kayak a good paddler could comfortably cruise at 5.0 mph and maybe even 5.5 mph due to the "softer" way in which the boat starts to encounter greater resistance on approaching the theoretical maximum speed. Comparing 3.8 mph to 5.0 mph over a ten-mile distance, the slower boat takes 2 hours and 38 minutes, while the faster boat takes just 2 hours flat. Extend that over half a day of paddling and the difference starts to get pretty huge.

Yes, those numbers are not hard data, but they are reasonable based on side-by-side paddling I've done with lots of different kayakers. Even if you were to adjust one figure or the other to be higher or lower by a reasonable amount, you'd still end up with a pretty big difference in speed or distance traveled.

paddling with a clinic group of long hull polyakkers with muh kevlar Titan Solstice, surprised finding I came up from behind n drew abreast.

I paddle both…
My “rec” boat would be an Old Town Castine. Very useful 12’9" poly hull for rocky stuff or for clearing paths on forest creeks.

On the other end of the scale, a QCC700. 18’ of pure glide.

If I’m going for a distance, there is no comparison. Return on expenditure of effort is very obvious. Every paddle stroke shows it. Going against a current magnifies the difference. Long and sleek goes further with less effort. Short and fat is fine for down stream floats or poking through the swampland. Not so much for the big water.

I’d venture if I did an up and back paddle on a river like the Rainbow or Silver, my time difference between the two would be less notable than the wear and tear on my body.

If you live in or visit Florida, you’re welcome to paddle whatever is in the yakshak and see for yourself!


good to know
Thanks all, just what I was looking for (and what I sort of expected).

Although I don’t do a lot of sea kayaking trips, when I do, I like to push myself - 10-15 miles so it seems like spending some $ on the right tool for the job will save time paddling and make things quite a bit easier.

My Castine is a great brush buster.
Seems to love choppy water. Faster than most rec boat of the same length, but it won’t touch my QCC400X, Epic 16X or Perception Sonoma 13.5 for speed and efficiency - too fat.

“over a couple of hours"
My 18 foot kayak will average 2 mph faster then my 9’-6” kayak.

That is just lilly dipping

Jack L

Tow Tank
Outside Washington DC the Naval Research Lab has a tow tank (in a really long building) for dragging ship models to assess hulls, it would be neat to talk them into testing kayaks “on a slow day”. Anyone have connections with the navy? They could test the relative resistance. Maybe they’d need multiple tests at 100lb, 150lb and 200lb “ballast”.

you boat what you got

– Last Updated: Jun-14-16 8:12 AM EST –

I'm 80% whitewater so the other 20% suffers a bit when I venture out. Sometimes its just easier to rent a boat at a particular destination. My ww boats and crossover are also used quite a bit for flat meandering creeks, swamps, slow river paddling.

Occasionally I've found myself on lakes in my ww kayaks and wished I was in something more efficient. It's more about effort spent than speed for me. Paddling on the NFCT in the adirondacks in whitewater boats is an example of that. However I make the time up that I've lost on the lakes and save some effort by skipping some of the portages- so it kind of evens out there.

What was cool to me was when castoff let me try his ocean kayaks and how well they did in wind. We paddled and made headway on a day when I wouldn't have even thought about paddling my ww boats. I missed the initial stability of ww boats. Castoff's boats felt tippy to me so more seat time would be needed to feel more secure.

For me its more about exploring different environments- certain boats work better in certain situations but sometimes you can get by without having to buy or rent another boat as well. Not only can you adjust what boat you take out but you can also adjust your expectations- lower your mileage and speed when taking shorter boats on the flats.

here's what I've learned- rafts and duckies- you want current or you're just going to wear yourself out

old school ww boats like my perception mirage- have some speed but uncomfortable for paddling all day on the flats

cross over (ll xp) boat- room for an overnight, fully ww capable, not very fast or efficient in the flats but comfy seat, pretty versatile boat as advertised-but slow on the flats- it plows

rec canoe- pretty versatile, my particular model doesn't portage well or do extended trips- sometimes I use a canoe paddle and sometimes a kayak paddle- just depends-the canoe is the original "rec boat" and I've wrecked a few of 'em. You can definately cover some ground with a motivated tandem.

ww riverrunners, crossovers and creek boats work fine on twisty streams and swamp paddling and on ww- slow on the flats

coastal inlet paddling- learn how to run with the tides is as important as what boat you pick, I know what I don't know so I take small bites in that environment but have been using what I have

So for me the question isn't so much about speed or a tourer versus a rec boat but rather about effort and safety and what I own.

I did add a looksha sport to the fleet but haven't gotten it out yet so perhaps there's a glimmer of hope for me as a flatwater paddler.

Here’s a chart…
That may give you some insight as to speed and efficiency work out by the formulas.

That chart is cool but…
How do they derive the number for Std Cruising Speed? Is a lower number or higher number better?

I’ll just be “cruising” (but pushing myself some) for my outings because I’ll be paddling for at least an hour straight. I’m thinking something around 14.5’ could be good

They do say this:

“**Efficient cruising is a function of low frictional drag and low wetted surface (WS). Lower WS means a faster (less effort) cruising speed, here expressed in sq. ft. For example, the shorter Arctic Tern 14 cruises with less effort than the longer AT-17 until the AT-14 reaches 4.91mph.”

A friend’s small son was paddling his AT17 when I put him in my AT14. His first remark was that the 14 was a fast boat.

I’ve seen smaller racers do better in shorter more efficient boats. All depends on how much power the paddler has.

Rec boats could easily have less wetted
… surface than sea kayaks. The boat with the least wetted surface would be rounded on the bottom and just as wide as it is long. No kayak has such a shape, but wide short rec kayaks are a lot closer to that than long, skinny sea kayaks. As pointed out by Grayhawk below, shorter boats generally have less wetted surface than longer boats and move more easily through the water when at moderate speed, but they “max out” at slower speeds than longer boats. Complicating things even more, rec boats sometimes have complex hull shapes to provide rigidity, and that increases wetted surface area, and they often are blunt enough to plow through the water and kick up a big wave (wasting energy).

I think we’re all playing fast and loose
with what makes an object resist less. We know, for example, that drafting can decrease the effort needed to propel an object through water or air (for both the object in front, and the one drafting). Drafting is basically extending the length of an object.

Well, …

– Last Updated: Jun-15-16 5:19 PM EST –

... I find that the idea that a shorter boat moves through the water with noticeably greater ease than a long boat holds true when comparing my two rowboats, in spite of the fact that the shorter boat has a little bit of reverse curvature inside of the chines which would increase wetted surface area by a little bit (apparently that small increase in surface area is not enough to matter much). In any case, the idea that a shorter boat has less wetted surface area than a longer boat is a geometrical certainty, as long as the boats are reasonably similar in shape. Also relating to points already made by grayhawk and his chart, the advantage of the shorter boat disappears as soon as you try to make real speed. The shorter boat "maxes out" at a slower speed than does the longer one. In fact, even before reaching that speed, there comes a point where the effort simply isn't worth it. I came up with the idea quite sometime back (based on effort, GPS speed readings and waterline length) that 3/4ths of a mile per hour slower than hull speed is a very practical limit for cruising speed (that's roughly the figure I used in my other post), so I found it interesting that this turned out to correlate so closely with the info in the chart provided by grayhawk (hull speed isn't included in the chart, but if you estimate waterline length based on the pictures and stated total length and calculate hull speed, their stated max cruising speed is really close to what I would have guessed).

The bit that I said about extreme increases in wetted surface area (due to the presence of very large ridges and channels down the length of the hull of many rec boats) and blunt bows which plow along making waves seems to make good sense, but more than that, I think everyone here has had the chance to notice that such boats are unusually slow, so I don't think it was too much of a stretch (playing fast and loose with the facts) to say as much.

Be all that as it may, the actual details behind this stuff, and the kinds of comparisons that would lead to more than just approximations, are beyond what most of us could ever understand or explain.

Oh, and you are right about drafting. With boats, you have to draft *really* close to get the full effect, and in that case you are turning two boats into a single, longer one (it helps to overlap the pointy ends of the two boats).