How to stay straight in confused seas with tailwinds?

I have a Venture Jura HV with skeg. Been kayaking for 4 years now and I would consider myself intermediate in some areas and a beginner in others. I kayak every weekend thru the summer and love to put on as many miles as possible.

I do love my Jura HV but am looking for something lighter- different post.

My issue is that I do a lot of kayaking in the bay and inlets of NJ. In the back bay areas where it is shallow the water is typically calm and nice to paddle with the only issue being high currents. I am fine with that however recently I have had a few cases where I have struggled.

IF paddling into the wind or waves I am fine. I can keep things straight with no skeg and it is not an issues. However when paddling with waves or in very confused seas with the wind at my back or 10-15 degrees from my back I really struggle. I seem to have waves pick up my stern and it tends to turn my bow and it becomes very frustrating to try and stay straight (almost impossible).

Looking for advice in situations with tailwind and confused seas or when waves are at your back.

Not sure there is a good answer, even sailing yachts have a rough time with it. Boats spin easily when perched on a wave. In a trough the opposite happens, and then there is each wave’s circular water movement. Throw in the surfing and you have a fine recipe for seasickness, never mind trying to go in a straight line.

This is part of a solution; make course adjustments “when perched on a wave”. It is much more difficult when in a trough.

Different hulls behave quite differently in following winds. Some here may have more specific suggestions on better behaving kayaks. I had a Mariner Express (Broze Brothers) which was uncommonly well behaved, with neither skeg nor rudder.

I have two boats I use in open waters, a Necky Looksha IV and a QCC700. Both have rudders. I the conditions you describe, I happily drop the rudder and it makes all the difference.
I have no experience with a skeg in these conditions.

In a canoe shifting weight towards the stern helps. Trying to go at a slower pace can also help since your center of rotation moves forward with increasing speed so strong tailwinds that increase your speed also increase the boat’s tendency to spin out.

You can try loading some weight in the rear. If that makes it worse, swap it to the front.

But ya, there are some directions that are a fight to hold course. A rudder would probably be better in some of these cases but I’ve only owned boats with skegs or nothing.

Sometimes paddling in a direction that’s easier but longer distance can be worthwhile.

I’m not at all fond of following seas as on the Great Lakes the dominant wave period is usually two or three seconds. Five seconds would seem like an eternity.

Three years ago, at a symposium on Lake Superior, I was introduced to surfing - the waves were small but decently spaced. That’s where I learned boat control using stern draw/rudders. We also practiced some surf landings. That was in my Fathom and it was the best day of the year.

My Prana handles following and confused seas pretty well. I’ll use the skeg, but the depth it’s deployed depends on how the boat responds in the given conditions. It’s sort of trial and error.

Sometimes I’ll also lean forward or back, to get a bit more weight on the bow or stern, again depending on what the boat is doing.

Such conditions are dynamic, so trying different things for a short amount of time might help you find your sweet spots.

I have a Necky Arluk 1.9 and the only time I use the rudder is with a stern quartering wind. I find a rudder works better than a skeg in these conditions as you can make adjustments quickly and intuitively.

As above, different boats react differently. In general, waves moving faster than your kayak are hitting your stern and acting on it. Your boat will move the direction of least resistance to the force. If the stern moving sideways and forward is less resistance than your boat moving perfectly forward at a faster speed, that’s what it will do.
Different hull designs will handle this differently. But given whatever boat you happen to be in,
the best I’ve found to counteract that is to try to help control the direction of least resistance. Timely, very brief and quick rudders, but mostly matching the speed of the waves. It will be all but impossible to do if you stiffen up and start bracing a lot. So it takes some comfort in the cockpit and a commitment to a strong forward stroke.
Typically, if the waves are steep enough to push your stern around significantly, they’re steep enough to offer you little rides. If you cut loose with a couple powerful sprint strokes during the moment the push starts, it will minimize the spin, and maximize that surge forward. You will find that in consistent steep following waves, you can take a few sprint strokes, then just ride the wave for a bit, then a series of more of the same. Once you get in the groove of the conditions, it’s really fast and fun.
A kayak and paddler with quick speed and acceleration really help in these situations. Then there’s getting the feel of when to accelerate, when to rudder, and when to let it ride. When the push is strong enough to send you surging forward faster than the waves, let yourself take off, use a rudder to slow yourself to the speed of the wave while making as much direction correction as you can without slowing too much, and then let it ride along with it. You can also use edging for directional control, but remember that this also significantly slows you. And it frees up the hull to spin more easily in either direction. So if you don’t want your stern to spin more easily, sometimes it works better in these situations to mostly keep your hull flat. Don’t over-focus on a perfectly straight line. Let it take off a little to the left and ride, and then set up to favor back to the right and ride. Again, it’s really fun and fast if you can get in a groove. Catch the wave, straighten if you have extra speed, and ride. Stay right with the wave in front of you. Nothing calms rough following seas like this will.

1 Like

Good advice so far. CapeFear is right on on all points.

also consider a rudder. I raced canoes for many years and always lamented ruddered boat’s ease in the wind while I toiled for 30 minutes at a time paddling on one side. It sucked. Simply, you can mitigate a quartering wind, but you cannot eliminate it. Paddling without a rudder at an angle to the wind sucks.

I now paddle a ruddered boat (a surfski) with an abnormally large rudder and I love it. I need it to control the boat in steep and large conditions, or while riding shorebreak up to 3’. The steeper the wave, the more benefit a large rudder is. Paddle ruddering is effective to a point or with increasing degrees of skill, but a pedal operated rudder is gold in the sea or steep freshwater waves.

Good advice above. It may be above but I go with a lower bracing stroke for more stability. For me it’s leaning and timing on stroke also. Sometimes it just sucks and is nerve-racking and tiring.

That is the correct position of the skeg when paddling into the wind. It has nothing to do with your ability or lack of ability. This is how it works when there is only wind, no waves, and the boat is in good balance:

  • When you lift the skeg fully, you instruct the boat to turn into the wind and go straight in that direction.
  • When you lower the skeg fully, you instruct the boat to turn away from the wind and go straight in that direction.
  • Between these two skeg positions, you can choose any direction relative to the wind.

When you add waves from behind - or worse: at a slight angle from behind - the skeg often becomes insufficient, and waves will try to turn you parallel to the wave face.

The advice given above for this situation is excellent. I will only add that it is actually possible to let the wave help you steer away from that direction, so you turn more “downwave” (which will often also be downwind). Unfortunately, I can only give a vague pointer to what to do, because I only recently discovered that I do it subconsciously, and I haven’t fully explored what happens and how to improve it:

When the wave hits from behind, just before I am on the top of the wave (I think), I give a little hip wiggle, providing a temporary edge. I think this allows the wave to roll under the stern without pushing it, and instead, the bow get a little push, pointing the boat more “downwave”. The wiggle seems to give more turning in this situation than a constant edge does.

Your next question will probably be: “In which direction do you wiggle?”. And I can’t even answer that. I have a feeling that the timing of the wiggle is more important than the direction of the wiggle.

Just to reiterate what @Allan_Olesen said above:
Fully deploy the skeg when the wind is directly behind you.
When there is a quartering wind from behind, lower the skeg in increments until you can maintain course.

For example, if the quartering wind is behind you, from your right, it will be pushing your stern to the left. Lowering the skeg will turn you left.
Keep this in mind for continued adjusting. Lowering skeg - go left, raising it - go right (for this example).

You just have to be willing to make a lot of course corrections and anticipate some. As above, taking advantage of being near the top of a wave helps. Like turning on a mogul if you have ever skiied.

It also helps to be able to edge as you do corrective strokes. Sometimes just laying down the right edge can make a correction.

I had a rudder on my first sea kayak and found it did absolutely nothing for me in following seas. Because it was never in the water when l most needed it. A skeg has worked much better for me, especially since often what l need most often is partial skeg.

But in general a tracking device will stiffen the bow in a way that can,help in quartering rear seas.

Honestly, a lot of it is just,time in the saddle learning to anticipate your boat"s response. And assuming you will be going slower in terms of covering ground. Just enjoy the ride.

1 Like

Make like a sailboat and tack. Zig zag to your destination in orientations with the wind and waves that are more controllable (enjoyable).

There is a thing known as hull speed. It is taught to beginning sailors.

You can not turn a boat that is going slower than the water they are in.

Take a 45 degree angle to the waves and build some speed, then turn onto a wave and keep slightly ahead of it.

That will get you started and give you a chance to understand your boat. Some boats aren’t meant for anything but flatwater, over the edge rudders are an example. Older boats had skegs and under the hull rudders set further back than they are now. Having it closer to the paddler increases the ability to use it to your advantage.

Cape Fear’s reply above is spot on. It’s good to practice paddling in confused seas and haystacks, next time there are decent waves, at high tide find a seawall or shoreline where you get reflections and clapotis and practice paddling into, with, and at 45 and 90 degree angles to the wind through the waves, keep loose, and learn to dance with the waves, and wind turning on top and surfing will give you confidence when you need it in uncontrolled situations.

The best answer is the same as for running a sailboat before large waves.
Your steer with the seat of your pants. You learn to feel the movement of your boat so you can react to it.

Probably just repeating or maybe elaborating a bit on what has been said already, but paddling with the wind and waves at your back can be a PITA, as you’ve already noted. It’s kind of a perfect storm of things that conspire together to try to spin your boat away from your intended direction of travel and to create some instability (and why a kayak or most other boats at rest tend to sit parallel to the waves). First, water in the crest of a wave moves in the direction of the wave whereas water in the trough moves in the opposite direction. Thus, when your boat gets lifted by the crest behind you, there’s at least some differential force acting at the two ends of your boat. Secondly, because of gravity, your stern will want to slide off of the crest and into the trough, whereas your bow will want to stay IN the trough, so again, this tends to spin your boat. Third, when your stern is sitting up on the crest behind you, the wind can gain some purchase on that part of your boat and push it forward whereas your bow, if laying in the trough, is in the lee of the wave and not getting pushed on so much. Most of this (all of it I think) assumes the wavelength is longer than your boat. My first boat, a Sealution, had a narrow little bow with little buoyancy and it was a real pain to paddle in following seas of any significance. The bow would bury in the crest it was getting pushed into, acting as a brake, and the stern would really spin around. My 2nd boat had a lot of bow volume and didn’t bury so much and was much more manageable in those conditions. My current boat has a decent amount of bow volume and also a lot of rocker, so the bow almost never gets ‘stuck’ in the crest in front of me. So boat design can help a lot. I second the advice about leaning back as a wave passes you. When I was feeling uncomfortable (unstable) and just trying to get home in those conditions in my Sealution, I would stop paddling (brake or even back paddle if the wave was sufficiently high to try to surf me into the wave in front), letting the wave pass, and lean back to keep the bow out of the crest in front of me. I found that to be pretty effective.

In summary, when in doubt, paddle your heart out.

1 Like