How windy is too windy?

We have been wanting to go for a slow, leisurely drift, and hopefully a similar leisurely paddle back to the launch site lately. But the wind is not cooperating with us. We have a couple of Eddyline rec boats, which are perfect for us. Between the boats and our “leisurely” activity style, that should tell you what kind of paddlers we are.

There is a near constant gentle breeze everyday here, usually like 3-7 mph. That daily breeze is not a problem. Its the rather windy days that have predominated so far this July that has greatly reduced our water time. Not looking for an answer of should we go out. We won’t go out if it seems to windy— don’t want to have to work while doing a recreational activity. I’m also being treated for anemia, thanks to the damnable mold that was killing me, putting energy levels in play.

So----- how do you decide if its too windy, too hot, too cold, too much effort etc?

Winds above 10 mph catch my attention - I try to avoid them. but will paddle in them. Above 15 mph and I am usually not going to paddle at all.

In coastal Northern California, we usually start the day calm, and winds build around lunch through afternoon. So to avoid some winds, we paddle in the mornings.


It’s too cold if the water is solid…or for me 20 degrees F is my limit and even then there needs to be zero wind to have a chance of enjoying a paddle.

Other than that I think you are already doing what I would do. First you are doing a self-assessment of the capability of yourself and your boats. Good for you. Second you sound like you do round trips…that’s what I do the vast majority of the time…so you can turn around early if conditions seem too rough. The only thing I’d add is to look at a weather report and also a site like to get some idea of whether conditions may change while you are out because in my experience the wind always kicks up when you are furthest from your put-in.

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So, in my case it is an evaluation of venue, sea state, craft, and group. I’ve paddled the local lake in 20 - 25 mph winds with 12" - 18" chop in a 17’ sea kayak but I wouldn’t want to be on the great lakes with that wind. I tend to limit Lake Michigan to 10 - 15 mph wind & 1’ - 2’ waves at most unless I’m with a strong group. Canoes - pretty similar for wind although I’m more likely to be on smaller waters in a canoe. On Canadian trips we have pulled off to wait out wind. Temperature, I’m in Michigan so to hot doesn’t happen very often. Too cold, well if the water is open I’ll go if we have something planned. I’ve been on the AuSable on our February overnight when it was probably still below zero & the South Branch was pushing slush down river. For sure, level 2 fun.

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@Yooper16 said:

So----- how do you decide if its too windy, too hot, too cold, too much effort etc?

I just ask myself “Do I want to do this again tomorrow”?


If you can’t paddle upwind, don’t try paddling downwind!

Unless you’ve planned for it and your destination is different than your origin.


Hi Yooper! You really should download It’s a handy app. Was in the U.P. last week - lovely country up there.

I check Windy the night before and again in the morning. Wind speed of 10 on Lake Michigan is okay, depending on wind direction (fetch) and gusts. Ten to 15 is doable on a couple of the large inland lakes near Lake Michigan. I’d rather have some breeze than completely flat water.

Heat plus high humidity and I stay off the water. That combination drains my endurance. I’ve paddled in air temps of low 30s and if I could figure how to keep my hands warm, I’d go with even lower temps so long as snow didn’t prevent access to the river. I stay off the Great Lakes come November. Unless it’s a really quiet day with decent air temps. Then that’s the best time since all the tourists have left and the beaches are empty. :slight_smile:

For us it is usually where the wind is coming from.
For the seven months that we are in the Keys, If it is out of the east we paddle on the Florida Bay side wind protected. If it is out of the west, we paddle in the Atlantic.
If it is above ten, we stay fairly close to the protected shore line.
We also can tuck into some mangrove protected routes up to 15.
In the summer paddling in our local large lakes with our canoe, we like it under ten and prefer it light (1 to 3). In our kayaks we like it under 10
No matter where we are the wind usually picks up in the afternoon.
Yesterday we were on the lake with lour canoe at 7:00 Am and did a delightful 21 miles and off the water around noon. It was flat calm when we started, and about 4 MPH when we got out.

I never go out without prior checking the weather


What I do… like with a bike ride… go out against the wind and come back with the wind. It prevents getting too fatigued and it’s just more fun.

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Wind speed and direction will set the parameters of a paddle to start with. I am no longer a fan of coming home against a headwind if I can do it the other way.
I have tried paddling into 29 mph with gusts to 33 mph winds. (Not intended, tired and inadequate planning.) It ended up that all four of us landed on three opposite shore and had to get a ride to the other side to bring back our cars. We literally could not make progress against it.
I like 5 to 10 kn and will argue for a bit with 12 to 15 kn if I am physically up for it… But those higher numbers require a level of paddling conditioning that I did not come into this year with due to eldercare issues. So that bit is pretty short. If I am paddling solo a marine forecast of gusts to 20 kn, not unusual where I go in Maine, a reason to call it a town day.
Those winds can be useful to practice wet work in though, and I have gone out for an hour on those days to do that.

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I’ve been in some 30 mph gusts, forecasted, that stopped me in my tracks. Could only hold position till gust was over. That’s too much wind.

Too many variables to pick an absolute wind speed… Going out with the tide and an onshore wind the water is lumpier but you can make headway… Going out with the tide and an onshore wind you may not get back for sometime… The water looks flat and its difficult to judge how strong the wind is. The upshot is that you might not return,
The variables are all intertwined… Cold water and warming land mass is always a problem in the spring… Then you have to add the funnelling effect of the hills around me… When the wind comes up it generates giant waves.

add to that mix topography… Where are my bail points if things do not go as planned.

My favorite kayaking area Pukaskwa has no internet no cell coverage very limited Environment Canada weather radio coverage( but no tides per se). And local topography often foils any forecast. I look at the sea and the hour. If its seven and dead calm I will go… If it is noon and dead calm. maybe… Noon and isolated whitecaps no, especially if the next 15 miles are cliffs without landings.

I have paddled in 45 km ( 24 kn, , 28 mph)winds to attain a campsite in the Everglades ( the alternative would have been to sleep in the boat tied to mangroves…tough in a small solo canoe… It was not fun at all. And resulted in an immediate nap no dinner to bed and out at 3am to avoid a repeat of that.

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Where I mostly paddle, I’ve seen it all and had to paddle against nine foot breaking waves and gusts up to 40 mph to get back to my launch site. That actually turned out to be fun and a great learning experience. On a more normal day, the wind might reach 15 to 20 mph with waves around five, or six feet and depending on which way I go, I might do a lot of surfing, or just slogging back through the slop.

Today I expect relative calm conditions, but it doesn’t matter. The worst part of it is carrying the boat on my shoulder to and from the water when the wind is up. You just have to keep the boat pointed into the wind.

I guess what prompted my query, was that for the last few days, we start making plans, start getting ready to load and all
the while the wind is picking up to the point we cancel and hope that the evening is calmer.

Rookie thanks for the app suggestion. We find that the 9/10 weather forecast can be a bit iffy here. Of course trying to make sense of forecast that covers about 1/2 of the lower and 1/2 of the upper is probably hard to do.

Rex and others-- we try to do the easier paddle for the way back.

We have 4 launch spots within 3 miles east or west of our house. The ones to the west give the advantage of current flowing to the rapids where the locks are, makes it much easier to paddle back. The ones to the east often have the disadvantage of wind directions and current from being downstream of the rapids/locks. There a number of small islands, that we weave in/out of. Makes for a nice paddle, and does make it easier to return against the current and wind direction.

Kayamedic— we tend to get a funnel effect as you mentioned. Seems to mostly come in from Whitefish Bay(N -NW). We are in the flatlands of the UP , the eastern area.

In reading the threads written by many of you, began to wonder if we are being too much of the leisurely type. Probably not but thanks for your input.

@Yooper16 said:
I guess what prompted my query, was that for the last few days, we start making plans, start getting ready to load and all
the while the wind is picking up to the point we cancel and hope that the evening is calmer.

That’s precisely why Windy is helpful. You can check a day or so before and in the morning, before you start to load. I recall you’re in the Soo; here’s Windy’s forecast:,-84.371,10,m:eWDadOx

You can enter your coordinates for more precision.

Given your location and where you paddle, nothing leisurely about dealing with currents and wind. To me, “leisurely paddling” is what I see here on our inland lake: folks use the public access to get their boats in the water on a completely calm day, paddle out a bit, sit in the sun for a while, then paddle back and go home. Or they might explore close to the shoreline. No PFDs, of course.

The only trip I ever packed for and drove to when I didn’t launch was because of the wind. I was living in Anchorage, Alaska and went down to Seward to paddle out to Fox Island, a trip I’d done before. But, the winds were in the 40s and coming directly from the south. Seward is an open bay facing south with no real way to paddle out of the wind. That day happened 4 years ago and remains the only time I ever went out for a paddle and never took the kayak off the car. It was the right call, but it still bugs me.

@Rex said:
What I do… like with a bike ride… go out against the wind and come back with the wind. It prevents getting too fatigued and it’s just more fun.

This is me, too. Whenever possible I go uphill, upstream, or upwind on the outbound leg of my trip. Do all the hard work getting out, and relax on the way back.

Wind doesn’t always accommodate, though; often, it seems to perversely reverse direction just about the time I want to head back. This must be common; cyclists hate wind far worse than they hate hills.

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Rookie— That app is awesome with the amount of info. Thanks.

We do have a current issue from the 25ft drop that the locks were built for. Although, the current from that drop is probably much easier to deal with than gusty or even sustain winds above a certain speed.

We’ve tried getting up and going for that early AM paddle. Coffee, feeding the dogs, getting ready, getting loaded, hitting the bathroom again because of the aforementioned coffee and we have to eat By that time the morning is shot and the winds have started.

Tomorrow does look promising, YAY!

A lot depends on proximity to shore, civilization, and water temp.

to me, In a canoe, 10mph starts to affect paddling, 15 is borderline, and 20 is almost unmanageable depending on which direction you’re trying to go relative to the wind.

In a surfski, less than 10mph is boring, 15-20 starts to be fun, and 25+ is a damn good time. Once gusts are consistently over 30 though, they can throw you around pretty badly if you’re not headed straight down or up wind. Even holding onto the paddle with a 20mph tailwind requires a good grip.

When the boat immediately starts going backwards when you stop paddling.