Is there a way to handicap kayaks?

I went down to the B&B races a few weeks ago in Key Largo, Fl & had a great time! But, I came away from the weekend with a question in my mind. Is there a way to handicap different kayaks/surf skis to get a winner/fastest boat on corrected time vs. actual time, like in sailboat racing? As ya know, get two sailboats on the water at the same time & the race is on. In sailboat racing a 22 footer going 4.3 will take on a 30 footer going 5.2 since after the race he still stands a chance on corrected time. Could a system be used that would somehow take the Speed vs. Resistance figures from SeaKayaker using the KAPER or Taylor Standard Series along with some factor for wing paddles vs. touring paddles?

I was entered in the 16’-18’ sea kayak category, my yak is 16’8"x21" and I use a ONNO full tour paddle. I found out a few things in only my 2nd & 3rd races I’ve ever done. On Saturday, the 13 mile race started with an opening leg of 4.5 miles across the open bay water with I’m guessing 18-20 wind, gusts to 25. after ‘bout 3 miles there was an express of 3 Epic 18’s & another “big” boat that just walked away from me. They were also using “wings”. My stroke cadance didn’t seem much different than their’s. Of course I know the “engine” makes a big difference, but how much difference did 15"-16" of LWL make in addition to the wing paddles?

On Sunday, was the 6 mile race. The course was set up with more or less an up-wind leg & a down-wind leg of about 3/4 mile length. I remember it took 5 turns around the bouys. After the first downwind leg I had I ended up in a small group made up of me in a QCC600, a QCC700 (18’x21"), a West Side EFT (19’?x21") and a Necky Arluk (18’x22") all using wings. Downwind I could hold my position, or maybe gain 3-4 boat lengths, but upwind they would all pull away. On the last upwind leg both the QCC700 & West Side pulled away & I lost contact. And I had to paddle my a** off the last 1/3 mile downwind to catch the Necky by about 3’ at the line. So I am convinced that I need a “bigger” boat & a wing paddle before next year.

Any ideas on how to “handicap” races? Or how to figure how faster 12" of waterline is with also using a wing paddle vs. a traditional touring paddle?

a “wing” for sure!
You could start with a good wing & some time to become ONE with it, before you switch boats. A lot will depend on a good fit (proper shaft length & blade size). With a good fit, you may find that a wing can be both easier on your body & more efficient. If you decide it’s not for you & keep it in good shape, you shouldn’t have any problems selling or trading it. Good luck!

I won a 10 mile race and here’s how
I was racing in the kayak class in the San Diego Baykeeper race a few years ago. I entered in the Masters Class for those 35 and older. I was the 4th or 5th kayak in. I was in a 16ft Falcon and finished in 1:41 so I was pretty happy. The only kayaks ahead of me were 19ft Gliders, Extremes, Vivianne’ etc… I went home afte the race. Greg at Aqua Adventures told me he had my trophy. I was the only person who entered in the Masters Class.

On Beating the System…

– Last Updated: Feb-15-05 9:41 PM EST –

I spent many years and mucho bucks trying to beat the handicaps in yacht racing. As soon as you are successful enough they would change the numbers because of you and you have to start over, more big bucks.

The best solution is to buy the fastest boat and train, train, train... and wait for Barton to retire.

BTW I am looking for the fastest boat in the smallest class...

Time and % behind
In my 18’ going against 21’ Thunderbolts, I hang on as long as I can and try to minimize the final gap. Then calculate the %behind and check for improvement.

And, a 6" waterline length difference is quite a handicap, but manageable by working on speed and fitness. After 3 races, you may need more work still… When the differential is 1-3 feet, it becomes difficult just to be near for a few minutes. Later on, talk them up, they may have a longer boat available for your use. Then, whup up on them in the borrowed boat.

Blue with red hatches?

– Last Updated: Feb-15-05 11:23 PM EST –

I don't think you needed any "handicap".

Now that I know alot of those paddlers, I can guarantee you it's not the boat. Welcome to the most populated and competitve class at the B&B!

Really want an edge? Don't get another foot of waterline - get two feet. That way you're up in the over 18' class where there is only 3-4 kayaks.

My fairly slow times in Masters 16-18 would have got me a 2nd in Masters over 18, and a 3rd in Masters unlimited for BOTH races. I need a longer boat! Problem with this plan: If I do it - odds are others will too.

Want a more level field? Move to surf skis.

BTW - it's only 3 miles across the sound, but I'll agree it felt more like 4.5 this year.

3.75 to the Boggies…
Turns to 4 in the Boggies :wink:

My kayak’s handicap…
…is me.

Recently participated in a series of time trials this past fall run by NECKRA (New England Canoe Kayak Racing where the goal was to do exactly that: level the field. We were encouraged to bring as many different boats as possible, and swapped boats back and forth for the short time trials at a constant effort. Boats were measured for dimensions. Data was recorded, toward compiling some sort of handicap for certain boats in certain classes. Despite being a whole lotta’ fun, not sure how useful this was though, as there were so many variables at work. Not all the fast runners in the given classes were represented, plus, one paddler climbing into a strange boat may need time to acclimate to its design to get a true indication of boat speed, etc. Within any given class, there are boats that push the envelope in some way, shape, or form. In last year’s Run of the Charles for example, one participant ran a boat that met all requirements for the class, yet was designed to maximize advantage of increased LWL due to displacement, while decreasing weight. Plus, since portages are the norm for this race, had a set of deck mounted wheels to smoothly flip the boat over at each portage point and run away. Couple this to a strong paddler who I’m sure trained hard for the event, and poof, he was gone. Some may cry foul, but I was impressed with the diligence and attention to detail put in to working within the parameters given (even though it meant a second for me-smile). This is an interesting debate that flares up fairly often. I agree it’s mainly about the engine to a degree; while Greg Barton paddling a Pungo may be capable of staying with the touring class in a local race, all things considered, if the engines are roughly similar, then other variables come into play. Hard to delineate how much is accounted for by the faster boat, and how much by the paddler, as your faster paddlers naturally gravitate to the faster designs looking for that ‘edge.’ Hence when you see Epics finishing 1,2, 3, 5, etc. in the Blackburn, is it the boat? Is it the paddler? In all reality, it’s both. The UCI in cycling has strict rules as to weight, dimensions, etc., and someone always figures out a way to sneak by via design or materials. The same is true in all forms of racing.

Someone could work up a handicap system based on waterline and displacement. The math isn’t that complicated. Just look up Portsmouth handicap on the web.

A handicap system for canoes might open up canoe racing to the everyday paddler. We have run our sailboat races 2 different ways with the handicaps. One–timed starts. Your start time is dependent on the handicap–everyone finishes close together. --finish position is actual

Two–Everyone starts at the same time then finish times recorded and the handicaps figured in. No system is perfect, but it works pretty well.

Have you checked your kayak’s trim?
… I read an interesting article in one of the Kayak web pages about triming your kayak for speed. The article focused on the effects of your body’s weight on how the kayak sat in the water. “IF” your kayak sits too bow high, or too bow low, that can effect speed.

…The article went on to explain that you should put crayon marks on the hull of your kayak, bow and stern. Start around your present waterline, and make marks up and down every 1/2 inch or so. You then paddle a set course, and time your self with the boat as it is, or use a GPS to check your speed with the kayak in the stock position.

… They next said to either shift the seat (if you can do that) or add ballast to one end of the boat to change the waterline one mark (your marks) and run the same course to check if it made any speed difference. If you added weight the first time to the Bow, the next trip add it to the stern and try it again.

… Most kayaks are set up at the factory for a person’s weight in the middle of it’s weight carrying range, whatever that can be. By trying the boat with it sitting differently in the water, you MAY find a point where it will be faster. How much is your guess??

… Just be aware that making large changes to it’s trim will effect it’s handling. If you make the kayak real bow low in the water, it will seem like it wants to track straight, but all of a sudden want to make a left or right turn. it is a wierd experience. it is kind of like a wind gust hitting a motorcycle going on the road, just not as strong of a push. Loading a kayak for a trip bow heavy will cause this too.

…If you get the Kayak way to stern low in the water, it will just be generally hard to keep on a straight course, and want to wander around a lot.

This may not be your answer, but have fun playing with this. You may also want to do an internet search on “Boat Trim”, or “Kayak trim”. This is how I found this info.

Happy paddling!

Hull Speed
You need a longer boat.

The math doesn’t lie…

1.34 X the Square Root of the Boat’s Waterline Length = Theoretical Hull Speed

Not counting hull form, appendages, hull friction…

and Poof, he was gone.
I was going to use 27" bicycle race wheels with 'nolo hubs and Criterium Seta Extra tires, but the aluminum frame folded on me during testing. Ended up using the wife’s garden cart wheels with bronze sleeve bearings. I may not attend the Run in 2005, but am still looking for better wheels at the local dump, maybe the rears from “Big Wheels” tricycles. Thanks for noticing.

I usually apply a handicap by tying a
little sea anchor to the stern of my most serious opponent.

My personal view

– Last Updated: Feb-18-05 12:39 AM EST –

It is true that a wing paddle and fast boat is mandatory for racing, but good racers never talk about boats but training programs because it is not about what the boat will do for you, but what you are going to do with the boat. One might get the fastest boat available overnight, but to be fast it is something else.

...get a wing paddle according to your boat (but take the time to learn to use it), and then, focus on a sound ""training program"".

If you really want to race, get a K1 or Surfski, touring boat are for touring not racing. Don't forget that you'll be racing with other touring boats, and none of them will be way faster than yours.


you’re right iceman, but
only as long as race classes are fairly applied at a race. fundamentally, the unlimited class is the fairest, because there is very little real difference between the speed of differnt skis (and the thunderbolt), and what little difference there is comes at the price of tippiness, so that paddler skill becomes super important.

where things start to get a little dicey is in the fast touring category, or the 18’ and under (or whatever is being used to define it). that’s because certain boats are obviously faster than anything else in this category, while still slower than skis/tbolt (think epic 18, q700, perhaps extreme and glider). so those boats are almost their own category. and then you have a very rare boat that seems specifically designed to bend or cheat all of this a little bit, like the eft and the razor. where should those go? i would argue that they are close enough to skis tthat they should always be considered unlimited, but i’m sure i would get arguments.

the bottom line for me is not to worry too much about any of this, unless you are planning to earn your living off kayak race prize money. you show up, you race as hard as you can, and sometimes you lose to a paddler who you know you might have beaten if the boats were the same. and there’s almost certainly someone behind you who feels the same way.


I think it was sea kayaker that had an article about a race in norway requiring rocks in the boat to bring all boats up to same weight. Was at a race with one woman in a kayak and she won first prize in her class. Best thing that happened to her all year. To reduce hassle, have many first prize winners and be nice to race organizers or race could disappear because of no volunteers. Also all boats in a long race should have phone # of race hq on their boat sticker to call in if not finishing.

hull speed hull form
The theoretical maximum doesn’t hold for narrow lightweight displacement hulls. “Hullspeed” only applies when wave-making drag is insurmountable.

Hull form counts enough that hullspeed becomes less and less a factor with a LWL/BWL >9 which applies to a most of the competitive touring hulls from the Q600 to the Epic 18. With proper trim, fair curves, and light weight most boats with LWL/BWL >9 can be pushed beyond “hullspeed” for extended periods. Granted, as you approach “9” the wave making drag does get heavy. The huge wake created by my Q600 (LOA: 200", LWL/BWL 9.5) at 8mph compared to the tiny wake created by my sprint boat (LOA 206", LWL/BWL 16) at the same speed is testiment to this.

The skinnier the boat the less meaningful hull speed becomes and skin friction becomes dominant. Sound Rowers in Washington sets their classes based on LWL/BWL ratio which helps keep Romany Explorers from having to race Epic 18’s but they do not attempt to handicap.

I guess my point is that you can’t handicap based on waterline length unless all the boats are really beamy (as are the sailboats for which handicapping is currently developed).

Touring Class

– Last Updated: Feb-20-05 1:03 AM EST –

I agree that boats like the EFT have a great advantage over the rest of the class, and the USCA Touring Sea Kayak rules to fit this boat.

Anyway, my point goes beyond boats. After reading a couples of the latest posts about boat/speed, I have the feeling that most people in this forum believe that the boat is the most important part of the equation. Even with top paddlers, the importance of the boat is relative.

For instance, in a 3 miles downriver/flatwater race (Outdoors Inc.) in Tennessee, Herman Chalupsky in a Mako Mill beat Barton in an ICF K1. A couples of weeks ago Barton beat everyone else in an Epic 18 at the B&B (with several very fast paddlers in surfskis).

To me, speed cannot be bought but built.


Nice post
I’ve never been completely clear on how 17-foot K1s figure into this hull-speed business. This article seems to be making some of the same points, though I wish he’d gone on for a few more paragraphs: