Kayak Speed vs. Perceived Speed!!!!!!!!!

This is a long post, but I hope you will read it all, as it does not turn out quite the way you probably expect…

I know this is a controversial topic as many don’t agree or understand why someone feels this attribute is important which is a reasonable question.

I have long sought a maneuverable, rough water capable boat that has good speed and have recently learned some things that are interesting to me and that I would like to share. I really wanted a British or Greenland style boat rather than a true racing boat so the obvious choices such as the Epic and QCC were ruled out.

First…why the need for speed? For me I generally paddle alone and like to push myself. I like the feeling of going fast and gliding across the water, and like the getting some “payoff” for my paddling efforts since I also paddle to get a workout. Furthermore, I feel like an extra 0.5 miles per hour means I can cover an extra mile of water during a two hour workout.

After owning a Dagger Meridian I bought a Valley Aquanaut because I wanted something faster. The Aquanaut was fast but I wanted something faster yet. I could generally paddle the Aquanaut about 5.5-5.8 mph when paddling at a sustained exercise pace on flat water. I wanted something I could push over 6mph. At the same time I was looking for something with lower initial stability, easier to edge, hard chines, etc.

After a lot of research I decided on a NDK Greenlander Pro. It has a reputation as a fast boat and supposedly was designed for racing. Furthermore it meets all the other criteria I personally wanted (irrelevant to this conversation).

When I got my new GP I really liked it on the water. It had all the traits I wanted…except for speed!

I always paddle with a GPS on my deck and monitor my speed. Fact is that despite its reputation, the GP is not as fast as the Aquanaut. I can really only paddle the GP to about 5.2 mph on flat water at a sustained exercise pace. Not nearly the 6 mph I had hoped for…in fact this is probably even a little slower than my 16 foot Avocet!

I still love the boat though. The fact is that although it is not as fast it FEELS much faster. I had even questioned my GPS when paddling this boat for the first few times. It just feels so fast…but it’s not! The boat has excellent glide between strokes and just feels like you are flying when on the water, but again the GPS tells the story…the boat is not that fast.

So this started me thinking about several things. First is perceived speed vs. actual speed. Obviously this boat’s actual speed is not that great, but it has great perceived speed. I started to wonder why this might be. I have some ideas, but am just making some guesses.

First idea is that the boat is livelier on the water. I think this adds a false feeling of speed.

Next is that the boat has such smooth glide (even confirmed it with GPS and the boat really does maintain its speed incredibly well after you stop paddling). This is interesting for me. It would seem that the hull must therefore be quite efficient and I think it is possible to be efficient without necessarily achieving a high max speed.

Another idea is that the boat tracks better which I believe adds a bit to the perception of speed and at the end of the day probably will result in more distance covered in the same amount of time since you are not wasting energy wobbling back and forth off course (even if only minutely).

My last idea about perceived speed pertains to the paddling effort at which you hit the wall. If you look at hydrostatic data you will see that there is a point of diminishing marginal returns….where the graph goes exponential…where you hit the asymptote and where you have achieved the maximum PRACTICAL hull speed. Any more paddling effort will result in hardly any increase in speed. I believe that perhaps if you hit the wall at a lower level of paddling exertion you will somewhat naturally continue to paddle at this level of exertion and perceive that the boat is faster (because you are not paddling as hard at max speed).

All of these are just guesses though. To me it is truly puzzling that a boat could feel so fast and have such glide on the water, yet not be as fast as other seemingly slower boats. I think that I am not the only one who is duped by this, as EVERYONE says that the GP is a very fast boat when in actuality it is not……or at least when paddled on flat water. When paddling in following sea the boat is pretty fast given the fact that it surfs like crazy, but that is a separate issue……and frankly I’m not sure why it surfs so much better than other boats.

So I guess the issue for me comes down to speed vs. perceived speed. I’ll take perceived speed any day over actual speed. I was looking for speed mostly because I wanted to feel like I was going fast on the water. I found a boat that feels that way, but it’s actually slower than my other boat. Strange huh?

My conclusion is that it really all comes down to how the boat feels to you! Many have said this and now I see that it is true. Hydrostatic data is a good starting point, reviews are a good starting point, but GPS does not lie. Some boats are faster than others given the same motor. Sometimes “fast” boats are not as fast as you think they will be, but ultimately it comes down to what FEELS good to you. I like the feel of going fast and have found a boat that gives me that feeling despite the fact that it’s not really all that fast….and that’s okay!

My disclaimer……I don’t know how many will actually read this whole post since I know it is long, and I don’t know how many GP owners will read it; however, I can guarantee you that if any GP owners read this they will disagree with my assessment that the GP is not fast, which to me only proves my point.

Thanks for reading, and I am eager to read your responses and comments.


The need for speed

– Last Updated: Apr-02-07 9:38 AM EST –

Some paddlers like to push themselves fast all the time and arn't happy unless they are out in front. I paddle with a lot of others reguarly since I belong to a club. Generally 95% of the paddlers in a group all paddle at a comfortable pace with each other having nice conversations and enjoying the day. Isn't that what it's ulltimately all about?

We all land at the same time for lunch, plus or minus 30 seconds. I think you (anyone) can get obsessive about boat characteristics, - whiich one is better etc. but it shouldn't be a conflict to the enjoyment of paddling.

Most people pick their kayaks for overall comfort and will sacrifice speed for comfort. Comfort could be the seat, handling, or even speed. But hull speed is usually not on the top of people's list or we would all be in racing kayaks with wing paddles. I think kayaks always seem a little slugish in dead flat calm water and seem to be faster cutting through small waves.

Perception plays in this
We were out yesterday in one of those perfect moments of how perception and actual speed can be very different. I had brought my Vela, more and more my favorite boat for river day paddles because it is nearly two feet easier to handle than the Explorer LV and up to a certain point of speed a good bit easier to get moving off the mark. So even tho’ at a certain point of speed the Explorer maintains forward motion better, the Vela feels faster to me because we are usually paddling at the slightly lower speeds where the Vela’s sprint is better.

Then there is the effect of conditions - we had a decent current against us and a 10 mph wind at our back for most of the trip south, and the current with us and the wind in front coming back. The part of the trip with the wind against us felt distinctly slower than the rest of it.

But I was checking the shoreline for solid objects the whole time, and we were making respectable speed in both directions. And while I wasn’t measuring it, I’d wager that the trip back, with the current and against the wind, was slightly faster than the rest. But it felt the slowest.

And one funny thing - almost everyone seems to have at one point or another felt that they were making relatively greater speed thru waves, and almost every time the GPS says not so.

More perception
I generally feel like I’m going significantly faster on a slow moving river than on a lake. Seeing the river banks go past gives me an up close and personal impression of speed. A friend of mine said that paddling on a lake is similar to riding a stationary bike. Lots of effort, not much “apparent” forward progress.

Very refreshing post!
Actually posts. Not long ago guy in a Romany won a big round some island race in Britain beating supposedly faster boats…confused a lot of folk…not the hydrodynamics folk.

Celia, I’d bet a kayak that you would cover 20 knots faster in your Vela than the Explorer.

Matt, what you are experiencing is science, and believe it or not science rules, emotion follows.

Now, it may be that a stronger paddler can indeed go faster in the Greenlander than you can.

In determining how fast a given hull can go we first have to start with the engine. As Winters has said, “The question is not which is the fastest boat, rather which boat is fastest at a given speed reqimen.” Realistically, it may indeed be a faster hull, but at the speeds you can paddle, it presents more frictional resistance. This is a seemingly imossible concept for emotionally driven sea kayakers to “get”.

PLEASE follow up on your real world experience by spending a hour or two learning about Frictional Vs Residual Resistance. It’s exactly what youand Celia are experiencing!!

Warning though!!! It will require that you let go of a lot of the assumptions you have been taught from the old school, and marketing crap.

And that can be disturbing for some.

Congrats on being curious and a good post which hopefully will cause folk to learn, which in turn will enhance their kayaking.

a little bit of science
You may find this website interesting:


good follow up

– Last Updated: Apr-01-07 1:06 PM EST –

It's all too easy to ask or state which boat is faster.
speed regimen
In rough seas in my greenlander I can outpace my speed in an avocet - based on GPS readings. Seem also to be able to hold a good speed for a longer distance. I have a feeling all of the above factor into this. Would I fare even better in an aquanaut given the same parameters? In a vacuum I'd have to say yes - but I'd still have to paddle both to find out.

Unlike some people I like to paddle into a good wind. The fact that I may be crawling doesn’t matter… the air is refreshing and I feel like I’m going somewhere.

QCC/EPIC not “race boats”…
… unless all you race against is (slower) sea kayaks.

Both are all-arounders in my book, particularly the QCC which is really nice for basic paddling, occasional races, handles rough stuff well, pack a ton of stuff if you want to but also paddle well light, rolls easy etc.

Caveat may be these really work best ruddered. The Epic in particular. The QCC is fine without for most of the time, but with 17.5’ LWL it’s good to have something to counter wind. Mine has skeg and I am quite happy with it (after changing control) and it’s great for fast touring, but it’s not optimal for best speed in all conditions.

I would not expect a dramatic speed difference from and aquanaut (going by your given numbers), but maybe some. An Epic 18x a bit more.

As Salty (and the science) says: It’s not which boat can sustain the desired speed, it’s what that speed is, what your power is, and then which one you can do it in. GPS/Speedmate does tell the real story. GPS is also a good reality check for stroke and paddle changes.

As Jay said, comfort matters too, but again I’d have to say this doesn’t particularly favor the Brit designs in regards to form/fit/function over longer distances at higher speeds. EPICs are well know for comfortable seating position, and QCCs work pretty well for most - and very easy to modify this. “True” race boats with minimalist approach can be most comfortable of all under harder paddling.

Simplest thing is to look at kayaks designed to do what you want to do. Nothing you have is really made for sustained 6mph, even for pretty darn good paddlers. I no of several who do this in QCC/Epics (not me).

Lots of preconceptions/misconceptions in and around the sea kayaking world.

Purpose of a paddle

– Last Updated: Apr-01-07 7:18 PM EST –

So about settling into the Greenlander Pro and the speed thang - it can come down to whether the goal of the paddle is speed for its own sake or work that stretches you in ways that the search for speed may not favor. Perhaps you can find environments and skills work where it gives some paddling challenges that may not be about sheer speed.

I've had two nights running last week in the pool with the Inazone 220 we just found for me - and my thighs are quite convinced that they've worked plenty hard. Easy enough boat, but definately is going to take a lot more to close the gap to a hand roll than the Piedra needed.

As one who has been guilty
Drag figures may have lttle application in the real world. The dislcaimer included is true:

“Using the list below as a buyer’s guide is naive at best. The waterdrag is calculated for fully loaded kayaks paddled on flat water. I haven’t seen any scientific papers descriping how these numbers apply to empty kayaks or kayaks paddled in waves.”

Good point wilso
but, they provide more objective data than subjective reviews from intermediate paddlers. Drag data, as you correcty state, is just one of many variables that should be considered when buying a kayak.

Thank you!
I think the sea kayak crowd IS getting smarter, and starting to question the BS they have been fed for decades. I see this happening, and it’s about time.

So true!
I picked up an Epic 18 as a “faster” boat (vs. my Explorer) for speed/distance workouts with a stronger paddling partner. Well, it does indeed have more speed potential if one can supply the power to get it over 4.5 to 4.75 knots. Below that level of speed, the Explorer is actually easier to paddle! Drag figures confirm this reality. So, it takes me a month or more of working out in the Spring before the Epic actually becomes the faster boat.

GPS and Heart Rate Monitor
While talking to someone responsible for a boat that has recently come on the market, the topic of speed comparison came up and they indicated they had compared it in testing to other boats of the same class by comparing what the heart rate was for maintaining similar speeds over specified times. They said while one boat they make is always referred to as a fast boat, the new boat was faster for a given effort at almost every speed and they were very happy with the design.

I know a friend who uses both for evaluating his “true” speed/stroke efficiency. His conclusion is perceived effort is often at best a poor measure of true speed and efficiency and frequently just plain wrong.

I suspect some boats that are ultimately rather slow might be very easy to paddle at normal 3+ kts and some boats that are “easy” to paddle at 5+ are bears to cruise at 3kts assuming modest sea state. Personally, I want a boat the can maintain a solid cruising speed in moderate water and maintain course easily regardless of wind and waves. That may or may not be a “fast” boat, but it likely gets me where I need to go quicker than many.

eft by west side boat shop
Very fast and stable. Does great at www.blackburnchallenge.com ocean race and uscanoe flatwater race nationals

perceived speed
Yes I read the whole post. The theory really doesn’t suprise me. I’ve covered space on a number of different vehicles some just seem to be quicker than they really are. I believe body position & distance from the surface you’re crossing has a big impact on perceived speed. Other factors the arena in which you’re moving, If you’re running through the front yard or running across the livingroom the perceived speed is greater indoors. Smoothness of your course. Stupid things like color even have to be taken into consideration. It’s a fact that red cars get more speeding ticket than do any other color. Perception is a crazt sort of thing there really aren’t any absolutes.

Designer pals tell me
That for many people tracking, and a quiet bow wake equate to a sense of speed.

Smiles per mile trumps…
…minutes per mile.

Enjoy the paddle or - get a kayak Speedstroke simulator if you just want to sweat and calculate numbers.

My Greenlander seemed might quick on flat water and even quicker on textured water. But unless I was trying to beat a drawbridge crowd of powerboats, get out of the way of a plethora of moving mountain of metal, or beat a storm back to shore - I didn’t really care if I could do 4.9 or 4.7kts…



super interesting
I’m sure this thread is either super interesting or super boring dependent on peoples interests, it falls in to the super interesting for me, possibly because I’ve gone through many of the mental debates over boat feel and also gone through the rational of trying to devise meaningful tests for real world boat speed.

My first attempt at ranking kayaks for speed (also manoverability and stability) was entirely subjective based, we simply ranked our range (P&H at the time) according to ours and other trusted paddlers feedback. A couple of years down the road we were working on a new boat and knew we would need to shuffle our scores to allow it to fit in with our scoring system. I was keen to work out a more objective method of measuring relative speed. Here is the protocol I used:

I always test two kayaks during the same session, using a heart rate monitor to allow a consistent effort, using the same flat-water time trial course with no current or tide, having three clear markers along the course – the start- approx 5 min paddle later the start of the timed section- approx 5 minutes further the finish. Starting in the first kayak I used the first 5min section to get my heart rate up to the equivalent of a brisk group or moderate exercise paddle, then I tried to hold this same heart rate through the second timed section of the course, i recorded the time taken. then I would take a steady paddle back to the start, swap boats and go again, I would keep repeating this process until I had three or four runs in each. I would then go home and average the results for each model (they rarely showed much variance). Another day I would test one boat from the previous test plus a different one

Basically the test was designed to take out all possible variables, fatigue, weather, mood swings etc. this worked because on each occasion I was only trying determine the difference between two models, obviously I could have got different results if I had performed the test at a different level of intensity but in my mind I had chosen an intensity that most reasonable paddlers could achieve but at the same time would feel brisk i.e the type of intensity that starts to show up the difference between form and surface drag.

Anyway here are a couple of what I found interesting findings; There was no statistical difference in speed between a composite Sirius and a plastic Capella (the original 2 hatch model which is ½” narrower than the current model) despite popular opinion at the time. The other thing how deceptive some boats felt, our new boat at the time felt slow compared to the Sirius despite being significantly faster, the trick on the mind seemed to be the fact the Sirius seemed to surge forward with every paddle stroke, truth was it was squatting more on its tail and wagging more from side to side, wasting a little more energy yet making it feel more alive.

Obviously as many have already said, through in enough rough and it can be a totally different story. Also it doesn’t matter how efficient a kayak is if nobody enjoys paddling it. This is even true in top level racing, the top nelo ICF kayaks have loads of rocker, yet science says the fastest design is straight keeled, there was a computer designed hull called Godzila that some scientist developed, even they concluded perception of the paddler and other handling features might dictate that it might never be accepted as the way forward