Max wind speeds for canoes

Looking for opinions on the maximum wind speed for practical open water canoeing.

For example, what is the strongest wind speed you can make reasonable headway in paddling a tandem canoe?

I’ll take a guess …
… 30-35 on the nose blows you backwards (against current) on a flowing mountain river while you are paddling downstream as hard as possible ??

Open Water?
On most open water, the waves will be too much before the wind will.

I once went 1 km in 1.5 hours against what I suspect was maybe a 20mph wind. It raised 3 foot waves on a river with only 1km of fetch. On a big lake, that wind would have thrown up some big chop.

Can I assume by your handle that this will lead to some assertion that kayaks are superior? I just got back from a weekend camping trip, and was impressed at how my kayak handled the wind. Too bad it only carries things that are the size and shape of tent poles!

mr_canoehead , I’m guessing …

– Last Updated: May-11-09 12:14 AM EST –

...... you are talking about solo ??

In our tandem (16'-10"), 15-20 can be dealt with on open water (large reservoirs) pretty well (all day long) . Haven't found 3' waves at those wind speeds in any of the reservoirs yet ... some waters may be different than others though .

We've pushed against wind speeds near twice that , but it was tiring and kinda rediculous to continue ... the turn about was only half in control also .

The problem isn’t the mph the wind is …

– Last Updated: May-12-09 9:05 AM EST –

blowing. - It is whether you are straight into it or quartering into it.
Straight into it I am guessing 20 to 25 MPH.
But if it is quartering, 20 is a bear. The tandem paddlers will be both working their butts off both on the same side and one each will have to be doing correction strokes constantly.

Then if it is a large open lake the waves will be breaking over the bow.

I remember one Bogey and Bacall Race in Blackwater Sound, Fl. where the wind was blowing at 20 to 25 and Red Cross Randy and Bald Paddler in Big Blue, (Jensen 18) would have completely swamped if one of them wasn't continuously bailing. They had no problem paddling in the wind, but the large waves from the wind is what was killing them.

With a canoe spray deck I wouldn't hesitate taking our C-2 into any wind that we take our K-1's in


We were tandem, but I didn’t have a wind-speed indicator, so I was just estimating. It was a very strong breeze. I mentioned the waves so people who know about such things might have a better idea of how fast the wind was blowing.

Over estimate
Most people wildly over estimate wind speeds.

The simple fact is that it depends on the type of canoes the type of cover used on the canoe, the wind direction, the fetch, wave height, direction of travel, and the paddlers. In plenty of cases 15 mph winds will be too much. Often paddlers get caught out in gusts to 40 and make it back OK.

solo canoe
I had the same question you did going from paddling a kayak to a solo canoe. I realize you asked about the max wind in a tandem but I guess it would apply to both. And alot depends on your experience level in these conditions.

In coastal shallow areas comparing kayak/canoe I was able to make forward progress in 25 and gusting to 30 winds. The forward progress was not much over 2 miles an hour. The waves in the shallow areas are not as significant as they would be in deeper water with highest 2-3 feet but they are constant rolling waves.

I would agree with JackL and add that I never thought to myself how I would much rather be in my kayak then in my canoe when experiencing these conditions. Did use a cookes custom cover with my loaded to max canoe on a weeklong trip.

ok , I estimate too …
… but have a good ear for the wind speeds from experience …

Wind and Waves
Some have already stated that on wide-open water, the waves will be a problem. In a tandem canoe, a lot can be done to mitigate the wave issue if both paddlers kneel very close to each other in the center of the boat. The ends of the canoe won’t dive deep into the waves nearly as badly that way.

Still, any way you look at it, those conditions won’t be fun if you have a long distance to go.

Burch does show you how to do it
Burch’s Kayak Navigation book would also apply here for canoes.

The force of the wind doubles for every 5 moh increase. If one is trying to go at just 3 mph the energy to do that is the same as a 15 mph wind. So, you will now be at a standstill in that wind unless you paddle twice as hard to go 3 mph in that wind.

Now at 20 mph that force doubles again! For example, 0 mph wind takes X energy to go 3 mph. 5 mph wind takes 2 X 10 mph takes 4 X, 15 takes 8 X, 20 now takes 16 times the energy, 25 takes 32, 30 takes 64 times the energy.

This also lets you see how difficult it is to paddle against current as well. I think 1.5 mph current is about equal to wind of 15 mph. 6 mph current is just about impossible to make much headway in.

This is why in most any sport wind dictates top speed of the athlete since most of the resistance is from wind even as other forces are incrasing.

Cycling for example the world record for the hour is somewhere around 32 mph. The energy to go faster is just too much.

and in canoeing their are other problems such as pressure on the sides of the canoe, waves, water resistance, etc.

And if that is not enough the minute you slow down or stop you travel backwards

You would be better off not T-boneing higher waves in a canoe or you would tend to slice right into them, possibly causing them to come right over your bow. Best would be to hit them between 1-2 o’clock if possible. However, this exposes more surface area of the canoe to the wind so you need to make sure you don’t get turned sideways into a trough. Not good in a canoe.