Optimum kayak drafting position?

Relative to the lead boat, where is the greatest drafting benefit realized? Also, although I’m sure it’s hard to quantify, what percentage of energy conservation might be incurred? Thanks as usual.

Isn’t drafting…cheating

– Last Updated: Jul-22-08 12:21 PM EST –

Just paddle more often and be the leader.

Paddlin' on

I often let the motor boats…

…pull me through the no wake zones. I get to within

2 paddle lengths, but I always ask first.

It’s not cheating
Any more than it is in cycling. Just as long as one takes his or her turn at the front.

off the stern, dead behind.

hard to hold this position but VERY cool.


Ride the bow wave
In K1/K2 setups, we always ride the bow wave of the first paddler. In a K1 you want your own bow to be about 1 feet away from the point where the front kayaker’s paddle exits the water. The closer you sit to your opponent the more pronounced the effect. You’ll save as much as 15-20% energy depending on the size of the stern wave(depends on the weight and speed of your opponent).

This takes some rather precise steering as hitting your opponents paddle with your bow is considered very bad style and may very well result in a capsize.

If both left and right drafting positions of your opponent is ‘taken’ you can either draft on the outside of one of the other drafters or opt for the ‘sweetspot’ just behind the front paddlers(stern to bow). This is the best possible ride as the wave pattern from the two other drafters add to the stern wave of the front paddler(diamond shape). I guesstimate in a good sweetspot one is saving +50% energy. It’s really absurd.

There are two problems with the sweetspot though:

  1. The water behind the three front paddlers is really messy, which is a problem in a K1.
  2. It’s very hard to overtake the front paddlers when sitting in the sweetspot as you have to go around the group and paddle up and over their bow waves.

    As for the best position when drafting or wash riding in a sea kayak, I believe the jury is still out. Stern riding may be the better position in slower and heavier sea kayaks with less precise steering.

    One of my first and best rides ever was drafting a big and strong paddler in a heavy sea kayak. I was sitting bow to stern and was hardly working. After 5k he was worn down and I told him to draft me. Unfortunately he was too tired to hang on. Lesson learned. If I had taken my turn in the front I might have enjoyed drafting the guy for much longer.

    Best regards Peter

Thanks Peter, one more thing…
Specifically, do you mean one foot directly behind where the lead boat paddle exits the water? Would this be about 12-18 inches off to the side of said boat as well? I’m asking regarding my boat which is an Epic 18X. For this boat do you think another position would be more effective? Is speed or boat design the deciding factor regarding position? Thanks.

There’s no such thing as kayak drafting

Why so far back ?
Come on Steve, I know you get closer than 2". How can you get you front toggle loop to hook onto the top of his rudder if you stay that far back :slight_smile:


Good post
That’s pretty similar to my experiences in C1 racing. Riding wakes is the way to go. Most of the top K1 guys in Florida hang with each other in a small pack, way out in front of most of us canoe paddlers.

They stay together, everyone taking a turn at the front, and then sprint like hell in the last 500 meters or so.

The courses are mostly flat, though. Seems to me that wind/waves can really disrupt your ability to ride someone’s wake. Seems to cut down the affect of the wake as well.

actually, there is
you can stay in the slipstream of a paddler going into wind and benefit in a smaller way. that’s drafting, and it does help.


As for the position about one foot behind and to the side from where the paddle exits the water yes. At times when losing control I’ve had my bow between the opponents paddle and his kayak. This of cause is asking for trouble.

With regard of your Epic 18X(I’ve only paddled the Endurance 18 once), I would think it more depends on your opponent than on your own kayak. Still with the high stability of the Epic, you’ll be comfortable in the bow to stern position regardless of confused wave systems.

You’ll find some good information on drafting in the flatwater textbook of the Australian federation:


One more thing, which no textbook will tell you. When people are drafting without taken turns pulling, then it’s OK to shovel water on them using a very unclean exit of the paddle.


The term is in the eye of the

It’s a bad term:

In biking the lead peddler is breaking the wind, and if you are close enough (a couple of inches) you are using him as the wind break, so there is a lot less resistance that you have to go against.

The same thing in water with paddling, except there are two methods.

One is the so called “drafting” where I am just an inch or two behind the guy in front, and he is not only flattening the water for me, but breaking the wind.

The other is wake riding where you have to be off more to the side to catch his wake wave and ride it.



you learn something new every day!
thanks, Peter, interesting stuff!

Water Pump
…that’s the reason I have a water pump in my k-1!

I believe it depends on the boat
you are drafting. I have frequently paddled with a bud who races and has various race/marathon kayaks of different lengths, and some boats are better if I’m totally on his stern as Flatpick spoke, others are far better with about a 2-3’ overlap directly off the side of his stern, and some are better with an overlap out a few feet from the stern. He has one hull that doesn’t seem to be able to be drafted at all, no matter where I place my boat. But drafting in kayaks works, even on touring hulls, and works quite well. You are in essence surfing their wake to some marginal yet usefull extent. I know if I paddle parallel to my buds boat out to the side some distance, I will be paddling quite a bit harder than if I was drafting him. Once I drop in on his draft, my life gets a whole lot easier.



Unfortunately, you’ll never know …
the fun !



I agree with fltpick. A few inches off the stern seemed to work for me. A few feet back of that and thwe swirls from the blades seemed to inhibit me.

Fezmedz says forget about drafting in your canoe, just drink more draft beer.