Weathercocking question

Why does my boat always seem to head into the wind? I would think the wind would push the front of the boat away from the wind. Can someone explain this?

Add ballast

– Last Updated: May-26-12 3:19 PM EST –

A kayak is exactly like a weathervane
-read the notes with the video

Easiest way to fix is to use 5 gallon water bladders
- at 8lbs per gallon, it's a quickie solution
to help stability in high winds for an "empty" boat.

Safety / Steering
Some boats are designed to weathercock. In a storm with big wind and big waves the safest alignment of a kayak is having the bow aimed into the stuff.

You can also steer a boat that’s equipped with a skeg. Want to turn upwind? Raise the skeg. Want to stay neutral in a crosswind? Half skeg. Want to turn downwind? Full skeg.

It is supposed to do that
It is far safer for a boat to turn into the wind than away from it in a case where the paddler is not fully in control, so that is the design default in most touring boats if skeg or rudder is not deployed. If you want it to turn away from the wind, stiffen the stern via skeg or rudder.

So true…
And this goes way back to the original Inuit designs which were designed to turn upwind so as not to be detected by whatever they were hunting. They too added a skeg if this feature was less desired. Adding some weight may help if a skeg is not an option.

Some boats unduly weathercock
in relatively benign conditions. The Spectrum was notorious for severe weathervaning…even uncorrectable by experienced paddlers.

It was a David Yost design. I asked him once why he designed such a terrible boat. He said the design was fine but for some reason on release from the mold the stern sprang up and there essentially was too much rocker in the stern end. Unfortunately even a rudder could not stop the weathercocking.

I recently posted a blog article about weathercocking, why it happens and how to correct at I hope you find it helpful.

Greg Stamer

Short explanation

– Last Updated: May-26-12 9:29 PM EST –

Your stern is lighter and digging in less than the bow, so the wind can push it more easily than your bow. That's why it's like a weathervane arrow, although in that case it's the larger side surface area that makes the rear of the arrow easier to push relative to the little arrowhead. Weathercocking when there's light wind is normal for many kayaks.

One way to remedy this would be to put some ballast behind you.

Also, IF you have a bunch of bulky stuff sitting on your rear deck, that will make it act like a weathervane, too. Put it inside the rear hatch instead.

Turning into the wind is safer than being turned downwind, though in my experience there is a point at which if the wind gets strong enough the boat will broach or turn downwind anyway. But that's really strong wind. And more of a problem for sure than weathercocking.

Different explanation

– Last Updated: May-27-12 12:15 AM EST –

The weathercocking explanation that focuses on the the bow being "pinned" by a pressure wave while the stern is relatively loose may be a factor when the hull is moving, but it fails to explain those hulls that leecock and those that are relatively wind neutral.

I think the more general explanation involves the relative positions of the hull's center of effort (CE) and center of lateral resistance (CLR).

If the CE is astern of the CLR, the hull will windcock. If the CE is forward of the CLR, the hull will leecock. If the CE and CLR are in the same place, the hull will be wind neutral.

The CE is the vector sum of the wind and water forces acting on the hull. Its location can be changed primarily by different above-water hull shapes. For example, a greater sail area on one end of the hull would result in more wind effort on that end. When the hull is in motion, water pressures will also exert forces and contribute to the CE vector. Hence, below-water shapes can also affect the location of the CE for a moving hull. This may be how the bow pressure wave factors in.

The location of the CLR will change primarily with different below-water hull shapes. For example, below-water shapes that can affect lateral resistance include the shape of the rocker line and skegged sterns. The CLR will also be affected by the position of the center of gravity (CG). In turn, the CG will change position with differing mass distributions of the hull shape, differing paddler positions fore and aft, and different placements of the gear load. Shifting paddler position or gear load is thus a practical way to shift the CG and CLR to combat windcocking or leecocking.

I like kayaks that are designed, via their above- and below-water shapes, to be wind neutral or only slightly weathercocking. However, as others have stated, in a really big blow and accompanying waves most any hull will broach sideways -- a dangerous situation unless you are an expert.

As a practical buying tip, I think it's always advisable to try out a hull in a strong wind to get a feel for its weather or lee helm.

And if there is not enough
weight in the kayak or canoe to have sufficient wetted surface/water shape, that will greatly complicate the situation.

Thanks for the detailed explanation
It might be a little too technical for my current level of understanding, but I get parts of what you are saying and I appreciate the effort.

Thanks to all, and a follow up question.
Thanks everybody, for your explanations. Here is what I have learned (I think):

  1. Ballast in the rear hatch might help.
  2. Keep stuff off the back deck as much as possible.
  3. Kayaks are designed to weathercock for good reason.
  4. How to use a skeg to help the situation (but I don’t have a boat with a skeg).
  5. How a weathervane works and how it is similar to how a kayak weathercocks (explanation of how it happens).

    Follow up question:

    I read something about cockpit placement being important. Does a cockpit that is slightly more toward the stern than the center help to keep the boat from weathercocking?

Good blog post
Again, I don’t understand it all, but I learn a little bit more from everything I read. Thanks.

Weathervane not a good analogy
FWIW, I don’t care much for the weathervane explanation. A weathervane points into the wind because the tail of the weathervane has more surface area and catches more wind. This isn’t true of most kayaks, most kayaks (in profile) have a bow section that is taller and has more surface area than the tail.

If you applied the same logic of a weathervane, you would expect the bow to always “blow downwind” (lee-cocking).

A kayak only weathercocks when you are paddling. If you don’t paddle, a kayak will be blown more or less sideways (depending on design, cockpit placement, deck loads, etc, etc).

You have to look at what’s happening under the water to understand weathercocking.

To over-generalize, when you are moving, the bow is held in place by high-pressure (visualize the wave that forms at the bow of a tugboat or other displacement boat as it plows through the water). This secures the bow somewhat, so the wind can’t “push it”, but the stern doesn’t have this high pressure, so the stern blows downwind. The result is that the kayak points into the wind.

Anything that you can do to make the stern track better can help (drop a skeg, put more weight in the stern, etc). To answer your question, if you move the seat or cockpit further back, that can help, since you are putting more pressure on the stern. However, trimming the kayak that way will make handling worse for other conditions, which is why I prefer to load the kayak so that it is balanced, and not tail or nose heavy.

Not all kayaks weathercock. You can design a hull that will lee-cock (kayak blows downwind). The old Nordkapp HM is one example. It had a large molded “fin” at the stern.

Greg Stamer

tilt towards the wind
That’s the easiest solution for a boat without a rudder or skeg. Just raise the downwind knee and tilt the deck towards the wind. Normally this turns the boat downwind and but it also cancels the weather cocking. The occasional stern draw or sweep stroke on the windward side helps as well.

Cockpit placement
Inclination to weathercock is mostly affected by allover hull design, whether loose or tight bow, balance front to back, amount of rocker etc. Moving the cockpit towards the stern a bit should not unduly affect the tendency to weathercock in a boat that is otherwise balanced properly (and being paddled by someone at its target weight).

Again, this is a good thing. Leecocking is tougher to handle in difficult conditions.

High winds/currents
I have found that even in high winds/currents even my straight tracking Perception Conduit (Dagger Catalyst 13) is a bear to keep straight. I just today installed a Harmony Rudder kit, and I should not worry again.

Rudder/Skeg are the best options, IMO. Yes, corrective strokes are all you will ever need in lighter wind/current, but there is a reason even high end sea kayaks sometimes have skegs. Most loaded down kayakers might not even realize it if they have kept the weight balance towards the rear, as that will result in less weathercocking.

Sometimes I head out with calm waters, but by the time I am heading back (I hide between two islands fishing…) the main bay gets pretty rough. For me, a rudder makes sense, and will save my energy. However I don’t see myself using it on flat water, I enjoy getting on edge and making my plastic boat carve!

Our tandem I always sit in back, and since I weigh a bit more than my girlfriend (oh, 60lbs or so) weathercocking is not much of an issue! That kayak also has a much more pronounced keel than my Conduit…

Extra credit question…
To help understand weathercocking better, and to realize that there is nothing “magical about the bow”, consider what (usually) happens if you paddle in reverse, with steady wind blowing from one side.

In this case, since you are paddling in reverse, the stern is the cutwater, so now it has water pressure on each side. The stern is partially held in place and resists the wind pushing it but now it is the bow that is “loose” and free to blow downwind, leaving the stern to point into the wind.

Next time out, sit broadside to a fresh breeze in safe conditions and experiment with what happens when:

  1. not paddling.
  2. paddling forward.
  3. paddling in reverse.

    That will teach you more than a lot of words and theory.

    Greg Stamer

Your Profile…
indicates you are looking to acquire a longer, faster boat and some skills. In that case consider a boat with a retractable skeg. Weathercocking can be negated or used to your advantage.

Hey, I used to be a hoosier.

Water pressure applied to front vs rear

– Last Updated: May-30-12 11:56 PM EST –

I see a bunch of posts saying kayaks are "designed" to weathercock, or that weathercocking is largely affected by where the cockpit is, etc. Well, I don't buy into those ideas at all. I figure there's no "design" attribute at work here because as a canoer and rower, I have a few boats which are completely symmetrical, both below AND above the waterline, and the dead-center location of the paddler (or rower) is neutral with regard to the effect of wind, yet weathercocking is very pronounced and gets stronger and stronger with increasing travel speed. Conversely, these boats become strongly "pinned" perpendicular to a strong wind when the travel speed is zero, meaning that neither weathercocking nor leecocking occur if the boat is not under power. Therefore I place my belief in the pressure-differential theory that two or three people already mentioned. Also, as one person suggested, get your boat up to speed in reverse in windy conditions and observe what happens, and you'll ditch the idea that weathercocking is the result of specific design attributes associated with forward travel. The design attributes mentioned could certainly affect the degree of weathercocking, but observation of the performance of perfectly symmetrical boats shows that such attributes can't be the root cause.

Oh, I'm surpised by that center-of-lateral-resistance post as an independent weathercocking factor too, since even on a totally symmetrical boat, the location of center of lateral resistance shifts forward of center when traveling forward, and the degree of that shift is related to travel speed. Since the amount of shift is a consequence of travel speed, it makes sense that it's a consequence of the degree of pressure differential between the boat's front and rear as related to travel speed, as I've seen written here and there before (I can't recall where I've read that though). To illustrate the principle, if you want to wedge a canoe sideways while traveling forward, and if you wish to do so without changing the direction the bow is aimed, attention must be given to where the blade is placed along the length of the boat. The faster the boat is traveling forward, the farther forward the blade (the location of applied lateral force) must be placed to avoid imparting any turning action, but as the speed of forward travel slows, you have to move the paddle location closer and closer to center. Only after forward travel speed slows to zero does the neutral position for lateral thrust become centered between the two ends (on a symmetrical boat). Clearly, travel speed, and what it does to affect the difference in the amount of lateral force that's necessary to move the bow versus the stern, is what's at work here. Again, specific hull design could modify the overall affect, but observing what happens to the location of neutral lateral thrust, relative to speed, on a totally symmetrical boat shows that the effects of travel speed are at the root of weathercocking.