What's drafting out of category?

A very accomplished paddler was DQd at the finish line from this year’s Chattajack 31 for “drafting out of category.”

While I’m not a racer, I know what drafting is - but what’s the “out of category” designation? Would that mean, i.e., a solo paddler in a race couldn’t draft off a tandem?

And how is such a charge verified by race officials?

I don’t know about the verification but that’d be like a surfski drafting behind a tandem sea kayak, row craft, etc. I think it should be allowed if you are able to draft a faster category like a sea kayak drafting a surfski. If you can get to that position you’ve earned it! Drafting lobster boats and other motor craft = not so much.

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Wave riding (drafting) of dissimilar craft is not allowed in the Yukon River races (the 440 mile Yukon River Quest and the Yukon 1000 mile race) unless both parties are in the same class and agree to such. That rule may have had its origins with me and my team during the first ever Yukon1000 mile race starting in 2009. I was in a voyageur canoe, being closely drafted by a kayak. Drafting so close that it often impacted our stern and interfered with the stern paddler’s steering. When questioned why, and asked to back off, the kayak paddler stated he did not have or “lost” his river map, which was required by the rules for all boats to have onboard before beginning the race. That alone should have resulted in a DQ.

I officially objected because I had spent literally months of time in research and detailed inspection map study of the river, combined with our previous year’s YRQ experience on the river to create what I felt was the most efficient and fastest route possible. We finally shook the kayak off when a partner kayak showed up from behind. Afterward we lodged a formal protest against the kayak, for unfair practice. After long discussion with race officials, the no out-of-class drafting rule surfaced the next year. Turns out during our race, that kayak violated many other official rules of the race, resulting in a total of a 9-hour extra time penalty imposed on his finish time. We later found out that that particular international paddler has a history of inappropriate actions in races elsewhere.

In addition, during the Yukon races, such drafting could be interpreted as pacing, which is a disallowed activity.

Even with boats in the same class, courtesy demands that the drafter communicate intentions and ask permission. In other races I have been in elsewhere, with unlike species, long distance drafting may be allowed if both parties so agree.

All good points you made. That type of interference would be infuriating under any circumstances.

The race report I read stated the paddler in question was six minutes ahead of the fastest female time, then went on to say:

“Her time and placing were revoked, however, when another competitor complained that she had drafted out of category, resulting in a disqualification from the race. The disqualification marks the first time any ski or kayak paddler has been disqualified from the Chattajack.”

I found the Chattajack 31 rules and they do allow drafting, but only in the same class (which I guess means the same type of boat). But the drafting rule also states: "Penalties for drafting out of class will be enforced if witnessed by a race official."

Not a happy ending.

What is “pacing” in the Yukon race and why is it disallowed?

@Rookie said:

What is “pacing” in the Yukon race and why is it disallowed?

YRQ rules:
19. Team Support
No planned help is allowed throughout the race, with the exception of Carmacks. Pace boats (i.e. crafts paddled or powered that follow or lead a team for the purpose of keeping speed up, offering support, sustenance, conveying water or feeder boats) are prohibited.
22. Drafting
Drafting (wake-riding) is only permitted under these conditions:
a. Drafting, in class, is allowed, but expect to take equal time leading.
b. Drafting, out of class, is not permitted except for vessels in distress.
c. If there is suspicion that there was preplanned help between boats, this will count as a Pace Boat violation as forbidden in Section 19.

Different events have different rules, so it pays to study them and honor them. Personally I prefer to be permitted to “wake ride” any vessel that you are fast enough to catch as long as you don’t obstruct or impact the vehicle ahead, and take your turn at the front (if appropriate). At local races, drafting is usually part of the sport, but someone that taps your stern or paddle repeatedly is going to quickly become very unpopular and possibly have water thrown at them, deal with multiple attempts to drop them, and receive verbal abuse.

During the long Watertribe races I have seen all manner of classes drafting each other for relatively short periods, (or even sprinting behind slow moving powerboats in channels) but after the first day the competitors usually fan out to where you feel like you are on the water alone and may only see participants at checkpoints.

Although drafting takes effort and mental alertness, teams could save a lot of energy by drafting. For whatever reason, on ultra long races, I usually see teams paddling side by side, perhaps simply to share the benefits of conversation (which can help keep you awake).


When doing long paddles I will draft. The trick is to stay close but not tap the lead boats stern. I am also willing to be lead, but most my friends don’t draft. I am not a racer, but maybe a bit lazy. Actualy I like the skill involved in staying close, but not touching. If the lead boat doesn’t keep a steady pace you will be back stroking to stay off their stern. It’s not worth it then. I try to stay about 2 feet off. The problem is you have to stay focused on their stern the whole time and miss a lot because of that.

When race paddling solo (or tandem) I have drafted many times (if for very far, then with permission from the lead boat, of course). I find that it saves significant energy on my part only if the lead boat is relatively stable and their stern does not fish-tail too much. Even so, if such motion is predictable (stern slipping side to side after so many strokes, for example), I can anticipate when to correct for it a stroke or two early. If the lead boat randomly and unpredictably wiggles too much, then it expends far more energy from me than it is worth trying to stay in position.

When I am in non-race or recreational or training mode, such as when paddling with friends or training Adirondack guides in canoe handling, I enjoy drafting with my bow within a very few inches (strive for 2 inches) off their stern without ever touching or interfering. Just for fun and practice.

I’ve enjoyed reading the responses; thanks. Do have Heed & Mansfield’s “Canoe Racing,” but have concentrated on the training section. Studied the chapter on “The Fine Art of Wake Riding” last night. I’m primarily a solo paddler but there is one event I enter where there are well over 100 kayaks heading for the same destination. I’ve always stayed clear of the other boats. Maybe I shouldn’t.

@yknpdlr said:
“I enjoy drafting with my bow within a very few inches (strive for 2 inches) off their stern without ever touching or interfering. Just for fun and practice.”

I agree but that takes close concentration. Pun intended.

On might think that drafting behind an out of class boat doesn’t really much matter in races where overall finish placement makes no real difference, except for bragging rights. In most races that is true. Except in races such as in the Yukon, when there is real money $$$ awarded for overall 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place etc on down the line, regardless of class, and in addition to cash awards for In-class place finishing. The kayaker I mentioned has been observed and accused in other international races of drafting in long marathon races much of the way during the entire race, then sprinting ahead with conserved energy to win in the final stretch to the finish. That is where his practice is patently unfair, and probably the biggest reason for the rule.

I happen to know who you are talking about and while she was drafting “in” her category of kayak (defined in that race as anything greater than 20" wide,) somebody (another female competitor) complained that she drafted a man which was technically out of class as they define the classes by boat type and gender. I have my own thoughts about that situation but I will keep them to myself.

Agreed. It is generally accepted that if two paddlers decide to “work together,” they trade-off equally between leading and drafting. Just like how the peloton riders work together on bicycles. It is bad sportsmanship to draft somebody for the entire race, conserving energy, to then sprint out at the end.