Wind and Feathered Paddle

A poster stated the following:

“We have tried to tell her a number of times to try a feathered blade, it will help her with high wind conditions. But she doesn’t want to practice even in calmer conditions. She even wind flipped once when a sudden microburst hit; we were trying to head into a cove and the wind probably hit 50-60kts.”

I found this to be odd since the reason I paddle feathered is due to wind. I don’t see how wind, even a sudden gust, could have caused a capsize due to an unfeathered paddle.

When wind approaches from abeam (bow quarter to stern quarter), the non-power face of a feathered paddle is likely to be more perpendicular to the surface of the water, effectively creating a brace no the wind. When this happens, a strong wind can lift the paddle blade pretty dramatically and someone who holds tightly to the paddle may well capsize. Since most wind tends to come from those quarters, at least in my experience, I strongly believe that feathered paddles are more likely, not less, to cause a capsize.

The first time I was out in a storm, my paddle was lifted out of my grip several times (sustained winds of 35+, gusts to 50+) Since I use a very light grip on the paddle), I had it blown out of my hands rather than cause a capsize. The second time this happened, I switched to an unfeathered paddle and this has never happened to me since.

Yes, when paddling, or directly away from, the wind, the unfeathered blade may encounter more air than a feathered paddle, but the forces on the blade are not in the vertical plane and will push on the blade face. While I’ve noticed a bit of flutter and buffeting of air current on the blade, I’ve never felt forces that might cause a capsize.

Hutchinson’s book suggested exactly this when I took up the sport, but not having been in storm conditions back then, I really didn’t grasp the impact of what he was saying.

Caveat is that I have 2 identical paddles that only have 2 settings and the unfeathered setting on this style of paddle puts the power face down so that it is close to parallel to the surface of the water, giving the air a lot of surface to grab. These blades are also fairly large, so the forces on them can be fairly significant. I know that more modern blades are both narrower and have many more degrees of feather, thus making them less likely to be subject to excessive wind forces.

And before someone points out that I should switch to a newer style of paddle, let me say that I’ve used these things for about 30 years now and they just won’t break, no matter how much I’ve abused them over the years. I’ve retired, money isn’t as available as it once was, and me, being excessively cheap by nature, I won’t shell out money for new paddles until one of these dam***** things breaks. Perhaps I should consider leaving them across some boards and back the car over them so I can justify the expense.


a steering stroke perhaps

– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 1:27 PM EST –

A bow or stern rudder would expose the upper face of an unfeathered paddle to a beam wind which could cause a capsize.
You always have to take those wind speed guesses with a large grain of salt but if it really was 50-60 kts, that would capsize most people with or without a paddle unless they braced hard and hunkered down. 30kts is impossible for most people to make any progress in except straight downwind or somewhere with no fetch and 15kts is the upper comfort range of most in open water.

I was paddling a tippy solo canoe with a double blade. The wind increased rapidly and was exaggerated by topography. As I paddled through this area the wind was particularly gusty and unpredictable. At some points I felt like I might capsize. It was caused by both the gusts and the lulls. It was similar to the feeling of someone pulling a chair out from underneath you. I would get so used to “leaning” into a gust that the sudden removal of the gust caused a falling feeling. Then the wind would suddenly gust and it was the opposite effect.

Now, if i was in my kayak, there is little chance I would have felt uneasy at all, and like you said, other than the paddle feeling like it was getting riped out of my hands a few times in my life, i have never felt like the paddle was going to take me over.

Ryan L.

I can shed some light on that.
It was a pretty blustery day to begin with, wind in the 17-22kts range. There were small craft warnings out on the open Bay but we were paddling in a fairly sheltered area that provided decent lee protection. However a wind shift with a approaching cloud pattern sent the wind right down the channel. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see this malestrom heading down the river, serious chop indicative of a downburst. I blew the whistle and directed everyone to head for a small cove for shelter. Fortunately they had heeded my earlier instruction to stay close to the east shore, which was lee protected from the normal wind direction that day and shallower than the rest of the tidal river. She was later getting there than the rest of the group, blew too far past the entrance to the cove and went perfectly vertical with her unfeathered paddle trying to execute a quick turn. I was sitting in the cove and as I saw her paddle go up said, “Uh oh” even before she flipped and had already started maneuvering to go out, laying low over the foredeck. Fortunately the earlier planning had paid off and she was only in waist deep water. The downburst passed quickly and recovery was pretty easy since her boat blew up on the bank. It was pretty exciting. I check the historical weather information later that day and found that gusts in the 50-60kts range had been recorded.

Here is the interesting follow up to that story. Some folks were a little slow to respond to the whistle and instructions. That’s probably why she was in poor position to make the safe move. A little later that day, some folks wanted to take a “scouting” break and since we were somewhat spread out to commumicate, I blew the whistle again. Kayaks were kicking up wakes heading to the nearest shore.

Feathering choices
Not quite sure what you’re asking but if you want to alter the paddle it’s easy. You can drill a hole in the feathering adjustment to make it how you want. Or make it a 1 piece paddle in the position you want.

You can also cut down the blades too if you want. By drawing a line equal distance in all around the paddle you can make the blade small if you want. I did it with a Werner Camino blade using a jig saw and sanding it. came out great, paddles perfect.

As far as feathering or not. It’s like shoes. If you like the way it feels for you, that’s all that counts.

thanks for the details
60 kt gusts is a heck of a squall.

Was it just the paddle?
Granted that kind of gust can be quite noticeable, and it is bigger than I have been in that I know of. I was feeling it the day we plowed back thru 50 knot winds after a very short foray into it. We got around the point a short bit and I said enough, was basically the wus that made the other two come in with my decision. I just couldn’t see how it would be fun to kill ourselves dragging back home against that as it ramped up. (I caught heat about it but I was right - it blew that way for a few hours steady, very unusual for that area of the coast.)

But was it just the paddle, or was there also some stiffness that inhibited a quick recovery? I should mention that at 130 pounds I am not exactly someone who would be asked to hold down a tent corner in a big blow. I can get a good nailing.

I’ll Be The One
Drive over one of your paddles and replace it with a Greenland paddle. I don’t know why but they do great in the wind. Don’t think of it as an expense for a toy. Think of it as a safety precaution. Tell mama that, anyway.


– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 5:18 PM EST –

Whatever your feathering preference is there are situations where it can and will work against you as some of you have pointed out. I think it is a matter of picking your poison and living with it. We live in a 3D world and wind and blade can orient any number of possible ways.

50 knots is a very, very serious situation to be in especially in a small human powered craft in open water. I would never willingly venture into such conditions which I believe is Beaufort scale 10 or a Whole Gale. Microbursts are real and have sent more than one airliner on final approach plummeting into the ground over the years.

I guess those Greenlanders know a thing or two about low volume boats and Greenland paddles.

Wind and Feathering
There is no overall advantage to a feathered paddle in wind. As is obvious and others have said the wind blows from many directions. There is one wind related advantage however. When you are paddling forward there is always apparent wind (like when you stick your hand out the car window). If you are racing apparent wind is important and I would use a 90 degree paddle in those circumstances. Otherwise it is trivial. Having no feather has one huge advantage – left/right symmetry. Every stroke is the same on both sides. If you use an unfeathered paddle it usually works better and is easier on the wrists to shift the control hand back and forth with each stroke.

wrists straight either way?
Over the years I’ve heard the idea of rotating a control hand wrist to accomodate for feather, but have never practiced or understood this.

I’ve always used a 60 degree right hand feather. It was just always the most common thing sold, and how I started, and I’ve never experienced, heard, or seen demonstrated anything to convince me that changing offers me any sort of advantage. I can’t remember trying to convince anyone that my way is best, although I read things both in favor and against it. But I also trained myself to always keep my wrists straight. I’ve never figured any reason why I would adjust my stroke to allow for this control hand wrist bending idea. Is there some actual good reason to develop the practice of a control hand with a feathered paddle?

Wrong paddle!!
I`m in total agreement with Kudzu,trash that paddle and start using a Greenland Paddle,those Inuits sure knew what they were doing!!!

What I have encountered
I have encountered all of the the following over the last decade, heard in trainings with folks like Ben Lawry who certainly likes speed, and well-respected coaches on the sea kayaking side who are more known for distance.

The idea of just one control hand, as in always right or always left, is not worth keeping around. Control switches between hands thru the course of paddling depending on the actions involved. This one is the majority of what I have heard about control hand.

Then it gets fun.

The feather to use for a perfect forward stroke is 45 degrees. The feather to use for a perfect forward stroke is 60 degrees. The feather for a perfect forward stroke is between 10 and 20 degrees. (Note that H2O makes a paddle for WW with a 12 degree feather, at least for righties.)

Having any feather is an annoying pain in the butt because you have to think about it when you are rolling. Rolling with no feather is an annoying pain because having learned with the different wrist cock, it is very hard to unlearn it.

Feathered paddles are better in the wind. Feathered paddles make no difference at all in the wind (and if the wind is strong enough it does, exactly what are you doing out in it?). And from a few heathens - any GP handles wind better so just stow the Euro and switch to the GP.

That’s off the top of my head, I bet I could come up with more if I thought on it.

That was possibly a part of it

– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 9:35 PM EST –

since, even though a fairly good paddler in good conditions and even moderately decent waves, she was not that experienced yet in heavy wind. And that kind of wind will challenge the best of us.

When she realized she was going to miss the sheltered cove she tried to execute a quick turn. Only weighing all of about 120, when she tried to turn the Merlin LT into the wind it trapped her abeam, she tried to do a downwind bow pry at a high angle and the boat got pushed into the blade,flattening it to the wind, the paddle went up when she tried to keep from running over it and that was that. More importantly perhaps, she was too upright rather than getting down low and stiffened when stuff started to happen and obviously didn't execute the best move in that kind of wind (again, inexperience). It was a really intense gust, you could just seen the thing churning down the river. Small branches were actually snapping off on shore!

Good analysis.
The one thing that does seem to hold true, is that when you get used to a particular feather and use it for everything you do, don’t change it too much, knowingly or unknowingly. I usually paddle with a 60, sometimes will go to a 75 in really high wind. Going to a zero makes me have to think too much when conditions are good. If there is a must make move, it may very likely

also call up some of the old WW skills, and quickly. A really good paddler can adapt.

I assume “always” is not absolute

– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 9:58 PM EST –

To say there's "always" an apparent wind can't be correct. With no slippage of the planted blade, and assuming that the center of shaft travels neither forward nor backward nor sideways relative to the boat during each stroke, the free blade must by necessity go forward at twice the speed the boat is traveling (speed of the free blade in this case is a simple geometry problem, since relative to the boat's position, the blade in the water and the blade in the air move at exactly the same speed, but in opposite directions. Therefore, relative to a stationary object, the free blade moves forward at twice the speed of the boat). Accounting for the slight slippage of the blade in the water would mean that the free blade moves forward a little faster than twice the speed of the boat, but accounting for the slight movement of the center of the shaft relative to the boat could make the free blade go either faster or slower, depending on what that motion is. However, saying that the free blade goes forward at twice the speed of the boat must be a very close approximation. Now, if the boat is going 6 mph, any tailwind faster than 12 mph would actually benefit a non-feathered paddle user, because that wind would "overtake" the free blade during the recovery portion of the stroke.

As long as the boat is moving forward
There is apparent wind with respect to the water acting on your body, boat and paddle. If you want to talk resultant force then obviously a tailwind is a force in the opposite direction. Doesn’t mean the force from movement with respect to the water goes away.

I don’t follow that logic

– Last Updated: Jul-12-12 11:25 PM EST –

Seems to me that a tailwind that's moving much faster than the forward speed of the blade on recovery can't do anything but push that blade forward. I paddle canoes, and this can clearly be felt. With a canoe, you make the recovery stroke a lot faster than the power stroke, but even so, if the tailwind is fast enough, you can feel that wind push the blade forward if it's unfeathered (and during a strong tailwind is the only time I don't feather a canoe paddle). With a canoe, this force is very easy to feel because when the blade is in the air, air resistance is the only thing happening. I row with non-feathered oars, and again like a canoe, the recovery stroke is much faster than the power stroke, but if the tail wind is strong enough, I can feel it pulling the oar blades in the direction I want them to go. With the much slower blade recovery speed of a double paddle, the effect of a tailwind becomes apparent at lower wind velocities, but I think it's harder to feel because you are putting so much of your effort into the end of the paddle that's in the water (I used to use a double-blade for paddling a canoe).

If what you say is true ("There is apparent wind with respect to the water acting on your body, boat and paddle"), and if the blade that's in the air can't be benefited by a wind traveling forward faster than its own speed, then your boat and body should not feel the benefit of a tailwind either, but clearly the force of a tailwind on your body and boat cause you to go faster than when there's no wind at all. Ask any biker how hot and stiffling it is to ride on a hot summer day with a brisk tailwind (yeah, you go incredibly fast because air resistance is zilch, but what you wouldn't give for a cooling breeze).

Anyway, "resultant force" isn't even what's going on here, which tells me I'm probably wasting my time. What's going on here requires you to consider frame of reference and nothing else. The blade is moving in the air during the recovery stroke, and all that matters is which direction the air moves across the blade. If the blade moves faster than the air, the air moves across the blade from forward to rear, so that the air resistance is "against you" and you will benefit by feathering. If the blade is moving forward more slowly than the air moves in that direction, the direction of air movement across the blade is from rear to front, which will help your forward movement a bit if you give that air something to push (a non-feathered blade). Not saying it's a huge issue in most cases, but it isn't at all what you describe.

Oh, and regarding sticking your hand out the car window and always feeling that apparent wind, well, if you were to drive 30 mph when there is a 40-mph tailwind, and IF your statements were true, you would feel air hitting your hand from the same direction as when driving in most other situations, but clearly this isn't true. Next time there's a really strong wind, get in your car and try it for yourself.

Thanks for the input
And yeah, I’ve wanted a new paddle since about the first time I tried several different ones. Still can’t justify the cost yet since I’m not doing long distance touring - mostly just day trips these days.

I cited the worst storm I’d gone out in where the wind really had an effect on the paddle. Actual wind speed may have been different - I was using the local weather source for same.

Since unfeathering the paddle, I have yet to feel any lift on the paddle during any paddle strokes, including rudders, but I can see that if one were to hold a stern rudder for a long time, the paddle could well capture air as described in previous posts. I just don’t think I’ve ever held one long enough for a gust of wind to surprise me in this manner.

That was really fun, by the way - on the open ocean, the swells were much longer than the boat (17’ sea lion) and the tops were just starting to be blown off of these. They had a very large spacing between them, though, so you can imagine what it was like to paddle in these huge valleys between waves.

Since we were near shore and there was an open estuary behind us, we didn’t have breaking surf to enter/exit (or I would not have gone out in that), so the conditions were about as safe as they could be in a full storm.

Here is an aerial view of the area:

Nice place to paddle, btw. lots of marine mammals and the estuary is well populated with other marine life (though the water can be pretty murky0.


Sounds like…
she may have had a moment of giving the wind a bit more of her hull than was ideal. At her weight and that wind a moment is all it would take.

That 50 knot day was fun for some experiments in the cove. I wanted to see what the effect of it was in my usual abilities in a somewhat sheltered situation, and it was still going 40 or so even near the inside beach. I found out a couple of interesting things. One was that the wind was pinning my hull once I got over on my side, so my normal roll on the side with the bottom facing upwind just wasn’t going to happen. A steady scull up would have been my only good shot. The other was that doing a static brace with the deck facing upwind was ridiculously easy even without rotating my back to the water, because the wind actually held the boat up on its side.