Wind Speed and Paddler Skill

What wind conditions (speed in kts) can paddlers of differing skill levels handle? Any general guidelines out there?


skill levels for wind ?
it’s more a matter of what you’re able to paddle in and what conditions the wind may be creating … big waves or currents? how strong a paddler you are is a function for the most part on technique. good rotation = stronger paddle stroke.

Boats differ, too
In addition to paddler experience, strength, skill, attitude, etc., the kayaks themselves can vary a lot. Some are just easier to paddle in strong wind than others.

rescue skills- #1
it don’t matter what conditions one paddles in, long as they can effectively and effeciently knock off rescues. period.

I hear tales all the time about 15/20/25/30 knot winds and 2/3/4/5 foot conditions and just wonder if anyone in the group is REALLY comfortable doing rescues.

Just being able to maneuver and get to a boat/swimmer/ paddle and round everything up and execute a rescue in 15 knots is a chore. 25-30 knots is darn near impossible for all but very experienced paddlers.

been there, done that


Try this on for size . .

– Last Updated: Mar-14-05 2:46 PM EST –

THe BCU includes Beaufort force as one of the limiting conditions for various levels of paddler assessments:

3* Sheltered Tidal Water - less than F3 (onshore) or less than F2 (offshore), within 3 miles of land, no current, enclosed bays with a multitude of easy landing spots. F3 less than 10 knots.

4* Modrerate Tidal Water - F2 - F4, coastline near shore w/o fast current, races or overfalls. F4 = 16 knots

5*: Advanced Tidal Water - F4 - F6, tide races and overfalls, landings difficult or not possible. F4 - F6 = 16 - 27 knots.

Winds of F6 (22 - 27 knots) is generally considered too strong for all but the strongest paddlers. BCU 5* would be expected to handle F6 winds with grace.

Winds of F7 (28 - 33 knots) is generally more than than mere mortals find entertaining. At F7, paddlers that are over their heads are generally clinging on for dear life or strewn over the water with their gear blowing away. Some of the stronger paddlers may be hootin' and hollerin' but they'll be relieved to "sheapherd" the weaker paddlers to safety.

Of course there are many more environmental factors to consider. Wind is just one of the more obvious hazards.



hootin’ and hollerin’
Good point. There’s a big difference between what’s fun for a half-hour of play near a safe bailout spot, and what you’d want to be in on a long open-water crossing.

Amen brother!

My Feelings Also
And from a novice’s perspective, I don’t really feel comfortable practicing rescues in these kinds of conditions for fear of creating a real ordeal. And if I don’t feel comfortable practicing rescues in the conditions, maybe I shouldn’t be paddling in them.

I remember the one time that my friends and I encountered unexpected rough conditions, I wonder to this day if we would have been able to execute a good rescue.

I think I start to worry at over 15.



Depends a lot on the fetch – the distance the wind has blown over water before reaching where you are. Paddling close along the shoreline with a 20 knot wind blowing offshore is a lot different than paddling along the same shoreline with the 20 knot wind blowing onshore in a situation with a lot of “fetch.” The bigger the fetch, the bigger the waves. A shoreline can create a nice protection zone from the wind. By hugging the shore, you may experience much less wind than someone paddling 50 yards offshore.

beaufort scale is a good starting place,

– Last Updated: Mar-14-05 3:54 PM EST –

it's almost poetic in it's simplicity.

Otherwise I would suggest, and I know this is crazy, go out when it's windy to see for yourself!

I hadn't been out in a true 40-50 knot gale before, I found out that even with a greenland paddle, it's damn hard to get off the beach man! Low volume low windage makes no difference, it was damn hard to even get out past the breakers with that much wind.

Be sure to check the weather forecast and know your abilities. But then again, you won't really know them until you're out there will you, sort of sick irony isn't it?

Seeing for yourself

– Last Updated: Mar-14-05 4:53 PM EST –

I thought the harbor at Grand Marias was perfect for this -- the innner half is nicely sheltered with a sand beach, but as you poke your nose around the corner you start to get the full fetch of Lake Superior bearing down on you. On the right day, it's a great place to find your comfort level with minimal risk.

Same point, from another angle
Paddling SOTs and my first surfski (low deck, wide seat, easy to re-enter), I got used to paddling in pretty much anything I could PADDLE in without capsizing every third stroke. My Mako is the the first boat I’ve owned that’s harder to re-enter in conditions than it is to paddle in conditions. It’s taken some re-orientation to try to stick to conditions where I’m confident I can re-enter rather than just unlikely to capsize. Gives me a little more understanding of how the other half lives!

the harbor at Grand Marais is quite

good place to do anything.

Jed, The only problem with that is that
there are only 2 women in the US who are qualified to paddle in a 16 knot wind according to BCU criteria.

Surely there has to be more than just two paddlers who can do that.

These are assessment conditions
I know lots of women that can do it. Those numbers are for assessment purposes. Playtime / non-assessment kicks everything up a notch. But then, you take your chances a bit too.

Let’s not be sexists here. Apply this same criteria to male padldlers and lot’s of people are paddling a bit close to the edge of their skills.

Keep in mind that these figures assume worst case scenarios: wind against tide, long duration, long fetch, etc, etc. Things get interesting quickly above F5 when the tides and wind are in opposition.

I’m not saying that no one should exceed these limits. I just offered them for the reading pleasure of the original poster. I understand and agree with your point.



We’re in agreement
I only mentioned women, because I know the number of 5* women paddlers because I know one of the two.

I know there aren’t a whole lot of men 5* paddlers in the US, but I don’t know exactly how many.

And I also agree with you about there being a lot of people who paddle way over their heads.

I paddle with a bunch of guys every week who are very good competent paddlers. We all describe ourselves as intermediate paddlers. A lot of people call themselves intermediate and can’t understand why we are not saying we are advanced paddlers.

We feel that advanced paddlers are people like Nigel Foster, Derek Hutchinson, etc.

Sometimes, it is just the wind
Teidyo and I started out the Golden Gate this morning. The wind was ripping, 25kts with gusts to 40. The water itseld was not bad, warm in the mid 50s, outgoing tide and waves were only about a foot but there were some wild williwaws. The wind gusts were either ripping out my paddle or trying to flip me. ( I was using a large bladed paddle, an Archipelago, that I normally do not use), My Nordkapp, which I have not taken out in rough stuff and a GP that I am just getting familiar with and do not have a solid roll with it yet. We turned back. Even though I have been in larger seas and stronger winds, I was pretty scared. That inner voice said turn back and I listened. I went out alone later in the afternoon when the winds were about 10kts and gusting to 20. Much easier!