Average Kayak Speed

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Experienced kayakers can typically achieve an average kayak speed of 3 mph. Meanwhile, beginner kayakers are more likely to feel comfortable at a pace of 2 mph. With that said, kayak speed is determined by several different factors. A paddler’s fitness, weather, and water conditions, and the type of equipment they are using all determine the average speed of their kayak.

average kayak speed

Special Considerations

Paddling speed is dependent on several factors, but there’s no escaping the impact of water, wind, and weather conditions.

Water Conditions

Water conditions have a tremendous effect on the speed of a kayak. If you’re paddling down a river, it’s easy to use the current to your advantage. However, oceans and rivers that empty directly into the sea change direction in conjunction with the tides. Paddlers should always plan ocean kayaking trips around the movement of the water, traveling with the current to maximize their speed.

TheNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an excellent online resource for local water levels, tides, currents, and water conditions in the United States. Meanwhile, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans offers a similar resource for waters off the coasts of Canada.

Keep in mind that currents do not always travel in the same direction as tides or wind. On average, ocean kayaks travel at speeds of 3.5 to 5.5 mph in waters with typical currents. According to the NOAA, ocean water is constantly on the move. It is impacted by several factors, including wind speed, water density, tides, and ocean floor topography.

Wind and Weather Conditions

Wind can impact kayak speed in several ways. Even gentle winds are capable of pushing small watercraft and generating decent swells. According to the experts at the Appalachian Mountain Club, winds between 8 to 12 kilometers per hour are capable of generating 2 to 3 feet high waves. That alone is enough to reduce a kayak’s speed by half. Generally speaking, speeds higher than 12 mph leave inexperienced paddlers stranded.

It’s also important to factor in the direction of the wind. A headwind is a form of forceful air that travels in the opposite direction of a paddler. Meanwhile, tailwinds are gusts of air that blow in the same direction as paddlers. Headwind reduces a paddler’s speed. Meanwhile, tailwind increase’s a paddler’s speed.

Most kayakers feel comfortable paddling both with and against winds that are under 12 mph. However, you’ll need to consider the influence the wind has on your speed when you are planning your trip. Keep in mind that choppy waters are unsafe and may be enough to warrant your return to shore.

Type of Kayak

Hull design and size also have a big impact on a paddler’s speed. Longer, narrower, lighter boats tend to be faster. Whereas, short, squat, heavy boats tend to be slower.MaCKRO has even developed a “Kayak Hull Speed Calculator.” It uses the length of a kayak to determine its hull speed. While this algorithm is helpful, it is not always accurate. While long, skinny kayaks are inherently faster, they are not always the best option for beginner paddlers. Since slender kayaks lack primary stability, they’re best suited for paddlers who have already mastered their techniques.

In this video, an expert from Sailing Puffin talks a bit more about hull speed. To calculate your maximum hull speed, you must take the square root of your kayak’s waterline and multiply it by 1.34. This estimate is expressed in knots. Of course, scuppers and other protrusions on the bottom of your hull may reduce the maximum potential speed of your kayak. What’s more, the angle of your hull, bow, and stern can also impact your boat’s speed potential.

Average Kayak Speed of a Touring Model

According to the experts, a 12 foot long, 30 inch wide kayak can travel at a steady pace of 3.5 mph. With that said, most touring kayaks are between 12 and 16 feet long and 22 to 25 inches wide.

Average Kayak Speed of a Recreational Model

The average paddler can maintain a steady pace of 3 mph in a recreational kayak. However, stumpier varieties of recreational kayaks are likely to get caught up in turns and other maneuvers. This can lead to an overall decrease in a paddler’s average and max speeds. Of course, you can always increase the speed of your boat by utilizing proper paddling techniques.

Speed of a Surf Ski

The experts at Surfski have done a number of time trials to determine the maximum potential speed o these slender sit-on-top kayaks. Given their potential velocity, it’s not at all surprising to see that surf ski kayakers were rescue boats before they crossed into the competitive kayak sector. In average water conditions, an intermediate paddler can easily maintain a pace of 7 mph in a surf ski kayak.

The Paddler

A paddler’s physical condition, weight, experience, and preferred cadence also impact the speed of their kayak.

Kayak in the middle of the water

What Physical Condition He or She is In?

A paddler’s strength determines the impact of their efforts. Swift, complete paddling motions give a boat longer strides. Simply put, paddlers that are in good shape travel at faster speeds than those that are out of shape. Kayaking works a large number of muscles, including the heart, lungs, upper arms, forearms, shoulders, abs, chest, legs, and hips.


A paddler’s weight also has a significant impact on the speed of their kayak. When you add weight to the hull of a boat, you increase its drag. Weight also changes the position of the boat in the water. This can cause changes to the boat’s stability and center of gravity. Paddling academics have attempted to determine how much impact cockpit weight has on kayak speed, but answers tend to vary. According to Surf Ski Racing, a 1% increase in hull weight can lead to a 1% decrease in speed. Unless you’re looking to participate in a kayak race, a slight increase in cockpit weight shouldn’t have too much of a negative impact on your performance. Still, it is always to your benefit to limit the weight of your gear pack.


Paddlers with well-developed kayaking techniques will find it easy to maintain steady speeds over long distances. Experienced paddlers should be able to maintain steady paces while maintaining control over their boats and executing advanced maneuvers.

The Paddle

Many paddlers underestimate the impact of their paddle choice. Studies show that paddle shape has a direct impact on a boat’s velocity. Most modern paddles boast asymmetrical blades, as these shapes tend to evenly distribute the resistance of water. However, paddlers must determine whether low- or high-angle paddles are going to offer them the most speed. Of course, paddlers must find a paddle that’s blade, length, and materials work to increase their speed. After all, it’s different strokes for different folks.

How many Miles can you Cover?

Several factors determine how many miles a paddler can travel during a single excursion. Many experienced paddlers have paddled 40 to 50 miles in a single day and can regularly pull off 15 to mile paddles. However, it takes regular training before a paddler feels comfortable maintaining the 5 to 6 mph pace that would be necessary to cover such long distances.

In One Day

At this point, we think it’s safe to say that several factors determine kayak speed. For planning purposes, we’re going to attempt to determine how many miles the average paddler can comfortably kayak in a single day. On average, an intermediate paddler travels at a rate of 3 mph. Therefore, if we round up to account for brief stops, a typical paddler should be able to travel roughly 20 miles in 7 hours. In theory, you could launch a boat at 9 a.m. and return to shore around four in the evening.

Of course, this scenario does not account for water conditions, weather conditions, and other impactful factors. Of course, most kayakers are likely to make a few portages and maybe even do a little sightseeing. As a result, we’d recommend limiting most day trips to 8 to 15 miles. Be sure to factor in the direction of the current, the type of kayak you’ll be using, and your skill level when planning one-day paddles.

If you are a visual learner, check out this video. Trip Smith covers the factors that determine how many miles a kayaker can paddle in a single day. If you are wondering what a typical 10-mile kayak trip looks like, check out the link.

Multi-Day Trip

If you’re looking to plan a multi-day trip, you can use use the same factors to determine how far you can travel in a day. As we mentioned before, the average paddler travels at a speed of 2 to 3 mph. Depending on your skill level, you may be able to cover 8 to 20 miles of water in a single day. Be sure to account for stops and portages, which are likely to eat into your daylight hours. Keep in mind that you’ll also be hauling more gear with you on multi-day trips. That extra weight is going to give your kayak more drag and, therefore, slow you down a bit.


Here, you’ll find answers to FAQs about kayak speed.

How Long Does it Take to Kayak a Mile?

Several different factors determine the time it takes a kayaker to paddle a mile. First off, you need to consider the average speed at which you paddle. Most beginner kayakers paddle at a rate of 2 mph. Meanwhile, experienced paddlers can typically achieve speeds of 3 mph. Unless you’re traveling in an indoor pool, you’re also going to have to consider the water and weather conditions when determining the average time it takes you to kayak a distance of 1 mile. Of course, the size (including length, width, and weight) of your kayak, the number of paddlers in your boat, and your kayak’s overall design can also influence your speed. The overall distance of your trip should also impact your average paddling speed.

As you can see, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. However, if you are a somewhat-experienced paddler, you should allow yourself at least 30 minutes to complete a 1-mile paddle. Of course, you would need to maintain an average speed of at least 2 mph to pull this off.

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What is a good kayaking speed to maintain?

An experienced paddler should be able to maintain a speed of 3 to 3.5 mph for several hours. Meanwhile, a beginner kayaker would probably be more comfortable traveling at a rate of 2 to 2.5 mph when paddling for an extended period. Do not underestimate the vast number of factors that can impact the speed of your kayak.

How Long Does it Take to Kayak 5 miles?

You can use your average paddling speed to determine how long it would take you to row 5 miles. For example, it would take a paddler with an average speed of 2 mph roughly 2 ½ hours to paddle 5 miles. Meanwhile, a more advanced paddler with an average paddling speed of 4 mph would take a little over an hour to complete a 5-mile paddle. Of course, these estimates do not account for stops and breaks.

Final Thoughts

Several different factors, including water conditions, weather conditions, kayak designs, paddlers, and paddle designs, work together to determine the average speed of a kayak. On average, an experienced paddler can maintain a speed of 3 mph. Meanwhile, a beginner paddler is going to feel more comfortable traveling at a rate of 2 mph. Finally, an experienced paddler should be able to maintain a speed of 4 to 5 mph during extended paddles. If you’re new to kayaking, you shouldn’t be worried about your kayak speed. Instead, focus on maintaining a steady pace. What’s more, do your best to identify and rule out factors that might be slowing you down.

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