Kayaking can be so much fun until the wind comes along! Don’t get me wrong, a little wind is okay, but if it picks up to a certain speed, it can cause a bunch of problems.
Experiencing winds is inevitable whilst kayaking, whether you are on a river, a lake, or the sea, so you should always be prepared to feel the breeze. Windy conditions can present a myriad of problems, even for the more experienced kayakers out there.
Firstly, let’s go over the measures of wind speed. The Beaufort wind force scale categories wind speeds into 12 ranges, with 0 being calm, and 12 being hurricane force winds. An alternative way of measuring wind speeds is using knots: one knot is one nautical mile per hour (mph).
A light breeze is defined as speeds of less than 10 knots (4-7mph, or 0-3 on the Beaufort scale), and even this is enough to alter the movement of your kayak, so you might have to work a little harder to stay steady and keep moving forwards.
If the winds pick up to speeds within the range of 13-18mph (which is 11-16 knots, or 4-5 on the Beaufort scale), this generates a headwind that can greatly slow the kayak down, and make it even more difficult to stay upright and stable on the kayak. Recreational kayakers on larger bodies of water should be cautious when wind speeds reach this range.
Winds above 19mph (also measured as above 17 knots, or above 6 on the Beaufort scale), could be classed as ‘too much wind’, and may even be seen as dangerous for the average kayaker. Remember that wind creates waves! When a strong wind blows over a body of water, it lifts the water into large waves that can be a huge issue if you are out kayaking. Even if you are a more experienced kayaker, and feel ready to face force 7 or force 8 winds, do not be fooled: most boats and yachts are unable to handle these winds, let alone a kayak!
Although headwind (wind blowing directly in front of you) can make it harder to paddle forwards, it is less likely to blow you off course than crosswind (wind blowing from a side angle). Kayaks have a tendency to turn into the oncoming wind (known as weathercocking) and this makes it trickier to paddle forwards and stay on track.
So, how can you prepare for high winds, or deal with aggressive wind speeds whilst on a kayak? To avoid capsizing, paddle into the wind – try to go in the same direction as the wind is blowing to give you a boost and push you forwards. Additionally, make sure you have some kind of exit strategy: identify one or two other shorelines that appear as you paddle, so that you can land your kayak there if the winds become too much! Finally, be sure to pack some extra layers for your trip, just in case you do capsize and end up soaked with freezing water.
Wind is the one of the largest influential factors that can cause kayaking to become difficult, but prepare to expect slight winds, and avoiding going out altogether when wind speeds reach or exceed 19mph, will ensure you stay safe and enjoy your time on the water.