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How Long Does It Take To Kayak A Mile? – All About Kayak Speed

When going kayaking, you may want to plan how long or how far you want to spend on the water. While it’s easy to set up a particular time frame for your kayaking expedition, things get a bit tricky when it comes to how far you intend to paddle. And this is because there are several factors that determine the total distance you can cover on a kayaking trip.

Are you paddling on a fast-flowing drive, lake, or lazy stream? Or are you out in the ocean? Do you plan to have breaks for refreshments or stop along the way to enjoy the beautiful scenery around you? What’s the weather condition out there? There are so so many factors to consider. A common question asked by kayaking enthusiasts is about how long it would take to kayak a mile.

And the answer to this question is far from straightforward due to the reasons mentioned above. Still, I’ll attempt to answer this question after taking you through factors affecting kayaking speed and how fast a kayak can travel in theory. Here we go.

How Fast Does a Kayak Go (In Theory)? – All About Hull Speed

To know how long it would take you to kayak a mile, you need to first have an idea of the maximum speed of your vessel. You can theoretically estimate the maximum speed of your kayak, called Hull speed, by multiplying the square root of your kayak’s waterline length by 1.34. Maximum Speed = (SQRT(Waterline Length))*1.34

Note that the waterline length of a kayak is the length of the very bottom of the vessel that actually sits in the water. Longer yaks have longer waterline lengths and that’s why they can achieve higher speeds. This calculation is far from perfect as it doesn’t take other factors, which would be discussed later, into consideration. Still, it provides us with a starting point when determining the maximum speed of a kayak.

How Fast Can You Paddle a Kayak?

We can talk about the theoretical maximum speed of a kayak all day but a more relevant discussion should be about how fast you can actually paddle a kayak since theory won’t be paddling your vessel.

As you might have already figured out, it’ll take considerable effort to achieve anything close to the maximum speed of your kayak and it’s been found out that most recreational kayaks operate their vessels between 33 – 50 % of the calculated maximum speed.

Your actual percentage will depend on the length of the vessel, experience, and fitness. Beginners paddlers can potentially achieve a pace of 2 – 2.5 knots while experienced paddlers can reach 3 knots.

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What Are The Factors Affecting Kayak Speed?

The waterline length of a kayak gives us an idea of how fast a kayak can go as discussed earlier. But the waterline length is just one of the several factors that affect the speed of a kayak. The others include:

Nature of Your Kayak (Kayak Type, Length, and Width)

The nature of a kayak is one of the biggest determinants of how fast it can travel. Kayaks come in different types with some models specifically designed to go faster than others. This is why touring, racing, and sea kayaks are generally faster than sit-on-top and fishing kayaks.

The length of a kayak also has a big impact on speed with longer kayaks able to go faster than shorter kayaks. That’s why the kayak types designed to travel fast (sea kayaks, touring, and racing kayaks) are longer than conventional kayaks. You’ll also notice that paddle sports in Olympics use much longer kayaks than you’re used to.

As kayaks get longer, they tend to reduce in width. Width doesn’t have much impact on kayak speed as the length although it has a bigger impact on stability. Paddling a longer kayak doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go faster. You’ll need to have good paddling technique and power to achieve the higher speeds longer kayaks are capable of. Otherwise, you will travel slower with them.

Paddle Type

Beginner paddlers don’t give much thought to their paddles. After all, a paddle is always a paddle. However, a paddle isn’t always a paddle as paddles come in different designs and lengths. And the type of paddle you are using has a significant impact on how fast you can go and your overall kayaking experience.

Ideally, you should select a paddle based on your height, kayak’s width, and the type of water you are paddling on. Check out my article on the best kayak paddle to find out about the best kayak paddles on the market. You’ll also find a comprehensive buying guide in that article that explains the various features of a paddle to help you understand how to choose a paddle that’s right for you.

Weather Conditions – Wind

Weather conditions, especially the strength and direction of the wind, affect how fast your kayak can go. Yes, your kayak doesn’t have sails (unless you decide to add one, anyway) but it will still catch the wind. Having a stiff breeze at your back (wind blowing in the direction you are going) can significantly increase your speed and reduce paddling time.

Of course, you’ll need to be able to remain in control of your kayak, especially if the wind is strong but you’ll get to your destination faster while expending less effort. On the other, a stiff breeze on your face can significantly slow you down. You’ll need to expend more energy to go forward and you may find yourself moving slowly.

If you paddle frequently in coastal areas, it’s recommended you learn about wind patterns in the area. Doing this will let you know when the wind is favorable and you can have a much more enjoyable time on the water.

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Water Conditions

The type of water you are kayaking on determines the speed of your vessel. Are you out on the sea, on a calm river or lake, or on fast currents? Water currents have similar effects to wind except your hat doesn’t get blown off. A river expedition that flows downstream is your ally as it propels you forward depending on the strength of the current.

You’ll be able to achieve higher speed when currents are downstream with minimal effort. On the other hand, a river flowing upstream is your worst enemy, and depending on the strength of the current, you can travel very slowly or get stopped dead in your tracks. An unfriendly tidal current will also slow you down. Kayaking on calm, flat waters will not increase your speed.

However, paddling will be a lot easier allowing you to achieve high speeds easily. Obstacles Such as floating debris, and other paddlers, can also slow you down since you need to circumnavigate them and this will increase your paddling time.

Paddler’s Level of Fitness and Experience

Your level of fitness and experience also determine how fast your kayak will go. Even if you have a kayak built for speed, you need to paddle powerfully to go fast. How hard you can paddle depends on your level of fitness. If you are a beginner paddler, you may need some time to build your endurance and level of fitness.

Physical capability aside, you also need a proper paddling technique to efficiently convert your effort and propel your kayak across the water. As you gain more experience and become fitter, you’ll find yourself going faster and your paddling time will reduce as a result.

The Kayak’s Load

That’s the total weight of your kayak including the weight of the vessel, additional equipment, and any extra passengers. And the heavier your yak is, the deeper it will sit in the water. And the deeper your kayak sits in the water, the slower you’ll be able to travel. This is because the kayak will have to displace more water which reduces your speed.

However, if you kayak on rough or choppy waters, a heavier kayak can increase your speed by increasing your stability. This is because increased stability comes in handy in choppy waters as you’ll be able to paddle better consequently improving your speed.

Of course, your kayak must be packed properly if you want increased stability, especially in choppy waters. Light gear or accessories should be placed at the far ends of the vessel while heavier gear should be placed towards the middle.

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How Long Does It Take To Kayak a Mile?

So let’s assume you are an experienced, physically fit paddler on a kayak that has a 16 ft waterline length and the weather conditions are favorable, you’ll be able to kayak a mile in about 20 minutes as your average speed will be about 3.1mph.

Most recreational paddlers will have kayaks boasting a 14 ft waterline length or less and it’ll take longer for them to kayak a mile under the same conditions as above. Paddlers in this category will take about 30 minutes to kayak a mile. Seasoned professionals will be able to achieve higher speed due to the vessel and superior paddling power and technique. Professionals can easily kayak 3 miles in an hour.

A Look At Tandem Kayaks

You may have noticed that much wasn’t said about tandem kayaks so far. That’s because tandem kayaks are a totally different scenario. Generally, tandem kayaks are long and they should be so in order to comfortably accommodate two paddlers. And the increased length of tandem kayaks increases their waterline length which theoretically means a higher potential maximum speed.

The problem with long boats is that they require considerably higher effort for one paddler to operate them anywhere close to their maximum speed level. However, this is not so with tandem kayaks since there are two people operating the vessel and the workload is cut in half. And two paddlers can easily operate a tandem kayak close to its potential maximum speed more comfortably.

But there’s a catch. The catch is that both paddlers must be very skilled and powerful in order to maximize their effort. So a tandem kayak operated by two skilled paddlers can travel at insane speed easily obliterating the 20 minutes time frame it will take a solo paddler to kayak a mile.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, answering the question about how long it takes to kayak a mile requires putting several factors into consideration and this means the actual time will be different for each person.

However, we can put the average time to kayak a mile to about 30 minutes if weather and water conditions are ideal and the paddler has some experience. You can cut your average time to kayak a mile down to under 30 minutes although this will require more effort on your part.

But it’s something you can achieve with practice. Of course, you have to practice the proper techniques to see improvement.

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