What's the average kayak speed?

What's the average kayak speed?
Photo by Kalen Emsley / Unsplash

Have you ever wondered how fast the average kayak can go? I know I have! Well, wonder no more. In this blog post, we'll take a look at the average kayak speed and some of the factors that affect it. So if you're curious about what speed your kayak can achieve, keep reading!

Of course, like most things in life, there isn't a simple answer to this question and it depends on a lot of factors. Hopefully, in this blog post, we can go through each one and analyze how it affects the speed of your kayak and is it something you should look to improve if you want to go faster.

If you are just here for a quick answer and don't feel like reading the entire post, my response would be that the average kayak speed is approximately 2 miles per hour. Of course, there are many factors that play into this such as kayak type, paddle type, water conditions, paddling technique, and lots more so your mileage may vary. If you are a more experienced kayaker then I would expect an average of 3-4 miles per hour.

With all this being said, let's dive into what affects our kayaking speed and what are some tips that we can use to increase this.

Table of contents

What affects kayaking speed?

So while many factors can affect your speed, we first need to address the most obvious and that is the motor of the kayak, your arms.

You can buy the most expensive and drag-efficient boat, the fanciest paddles, and have the nicest water conditions but that still won't play as big a role as increasing your arm strength and paddling technique (not to mention, its the cheapest!).

So, while reading this post, be sure to keep that in mind before you go out and start spending some of your hard-earned cash.

Alright, time to dive into the good stuff! Here are the factors that will impact your kayaking speed:

Summer boats
Photo by Ksenia Zakharova / Unsplash

The type of kayak

Impact: Medium

While I could go into very depth detail about all the kayak types and their effect on speed, I'm going to try and keep it brief and stick to more layman's terms.

Generally, there are a few factors from kayaks that play into the speed. These are size, weight, shape, and even the height of the seat. Here is a quick overview of each one and a suggestion on how you would maybe want to optimize it for speed.


Size matters! The bigger your kayak, the more it will affect your speed in a negative matter. A larger size means that it will create more drag in the water, thus slowing you down. Generally, the impact of this is low and there are other benefits to having larger kayaks such as having more room to store gear or having the kayak be less tippy.


As you may be able to guess, the weight of your kayak can also play a more negative role in your average speed. More weight means more of your kayak is in the water, therefore creating more drag and it also makes it harder for you to plane. (for the newbies, plane (or planning) is when the front of the kayak lifts and the boat starts to glide)


Similar to size, the shape of the kayak plays an important role in the speed and drag of the vessel. Narrower kayaks have an easier time gaining speed since it's "pulling" less water with you. This is why racing kayaks are very narrow. Be cautious though if you aren't experienced since narrow kayaks can be very tippy. It is not something I would recommend for newer paddlers.

Seat height

This one is a lot less obvious than previous points and it may have less of an impact but something I feel is worth mentioning anyway. So, why would the seat's height have an impact?

This comes down to technique in the way you paddle. Having a higher seat may make it easier for you to complete a stroke since there is less arm movement involved and you can usually rest them lower. The cons to this are that it also makes the boat a little more tippy.

Photo by Louis Hansel / Unsplash

The type of paddle

Impact: Small

While the impact may not be as big as others, I still think it's fair that we touch on the paddle. If you have some experience kayaking, then getting a paddle that is lightweight and can complement your stroke can be great to help you improve your power output.

When analyzing paddles for myself, the two things I look out for the most are weight and feathering. I feel that these features have the largest impact and allow me to maximize my potential.

While high-end paddles can break the bank, if you are serious about kayaking, they can really be worth it. If speed is something that you would consider important then I would recommend looking at lightweight high-angle paddles. They are optimized to hold water and increase propulsion, therefore, allowing you to travel faster and conserve more of your energy.

Canoe Slalom athlete in practice.
Photo by Kayvan Mazhar / Unsplash

The paddler's strength and experience

Impact: Strong

At the end of the day, you could have all the best equipment in the world but that still wouldn't mean that you would be maximizing your speed potential. If your paddling technique is poor and your arms aren't strong enough then you could easily be lapped by people with much worse equipment than you.

The best way to increase your average and maximum speed in a kayak is to just keep practicing and work on your technique. Ensure that you are getting the most power out of every stroke.

Kayaking is a sport and just like every other sport, the best way to get better is to just keep practicing and practicing. Over time, you'll find that getting around in your kayak is easier and faster.

Year after year, I find myself able to push my limits and go farther distances which is awesome because I get to explore more places. I know that when you first get into the sport, if your arm muscles aren't fully developed enough, then it can be pretty de-motivating trying to travel around. However, after a while, it is well worth it!

Still / Moving 🌊🛶 Post-storm waters throwing down the challenge on the Jurassic Coast, Devon, UK 🤟
Photo by Red Zeppelin / Unsplash

The water and weather condition

Impact: Medium

The water and weather conditions are another obvious point that I feel is worth mentioning. Since kayaking is an outdoor water sport, the weather plays a huge factor in how your trip is going to go; which plays a huge factor in your speed.

The biggest difference-maker with this is wind speed. On days with high wind speeds, the water can get rough and rocky. This will force you to exert more power on every stroke, especially if you are going against the tide. However, sometimes this can play in your favor if you are traveling with the tide since the water will essentially be doing the work for you.

If faced with high winds, use proper judgment and be cautious of how far you deviate from shore, you always want to make sure that you have enough energy to make it back.

To a lesser extent, cold weather is another factor that can affect your traveling since you may struggle to get your stride right if you aren't dressed for the occasion. While not a major issue for most, I believe it is still something most people should be more conscious of.

I highly suggest always checking the weather before planning a kayak adventure. Preparation is key!

Finally, kayaks are a great way to explore waterways and get some exercise, but how fast can you expect to paddle? Many factors come into play but here is what you can expect.

  • If you are just starting out, expect to travel at an average of 2 miles per hour. Depending on your physical ability, you should be able to keep this up for upwards of 30-90 minutes.
  • For more experienced kayakers, you can expect average speeds of 3-4 miles per hour. Of course, this can vary greatly and you won't really have an idea until you get there but the longer that you do it, the better you get.

Happy Paddling!

*Note: A lot of the data and information in this article I've acquired over a long career of kayaking, teaching others how to kayak, and speaking with other experienced kayakers. Your personal results may vary greatly but I believe the averages posted above paint a good picture of what you can expect.