Kayak manufacturers often mix and match the kayak’s attributes to get kayaks that suit a market with a wide variety of uses. A touring kayak should be stable, and it should carry plenty of passengers with their luggage. That’s why it often has a rounded bottom and plenty of volume.
This compares to a whitewater kayak, which needs to be agile and keeps its nose above the rough waters. A flat bottom and a high rocker are among its main characteristics.
As for speed, this is one of the attributes kayakers are often interested in. Still, they don’t want to settle for less stability, tracking, or even width. That’s why designers spend so much time focused on the length of a kayak.
Do longer kayaks go faster? While there are many factors that impact the speed of a kayak, length is one of the most important factors. Generally speaking, longer kayaks are capable of achieving higher speeds than shorter kayaks. A longer kayak allows for a more gradual slope from the cockpit to the bow, which helps to reduce drag while traveling in a straight direction.
Now that we got the short and sweet answer out of the way, keep reading to learn about how exactly kayak length impacts the speed of a kayak.
What Are the Factors that Determine a Kayak’s Speed?
Many factors affect the ultimate speed that a kayak can reach. This is a list of the major items that you should consider while assessing how fast any man-powered watercraft can go.
- The paddler’s fitness
- Paddling efficiency
- The configuration of the waterway
- The swell of the waves
- The current speed
- The wind velocity and direction of that wind
- The weight load of the kayak
- The material
- The width
- The rocker
- The hull shape and symmetry
- The bottom shape and chines
- The length of the kayak
The moral of the story is that the strength and endurance of the paddler top the list. And the other noteworthy point is that the kayak’s length is one of many factors that dictate the kayak’s speed.
How Does Length Affect a Kayak’s Speed?
Let’s say that you can experiment with three kayaks of varying lengths: short, long, and extra long. Assuming you can make every other factor from the ones listed above constant and only change the kayak’s length. What would the speed profiles look like?
In general, a longer kayak cuts the water in a more gradual manner, which decreases the opposing resistance and drag. This is a lot like carrying a heavy load along a ramp. If the angle is shallow and the ramp is long, you almost don’t feel the climb.
This comes in sharp contrast to carrying the same load on a short ramp with a steep angle. You almost feel like Sisyphus dragging that rock up the mountain! The extended length of the kayak is exactly like the longer length of the ramp.
With that decreased push-back against the longer kayak, it can definitely wade through the waters like a warm knife in butter. Several other mathematical and scientific matters go into this situation, but that’s the gist of it.
There are two ways that kayak designers go about testing their speed theories. First, they use computer simulations to see how changing the length and other variables affect the max attainable speed. And second, they try out real kayaks with real paddlers.
Interestingly, the computerized simulations don’t always play out in reality the way they were intended to. That’s because there’s a human ingredient, which has clear limitations in addition to the huge amount of other unpredictable factors like the weather and water states.
Is Extra Length Always Good?
If extra length was always beneficial, kayakers would be building massive 50-foot kayaks and racing with them along the Atlantic. That’s not the case, and the reason is simple: at a certain point, extra length detracts from the kayak’s performance and becomes a performance liability.
A 15′ kayak is usually the sweet spot for the regular kayakers that don’t expect to need the maneuverability provided by the short whitewater kayaks.
Ultimately, the paddler’s strength and efficiency is the main factor affecting the kayak’s speed. And this is the length that provides optimal stability, balance, tracking, and, of course, speed. We’re also considering the other perks like the ease of transportation and storage.
For a seasoned elite kayaker interested in covering long distances on the water, a 17′ kayak might be a better fit. At a high caliber of training and endurance, these athletes can put in the necessary power to make the best use of that length. So what happens beyond the 17′ limit?
At this point, the kayaker needs to be Superman to take advantage of this vessel’s math and physics.
We often refer to ‘hull speed’ for guidance on this matter, which states that a kayak of 18′ can go as fast as 6.6 miles per hour. Even if that’s possible, the increase in speed will be swallowed by the now bigger kayak’s added drag and extra weight.
There’s also the obvious fact that the super-proportioned mammoth of a kayak is extremely hard to maneuver. And what if the waterway is winding and narrow, the way rivers and canals are? Again, it becomes an unnecessary hurdle. It’s also impossible to transport and ridiculously hard to store.
What’s the Fastest Speed for a Long Kayak?
Brandon Nelson holds the current record for the fastest speed that a kayak can go. In 2013 he went off a 24-hour expedition, covered around 152 miles paddling his kayak, and reached an average speed of 6.2 miles per hour.
While this story is absolutely awe-inspiring and engaging, there’s another reason why it appears here. Simply since it’s another demonstration that we are mere mortals. The finest kayakers’ paddling power is still much lower than the fictional limit of 6.6 miles per hour.
The Bottom Line
Kayaking is a wonderful sport, and as you’ve already set your eyes on speed, it would be a good motive to get some serious muscles. Putting in the necessary power to utilize the kayak’s potential requires having high stamina, endurance, and overall fitness.
A longer kayak also comes with a few more demands on storage space and means of transportation. It’s a bit heavier than your previous tiny kayak, so it’s best to make the necessary preparations.
Luckily, you don’t need to spend a fortune to have a truly swift vessel. Simply picking the narrow kayak with a bit more length can sort this out. It would help, of course, if it’s also made from a lightweight material, and its hull is designed for a smooth glide.