Safe And Dangerous Wind Limits For Kayaking – Ultimate Guide

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Kayaking is mostly fun and games until the weather takes a turn for the worse. And even a little more wind than you anticipated can quickly derail an otherwise great day on your favorite waterway.

The wind is something you should always be prepared for before you head out on the water. And that’s always going to be true whether you’re kayaking on lakes, rivers, oceans, or coastal waterways.

For our money, the Ventusky app is one of the best online tools for staying up-to-date with average wind speeds and gust speeds in your area. But there are, of course, other apps that you can use to stay ready for major shifts in wind speed or direction.

Aside from simply tracking the wind patterns in your area, there are other things you can do to stay prepared for safe kayaking experiences on your preferred waterways.

In this article, we’re going to explain and expand on the safe and dangerous wind limits for kayaking in various conditions. This will be the Ultimate Guide to Safe and Dangerous Wind Limits for recreational, ocean, whitewater kayaking, and kayak fishing.

Safe And Dangerous Wind Limits For Recreational Kayaking

Most recreational kayakers spend the vast majority of their time on lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers. These types of waterways don’t typically offer the challenges created by currents or large waves, but wind can still present a massive challenge for all recreational kayakers.

So what are the safe and dangerous wind limits for recreational kayaking?

Safe Wind Limits For Recreational Kayaking

The good news about recreational kayaking is that it’s typically done on more protected waterways that are less impacted by the effects of high winds. That being said, some recreational kayaking certainly takes place on lakes like Lake Tahoe or Lake Superior.

These massive bodies of water can have a lot of ‘fetch’ for the wind to pick up water and, as a result, create large waves. Fetch is a term that refers to the maximum length of open water that wind can travel over without being blocked or diverted by a landmass.

On one of North America’s largest lakes such as Lake Tahoe, for example, there are 22 miles of fetch for the wind to impact the surface of the water. This can cause great challenges to kayakers, not to mention the effect of the wind itself.

The reality is that sustained winds above even just 5 miles per hour are going to have a noticeable impact on your ability to maneuver your kayak and make efficient headway towards your shoreline destination.

Winds from 5 to 10 miles per hour are going to start cooling you off and have you thinking about making landfall as soon as possible. But those safe limits for recreational kayaking on most lakes, ponds, and slow-moving rivers.

So, safe upper wind limits for recreational kayaking on smaller bodies of water can probably be somewhere between 15 and 20 miles per hour. But recreational kayakers on larger bodies of water should begin to be concerned when wind speeds reach 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Dangerous Wind Limits For Recreational Kayaking

Believe it or not, the image above depicts heavy winds on a lake, not an ocean! Even the serene, crystal clear waters of a large body of water like Lake Tahoe (pictured above) can become quite ocean-like when winds begin to reach their dangerous upper limits for kayaking.

Even on smaller bodies of water, sustained winds over 10 miles per hour. But advanced kayakers will still be able to make headway in these types of wind unless there are also substantial waves to go along with them.

When average wind speeds begin to climb into the 15 to 20 mile per hour range, however, it’s time to get off the water. Anything above 20 miles per hour starts to become downright dangerous.

That’s why larger lakes begin to issue what are called ‘Lake Wind Advisory’ alerts when average wind speeds climb above 15 miles per hour. These conditions are deemed unsafe for small, personalized watercraft, which is a category that your recreational kayak certainly falls into.

Tips To Prepare For Windy Recreational Kayaking Conditions

Recreational kayakers typically plan to spend a maximum of two or three hours on the water. Because of this, they’re often closer to where they started if heavy winds do arise during their paddle.

Nevertheless, recreational kayakers should always be prepared for the possibility of wind before they set out. In addition to checking the latest wind forecast before getting in your kayak, here are a few other tips to prepare for windy recreational kayaking conditions.

Paddle Into The Wind

If you know that wind is going to come up while you’re on the water, you should always start by paddling in the same direction that the wind is expected to come from. This will help you have the wind at your back when you’re trying to get back to your starting location.

Pack Extra Layers

Kayakers should always have a few extra clothing layers packed into one of the best kayak deck bags on their vessels. If the winds cause you to capsize and you have to make landfall before you expected to do so, you’ll be happy to have a warm and dry set of clothes to put on while you wait for help to arrive.

Have An Exit Strategy

Most recreational kayakers start and finish in the same location, but wind can derail that plan. So if you even have the slightest inkling that heavy winds could come up while you’re paddling, make sure you identify one or two other shoreline locations where you can land your kayak if you can’t make it back to your starting location.

Safe And Dangerous Wind Limits For Sea Kayaking

Paddling on the open ocean is arguably one of the most exposed forms of kayaking. Not only can you fall to the mercies of high winds and large waves, but you’ll often find yourself contending with strong ocean currents that can cause your kayak to run off course.

So what are the safe and dangerous wind limits for sea kayaking?

Safe Wind Limits For Sea Kayaking

Because of the vast number of additional environmental factors that you’ll have to contend with when you’re sea kayaking, the safe wind limits for this form of kayaking are a bit lower than you’ll find for recreational kayaking.

When you’re truly kayaking on the open ocean, you’ll always be contending with wave action. High winds are obviously only going to make those waves more fierce and can also result in more spray that gets you wet and opens the door to a number of temperature-related health issues.

Additionally, the best sea kayaks tend to be much longer than kayaks used for recreational purposes. This means that they have a larger horizontal surface area that can be impacted by the wind.

All of that being said, you need to start paying attention to sustained winds between 7 and 10 miles per hour when sea kayaking. While winds from 4 to 7 miles per hour will make sea kayaking more difficult, you should still be able to navigate your kayak effectively in those conditions.

Dangerous Wind Limits For Sea Kayaking

The vast nature of the ocean makes winds even more imposing for sea kayakers. Not only do can they cause a nuisance when you’re just trying to get back to your starting location, but heavy winds on the ocean can present serious health and safety concerns.

Heavy winds on the ocean are typically associated with some sort of storm system. And even if that storm system is relatively mild, it will also mean larger waves and can sometimes mean strong currents that make it much more difficult to keep your kayak tracking in your desired direction.

All of these combined factors can severely increase your odds of capsizing when paddling on the ocean. Even if you know how to execute a wet exit and get back into your kayak, heavy winds can push all your expert kayak training to the side.

There’s quite possibly not a worse feeling than being in the ocean and seeing the wind push your kayak away from you. None of us want to be in this situation, and the reality is that this can even happen when sustained winds begin to top just 10 miles per hour.

Our absolute upper range for wind limits when sea kayaking is somewhere between 10 and 15 miles per hour because there are a number of additional factors that can impact your safety when paddling on the ocean in windy conditions.

Your location, proximity to accessible shoreline, and ability to make landfall without encountering dangerous ocean waves are just a few of these factors we’d like to mention in this article.

But the safe bet is to avoid sea kayaking if the average wind speeds begin to reach that 8 to 10 mile per hour range. You should always be prepared with the essential kayaking safety equipment whether you’re paddling on completely flat water or in slightly windy conditions.

Tips To Prepare For Windy Sea Kayaking Conditions

As we previously stated, super windy conditions while you’re out on the ocean can pose a serious threat to your personal health. So let’s look at some important tips to prepare for windy sea kayaking conditions.

Have The Proper Safety Equipment

Sea kayakers should always have the right safety equipment on their kayak. This includes items like flotation bags, throw ropes, tow lines, and all of the other items included in our list of the best sea kayak accessories.

Always Paddle With A Partner

Because of the added difficulty that comes along with climbing back into a sea kayak, it’s always good to paddle with a partner. Not only can that partner help you get back into your kayak on a calm day, but they give you someone to rely on if you wind up offshore in particularly unfavorable weather conditions.

Know The Local Authorities

Wherever you start your sea kayaking expedition, it’s important to get to know the local authorities. This doesn’t necessarily mean meeting them at their favorite watering holes every evening, but you should certainly know the contact information for the local Coast Guard station, sheriff’s office, or police department before heading out onto the water.

If you’re relying on a waterproof handheld radio for sea kayaking, you’ll need to know the right channels to contact the appropriate authorities in case of an emergency. Knowing these numbers in advance will save you valuable time when you need them the most.

Safe And Dangerous Wind Limits For Whitewater Kayaking

When you think of whitewater kayaking, wind speed might not be the first environmental factor you think of. And while things like flow rate can certainly have a larger impact on a whitewater kayaker’s decision-making process, heavy winds can still waylay even the best-laid plans for a whitewater kayaking trip.

So what are the safe and dangerous wind limits for whitewater kayaking?

Safe Wind Limits For Whitewater Kayaking

The good news for those of you that own one of the best whitewater kayaks is that wind has a minimal impact on rivers. This is because they tend to be much more protected than any other waterway, and it’s the same reason why whitewater kayakers can typically continue their runs even if average wind speeds exceed 15 miles per hour.

Dangerous Wind Limits For Whitewater Kayaking

There is, however, an upper limit for winds that begin to make whitewater kayaking a bit dangerous. When average wind speeds climb above 20 to 25 miles per hour, it can often be a sign of a larger storm system on the horizon.

When there’s a larger storm moving in, any water-based activities should be approached with a healthy dose of “safety-first” mentality. So while the wind might not pose the greatest risk to whitewater kayakers, it can often be a sign of larger risks to come.

Tips To Prepare For Windy Whitewater Kayaking Conditions

The best way to prepare for windy whitewater kayaking conditions is to be aware of what’s upriver.

If you’re whitewater kayaking in an area that’s highly susceptible to flash floods, heavy winds can often be a sign of a storm system miles away that can end up causing flood-like conditions where you’re paddling.

Safe And Dangerous Wind Limits For Kayak Fishing

 

Kayak fishing is a sport that can take place on many different waterways. But whether you’re a freshwater or saltwater angler, the reality is that all of those waterways can be impacted by heavy winds.

So what are the safe and dangerous wind limits for kayak fishing?

Safe Wind Limits For Kayak Fishing

Kayak fishing has its unique challenges because of the abundant number of accessories that most kayak anglers attach to their vessels. This means that kayak fishing is often done in the heaviest of kayaks out there.

This makes even the best fishing kayaks much less maneuverable than your average recreational or sea kayak. That maneuverability can be even further compromised when high winds come up while you’re on the water.

Kayak anglers also tend to outfit their vessels in such a way that they have a higher profile than other types. This makes them more susceptible to the effects of wind and more likely to be blown in whichever direction Mother Nature desires to push them.

All of this being said, kayak anglers will typically begin to feel the effects of average wind speeds once they rise above about four miles per hour. But even as the winds progress from four up to about nine miles per hour, you can still safely remain on the water if you’re kayak fishing.

The amount of time for which that will remain the case will, of course, depend on the exact body of water where you’re fishing. If you’re fishing on a smaller body of water or in a more protected area, you’re going to feel the effect of the wind much less.

But if you’re fishing on the ocean or even on a protected coastal bay, those winds are going to impact you much more quickly. All in all, it’s safe to say that the safe wind limit for kayak fishing is between four and nine miles per hour, depending on other factors.

Dangerous Wind Limits For Kayak Fishing

Kayak anglers typically don’t spend most of their time on the water paddling. And while some of the best fishing kayaks are made with pedal-drive systems, they are still some of the least maneuverable kayaks out there.

In general, fishing kayaks tend to be much heavier and less efficient than sea kayaks or even recreational kayaks. They are designed to be very stable on calm waters, but they aren’t necessarily made to make headway in very windy conditions.

Because of that, kayak anglers should begin to think twice about staying on the water when average wind speeds begin to exceed 10 miles per hour. If you do have a pedal-drive system in your kayak, however, you may still be able to maneuver effectively in winds from 10 to 15 miles per hour.

But once average wind speeds exceed 15 miles per hour, it’s time for kayak anglers to make landfall. And the heavier the kayak you have for fishing, the earlier you should think about heading home as the wind speeds begin to increase.

Tips To Prepare For Windy Kayak Fishing Conditions

Fishing kayaks can be so darn heavy that some kayak anglers elect to place one of the best trolling motors on the back of their vessel to make their lives easier.

Whether you prefer to paddle your fishing kayak, rely on a trolling motor, or have a pedal drive fishing kayak, you should follow these tips to prepare for windy kayak fishing conditions.

Fish Close To Shore

Fishing close to the shore is one of the recommendations for being a more successful kayak angler in general, regardless of the weather conditions during the day. But fishing close to the shore will also make it easy to pull your kayak onto land if wind speeds make it impossible for you to navigate back to your original launching location.

Start Your Day Moving Upwind

If you use your favorite weather app to check the wind forecast before you head out onto the water (which you should!), you should know if the wind is expected to come up and which direction it’s expected to come from.

When you know that wind is going to come up later in the afternoon, you can start your day by moving upwind and exploring fishing holes in that direction. By doing this, you’ll increase the odds of having the wind at your back when it does come up and you realize it’s time to start heading back to your starting spot.

Know Your Local Waterways

Most kayak anglers tend to fish in the same locations over and over again. While some kayakers might find this boring, it gives kayak anglers a decided advantage when it comes to dealing with heavy winds or unexpected weather events.

By getting to know your local waterways, you’ll know the best beach locations and boat ramps to choose from. Not only can this advanced knowledge make you a better kayak angler, but it can also give you more options for your exit strategy when unexpected winds cut your fishing day short.

Final Thoughts

No matter where you spend most of your time in a kayak, the wind is arguably the biggest environmental factor that can turn an otherwise beautiful kayak day into a major struggle.

But if you’re well prepared and you plan your kayak routes around the expected wind patterns in your area, you’ll make your life (and the lives of anyone you like to paddle with) so much easier.

Nobody wants to paddle into a headwind while thinking about where you’ll get a beer and pizza once you get back to your car. It’s always best to have that wind at your back as you work back toward your starting location.

While the wind can be unpredictable, studying wind patterns can reveal some regional consistency that you can learn to count on. This will take some time and diligent awareness, but doing so can ultimately lead you to use the wind to your advantage out on the water!

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