Kayak Speed: How Long Does it Take to Kayak a Mile

If you are a beginner kayaker and starting to enjoy spending time on the water, you might be wondering: How long does it take to kayak a mile? What is the average kayak speed you can achieve while paddling? 

The time it takes to kayak a mile will vary depending on several factors, including wind conditions, your kayak type, water conditions, and your strength and speed as a paddler, but let’s look at some averages!

On average, new paddlers can kayak a mile in about thirty minutes, or two miles in an hour. Stronger and more experienced kayakers can usually paddle around three to four miles per hour, but the kayak’s speed will heavily depend on the conditions you are kayaking in.

What Factors Affect Kayak Speed?

There are a lot of things that determine your paddling speed and the average kayak speed you can achieve. We’ll explore some of the top factors that make a difference below.

1) Wind

The wind makes a big difference to how quickly your kayak will move when you are on the water, and how easy it will be to steer. If you are paddling with the wind, so it is blowing against your back, you will probably find that you move far faster than usual on the water, because the air is pushing you forward and you’re dealing with less wind resistance.

However, if you paddle into the wind, so it’s blowing in your face, your speed will probably massively drop. Kayaks provide a surprising amount of wind resistance, as will your own body, so fighting against the wind will make a considerable impact on how long it will take to kayak a mile.

Even heading sideways into the wind will have a big effect, because the stern of the kayak will constantly be affected by the gusts, which swing the kayak around and lead it to drift off course.

All kayakers, no matter how experienced, will be affected by the wind, and you need to account for it when looking at kayaking speeds.

Traveling with the wind could help to paddle faster and reach speeds of up to five miles per hour. Against the wind, your kayak speed will probably drop to around a mile an hour if the gusts are strong.

Remember, paddling against the wind direction takes a lot more energy, so if you are kayaking with the wind on your outward trip, make sure you have enough strength to paddle back against the wind at the end. It’s best to paddle against the wind for the outward journey, if you can.

2) Currents

Just like the wind, the currents are crucial to determining your speed, and you should check the currents the same way you check weather conditions before going out on a kayaking trip. A current can have an even bigger effect on the speed of your kayak than wind.

The water conditions can affect your kayaking speed by as much as a couple of miles per hour, and trying to fight against a current is absolutely exhausting, even for an experienced kayaker. You need to avoid doing this where possible, and calm waters are the best conditions to look for when planning a kayak trip.

Currents are usually weakest by the edges of rivers, so if you need to go against a current, paddle close to the shore. However, you do need to be aware of shallows, sharp rocks, and overhanging branches here to avoid getting stuck.

As with kayaking with or against the wind, you should aim to kayak against the current for the outward journey if at all possible. This will let you kayak with the current on your way back, when you will be feeling more tired.

Be aware of tides as well as currents. If you are kayaking on the ocean or in a tidal river, the tidal pull can make an enormous difference to the speeds you can achieve, and could slow your kayaking to a crawl if it is against you — or bring you in fast if it is with you. Ocean currents can also affect your speed, and windy conditions can make things much more difficult when you’re out on the sea.

Always be aware of the water currents and make sure you have accounted for them before you start your kayak trip, or you could find yourself a long way from home with no strength left to paddle.

3) Type Of Kayak

The different kinds of kayaks can make a big difference to your speed, too. Kayaks have very different shapes, and a broad, wide kayak will move much more slowly than a narrow one, because it has far more water resistance working against it.

Longer touring kayaks will move faster through the water, so if speed is your focus, choose a narrow, long kayak. You will sacrifice stability in narrower kayaks, but you will be able to kayak a mile far faster in a longer kayak.

A sea kayak is often the best choice if you want to move quickly on the water. Sea kayaks are longer kayaks that are optimized for speed, but you can often find models with features that increase their stability, as well. 

Broader recreational kayaks, such as fishing kayaks, simply won’t pick up as much speed, because their broad prows don’t push through the water with as much ease. A fishing kayak is geared more towards offering stability while you fish, and the design isn’t really focused on helping you to paddle a mile quickly! 

If all other factors are equal, the kayak types can make a big difference in the average time it takes you to travel one mile.

4) Type Of Paddle

The kind of kayak paddle you use can have a big effect on the speed of your kayak trip. There is no single best kayak paddle, either, because it needs to fit the kayaker.

That means that you should go to your local kayak store and ask for some advice. A kayak paddle needs to be right for your shoulder width, your height, and your kayak’s width (a short paddle will struggle to reach the water in a broad kayak).

You also have two options in terms of the paddle blade. Low-angle paddles have long, narrow blades that are designed to minimize fatigue by cutting through the water more easily. This makes paddling less tiring, but may slow you down and will not help you achieve your theoretical maximum speed. 

High-angle paddles are designed to hold onto water and propel the kayak forward. This allows the paddler to be more aggressive in their strokes and reach a higher paddling speed. 

High-angle paddles tend to be designed for use with narrow kayaks and are often suitable for racing.

Although you can’t really measure how much difference the paddle will make to how many miles you paddle per hour, it certainly will make a difference. If you are focused on kayaking speed, try a high-angle paddle as the best option.

5) Weight Being Carried

Another big factor to your average speed is the weight of both the kayak and how much weight it’s carrying. That includes you, the paddler, and your belongings.

If you are a heavy person, you will have to put more power into driving the kayak forward, and that will somewhat reduce your mile paddling speed. Likewise, if you have a heavy boat or you load your kayak down with gear, your average kayaking speed will likely be slower.

Whenever you make a paddle stroke, you are using your own physical capabilities to drive the kayak through the water. The exact number of pounds the boat weighs isn’t overly important, but know that the heavier it is, the more strength will be needed, and the less result you will get for the stroke.

If you are traveling in a light vessel, it will move forward much further per stroke than if you are traveling in a heavy, overloaded vessel. Sit-in kayaks offer much cargo room, which sometimes is a disadvantage because it leads to overloading your boat. 

To speed up your paddling, it’s a good idea to minimize the gear that you are carrying in  sit-inside kayaks. If you are going to have a passenger who is not paddling (a pet or a child), bear in mind that this will also have a massive impact on your speed and the estimated time it will take to paddle a mile.

6) Paddler’s Strength And Experience

Of course, one of the other variables involved in how fast you can travel is your own strength and experience. A strong paddler with much kayaking experience will move much more quickly than someone who does not have as much muscular power to move the kayak forward.

A paddler’s experience and muscle memory in knowing how to use proper form while paddling, and how to use the paddle to push the kayak through the water at maximum efficiency, will change how fast they can move. Gaining experience in how to use the current weather condition — currents, winds, and other factors — to your advantage will also help you reach maximum hull speed for every mile.

You need to bear in mind that if you are kayaking for a long time, you’ll need a break; you can’t just keep going indefinitely. It’s important to stop during your kayak trip to stretch your muscles, eat and drink, and move around a bit.

Your strength and fitness levels play a big part in answering the question, “How long does it take to kayak a mile?” Someone who has only sat in a kayak once and has limited strength will not manage to paddle a mile nearly as fast as someone who has spent months training and practicing.

7) The Hull Material

The material that your hull is made of will also make some difference. 

Fiberglass or composite kayaks often travel faster than plastic kayaks. However, composite kayaks do tend to be more expensive and you won’t find anything as cheap as a plastic kayak.

How Long Does It Take To Kayak Ten Miles?

If weather conditions and water conditions are good, it should take recreational paddlers a little over five hours to kayak ten miles. However, if you’re planning an excursion, you should bear in mind that your muscle coordination will likely decline as you get tired, leading to a slow down toward the end of the trip.

You also need to remember that anything in your favor on the outward journey will be working against you on the journey back. Currents, tides, winds, and any other factors need to be taken into account so that you don’t find yourself stranded and struggling.

How Long Does It Take To Kayak Three Miles?

As a rough estimate, it should take you about an hour or an hour and a half to kayak three miles if you are a fairly inexperienced paddler. Again, you need to bear in mind that you will slow down as you get tired, so the last mile will probably take a lot longer than the first two.

You may not need to take a break on a three mile journey, depending on how fit you are, but it’s a good idea to plan for one anyway.

Summary

It takes about half an hour to kayak a mile in most circumstances, but if you are planning a long trip, make sure you take into account that your speed will decrease as you get tired. You should always make sure your journey back is going to be easier than your journey out, so you know that you will have the energy to complete it.