Kayaks Can Sail

Lug rig in front of a sprit rig

 Kayak Sail types
Sprit rigs
                Flat Earth Kayak Sail – Square top with flexible batten like a sprit and a flexible boom. Professionally made and foil shaped by designed panels. Stepped on deck for ease of lowering and raising.  Requires stays, but is set far forward on the hull so no interference with paddling strokes. Refined from sail made by Norm Sanders who made the first deck stepped kayak sail with an easily lowered mast I can find. 

Jeff Jennings Design – Very Square top with batten going from peak to lower part of mast like a traditional sprit sail. Set free standing close to the paddler
Laurie Ford Design – “Sprit batten” goes from peak to upper third of mast like a square top catamaran sail.  Set free standing close to the paddler.

Lug rigs

Matt Layden – reefable balanced lug rig set free standing in reach of paddler.

Solway Dory Rig – Made in England, standard cruising canoe rig that is almost as popular as the ACA lateen rig for canoes.  In many ways it is better because it is reefable and better balanced.
Bermuda Rigs
            Many free standing homemade rigs that look like a traditional sail boat with a jib

Kayaksailor –Fully lugged reefable Bermuda rig set with stays and a mast track on the boat  and dual lee board foils

Hobie kayaks – freestanding roller reefing, mast hard to remove on the water.

Hugh Hortan – fully battened reefing rig

Down wind only rigs
                Pacific action sail
                Advanced elements
                Wind paddle
                Spinnaker sails
                Spirit sail

I've covered all types I know.  Please leave a comment if I left something out.

I often hear short wave ski surfers say that sea kayaks can’t surf, and I understand what they mean.  For them, surfing means being able to truly ride the wave and do quick cutbacks and aerial moves.  However, anyone can see that sea kayak surfing has become very popular.  Nigel Dennis made the Romany Surf in polyethylene and P&H has come out with the Delphin.  These boats meet the definition of sea kayaks and they are designed specifically for the surf environment. So not only are we seeing sea kayaks, but we are seeing it as the best way to get to the remote breaks play on them.
I used to make a similar argument that a kayak was not a good sail boat.  After all, the fattest kayak is usually narrower than the average canoe! So it is hard for a kayak to stand up to a beam wind with a decent size sail and not tip over.   When you increase the beam of the kayak by adding outriggers or hydro foils to increase stability, you make the boat complicated, expensive and hard to paddle. You could buy a decent sailboat for less! However, a small sail can help propel a kayak at normal paddling speeds with ease.  You’ll go slower than a Hobie cat, but often you’ll go faster than you can paddle!  And here is the big secret:  Paddlers hate the wind, but sailors love it.  You can paddle when it’s calm and take pleasure in sailing when it’s not!

Adding a sail to a kayak is a lot like learning to surf a kayak.  The paddle it still the primary motive and controlling force, but another aspect of the wind and water is used to ad variety. A sea kayak with a sail is not a sailboat, but it is a great paddle sailor. 
Sailing took me about an hour to learn, but it is taking the rest of my life to become better. There is always something new to learn.  Old methods used thousands of years ago are refined and made better, because modern material science improves what is possible for us to manufacture.

Today I’m working on a deck stepped mast mount that only needs a forestay and no side stays.

Kayaks can Sail

Consider a simple rig where all the pieces can be stored inside your hull.  Keep it there, even on non-sailing days. If the weather changes you can pull off the water and rig your sail in a minute or two.  Make your rig strong because the winds will always be stronger.  Make certain you can always drop your sail in an instant, because big winds come fast.

 Practice self rescue.  Very few people can roll a boat with a sail.  More often a paddle float or cowboy rescue is involved. Less often sailors lower their rig the reenter and roll.  I often leave the sail up and use its pull to help balance my boat as I enter from the windward side. Make certain you practice rescue procedures on calm days with friends at hand.  Will the radio or knife catch on your boat as you try to pull yourself aboard?  Will the sheet or the other lines be likely to ensnare you?  How long can you hold your breath and work underwater?  If you have friends practicing assisted rescue, please be mindful of your hands, never ever get your hands between the boats.  In windy weather the chop will smash your hands and make for a long day towing your friend to the Hospital.  Sailing is extreme kayaking and you will capsize.  

When I first started kayaking it took me about a year to figure out how to get in and out of the boat at the steep slippery launches I used without capsizing, but I never capsized while paddling. As I became a better paddler I practiced capsizing, but I still never turned over in the ocean or even in the little bit of white water I paddled.  Lately I started paddling in the surf and I capsize at least twice every time I go surfing.  While sailing is not as likely to spill you over as surfing I promise that you’ll benefit from planning to swim a lot in the beginning.  Planning for swimming and recues will give you the confidence to push your skills and try new things that will make your boat go faster.

A sail can add safety to any cruise.  It makes it easier to tow in difficult conditions.  It could allow you to continue travelling if you become injured.  A bright colored sail is far more visible than any kayak at a distance.  A kayak sail adds initial stability to any rig. For long cruises the added rest and easy miles will help you save your strength for days when it is really rough.  It seems to me that when I have a sail it becomes very easy to do longer days. When I do not have the sail I really start to suffer a little at about the 22 mile mark.

Yesterday I did not get to sail, but the rain brought the water up in the river, so I got to practice playing in some current. I’ve got my first race ever on Easter weekend.

Below is a picture from Kayakfishingstuff.com a great site if you are interested in fishing.

Is it a kayak or a canoe?  In the past the English referred to most paddle craft as canoes.  They called sea kayaks sea canoes.  They formed the British Canoe Union to teach sea kayaking skills.  And they used the name Canadian canoe for what we normally think of as a canoe in the states.  There are decked canoes, open cockpit kayaks, sit on tops and so many varieties of boats that I’d venture to say that it’s better to learn to use your boat well than to worry about whether it is a kayak or a canoe.  I have noticed that you can kneel in canoes and no one seems to kneel in kayaks. So maybe that is the distinction.  Now they have stand up paddle craft called SUP’s that look very similar to a surf board and a sit on top combined but they come with long paddles so you can stand and paddle them like you stand and paddle a canoe.  The important thing is to make certain you have outfitted your boat for proper use of the sail.  A stowable windsurfer rig would be ideal for a SUP.  For a rec boat like a Wilderness Systems Pungo 140 you’d want an electric pump for ocean sailing.  If your boat has no bulkheads you’ll need to rig it like a whitewater canoe with float bags, a bailer, and a pump. Remember this is sailing and you should plan to swim.


  1. I wanted to let you know that your blog has been featured on OutdoorlifeBlogs!


  2. Thanks for your ideas. It reminds me of my first kayak in the Philippines though at first I am a bit scared, but as we go along it turns out to awesome.