How Does Kayak Sail Work? (10 Most Asked Questions Answered)

Fact Checked By James A Rockey | Post Updated On: November 26, 2022
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The kayak sail is the best option if you are planning a long trip with your kayak. Usually, the kayak sail is powered by wind and enables you to zip along the water without straining your hands. So, you can enjoy a break in-between paddling.

Key Takeaways

  • The sails are the ideal accessory for touring kayaks or sea kayaks
  • You should keep in mind that kayak sails are best for open water; if you are kayaking in narrow water with overhanging branches or trees then sails are not the best option
  • When you use a sail, the wind’s pressure and force from the water come together to push the yak forward with ease
  • There are three skills that you should master, to be an expert sailor: interpret the direction of the wind, learn to steer the kayak accurately, learn to identify when the sail is trimmed properly

Do Kayak Sails Work?

Do Kayak Sails Work

So you have heard about the kayak sail and still wondering whether they help when paddling out in the waters? Yes, they do, if you plan to take long trips. They relieve much strain on your arms and allow you to take breaks in-between paddling. The sails are the ideal accessory for touring kayaks or sea kayaks that are mostly used when journeying for days.

The sails are powered by wind, so they help when canoeing or when kayaking in open water. There is always some light wind or breeze in open waters that help your kayak sail with ease.

However, if you are paddling in waters that are narrow or there are overhanging branches or trees, the sail might not be ideal. The accessory adds some height to your kayak and could get caught on anything hanging above water resulting in your boat getting damaged or stuck with an effort to get it off. 

How Do You Sail Into The Wind?

Never worry when your kayak is heading into the wind as you can still sail through. However, for you to navigate, you have to set up your sail appropriately. Tilt the sail such that it is angled at around 40 degrees from the hull’s centerline. The wind that blows against the boat will then inflate the sail forming an airfoil, thus resulting in a pressure difference that shoves the sail perpendicularly to the direction of the wind.

The force created by the sail’s foil shape combines and balances with other forces to propel the kayak when sailing against the wind. The wind’s pressure and force from the water come together to push the yak forward with ease.

Note that the kayak should not point directly opposite the direction of the wind. Also, you should avoid sharp angling as it could cause the kayak to become unbalanced and move sideways while sailing. The best thing is to navigate in zig zag back and forth to reach your target when sailing into the wind. When the techniques explained are applied well, as a kayak sailor, you will navigate in any direction regardless of the wind’s direction.

Can You Sail Without Wind?

Your kayak won’t move if there is no wind. So, you cannot sail without wind unless there are strong currents. When on strong currents the kayak keel propels the vessel forward and prevents it from turning sideways. Nonetheless, you won’t be able to get as much speed compared to when there is wind. You will only get to jump current to another, but you won’t sail up-current.

Is Learning To Sail Difficult?

Learning how to sail is easy provided you do a lot of research and reading to know the basics. Alternatively, you can hire the services of an instructor who can take you through the basics that only takes a few hours or some days to master. Once you attach the sail to your kayak the question will be; why you did not do it earlier?

There are three skills that you should master, to be an expert sailor: Firstly, you must be able to interpret the direction of the wind. Although, it might seem tricky in the beginning, once learned it becomes natural. The good thing is that the sails have some accessories such as the wind vane at the mast’s top or yarns or ribbons tied in the rigging that help you out. Do not worry if you keep referring to them since even professional sailors rely on them constantly.

Secondly, you must learn to steer the kayak accurately once the sail is installed. Most kayakers learn how to do it in five minutes and those that have some challenge understanding take at most 10 minutes. Note that it would be hard for you to adjust the sail properly unless you can steer in a straight line.

Thirdly, you must be able to identify when the sail is trimmed properly. When the kayak is sailing in a straight line, then you need to ease the control line (sheet) until the luff begins to flutter inside out. When this happens, you then pull the control line to the inside until the fluttering stops, and the sail is well-trimmed. You need to re-trim the sail when the direction is changed.

Can A Fan Attach To The Boat Propel The Sailboat When Air Is Blown At The Sail?

 No, the fan cannot propel the sailboat. When the fan blows air and pushes the sail, it is, in turn, pushed in the opposite direction by the air. Since the fan is attached to the boat, the vector momenta sum of the kayak and the fan is nil. The kayak will be propelled if the force is applied through an external agency.

What Point Of Sail Is The Fastest?

Beach reach is the easiest and fastest point of sail. This is the point when sailing happens perpendicular to the wind. Here the centerboard is set halfway down while the sails are let halfway out. When the wind blows, it generates a strong force similar to that of air around the winds of a plain. This resulted in the boat being propelled forward with much ease.

What Wind Speed Is Best For Sailing?

Though the best wind speed depends on your experience as a sailor 5-12 knots is the most comfortable range. If you are a beginner, you need to start with a speed of fewer than 10 knots to allow for better learning and control of the kayak to prevent capsizing. Those undertaking serious training should go for waters with 15-20 knots while heavy offshore boats do well with a speed of between 20-25 knots. However, when using a kayak or any other small canoe, you should not sail at over 25 knots wind speed as the vessel can easily capsize.

Sincerely, there might not be the ideal wind speed as mostly sailing is a combination of many factors. The boat type, skill level, location, desires, and general weather condition on that particular day plays a huge role in determining the suitable wind speed.

You should ensure you sail at a speed that does not put you at any risk while allowing for easy navigation of the kayak safely. At the same time, it should be within your abilities while challenging you to learn more.

Can Boats Sail Faster Than The Wind?

Can Boats Sail Faster Than The Wind

Yes, the boat can accelerate faster. When the wind blows behind it, and the vessel is sailing perpendicular to the wind, the ship is propelled forward. The sail’s wind speed is the change of forwarding momentum of the boat and that of the wind. Once the speed of the boat and that of the wind are equal, it becomes impossible to sail any faster.

However, when sailing upwind, you should adjust the sail at an angle of 45°.  The wind will be diverted a bit slowing the wind while exerting a sideways force on the sail. The sideway force is then canceled by the keel.  But when the sail is tilted at an ideal angle, it utilizes the same power to propel the boat forward. It will continue accelerating until the sideway force equalizes with the water drag. So, when the boat has a cleverly designed streamlined hull, it can sail faster than the wind.

Kayak Sail Design

Increasingly, kayakers are adopting the use of sail to harness the power of the wind while cruising on the water for a blast fun experience. For that to be a reality, one has to choose the best sail that is designed for the kayak type being used.  Your desired control and the type of installation also influence the sail chosen. Here we explain the three popular kayak sail designs that you can choose from:

1. Downwind Spinnaker Type Sails

These types of sail are designed to harness wind power to the maximum. They utilize spinnaker make that is best when sailing downwind. It is good for beginners as they have to master downward sailing before trying the upwind. The good thing is when there is good downwind your kayak will be flying effortlessly.

2. Free-Standing Sails

These types of sails stand on their own and are deployed with ease. As a kayaker, you can be able to tilt the sail with ease though not much compared to using full-rig sails. However, it is a little more advanced than the spinnaker as it gives some challenges of adjusting the sail for maximum speed while still being able to fly with your kayak on the water.

3. Full Sailing Rigs

Kayak full sail rig is the best among the three for those who ate serious about kayak sailing. When the sail is attached, the kayakers have got maximum control over all types of wind.  You can move in any direction as there is the possibility of trimming the sail as the situation demands. If you only want to sail downwind go for the first two options, but, for a full sailing experience, full sailing rigs are a must-have.

How Do You Put A Sail On A Kayak?

Installing a sail is much easier than you think. Most of the kayak sails come with user instructions that make it easy to fix the accessory. However, after buying the full accessorized sail, the following five steps can help you to get started:

Step1: Connecting Mast Poles

The first thing to do is to connect the mast poles while ensuring the connections are strong enough. You can use a little tape where the pieces connect to hold the poles together when detaching from the sail.

Step 2: Insert The Connected Pole To The Sail

Once you are done connecting the poles, easily slide them on the side of the sail where it is knitted with a running hole.

Step 3: Inserting batten

Now take the battens and insert them into the narrow sleeves at the sail’s top.

Step 4: Tying In The Batten

Once you have inserted the batten into the sleeves, you need to tie them by feeding the line through the head hole. Run the same line through the ring on the opposite side of your sail then pull it snuggly.

Step 5: Mast Base Plate Installation

The second thing to do is fix the mast base plate. If you can access it inside of your kayak, then you should set the mast step tube by using the under-deck plate. To ensure the tube fits tightly cut it to the ideal length. The plate should sit on the hull and lift the deck for about 1/32 inches when pushed into the appropriate location.

However, if you cannot access under the deck, then ensure that the sail purchased come with a reinforcement place and a guide to using it.  The guide has all that would help to attach the mast base plate. Alternatively, you can always call the brand’s customer service for guidance as each requires a unique installation.

Once the mast has been fixed in the kayak ensure you hook the stretch cord at the mast base.

Step 6: Run The Mainsheet

When you are through with the steps above, it is now time to run the mainsheet. The level finalizes the process of fixing the sail on your kayak. Take the mainsheet through the sail side to the rear pad eye and then run it up through the seat’s right clip. This way you will be able to control, the sails with your right while steering your left.

N/B: Always ensure you check the user manual as the sail kit can vary from one brand to another.

Advantages Of Kayaking With A Sail

If you are coining on whether to attach a sailor or not, coin no further as the benefits of doing so outweigh the disadvantages. There are various types of sail in the market that you can choose from that present better performance, and quality and are affordable. You will not miss one that meets your kayaking needs. Here are the benefits of kayaking with a sail:

1. Opportunity For Armrest

Once you paddle in one direction in the waters, you can let your armrest as the wind propels your kayak to your starting point. When you paddle for so long, your arms and shoulders get fatigued, and this is where the sail comes to your rescue. You will be able to enjoy kayaking longer in water and even go further to places that could have otherwise been impossible without a sail.

2. Great Accessory When Fishing

Yes, fishing can be done on the kayak. However, without a sail, it means there have to be two people in the kayak so that one can paddle and the other would be fishing. With the sail that won’t be necessary as you, the kayak will move without paddling, and thus your hands will be freed to fish. The good thing is that the kayak sail is maneuverable and therefore you can control the speed to suit your fishing needs.

3. An Easier Way To Learn Sailing

Kayak sailing is the best way to learn how to sail without risking your life. After all, if it fails, you can still paddle and get to the shore safely. Besides, you get to study the direction of the winds and how it works, how to maneuver when sailing, and other basics. Once you upgrade to big boats, the experience will be awesome.

4. Very Convenient

Some may be bothered about how to carry the sail around when they need to paddle the kayak. Worry not as the good kayak sail can easily be collapsed to a portable size that won’t take much space in your yak.  In fact, it can be kept in the stern, bow, or closet with much ease. Besides, they are easy to set up and take a maximum of 10 minutes, depending on which model is being installed.

5. Protection Against Weather Elements

Sometimes before your shoulders and arm get tired, the sun or the rain can cut short your trip on the waters. However, if you choose a well-constructed sail, the worry will be a thing of the past. Some are made of waterproof fabric with UV-ray protection that allows you to kayak regardless of the weather. Though some do not worry about the make, it does make a difference.

6. Allow You To Have More Fun

Of all the benefits, having fun tops the list as the experience of gliding through and even flying over water is the most thrilling. Once the skills are mastered, you will find always want to go kayak sailing just for fun. Besides, you will be able to view the scenery well compared to when padding as much concentration goes into it.

What Is The Best Sailboat For A Beginner?

There is no one particular model that is best as there are various options beginners can choose from. However, there are some things to pay attention to get a sailboat for a smooth learning curve. Here are things to consider for the best beginner sailboat:

1. Size Of The Boat

Beginners should always go for smaller sailboats as they are easier to manage and control. Though mostly the larger boats are more stable, it becomes a challenge once in the water, and you are unable to control it. There are a lot of things involved in a larger boat that can be confusing o starters seeking to master the basics fast. Installing a sail on your kayak is best as the vessel is always the best to learn how to sail more quickly and safely.

2. No Winches

Beginner boats should have cleats rather than winches. The cleats are easier to use and experience less high wind force, thus good for both older and younger beginner sailors. Some come with winches by default, so as a beginner, always check the specifications to avoid this common problem for a smooth learning experience.

3. Tiller Steering

A good beginner boat should have tiller steering instead of wheels. As the tiller attaches to the rudder directly, you can get immediate and apparent feedback regarding the boat’s direction, speed, and impact from the wind. Starters may find challenges steering with wheels as the rudder is not felt directly, and there are a lot of delays in feedback. Tiller makes learning easier with the ability to develop a connection with the boat for stress-free sailing.

4. Sturdy

The boat purchased should be sturdy enough for a more forgiving experience. Since making mistakes as a beginner may be inevitable, both the boater and the vessel should come out without damage. For that to happen, you need a Rotomolded boat that is made of strong plastic that can withstand a lot. Besides, it is cheaper than those made of fiberglass and finished wood, though not with a nice look.

How To Build A DIY Sailing Kayak

Final Take

Try kayak sailing, and you will never regret it. Putting a sail in a kayak is the best way to learn sailing before even graduating to bigger boats.  The experience is on top of the world, and the learning process is easier than you think. What you need is to understand the various kayak sail design and choose one that fits your needs. Once you buy the sail,  install it with ease and go out for a fun-filled experience!


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