Kayak Sails - Another Level

Rigs, and Upwind and Downwind Sails

Upwind Sails

Why paddle your kayak when you could sail?

Kayak sails bring a whole new dimension to your paddling experience by letting you harness the power of the wind and sail along past the shore, giving your arms a rest and your journey some real distance. The ancient Polynesians were the first to sail canoes, travelling between the Pacific islands in open boats rigged with sails. Today’s kayak sails are based on their ancient designs.

Learning to sail a kayak isn’t too difficult and although it will help, you don’t need to know how to sail a boat to get started. Choosing which kayak sail to go for can be more difficult. The choice is a little confusing: do you go for a hand-held sail, an upwind sail, a downwind sail, a sail with a mast and outrigger or a self-supporting, self-deploying sail?

The decision is really a personal one but you need to consider the stability and tracking ability of your kayak when choosing your sail. Also think about the wind and water conditions in the area you plan to paddle, your strength and skill level and your sailing experience.

Choosing a Sail

It’s a good idea to speak to as many kayakers as possible about your choice – everyone has a personal preference and most kayakers will be delighted to tell you about their experiences. If you can, try a few different types of kayak sails before making your decision and don’t buy above your skill level. A larger sail is harder to manage so stick with small or medium size sails to begin with.

When you order a kayak sail make sure the kit contains everything you’ll need to get started. The sail has to attach to your kayak in some way, how this happens depends on the type of sail you buy and the type of kayak you own. Some sails require a locking base which bolts to a reinforcing plate on the kayak, others use a suction cup, others need a mast and outriggers and others have bungee cords hooked through brass eyes. Make sure to ask the manufacturer about this and get all the parts supplied as part of your kit.

Once you choose a sail practice assembling, raising and stowing it on the ground before getting out on the water. Then begin practicing along the shore in light breezes just to get the hang of things first before heading out on any open water. You need to get used to raising and lowering your rig as well as manoeuvring and changing the angle of the sail to the wind. You also need to be confident that you can handle the sail underwater should you find yourself in the middle of a roll.

It’s a good idea to take a kayaking buddy with you or to try rigging your kayaks together into a raft as this adds extra stability and makes it easier to learn how to sail. Most sails are good for use in winds up to about 15mph but always check with the manufacturer when you buy a sail and always start out in light winds until you raise your confidence and skill levels.

Kayak sails cost between $199 and $250 but when you’re making headway round a difficult point in the face of a head-on breeze you’ll know it’s worth every cent.


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