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Know your speed and distance – A guide to plan your tours for multiday kayak, Raft and Canoe trips!

I am back with another episode of Kayaking tips and this time due to an urgent need to keep you posted. Aa a kayak instructor I believe it is my responsibility to educate my fellow enthusiastic adventurers from getting exposed to certain disappointment and waste of your hard-earned money by signing up for expeditions with people who have no experience and leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere. Simply because if you are not aware, you would sign up for a mission impossible and say goodbye to your hard-earned money. 


So, with that said I’d invite you to go through a simple guide to calculate distance over time so whenever you are planning an expedition you don’t have to go through the math as I’m giving you my secret formula free of charge. 

The basic components to consider before calculating your average speed!


Before I go further the word to remember is of course resistance! Though the water is smooth as butter water is not a huge fan of friction like any other surface. Just like the tarmac resists the tire the water is also known to offer resistance on the surface. If you have observed, you see that all the boats are designed to minimize this resistance and which I will call “DRAG” from now on! This drag is what prevents boats from moving forward and drag is proportionate to the area that it is coming to contact with the water meaning that the larger the boat the larger the drag. So, it is obvious that bigger ships have bigger engines and small kayaks paddled by humans are small as it could be. But what is universal is that all boats are designed to reduce “DRAG”. 



Wind could be your friend or foe based on the direction simpler enough that I don’t have to explain here if the wind is against you, which we call the “head wind” the larger your raft is the heavier to move forward it will be. Furthermore, if you have a high silhouette, you will create more resistance making it difficult to move forward. 


I will leave this section short as its obvious, how it can impact in a team event is that different participants will have different fitness levels slowing you down as you cannot leave anyone behind.


Remember that Usain Bolt does 100m in 9.58 seconds, but we might take 15 seconds to run the same distance. 


If you are in fast-flowing water it may take less time to travel than the slow-moving water, since I have explained this in my previous blog please visit it here.

Long Distance Kayaking must be carefully planned and executed.

Average Speeds Of Paddle Boats!

Here I will give you the internationally recognized average speeds of human powered boats, and situations that can alter the speed. 


The average speed of a SOT kayak is generally about 5km per hour for a beginner but can be increased if you have a faster flow of water (usually white water) but will decrees in flat water. In my experience a beginner can easily paddle 20km per day without compromising on the body aches and enjoying nature around you. The idea is to enjoy the surroundings paddle slow take regular breaks, so you enjoy kayaking. If you really want to stress yourself, you can cover 30km or even 40 but you will not have time for a break nor you will have time to have breaks or enjoy beautiful landscapes. 

The rule of the thumb is start paddling early take a break at least after 1.5hrs (roughly 8km) for 15minutes and paddle again. Remember you need to have time to set up camp, prepare food for dinner and some time to warm down. Remember! If the wind is against you this means it will slow you down to about 3kmph and take out much of your energy. 

SO, if you are planning to have 80km ride that means its better to plan it for 4 days! In a KAYAK!

CANOES – 3-5kmph

Canoes will also be providing you with an average speed of 3-5kmph. These are heavier and has a higher silhouette exposing you to more wind resistance and more drag. Also, if the water levels are low, you will have to portage, unload, reload and drag the canoes making it extremely slow and painful. 

RAFTS – 1.5kmph

Rafts are big bad wolves of multiday river expeditions and I hate them. WHY? Just imagine the surface area of a raft and the power you need to propel it forward? With all the goods further weighing you down? it is all good for Kitulgala where water flows fast. But imagine you paddle them against the wind in a flat-water area with no water movement and very low. You will be amazed that inflatable rafts will have a mere 1.5 to 2 km speed in flat water. This means to cover the same 80 km you will need at least 5.5 days (provided you will paddle 10 hours at the speed of 1.5kmph no breaks) 

So NOW you know! Question your instructor/organizer!

Sameera Liyan
Well, You gotta question me as well. Do your own research, ask questions in the comment section. I will be happy to answer

So, if you are signing up for an adventure do not hesitate to ask the distance, how many hours do you have to paddle? The proposed waypoints, how many participants, etc. etc. from the organizers. 

For an example if I take a kayak to paddle from Manampitiya to Trinco I could do it in 4 days with enough time to spend by the river enjoying nature, wildlife, and proper breaks. Same trip I could do in 3 days with extended hours of paddling with compromise on breaks and cooking time. 

But if you do it in an inflatable raft in 4 days  I hope you should be very lucky like a flash flood, a gasoline motor, or some dam collapse sending a huge wave to take you all the way to Trinco! I guess all that options are a far cry! I have excluded the patches of river where it only has sand and water is not even 6inches where you will have to spend some time recovering your raft.

Now I think you have a pretty good idea of the distance and time be it any paddle boat. If you wish to enjoy nature limit your paddle time to 15-20 KM in white water areas and 10-15KM per day in flat water areas. The idea is not to cover the distance to set a record but to enjoy the beautiful nature and avoid body aches following day freezing your arms and drastically reducing speed. 

Till my next blog, Happy and safe paddling! 


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