How Windy Is Too Windy for Canoeing? (Solved!)


If you happen to be free during a weekend and you’re wondering what you can do with your time, you may want to go on a trip out to the water to enjoy the great outdoors. One of the most popular activities you can enjoy when you’re out in the open water is canoeing. However, you have to be wary of the winds when canoeing because they can either make or break your trip.

When the winds go over 17 mph (15 knots), it’s not recommended that you go canoeing. Winds at or slightly above 12 mph (10.5 knots) will make paddling somewhat tricky, but you can manage these conditions. Any winds under 12 mph are generally considered safe for canoeing.

Believe it or not, a seemingly minor difference in wind speed can make an entire world of difference when you’re out canoeing because of how much more difficult it can become to paddle through the waves. The more difficult it is for you to paddle, the more dangerous canoeing becomes.

Read until the end to discover more about additional reasons why you shouldn’t paddle in windy conditions, as well as tips on how to navigate through high winds in your canoe.

Relative Difficulty of Canoeing at Different Wind Speeds

Although canoeing is seen mainly as a fun recreational pastime, this activity can be somewhat dangerous, especially if the water conditions take a turn for the worse. This usually happens when wind speeds increase abruptly, forming strong waves that can be difficult to paddle through.

It can be hard to judge what wind speeds are safe for canoeing and what wind speeds are dangerous, particularly if you’re a beginner. For this reason, I have provided a table below outlining the general safety guidelines of what conditions are favorable and unfavorable for paddling (source).

Wind ConditionsWind SpeedRelative DifficultySpecial Notes
Light to Moderate Winds<10 knotsEasyWaters are generally calm, so waves shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Moderate Winds11-15 knotsModerateWinds may create fairly sizable waves, but experienced paddlers should be able to manage.
Strong Winds15-21 knotsHardDifficult to control the canoe in these conditions. Not recommended for the majority of canoe paddlers.
Extreme winds>21 knotsExtremeAvoid these conditions wherever possible. For reference, most motorboats are being tied to the docks in winds that are this strong.

It’s important to bear in mind that the guidelines above are not intended to be perceived as hard and fast rules for canoeing. They’re merely designed to help guide your thinking in determining whether or not you should canoe. You should always consider your own judgment since you’re the one that’s ultimately experiencing the risks.

Why You Shouldn’t Canoe in Extremely Windy Conditions

Now that we’ve established the relative difficulty of paddling for different wind conditions, you’re probably wondering exactly why certain wind conditions are blacklisted. They obviously makes paddling harder, but you likely want to know precisely how strong winds complicate paddling.

Paddling Upstream May Not Be Feasible

When there are strong winds, and you’re canoeing in a river or a stream, it’s important to know that the winds ultimately control the strength of both the waves and the current. When paddling upstream, current strength is a significant determinant of your ability to get to your upstream destination promptly.

If the winds strengthen the current too much, you may be unable to paddle against it. The current of a stream or river never tires. You, on the other hand, only have a finite amount of energy reserved for paddling. Eventually, you’ll become too exhausted to fight upstream once the current starts to sweep away your boat.

You’d have to be quite experienced, bold, or just plain strong to be able to paddle upstream in extremely windy conditions. Even so, it’s rarely ever recommended for canoeists to attempt to paddle upstream in a river or a stream when strong winds are producing strong currents.

Wind Speeds Can Pick Up Midway Through the Trip

Another factor to consider is that wind speeds are not fixed. They can fluctuate at any moment during your time on the water.

Thus, even when the current wind conditions are fair, you need to remember that this can be subject to change. The winds can still pick up during your paddling journey.

For this reason, you still need to take precautions when you’re out there paddling in moderate wind conditions that seem easy to manage. This means bringing along all the required safety equipment, including but not limited to:

  • personal flotation devices
  • audible signaling devices
  • visible signaling devices

You don’t want to get caught unprepared on the water. So it would be best if you prepared for every emergency scenario in advance. Unfortunately, once the winds pick up during the middle of a paddling trip, it’s already too late to go back and gather all the safety equipment you left behind.

The unfortunate truth is that anyone can capsize on the water, no matter how experienced a paddler you may think you are. Likewise, extreme wind conditions can deem anyone helpless on the water.

In short, remember that even moderate winds can be early signs of strong winds to come. So if you’re ever unsure of whether or not you should paddle, it’s a smart idea to wait for the winds to die down before committing to the water. Again, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Tips for Canoeing in Windy Conditions

Since wind speeds can pick up at a moment’s notice, there are bound to be times when you’re caught in the midst of moderate-to-strong winds unexpectedly. To avoid panicking during these situations, you should implement the following steps to ensure you’re in the best position possible to navigate through and come out safe.

Check the Weather Forecast Beforehand

It’s always a smart idea to check the weather forecast ahead of time before heading out on a canoeing trip. It’s fairly simple and easy to do, especially considering that most smartphones come equipped with a weather app that shows the weekly weather forecast.

Most of these weather forecasts are accurate enough to predict how strong the winds will be during your scheduled paddling times. This will provide a solid indication of how strong the winds will be so that you can manage your expectations and prepare accordingly. The more mentally and physically prepared you are, the better.

In some cases, you may even consider rescheduling your paddling trip entirely if the forecast says that the winds will be much windier than usual. It can be tough to bite the bullet and cancel a paddling trip, but you’ll save yourself a considerable amount of energy and frustration by forgoing the chance to paddle in extreme winds.

Paddle Fairly Close to Shore

When the winds are supposed to be strong during your canoeing trip, the safest way for you to manage these windy conditions is to paddle fairly close to the shore.

Generally, the waves and the currents closer to shore are much weaker and are—by default—much easier to navigate. In addition, maintaining a close distance to shore allows you to paddle back to shore that much more quickly should anything go wrong.

Your ego may be telling you to paddle farther from shore, but you have to ignore this temptation. Trying to challenge the wind can spell disaster for you. A strong current can take you far away from shore, making it nearly impossible to paddle through the waves to get back to land safely.

This applies especially to those who lack canoeing experience. Beginner and intermediate-level paddlers should stay close to shore as much as possible to avoid battling with the wind (source).

Go Upstream First, Downstream Last

Lastly, you should plan out the details of your canoeing trip beforehand to make the most of your energy. Your traveling route can have major repercussions down the road if you don’t calculate your journey appropriately.

If you’re paddling in a river or a stream, it’s best to paddle upstream first. This is because your energy and strength levels are at their peak during the beginning of the trip, so you can better handle the taxing physical demands of heading upstream.

If the winds suddenly pick up, you can always turn around and head back downstream, taking advantage of the strong currents to counteract the sudden change in wind conditions.

In contrast, if you paddle downstream first, there’s a chance that the winds may begin to pick up speed later during the middle of your trip. This will make it far more difficult to paddle upstream later after you’ve already paddled downstream.

You will thoroughly deplete your endurance and strength levels after paddling for so long. Under these circumstances, you may end up too tired to paddle upstream later, especially if the strength of the current has picked up in response to the wind.

Even if you’re not paddling down a stream or river, pay attention to your traveling route. As a general rule of thumb, the harder leg of your trip should always be prioritized first when your energy is at its highest.

Sources: 1 2

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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