Have you ever been out on a long paddle and wished that someone else could do the hard work for a while? Or maybe just gave your kayak a little push while you relaxed and enjoyed the scenery? Well, then a good kayak sail is exactly what you are looking for!
Much like a sail on a traditional boat, a kayak sail harnesses the power of the wind to send you zipping along the water, taking some of the strain off your arms and letting you enjoy the view without cutting into your journey time.
Kayak sails come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and style, and each one is used for a slightly different wind condition or kayak hull. To make picking the right one for you easier, we’ve put together this buying guide that has all the information you need to make the right choice and some reviews of some of the best kayak sails on the market.
Best Kayak Sail for 2018
WindPaddle Cruiser Sail - Editors Choice
Kayak Sail Designs
The first thing to consider when buying a kayak sail is what design of sail you’ll need and how that sail will interact with the wind conditions when you are out on the water. Listed below are some of the more common types of kayak sails and the wind conditions they are best used in.
The downwind spinnaker is a wide-bellied v-shaped sail that becomes almost bell-shaped when filled with air. Normally attached to the bow of a kayak, the shape of the spinnaker allows it to propel kayaks at significant speeds when downwind, but renders it almost useless when facing into the wind.
Circular sails are the most common and most easily used kayak sails. They are normally mounted at the bow or center of the kayak and have limited mobility, which means they can only really be used downwind. Because of their shape, most circular sails can collapse and be set up in the same manner as a pop-up tent, making them easy to store and convenient to use in the confines of a kayak.
L-shaped or free-standing sails are the most technical of the kayak sails to use and most closely mimic the way a real sail functions on a sailing boat. Hoisted on a centrally fitted mast, they are maneuverable and can be used in a variety of wind conditions; however, unlike the other two designs listed here, they do require some knowledge of sailing technique to get the best use out of them.
Kayak Sail Materials
Most modern kayak sails are made of durable and flexible plastics, which have the advantages of being lightweight and hard-wearing. Plastic sails will need to be cleaned after every use, especially if you’ve been sailing at sea, to remove any salt or chemicals that may have been transferred to them from the water. This prevents the plastic from degrading and potentially splitting. Depending on the design, the mast for a kayak sail may also be made from plastic, which lacks the strength of carbon fiber or aluminum.
Older models of kayak sails along with some L-shaped sails make use of laminated cloth as it has a higher tensile strength than plastic and is less like to rupture in high winds. The downside of laminated cloth as a construction material is its weight and thickness, which can make the sail difficult to put up and to store.
Carbon Fiber and Aluminum
Where the design of a kayak sail calls for a mast, as it does with L-shaped sails, these masts are often made of carbon fiber or lightweight aluminum, making them light but durable. The outside edge of a circular sail is often stiffened and given its shape by a supporting rod known as a “batten.” Because many circular sails are designed to be folded in on themselves when stored, this batten is often made of plastic.
Advantages of Using a Kayak Sail
A kayak sail takes a lot of the work out of kayaking so that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy watching the world go by. If you are out sightseeing and want an opportunity to enjoy the view without having to concentrate on your paddling, then a kayak sail is a great addition to your boat.
If you need to get somewhere, like back to land, in a hurry then a kayak sail can be used in conjunction with you paddle to really pick up some speed. The downwind spinnaker, in particular, can significantly accelerate a kayak’s top speed.
In a similar manner to picking up extra speed, a kayak sail can be used to take some of the strain off you during a long distance paddle. If you are out touring or sea kayaking, you might find that the use of a kayak sail will allow you to reach your destination without getting absolutely exhausted.
The kayak sail is the secret weapon of the kayak angler. Not only does it let you move without the splashing sounds of a paddle or pedal system, it also allows the kayak angler to “troll,” or move slowly across a body of water, trailing a baited hook.
Kayak Sailing Tips
- Install your sail correctly: The first and most important step to kayak sailing is making sure you have your sail correctly attached to your kayak. As most kayak sails are universal rather than specific to one type of kayak, it can take some time to find the best mounting spot on your ‘yak.
- Practice: Before heading out on the water it’s best to practice packing, unpacking, and steering with your kayak sail, so that you are familiar with the techniques you’ll need before you get out in the wind.
- Monitor the weather: While the maximum amount of wind might seem ideal for kayak sailing, too much wind can drag you off course or even roll your kayak over. As with normal sailing, it’s important to check the weather forecast beforehand. Most kayak sails come rated with the number of knots of wind they are suitable for use in, e.g. 5 – 30 knots, and it is best not to exceed the suggested wind speed.
Best Kayak Sail Reviews
The WindPaddle Cruiser sail is designed to take some of the efforts out of touring, allowing you to maintain speed and keep to your journey plan while also letting you relax a little and enjoy the scenery. With a 56” diameter when deployed, the Cruiser is the largest of the WindPaddle sails. Circular in design, it has a flatter profile and a heavier, less flexible batten to handle higher wind speeds without the need for constant adjustment. Because it is primarily designed with longer touring and sea kayaks in mind, the Cruiser also comes with longer and thicker control lines.
Although essentially designed for kayak touring, the Cruiser can be fitted to any kayak, allowing smaller boats to pick up considerable speed in windy conditions or, because of its larger surface area, providing thrust when the wind speed is low. The downside of the Cruiser’s larger size is that its pack size is bigger and, when fitted to a smaller kayak, it can cause you to be blow off course or even capsize in high winds. You can see how the clever design of the WindPaddle sails makes them easier to put up and fold away by checking out this video:
The WindPaddle Cruiser sail is ideal if you are looking for something to give you a little extra helping hand on long journeys, or just to keep you moving forward while you sit back and relax. Because it is designed for longer boats but will fit smaller ones, it is also great for picking up speed in a shorter kayak, even if the occasional results are an unplanned dunking.
The Hobie Kayak Sail Kit is designed for use with all Hobie Pro Angler and Hobie Mirage kayaks, including the Hobie Mirage Outback, Sport, Adventure, Revolution, Outfitter, and Oasis. The kit comes with a boomless freestanding sail with a rigid batten at the bottom, meaning it can be rolled up and easily packed away. You can see a demonstration of how to install the Sail Kit here:
Because it is designed to be used with the Mirage range of kayak, the Hobie Sail Kit takes advantage of the fins of the Mirage system and uses them to provide lateral resistance. Steering and control of the mainsail are accomplished by two lines which are held in either hand. Because the sail is freestanding, it can be used when traveling upwind and in conjunction with the Mirage pedal drive, meaning you can still move forward even if the wind drops off. A large clear panel in the sail means it won't be blocking your view regardless of what position it’s in.
The only downside of the Hobie Kayak Sailing Kit is that it can only be used for Hobie kayaks and that its larger mast and sail size make it quite bulky, even when packed down.
The main drawback of the Hobie Kayak Sail Kit is that it can only be used with specific kayaks. If you happen to have a Hobie kayak with the Mirage pedal system in it, then the sail kit is easy to use, install, and its freestanding nature makes it practical in all wind conditions.
A smaller version of the Cruiser, the Adventure is designed for use while sea kayaking. It still has the surface area to power along a larger craft, but it leaves the kayaker with finer control than the Cruiser and is less likely to tip you into the sea.
The design and control system of the Adventure is broadly the same as the other WindPaddle sails. Limited maneuvering can be done with two control cords attached to the batten and the sail can be tipped forward to “spill” air if the wind gets too high.
The adventure can be fitted to any kayak and its medium size provides a good trade-off between overall speed and the bulkiness of its pack. However, if you have a particularly heavy kayak, such as tandem, you might need to trade up to the Cruiser.
The Adventure is an excellent trade-off between lightweight limited pack size and the overall pulling power of its sail. While it doesn’t quite have the power of the larger Cruiser, it is still capable of pulling a full-sized sea kayak at a reasonable speed without taking up a large amount of storage room.
The Sea Eagle Quik Sail is a traditional V-shaped downwind spinnaker with a lightweight aluminum mast. Despite being produced by Sea Eagle, the Quik Sail can be used on nearly any kayak and is easy to install and simple to use. You can see a demonstration of how to fit the Quiksail in the following video:
Because it is a purely downwind sail, the Quik Sail is not maneuverable and cannot be used to travel upwind. It makes up for this with its simplicity and, like most downwind spinnakers, by achieving a good top speed.
The Quik Sail works best when mounted on a medium sized recreational kayak and can pull a smaller boat along at a surprising speed in the right wind conditions. The downside of the Quik sail is that its lack of maneuverability means it can be difficult to control and you can't spill wind, making it more likely that the sail will roll your kayak over.
The Quik Sail is easy to install, easy to use, and will fit just about any kayak. Once it’s up, it can produce a surprising amount of speed, especially in one of Sea Eagle’s inflatable kayaks. However, if you’re looking for something you can use upwind then you’ll need to look elsewhere.
The smallest of the WindPaddle sails, the Scout is designed for use with shorter recreational kayaks, where its smaller surface area can still push your boat along and it won’t take up all the storage space. As with the other WindPaddle sails, the Scout has limited maneuverability, the ability to shed air if the wind is too high, and is controlled by two cords attached to its flexible batten.
While the Scout is the lightest and most portable of the Windpaddle sails, it also has the least pulling power and a limited wind speed range. Its most practical use is for recreational kayakers looking to move slowly and enjoy their surroundings or for kayak anglers who are looking to “troll” without using their paddles.
The Scout is more of an accessory than a true kayak sail. Its limited size restricts its use to smaller boats and lighter wind speeds. However, if you are looking for a sail that can just take a little of the strain off your arms or let you spend a lazy afternoon trolling for fish, then the small pack size and ease of use of the Scout makes it ideal.
Our Pick - WindPaddle Cruiser Sail
The WindPaddle Cruiser is our choice of best kayak sail because of its power and utility. It can be fitted to and is useful on any kayak. Its larger surface area allows it to pull heavier boats like tandems or fully loaded fishing kayaks, as well as being fitted to a smaller hull to allow the paddler to pick up some significant speed.
While the Cruiser has the largest pack size of the Windpaddle sails, it is by no means bulky and its innovative circular design allows it to be put up or pulled down with the ease of a pop-up tent. If you are looking for a sail that can offer some significant pulling power without taking up all your cockpit space, then the Windpaddle Cruiser is the one for you!