When you are planning to head for the water with your kayak, your first consideration is how to power your kayak. You could use a paddle, a trolling motor, or a kayak sail. Your choice also is based on what type of water you are going to be in and the size of your kayak.
Always keep your paddle handy in your kayak as you may need it to maneuver into a tight spot, such as a cove or around unexpected obstacles. A trolling motor may not be right for the water you will be on and can add more weight to your boat load, which you may not want.
Instead, we will look at kayak sails that you can take with you to quickly install one when you want it. After all, it is nice to have one handy, letting the wind do most of the work for you while you relax. You just need to match the right sail to use for the wind blowing on the day you go out on the water based on the size kayak you are using.
It is very important that you check your weather on the day you plan for your outing. Check wind speeds on the lake or river, even if you plan to launch from the beach for a sea run. If you do run in salt water, you must wash your sails every time you are done to get rid of any corrosive salt residue your sail has accumulated during the day. Cleaning your sails will keep them in prime condition for much longer use over the years. This also includes soaking any bungee cords too.
So, how do you choose what sail type or design you want to take with you that day? Once you know the day’s wind speed, you will select the right one to take with you as each type of sail is rated for wind speed use. The wind speed sail ratings are between five to 30 knots. Each knot is translated as 1.15 nautical miles per hour (mph), as opposed to one mile on land. Most boaters will use the term ‘knots’ for wind speed.
The WindPaddle sail is cleverly designed as a bell-shaped sail with a clear plastic eye in the center so you can still see where you are going. This sail is mounted on the bow of your kayak by a simple bungee cord system attached to a mounting apparatus close to the kayak’s open seating area. If you have a netted deck rigging, then you stow your sail underneath the net. If you click on the link above for this section, you can see one installed and how it is used during an actual run on a river.
The sail is kept folded up on the front of your kayak until you deploy it for use. Always set the bow facing to a downwind position first. The sail is designed to spring open when released from the folded position. You use the guide rope to change the direction or angle of the sail, so you can alter your course, based on the direction of the wind, which usually comes in from behind you.
Colored wind strip guides on each side show you exactly what direction the wind is coming from. If you need to release some of the wind gathered in the bell, just tip it forward. When you need to shut down your sail, just fold each side inwards to an overlapping position and twist inward to fold the sail completely down.
As a final note to using WindPaddle sails, always use a paddle boat leash so you do not lose the paddle overboard while you are fiddling with your sail. The sail guide rope is also attached to your body harness (or to the back of the boat), so that you always have control of the sail without losing the rope to the wind.
You can practice using your WindPaddle sail during light wind days first to get the feel of the sail and how to work with the wind for changing directions. This is essential to becoming confident with using this sail so that under harsher conditions, you will be able to handle any heavy winds that might come up during your boating excursion.
Several best-selling WindPaddle sail options are offered below for you to look at if you are ready now to make a purchase. Just click on the highlighted links below.
This 42-inch wind paddle sail is compact and easily portable, made from a high-quality rip-stop nylon sailcloth that will last a long time for your enjoyment on any body of water. This blue-colored sail with a clear eye-shaped center viewer also comes in green, orange, and red.
The rim made of an unbreakable and sturdy composite material allows you to easily spring open your sail at a moment’s notice while you are headed downwind. You can easily fold it back up to store on your boat whenever you are ready to end your day.
All seams are triple-stitched for extra sturdiness and can be used on kayaks, paddleboards, canoes, inflatables, open-styled kayaks, and other small watercrafts.
Accessory ropes and tie-cords are provided in each sail package for installation and sail control. It is always wise to have an extra set of bungee cords with you in case you need extra attachment supports.
Size: 42 inches in circumference (15.8 inches x 13.8 inches x 0.8 inches)
Color: Blue (also green, orange, and red)
Weight: 15.8 ounces
Style: Downwind open half-balloon shape, Scout Model: Entry Level
Wind Rating: Use in wind speeds between 4 to 15 knots (4.6 mph to 17.25 mph)
Customer Rating: 3.8 stars (8 Amazon customer reviews)
While users liked the sail, some complained that there were no instructions or videos to show them how to use the product. A simple solution to this is to go to YouTube and type into the search box “Downwind sails” to pull up a list of videos that show you how to install and use the sail. Also check that you have all the hardware and attachment ropes you need to fully work this sail. If your watercraft does not have attachment hooks, have them securely installed by a reputable boat seller. You can see what ropes you need and how to attach the sail in the image below.
This Adventure WindPaddle 47” sail is a new downwind version designed to have less depth in the balloon area. This depth reduction gives more stability in controlling the sail with the convenience of less sail adjustments while changing wind directions. It is also more durable and able to handle higher wind speeds with ease.
This sail size is excellent for touring and expedition boats between 14 and 18 feet long, although it can be used on any kayak or large paddleboard as well. Wind speed efficiency ranges from five to 30 knots (or 5.75 mph to 34.50 mph). All customer experience levels can easily use this sail although new learners may prefer to avoid high winds until gaining more experience with lower wind speeds.
The Adventure sail is easy to set up for deployment by attaching it first to the boat, then folding it up and storing under your netted deck rigging or fastening down with bungee cords. When ready to deploy, pull the sail from under the nettings (or bungee cords) and let it spring open while holding the control guide lines. Make sure you attach the control guide line(s) to you or to the back of your boat. If you do not yet have a safety paddle leash, you can buy a paddle and fishing pole set here on Amazon for $11.48.
Size: 47 inches in circumference (16 inches when folded down for storage)
Color: Red (also comes in lime, yellow, orange, and blue)
Weight: 16 ounces
Style: “Adventure” WindPaddle sail with less balloon depth
Wind Rating: between 5 to 30 knots (or 5.75 mph to 34.50 mph)
Customer Rating: 4 stars (44 Amazon customer reviews)
Most customers enjoyed using this sail and did mention that there was a learning curve overall to using this type of sail. Of importance is learning how to fold the sail while seated in the kayak or boat, so that you do not have to learn that while at sea under difficult situations. Also, check all ropes at attachment points to make sure everything is secured before folding and heading out.
The image above from the Amazon selling page shows how to fold one of these downwind sails. Check on YouTube to find instruction videos by typing in “downwind sail” into the search box. You will prefer learning how to open and fold this sail while seated in or on your watercraft.
This is a smaller size sail (42”) like the first downwind sail reviewed above. The sail is constructed with a lightweight polyester taffeta material and PVC-styled rim for a quick snap-open deployment for sailing when ready. You also receive a pouch to carry and store your sail whether going from or to your automobile or storing the sail in or on your watercraft until ready for use.
The Mexidi 42-inch downwind sail comes in four colors: blue, lime green, orange, and red, although the colors may be slightly different from those shown in the pictures on the Amazon page. These pictures shown on Amazon are like those offered for the first sail reviewed in this article.
All seams are triple-stitched for added durability like the other sails, and this model has the clear eye-shaped viewing panel, so you can see what is up ahead of you.
The Mexidi 42-inch sail works on any kayak, canoe, inflatable boat, stand-up paddle board (SUP), tandem, and excursion watercraft. It is easy to set up on the kayak, then fold down for storage in the netting or under bungee straps before heading out on the water.
This product comes with all the straps and guide lines to use with your sail. It is always a good idea to have an extra set of bungee cords stored away in your watercraft.
Size: 42-inch circumference
Color: Blue (also comes in lime green, orange, and red.
Weight: About 15.8 ounces
Style: Medixi 42-inch downwind sail
Wind Rating: Use in wind speeds between 4 to 15 knots (4.6 mph to 17.25 mph)
Customer Rating: 2.6 stars (9 customer reviews)
The Medixi downwind sail is not as popular as the earlier two downwind sails described in this article. The colors, as some customers have mentioned, are not always the same as shown on the seller page. Be sure to take the sail out when you get it and check for any missing cords and straps that should come with this sail.
Customers report that higher wind speeds allow the sail to be more effective rather than at lower knots. Always practice with your sail first before going out on a body of water. You want to be comfortable with maneuvering the sail in changeable winds as well as efficiently opening and folding down the sail when done while still in the boat.
When you are ready to install this sail, start by unfolding the sail, then attaching the bottom center section of the sail to the forward center bow of your kayak or other watercraft. Next, you attach each side to either side of your watercraft, creating a slightly wrapped bell curve with the sail. Your wind flow should always be coming from behind you.
Click on the link above to see a Rapid Up sail in action, including a major point about keeping your sail tied down securely when not in use. If you view the video link above, you will see that the wind, if gusty, can pick up a loose or unsecured flap. This can cause some trouble with viewing what is in front. It can also slow you down and in some instances, if you are not careful, you can tip over because the folded sail caught too much wind in a pocket. Make sure you do not have sail wobble, meaning your sail wobbles from side to side. You can tighten your lines to make it more secure. The link below shows the Advanced Elements Rapid Up Sail on Amazon.
This is an efficient sail to use in light to moderate winds. As with any sail, you will want to practice with it first before heading out on a large body of water. The universal sail design easily captures wind blowing forward from behind your back. It allows for a 15-inch sailing angle.
The spring frame allows the sail to simply pop up when you unfold it for use. The sail can be pulled down using the dowsing line if you wish to dump some of the wind when you need it. Unlike the balloon-styled WindPaddle sails, you have little leeway for changing sailing directions. If you must turn around to go back into the wind, you will want to pack down the sail.
The Rapid Up sail is constructed with a high-quality, sturdy, rip-stop sail cloth with three clear plastic windows for all-around viewing capacity. It easily folds down into an 18-inch disk shape for storage on your bow when you are finished using it. Use clamps or bungee cords to secure the folded sail from raising any flaps that might catch the wind.
Weight: 8 ounces
Style: Curved Rapid Up sail, snugly fits to either side of your watercraft with no side overhang.
Wind Rating: Not given, but according to customers, between 5 to 15 mph; can also depend on sailor experience with using the sail effectively.
Customer Rating: 3.4 stars (17 customer reviews)
Most customers liked this sail, although many said they got more enjoyment out of using the sail at higher wind speeds. As always, practice first to get a feel for how the sail works at different wind speeds. You have limited options for directing the wind into the sail at an angle, but it can be done by using your hand to pull on one side or the other to take in more wind.
Your sail should come with a manual, but if there is not one included, you can pick one up at the Advanced Elements website by clicking on the link.
Other Kayak Sail Options
While the four sails reviewed here are economical and easy to use, there are other options as well, though most will cost significantly more. What is great about using these sails if you like to fish is the ability to do silent running across the water while trailing your fishing line behind you. There are no trolling motor blades or paddle blades to disturb the water while you are fishing. You also can relax to some degree and let the sails do most of the work for you. The only negative aspect to the four sails mentioned is that they are all used in downwind scenarios.
Hobie Kayak Sail Kit
If you have either the Hobie Pro Angler or a Hobie Mirage kayak with pedal system, you can use the Hobie Kayak Sail Kit. This may need a bit of drilling installation, particularly in adding a rudder as well as a stabilization unit that sits out on either side. The stabilization units keep you from rolling over while using the sail.
The sail kit comes with two rods that connect to make one pole, then is installed in the kayak post hole. The L-shaped sail is installed onto the post. The Hobie sail has a clear plastic section, so you can see forward to what is ahead in the water. The added pedal system also allows you to go even faster to give you more fun.
This system also allows you to sail upwind so long as there is a rudder present. The sail pulls in wind pressure on one side while aiming for a specific point ahead. Yet the boat must travel at a slight angle, say 45 degrees. To keep heading for the specific point ahead, the boat must tack or beat (zigzag) from one side to the other from time to time at equal distances.
If there is no regular tack or beat, then the boat will eventually move too far off the path to the destination. Hence, the rudder becomes very important in keeping the direction constant. If you have not achieved enough angle, your sail will luff, meaning it loses wind in the pocket and flutters. Only the L-shaped sail can offer that choice to sail into the wind or sail upwind.
Sea Eagle QuikSail
This is another type of downwind sail with very limited ability in moving off the straight path. However, it is easy to use, easy to install, and can be used for nearly any kayak or other small water craft. There is no way to spill excess wind out of the sail, so you should practice how to avoid a possible roll-over by steering out of it with your paddle.
The Quiksail is a triangular-shaped sail with a clear plastic viewing window at the bottom of the material. Open the sail and cross the side posts at the bottom so that it looks like a big X. You place the bottom of the feet of the X onto the floor of your watercraft and tie it off. Next use a supplied rope that is tied on one side of the boat to a D-ring, goes around the joint of the X, and ties off on the other side of the boat and its D-ring.
You can add extra security to the setup by bracing your feet against the feet of the X on the boat’s floor. While the wind is flowing into the sail and essentially pushing the sail back, you are pressing against the X feet to keep equal stability. You can also hold the secure rope on either side for added security and tension on the sail.
The Wind Philosopher
Once you buy one sail and use it for a while, chances are you will buy another one in a different style. As you become more experienced with using the first one and how that style sail works, you get the “feel” for how to work with the wind. You begin adjusting automatically to either add more tension by adjusting the angle or let out wind to reduce speed.
You also learn to work with the paddle to make quick adjustments when a gust of wind comes over you unexpectedly. Always keep an eye on the weather both in front and behind. Have an idea of what the day’s forecast will be before you ever head out onto the water. Many of us live in areas where the weather can change abruptly, and a heavy storm suddenly blows up. Keep an eye in all directions, not just to the front.
Always have your paddle attached to a leash so that you do not lose it, especially if you roll over. Your paddle is your lifeline even if you have any type of sail installed. Your paddle can help you with a quick direction change, acting as a rudder if one is not installed under your watercraft.
Paddle and Sail Training
If you are a beginning paddler, you can first watch videos on YouTube and practice along with your paddle, so long as you have plenty of space around you. The last thing you want to do is knock down precious figurines in your room.
Next, take your kayak or boat out on a pond on a light wind day and work with your paddle on how to move from one side of the pond to the other side. Practice different actions such as making a stop by dragging down your paddle to reduce speed, or change the bow direction from one side to the other.
If you are uncomfortable with doing this by yourself, then find a friend who is willing to show you how to do it and other actions that help you maneuver the boat in different ways. If you do not know anyone who can help you, check in your area for any boating classes and call to see if they can help you with becoming an expert paddler.
When selecting a trainer, always check for ratings from other customers who have taken classes with the trainer or boating company. You may prefer to get one-on-one training first before moving into advanced classes where you may be with other people.
Your enjoyment of being on the water is exponentially greater when you know what you are doing at any given time under any circumstance. Do whatever it takes to get you to the advanced level where you can enjoy being out on the water. Always wear your life jacket.
When working with any new sail, first set up your kayak in your yard, install the sail, set the sail in the closed position, and sit down in your kayak (canoe or other craft). For downwind sails, make sure your boat is pointed away from the wind.
Open your sail while in the boat and get a feel for how the wind blows into the sail and how that affects your kayak’s position. You can pull on the side strings (or ropes) to change the force or angle on the sail and your boat, or you can let out the sail to drop the wind force effect.
It is particularly important that you know how to open and close a sail on your boat, especially when using downwind sails. You should be able to do both actions while still seated.
You can do the same type of preliminary backyard training for the L-shaped sail rigged to a post. In this case, you can do both the downwind way and then switch the front of your boat to see how it feels when moving into the wind. You will want to feel where the wind pressures into the sail while still pulling the boat forward.
Once you have a preliminary, intuitive feel for the wind action, you can try it on a pond or small river to get the hang of how the sail feels when achieving the most forward progress. You can also get training for this type of sailing from any boating company or outfitter, so you can be more comfortable faster when handling your boat on the open waters.
If you have not had much exercise in the past few years, consider getting into a routine of walking and building strength in your legs. Begin light weight training with hand weights to build arm strength and build hand strength using squeezable balls. Join a health club and connect with a trainer who can help you with building strength so that you can handle any situation while out on the water.
Aside from the fact that conditioning your body is a good idea, you will feel better when you are in better shape. Building arm and hand strength will be beneficial when you need to paddle for a distance. You will last longer rather than having to stop all the time for a break.
Making the Best Sail Selection
When you decide to buy a sail for your kayak or small watercraft, consider the size of your kayak first if you already own one. Smaller boats will handle better with smaller sails in light to moderate winds. You can use a larger sail on smaller boats if you are an expert at handling sails. Just be aware that a larger sail can easily tip you over in strong winds.
The type of sail you select should be based on your current level of experience and the type of kayak you own. You may have more than one, such as one with a rudder or a drop-down fin, also known as a skeg. If you have a smaller boat, a small sail is better. If you have a larger or longer boat, you can choose a sail with a drop-in mast.
Sit-On-Top (SOT) Kayaks
If you own a sit-on-top boat, these are primarily for lakes and gentle rivers (without rapids). As your weight is riding more on top, it would be easier to tip over if you are using a large sail that captures too much wind. At best, you will want a smaller sail. However, if you have a longer boat fitted with a rudder, you may be able to use a sail. You can also attach a removeable SOT Leeboard system to help with kayak balance.
You sit inside the boat and your legs and feet slide under the front encasement of your kayak. It is easier to paddle as you are closer to the water and closer to the base of gravity. Downwind sails work well with these boats, and the size will be dependent on the boat size and weight along with your capabilities. You can easily handle unfolding and folding up your downwind sail as you need it. Sea and touring kayaks also fit in this category, and if there is a rudder or skeg, then you can use a sail with mast for upwind sailing.
These are fun to have and take up far less space when you must store them. Typically, smaller sails are great for a boat such as the downwind X-styled sail mentioned earlier in this post.
The Perfect One?
In fact, there is no perfect kayak (or sail) because there are many types to select from, and the decision is based on the buyer’s preference for what the watercraft is to carry out. You can choose one and go with it for a year or two, become proficient at paddle/sailing with it, then turn around and choose another kayak that will do something else entirely.
Consider what your ideal goal is when planning to buy a kayak. Then, start looking around at the different types and know what each is used for. After purchase, you can buy a sail that will maximize your experience with that kayak. You can also have two different sails with you, so you can choose what to use at a moment’s notice. For the downwind balloon-styled sail, you will always want to have it set in place, regardless of whether you use it or not.
Finally, make sure you always wear your lifejacket and that your paddle is connected to a leash, so you do not lose it. Enjoy!