Kayaking VS Rowing Speed – Efficiency Comparison

Kayaking VS Rowing Speed – Efficiency Comparison

Speed is a priority for many people who paddle and row. A common question that arises is, “what type of vessel is faster: a kayak or a rowing boat?”

A kayak indeed has just one paddler, while a rowing boat has two. However, there are other things to consider before considering speed. The vessel’s length, size, body weight, and air resistance contribute to how effective each vessel will be in its respective tasks.

It is not enough to look at boat type to determine which type of rower is faster; it must also consider these factors:

Length of the boat

A longer vessel will have more drag. The longer the body of water you plan on rowing across, the more significant this drag becomes.

Size of the person’s body weight

The weight in a kayak or rowing boat will affect how quickly it moves through the water. The more body mass in a boat, the slower it will go.

Air resistance

The more air resistance present during the rowing movement, the more energy it will take to move through the water. Rowing an un-powered track shell with an inflated airbag gives you a feel for how much air resistance you may experience. The more drag you have, the harder it will be to move forward.

Factors Related to Kayaking and Rowing Speed

To compare speeds between kayaks and rowing boats, you would need two additional pieces of information:

1. The distance you travel in the same amount of time (overlap)

2. The distance an individual will cover in the same time (rate of speed)

The more overlap you have, the more energy it will take to move the kayak or rower through the water. If you want to compare rowing and kayaking speeds in a real-world situation, you must calculate them both, including and excluding overlap.

The way you calculate the overlap is simple. If your kayak has a 20-inch beam, and you want to know how many seconds it will take to cover one mile (6804 feet) with the current water level, multiply 6804 (feet) by 0.7 (seconds it takes for water to cover a boat completely). In other words, the more overlap your kayak has, the more energy it will take to move through the water.

Which is faster? How does it compare?

The answer depends on several factors, such as the length of your trip, the amount of overlap (body weight), and the amount of air resistance you have in your boat.

When comparing kayaking and rowing speeds, a good estimate shows that kayaking is comparable to rowing speed and energy efficiency. Or, put another way, an individual will expend about the same amount of energy kayaking as when he rows in an indoor rowing tank. But when you consider the amount of time it takes to cover one mile, kayaking is not comparable to rowing. An individual can row at a faster speed than he can kayak.

The Power of the Water

Rowing machinery is designed to go faster when the water moves more slowly. The advantage of rowing over kayaking is that no matter the speed of the water, an individual can exert more power in a rowing movement than in a kayak movement. Remember that power is force multiplied by distance and velocity. In other words, the more speed a rower exerts, the more power he has exerted.

The power of water is measured in Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) – which is how much water would fill up a cubic foot if it were flowing at that rate. For example, if the water were flowing at 1 CFS, it would fill up one cubic foot every second. A towboat moving at 8 CFS can tow about 12,000 pounds of boats. A kayaker in a 2-person boat can both push and pull the boat with the same amount of power as a towboat moving at 8 CFS.

Furthermore, the rower has a masterstroke, where he can exert enormous amounts of power. A good rowing stroke is similar to driving a car on rough terrain; you need enough force to overcome obstacles that get in your way. As you increase your distance from shore, the water slows down – so rowers must learn how to go faster without getting stuck. A masterstroke allows an individual to overcome obstacles and maintain speed.

Rowing is easy on your body.

One of the advantages of rowing is that you can go farther with less effort than kayaking. Because rowing uses both upper-body and lower-body movements, it gets more power from the lower body than the upper body. That reduces the air resistance of the boat, allowing the individual to move faster and farther.

One of the disadvantages of rowing is that it can be hard on your feet. As you grow, you must apply constant pressure on the foot-straps, or else your feet will slide out from under you. The effort required to maintain continuous pressure on such a small surface area is tough on your feet and allows faster speed.

Because of the foot-straps and the masterstroke, rowers have little control over their boats. Although this has advantages for safety, it also limits a rower’s ability to move in fun ways.

The Performance of Kayaking on Water

In a kayak, you are relatively stationary and only use your lower body muscles to propel yourself through the water. Because of the limited movement of your upper body, you can’t generate much power with your arms or legs.

The most significant advantage of kayaking is that it offers the ability to move in fun and creative ways. Kayakers can spin in circles, move backward, and jump over waves.

You can use your upper body and lower body to generate more power when paddling in a kayak. By pressing down on the paddle and using your sweeping technique, you can create both pushing and pulling forces. That allows you to travel faster than you could in a rowing tank or when rowing a two-person boat.

But the disadvantages of kayaking are that there is little control over your paddling, and you can’t generate much power with your lower body. There isn’t much difference between speed while moving forward or backward.

Also, because your upper body is stationary, it’s not easy to share power with another person in a kayak – so you really shouldn’t be rowing with someone else.

The advantages are that there is little exercise needed for either the upper body or lower body. You can sit back and enjoy your ride if you have difficulty keeping up with a friend while canoeing; kayaking is more likely to work.

Air Resistance in Kayaking and Rowing

Air Resistance is friction between your body and the water; as you move through, it will slow you down. Air Resistance is calculated in two ways: frontal area and interference.

Frontal Area or Frontal Drag 

The resistance occurs when the wind strikes your kayak or rowing boat from the front. It results from your body’s surface area about the water’s surface. The greater your frontal area, the less efficient your kayak or rowing boat becomes. It will take you longer to cover a given distance than it would with a smaller frontal area. To calculate your frontal area, multiply your body width (at the waterline) by shoulder width. To find your shoulder width, place your arms out on either side of the kayak or rowing boat in a normal paddling position and measure from your shoulders to the waterline. This number should be about the same as your body width when paddling.


Interference is created when you move your kayak or rowing boat through the water. The result is a decrease in efficiency from air friction and wave formation. The speed of your drag will depend on how fast you’re going, what weather conditions are affecting the water, and how much weight is in the boat. Generally speaking, faster movements result in more interference.

A kayak or canoe paddle is the primary means of movement for watercraft. Depending on your style, you can paddle the boat with a single, double, or tandem paddle. Each style has advantages and disadvantages for different applications. Here are some of the main techniques:

Single Paddle

The single paddle is the most commonly used style in recreational and competition kayaking. With this style, the paddler uses one blade to push and one blade to pull the water on either side of the kayak. This movement creates a very efficient movement path through the water with minimal air resistance and wave interference.

 The main disadvantage is that you can only use it from only the side of a kayak, leaving some paddlers feeling uncomfortable or less safe than double or tandem styles.

Sit-on-Top Kayak

Sit on top style kayaks are the most popular and versatile kayak style. It is the most commonly used type of kayak because they are affordable, can be used on many different types of water and in many other conditions. The significant advantage of sit-on-top kayaks is that they allow you to easily get in and out of the water, especially if you have a lower skill level. They also have multiple ways to secure your gear for easy access when needed.

The main disadvantage of this style is that it can be awkward to paddle because your legs are always outside the boat. This style also has a difficult time in rough waters because there is nowhere to brace yourself when the water gets rough.

Tandem Kayak 

Tandem kayaks are great for good friends and family members who like to spend time together on the water. These kayaks give each person their paddle and seat but still allow them to paddle at the same time together. It is beneficial for safety in rough waters when one person might not be able to control the boat as well.

This kayak type is also ideal for beginners because it takes the work out of paddle strokes, making it easy to learn how to move through the water. These kayaks are cheap and come in many styles. It is essential to make sure you are buying a quality sit-in tandem kayak, so you do not end up with a bad seat that causes you pain every time you ride your kayak.

Tandem kayaks are not ideal for rough waters because you have two people always outside the boat. That can be dangerous and puts more pressure on the boat if it hits a rock or another hard object in the water. The other disadvantage is that most have space for only one person fishing, and they can be hard to maneuver as a result.

Double Paddle 

Double paddle-style kayaks allow two people to paddle simultaneously with one blade on opposite ends of the kayak. It is great for beginners because it allows you to get into the kayak faster and gives you more balance when first learning. The major disadvantage of double paddle-style kayaks is that they are challenging for one person to paddle. Because there are two paddles, it takes longer to put your energy into a single stroke. This style also puts more strain on the boat because you need two people to move it through water, making it more susceptible to damage if the water gets rough.

Tandem Double Paddle 

Tandem double paddle-style kayaks are very similar to tandem single paddle kayaks. This style allows two people to paddle simultaneously with one blade on opposite ends of the kayak. It is great for beginners because it will enable you to get into the boat faster and gives you more balance when first learning.

The major disadvantage of tandem double paddle-style kayaks is that they are very difficult for one person to paddle. It takes longer to put your energy into a single stroke. This style also puts more strain on the boat because you need two people to move it through water, making it more susceptible to damage if the water gets rough.


We have compared the factors of rowing vs. kayaking. It’s unclear which activity is better, but both are enjoyable and are great for exercise.

Here are a few tips for both activities:

  • Wear shoes that allow you to get a good grip on the foot straps.
  • For beginners, choose a kayak that has space for two people so you can build some confidence quickly.
  • If you will be rowing in an ocean or lake, choose a boat fitted with spray rails. These protect the boat from ocean and lake waves as you row.
  • Choose a boat where you can adjust your seat, so it is comfortable for your body. Some offshore boats lock the seat in place, but more beginner-friendly boats allow the seat to be adjusted.
  • Row in a place where there are no rough waves. It will help keep your boat from getting damaged when you start working out.
  • Choose a rowing machine that allows you to track your progress. It is worth the investment for a machine that can measure your speed, distance travelled, and time spent working out.
  • If you are kayaking on open water, choose a kayak with multiple sprayskirts so you are safe in rough waters.

Find out your fitness level and your goals when choosing rowing or kayaking a fitness tracker may help. If you are new to either activity, choose something simple and easy to learn. If you already know the sport, choose a more challenging activity to become better at it. Be sure to mix up the intensity level to not become bored with it too quickly.