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What Are the Different Types of Kayak Sails?

By Andy Hill
Updated May 23, 2024
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There are three main configurations, or types, of kayak sails. These different configurations are known as full sailing rigs, free-standing sails, and compact downwind spinnakers. By utilizing sails, the sport of kayaking is altered considerably, bringing a new element of speed. Kayaking is now not limited to merely white-water sport but is also a means of flat-water transportation. It is in this area that kayak sails have found a niche in the marketplace.

The type of kayak sail known as full sailing rigs are bolted through drilled holes in the body of the kayak or attached through a clipping system to provide rigidity. They are a sturdy sail, capable of withstanding high sea winds up to approximately 30 knots. This type of sail can lead to complications during excessively strong winds due the inability to easily remove the sails from the craft. Full sailing rigs can be thought of as a permanent addition to a kayak sailing setup.

A direct alternative to these full sailing rigs exists in the form free-standing sails. These types of kayak sails do not require a permanent method of fixing to the body of the kayak; instead, free-standing sails rest on the body of the kayak in a position generally closer to the operator to allow for ease of use and quick removal when required. Due to their temporary nature, free-standing sails are far less sturdy than full sailing rigs and susceptible to strong winds when in use. The free-standing sail type is better suited to standard kayak styles that incorporate cockpits for the operators as the use of the foot well to mount the sails on sit-on-top (SOP) sea kayaks leaves the sails too far away from the operator to be controlled or removed easily.

An alternative to both full sailing rigs and free-standing kayak sails, compact downwind spinnakers sit midway between the two in terms of rigidity and sturdiness, being able to withstand sea winds up to approximately 15 knots. Compact downwind spinnakers are more commonly referred to as kite sails and affix to the kayak body through suction cups. Kite sails are smaller, easily transportable, and more lightweight than other forms of kayak sails, and as such, they are often utilized during touring expeditions. Should the winds become too strong, kite sails are easily removable to combat the risk of capsizing, and additional guidelines can be affixed to the sides of the kayak body to maintain a level of control over the craft.

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Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Dec 20, 2011

@Mykol - It is too bad you had that kind of experiment with your kayak. Unfortunately they can be easy to tip over sometimes.

We have two kayaks that our family likes to use every summer. I made everyone go through a training class on how to use them, and specifically what to do if they flipped over.

If you know what to expect, and how to get out of it, the situation does not have to be quite as scary.

Not only do we like to go fishing in our kayak, but also just like to leisurely explore down the river.

I also like kayaks because they are portable and light weight. It is not hard to put them on top of the car or truck and get away for the day.

By Mykol — On Dec 19, 2011

I have only been sailing in a kayak a couple of times. We have a lake cabin where we spend a lot of our summers. My husband loves to do some kayak fishing but I haven't had such good experiences with them.

The second time I got in a kayak, it flipped over. This really scared me, and I had a hard time getting free and swimming to the surface.

I know I started to panic, and that is the worst thing you can do, but I was really afraid that I was going to drown.

Since then I have avoided getting in a kayak. I don't have any problem with canoes or rowboats, but stay away from the kayak.

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