Kayak Sails | 9 Ways to Catch The Wind

Sailing In Lofoten
Photo courtesy of Odd Krane

Yearghhhh me Maties! So yer keen on sailing the low seas arrre yargh? Well then you’ve come to the right place.

Paddlers have long sought means to stop paddling. In fact the paddle is one of the most regretted inventions in all of human history. Sure it gets you across the water but ugh! It didn’t take long for our ancestors to figure out that using the wind was a helluva lot easier than rowing. Just like ancient mariners modern kayakers have long searched for easier methods to move across the water with less effort.

That search has yielded some awesome innovations. Carbon fiber hydrodynamic paddles, pedal driven propulsion systems, and high-tech electric motors are some of the biggest game-changers introduced to personal watercraft in the last thirty years. While these advancements are great they still come at a cost of extra weight, energy, and cash. Wind is powerful, plentiful, and free (on good days) and so continues to inspire would be mariners to try their hand at sailing.

Before we go any further you should note that sailing a kayak isn’t an easy undertaking. Ready to go options aren’t cheap and installing a kayak sailing kit takes some fairly serious DIY skills. Still, if you’re committed to jibbing and tacking like the scurvy jack-tar yer argh then read on below.

Downwind Sails

Downwnd sails can jibe all day, but they got no tack. These sails are good for going one direction only; whereas a true sail kit can sail make headway into the wind. Downwind kayak sails are typically inexpensive, easy to install, and less of a hassle than a true kayak sail kit. The downside is that you’ll still have to paddle at least half the trip.

Advanced Elements Sailkit

True kayak sailing kits are awesome for long voyages in high winds. But it takes extra time to set up and breakdown and man underway. If you’re looking for a more casual option to save a paddle back then a downwind sail is a more affordable option. These kayak sails offer paddlers a quick and easy way to capture the power of the wind without serious modifications. On a windy day these contraptions can save you from paddling at least half the trip.

One of the better downwind sails for kayaks is the Advanced Elements Sailkit. An internal aluminum spring frame enables rapid deployment similar to expanding car windshield visors. Two opposing lanyards can be tied down to cleats near the cockpit. While an aft facing carabiner hooks to a bow-mounted d ring to help the sail keep it’s shape, and from flying off the boat. Three translucent panels provide visibility with the sail up. The sail folds up into a small bag that can easily fit under your seat or in a bag.

Advanced Element’s ""“>Sai""“>lkit is considerably more expensive than competing down-wind sails. However we think the price is justified. The parabolic shape fits kayak hulls more cleanly. It’s made of high quality rip-stop nylon rather than cheaper synthetic fabrics. If you’re on a budget then the Mexidi Sail Kit is a more wallet-friendly option. Regardless of your choice a downwind kayak sail is an awesome upgrade to keep your arms fresh.

Sea Eagle QuikSail

Sea Eagle QuickSail

The Sea Eagle QuikSail is a universal rapid-deploy sail kit specially designed for inflatable kayaks. Two four foot aluminum poles criss-cross and wedge into the space between an inflatable kayak’s side pontoons and floor. Unfolded the total sail area measures 14 square feet which can push along your air-filled yak along at 7 knots (~8.5 mph), which is really zipping. After the wind dies down the Quiksail quickly folds up to store fore and aft deckside along the pontoon. At just 2 lbs this is an extremely lightweight accessory that won’t bite into your gear quota.

It should be noted that the QuikSail is a niche product designed for experienced paddlers running a specific inflatable setup. This sail works best with your feet braced against the base of the poles; so you need to be low in boat with an inflatable or padded kayak seat. At the same time you’ll also need to steer using your paddle. Finally it’s incredibly helpful, almost necessary, to have mid-ship d-rings to attach sail supporting lanyards.

If you’re running a rig that meets these criteria than the Sea Eagle QuikSail is an excellent choice. At $150 it’s a tad on the expensive side. But it’s easily justified thanks to its high speed and quality construction. We guarantee your arms will be thanking you when you catch a free ride back to port.

Kite Sails

If you’ve seen any of the “People Are Awesome” video compilations on YouTube then you’re probably familiar with parafoil and hydrafoil kites. These kites are designed to provide sufficient lift to pull kiteboarders along the water. On occasion adventurous paddlers have decided to try their hand at pulling a yak with line and kite; to varying degrees of efficacy.

There are several issues present in kitesailing a kayak. Foremost it’s only good for going downwind; so it can be useful for a quick ride back if you started upwind. The larger issue is control. Successfully keeping your bow and kite pointed in the same direction takes masterful coordination and skill. Lose control for a second and you could quickly end up in the drink.

Finally kite’s have the annoying proclivity to tangling up in fishing lines quite easily. And not every model is re-launchable from the water; so if you crash a kite then you’re SOL. Prepare to spend the next hour reeling in packing all that kite line floating on the water.

Overall we don’t recommend kite sailing for kayak anglers; it’s simply not worth the effort. Touring paddlers will fare better; but it’s still a challenging endeavor that’s going to take a lot of practice. If you’re truly committed to giving it a shot then check out the Mentor below.

Prism Mentor 3.5

The Prism Mentor 3.5m Trainer is a power kite; and as such will take considerable skill to control effectively. Trainer kites are great for kayaks because they’re much more forgiving than intermediate and advanced type models. It’s still strong enough to drag you off your feet. But it won’t send you flying thirty feet up in the air.

The Prism Mentor comes with everything you need to fly. It packs neatly into a small bag which is perfect for keeping in a crate or hull bin. Most importantly the Mentor floats and is water launchable. Just tug on the center line to right it and pull back to re-launch. The Mentor is available in 3.5 square meter (37.5 square feet) and 2.5 square meter variant.

This kite is a serious piece of equipment. And it’s a steep barrier to entry for something that may not work great on your boat. If you want a proxy to test first consider buying an acrobatic kite and play around with it on land. You’ll get a sense of how difficult incorporating a kayak kite will be without the full investment.

True Kayak Sail Kits

Unlike downwind sails the following sail packages are trans-formative kits that can serve as a true alternative to paddling. We define True Sail Kits as ones that have the ability to sail against the wind – also known as tacking. These kits all require a bit more pocket change and a fair degree of skill to use properly.

It’s also worth noting that these kits can require some serious modifications to your boat. So be prepared to drill some holes. Also as sails radically change your kayaks balance you may want to consider adding some extra stability with either leeboards or outriggers. These may be essential depending on your setup.

Hobie

If you’re going to talk about sailing kayaks then you’ve got to talk about Hobie. Hobie was known for making some of the best personal sailcraft in the business before they had a reputation for high-end pedal drives. Decades of experience and innovation have positioned Hobie as one of the premier brands for fishing kayaks They’re also the only mass-producer of sailing kayaks.

Mirage Adventure Island

Hobie Adventure Island 2021

The Hobie Mirage Adventure Island, and its sister tandem version, are the only out of the box sailing kayaks currently available. Hobie also offers smaller sized catamarans like the iconic Hobie 16 or the rotomolded Wave, but these aren’t exactly kayaks (strictly speaking).

The Mirage Island is a beast of a boat. Weighing in at close to 200 lbs and comes standard with a 6m sail on a 5m mast. Twin amas keep everything upright and the integrated mirage pedal drive won’t leave you stranded on a breezeless day. When the wind is whippin’ though the Adventure Island is capable of topping out around 12 knots; which is hauling for a wind-driven vessel. If you’re front running a storm in the adventure island then hold on, because you’re in for a ride.

The Mirage Adventure Island comes with everything you need to start sailing on day one. It’s not cheap. The solo version retails for $5,299. And the tandem previously held the record as the most expensive kayak available at $7,499. That might seem expensive, but when you consider the upfront and operating costs of even a small 15-20′ sailboat the Adventure Island is much more attractive.

Hobie Mirage Sail Kit

Hobie Mirage Sail Kit

Current Hobie owners can easily add wind power to their kayak with the addition of the Hobie Sail Kit. This ~2 square meter sail mounts on a 2 piece aluminum mast that stands 10′ tall off the deck. The upper portion is made of durable dacron fabric while the lower half is composed of translucent mylar so you can still see where you’re headed. We highly recommend grabbing the furling kit along with the sail so you can roll up the sail in a jiffy. This feature is hugely important if you have any intention of staying still at some point during your voyage.

This kayak sail works so well in part because of its high quality construction, but also due to its seamless integration with Hobie Kayaks. The mast seats in a built in accessory port on compatible models. The mirage pedal drive improves tracking while the rudder can be controlled with one hand, leaving the other free to manage the sheet (i.e. sail rope).

Paired with a mirage pedal drive the Hobie Mirage kayaksail kit offers adventurous paddlers a means to cover large areas of water and then finely tune their position. If you’re a current Hobie owner seeking more adventure in your outings then the Hobie Sail Kit is your best bet. Sure it’s not cheap, but this is one upgrade definitely worth the sheckles.

Balough Sail Design

BSD Sails

There are few kayak sailing kit manufacturers better known than Balough Sail Design (BSD). They’ve earned a reputation for producing some of the best and most complete kayak sailing kits in the industry. These aren’t downwind do-hickeys, but full blown sail-kits that can tack and jibe into the wind like larger sail craft. BSD has a diverse product line that caters to canoes, long haul trekkers, and even foldable kayaks. One of their most popular kayak sail kits for hardshells is the Batwing.

The BSD Batwing features a hangglider inspired airfoil that’s perfect for small and narrow craft. Full tapered fiberglass battens prevent flogging and the proprietary “Zippy Reefer” system makes reefing the spinnaker effortless. The sail and mast are mounted to the hull and attached to the Balough Outrigger Stabilizer System (BOSS) for stability. The BOSS is a fine-tuned outrigger system that connects the main sail to dual hydrodynamic amas via aluminum tubes and hardware. These amas provide extra stability and security during sailing and turning.

Adding a BSD sail kit to your arsenal isn’t a cheap proposition. The 32 sqft BSD Batwing sail with BOSS system and accompanying hardware goes for ~$1,650 which makes it by far the most expensive option on our list. But, it’s still considerably less expensive than picking up an Adventure Island or a small sloop. If you’re a serious kayak sailor and looking to make some serious expeditions then BSD should definitely be on your short list.

Chesapeake Light Craft

CLC Sail Kayak

Bespoke hand-made kayaks are functional works of art that represent the cumulative total of a builders passion, skill, and patience. Watch a few videos of a cedar-strip canoe being built and you’ll quickly realize that it takes a certain type of person to pull off such an ambitious project. If you’re the type who dreams of woodworking and envies scratch built vessels than the Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC) sail kit might be for you.

CLC caters to both amateur and professional boat-builders and is an invaluable resource for any paddler undertaking a DIY kayaking project. Their kayak sail kit is one of the biggest, powerful, and comprehensive options available for radically transforming your kayak or canoe. After you’ve finished installing this kit your vessel will be well equipped for long-trek journeys and expeditions.

The kit comes with CNC cut parts and hardware to add two amas for extra stability and a sail between 45 and 70 square feet. The 70 sqft sail is a behemoth that requires strategic reinforcement to accommodate a 15’+ mast. CLC kits are highly customizable and labor intensive – it’s nowhere near a “plug and play” solution for kayak sailing, and that’s Ok – these kits are made for paddlers seeking peak performance and aesthetics. Check out CLC to drool over some of the best looking sailing kayaks you’ll ever see. They’re also a great resource for hard to find sailing hardware and DIY boat plans.

Falcon Kayak Sails

Falcon Kayak Sail Kit
Falcon Kayak Sail

The folks behind Falcon Kayak Sails have designed one of the most popular kayak sail kits on the market for both amateur and advanced paddlers. The founding partners, based out of Perrysberg, Ohio, were tired of cumbersome and oversized sails commercially available. So they decided to make it better and fine tuned it on the windy waters of Lake Eerie. The result is an incredibly strong, lightweight, and compact sail that strikes a fine balance between full blown sail conversion and downwind runner.

The Falcon sail is available in two sizes (1m2 and 1.4m2) and weighs a mere 4 lbs along with rigging and hardware. This incredibly light weight is accomplished through the use of a carbon fiber mast and boom and durable plastic connectors. Sailcloth is made from Dacron, a proprietary fabric from Dupont that’s closely resembles polyester (PET) in composition. PET sails benefit from less stretch, greater UV resistance, and drys very quickly.

Most impressively the Falcon sail assembles and disassembles in less than 30 seconds. Sails can be customized in a myriad of colors at no extra charge. Falcon Sails also quality assurance by double checking hardware compatibility with your specific kayak model. The all in price for the 1m2 kit is just $625 which is extremely reasonable. Whether your sailing from South America to Miami, or just going out for a quick tour, the Falcon Sail is a excellent option.

Flat Earth Kayak Sails

Kayak Sails aren’t the sole providence of paddlers in the Northern Hemisphere. Our friends down under have learned a thing or two paddling the Tasmanian Sea. The fine folks at Flat Earth Kayaks have fine-tuned their kayak sail kits through extensive testing in the wild waters off New South Wales. The result is a robust and capable kayak sail system well suited for ocean bound paddlers.

Currently Flat Earth Kayaks (FEK) offers two different models for touring style kayaks; the Footloose 80 and three different sizes of their trademark Tradwind Sail. These junk-rig style sails are well suited for small watercraft because they can take a beating and are easily controlled. A single line provides simple control capable of big tacks and precise adjustments. A bespoke flexible mast mount and custom mounting hardware, along with detailed instructions, make installation and operation accessible for even the greenest yakker.

FEK sail kits are attractive for ocean kayakers especially because of their consistent iterative improvement and attractive pricepoint. Most kits are sub-$600 for for sail and hardware while providing the same strength and durability of kits twice the price. If you’re constantly in the salt and looking for a proper sail rig than don’t pass up a chance to check out Flat Earth Kayaks.

Pacific Action Sails

Pacific Action Sail

Crab Claw sails are aptly named for their distinctive shape. They’ve been a mainstay in Austronesian sailing for centuries. These sails have historically been favored for moving both large/slower barge like vessels as well as more nimble outrigger canoes and proas. This sail design is one of the most efficient simple designs (excluding modern spinnakers) and has long been favored for its ease of use and construction.

Pacific Action sails has brought the crab claw design into the modern kayaking era with their sail kit. With a dual spar design and no fixed mast the PA sail quickly deploys and retracts with just one line. Out of the wind the twin spars group together and can be secured to the side of the gunwale. The absence of a fixed mast provides another distinct advantage with regards to installation. Rather than mounting into the top deck the kit can be installed with tensioning straps that hug the hull – which means you don’t have to put any holes in your boat.

PA offers sail kits in 1, 1.5, and 2.2 sqm sizes that range from $380 to $470 AUD. These kits are especially well suited to sit on top style kayaks thanks to their reliance on pre-existing tie downs and hull-hugging mount. Owners of Stealth, Viking, and Ocean kayaks should have the PA sail kit at the top of their list for low effort, max yield sails.

Overview on Kayak Sailing

Whether you’re a part time paddler or an expedition angler a kayak sail can add an extra dimension to your outings. Catching the wind offers an eco-friendly way to boost your range and keep your arms fresh. The wind might not be as reliable as a small outboard or an electric motor. But by sailing you’re taking part in a human tradition dating back to the beginnings of civilization. And it gives you a great excuse to talk like a pirate. Share your sailing kayak photos with us and stay safe out there yer scurvy buccaneers!