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Ever hold an umbrella or a tarp up while canoeing or kayaking? You literally fly down the lake giggling like a school kid skipping over waves, water spraying everywhere… then the umbrella blows out or the tarp gives way… and your Space Mountain Disney ride is suddenly over. Thankfully, your ride doesn’t have to end, as more companies are designing sails specifically for kayak and canoe sailing.

Many paddlers are now adding a quality sail to their kayak or canoe gear “must have list”. A whole new breed of kayak and canoe sailors is emerging out of the windsurfing and traditional sailing crowd.

How’s that ole saying go, “we’re not as young as we used to be?” I guess that means we had better learn to paddle smarter, and sails are a great way to keep moving… even when you’re tired. Chris and I have especially appreciated their value during multi-day tours when we have to reach a certain destination each day.


Down Wind Sails or Kite Sails are compact and simplistic and they are primarily used to catch a tail wind while touring. Down Wind Sails simply attach to your boat’s foredeck and requires no drilling or permanent deck mount. They come with a universal deck mounting clip, which is easily attached / removed from the deck rigging.

Typical downwind sails weigh only a few pounds and their cost is also relatively light on your wallet at about $150 to $300 depending on the manufacturer. Kayak/canoe sailing has a quick learning curve and is forgiving of errors. These sails have a flexible mount system, which allows the sail to be dropped, furled and quickly secured when needed.

Full Sailing Rigs are larger and more complicated as a boom and/or outrigger is usually incorporated into the sails design to better enable you to sail upwind to a far greater degree.

These elaborate, “free standing” sails need to be placed relatively close to the paddler (especially if he/she doesn’t have long arms). This can be a problem on Sit-on-tops (SOTs), as they have no covering deck on which to mount this type of sail. On SOTs, the best place to mount a free standing sail is on the deck ahead of the foot wells, which would normally be too far away from the paddler to allow unfurling or taking down while seated.

Note: If you’re new to sailing, we suggest you choose the far simpler “Down Wind Sail” and leave the “Full-blown Sailing Rigs” to the sail boaters until you to have mastered the fine art of sailing.


Kayak sails are particularly well suited to SOTs (Sit-on-tops) as they have open cockpits, which are extremely easy to wet exit and reenter if one capsizes. SOTs offer a high degree of initial stability, and thus are far less likely to capsize in a sudden gust of wind.

Sit-in Day touring and Sea Kayaks tend to be longer and narrower, thus they have a higher level of speed and sailing efficiency. Sit-in varieties also offer more contact points for greater boat control and obviously keep paddlers drier than SOT’s.

Note: Down wind canoe sails easily attach to the bow section of most canoes or are simply held in place by the bow paddler.

As for the sailing process, North American Rudder Style Kayaks lend themselves perfectly to kayak sailing as the foot-controlled “rudder system” enables the paddler to adjust their course “hands free”. British / Greenland Style kayaks employ a “skeg device”, which lowers from the hull of the kayak near the boats stern. Skegs can be adjusted up or down by a hand controlled skeg device located near the foredeck of the crafts cockpit.

Once launched and out into open water, you’ll need to unfurl your sail (make sure you’re pointed down wind) and raise it into position. Stow your paddle in a paddle park position or in the case of a British style skeg kayak it can be used to rudder the boat as sails can be customized to be used hands free. Adjust the angle of the sail in order to get the full benefit of the wind.

Keeping the sail in a fully erect position will provide the most sailing power. If the wind is strong, or gusty, you can partially lower the sail in order to reduce the catchment zone, which will diminish the wind’ s powerful effects, and give you more control to prevent an unwanted capsize.


A downwind or kite sail can be a valuable addition to your paddling arsenal, especially if you’re into canoe or kayak touring and you’d like to add a little wind power to your next excursion… and maybe even save your shoulders in the process!

Frontenac Outfitters no longer stocks canoe and kayak sails. If interested, contact us, and we can point you in the right direction or find one from one of our suppliers.

Happy Paddling! 

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