Kayak Weathercocking vs. Tracking

Kayaker paddling without kayak weathercocking on Lake Superior.

Kayak weathercocking is the tendency of a moving kayak to turn into the wind. It’s caused by a difference in pressure between the bow and stern of your kayak, and it can feel frustrating if you don’t know how to correct for it. Luckily, there are tools and techniques that can keep you on course even when the wind blows. Kayak tracking is the extent that a kayak holds its course when underway. A kayak with high or good tracking stays on course even when a turning force such as a sweep stroke acts on it. A kayak with high tracking can weathercock and without right equipment can be a bear to keep on course.

Understanding Kayak Weathercocking

When you paddle forward, water flows around your kayak. Near the bow, the layers of water remains relatively parallel to each other as you paddle along. At some point along your hull, the flow switches from laminar flow, which is water that basically hugs your hull shape, to turbulent flow. Near the stern of your kayak, the flow separates from the hull and causes an eddy near at the stern of your kayak.

The different flows around your kayak create the pressure differences that cause kayak weathercocking. Near the bow of the kayak, the water is relatively undisturbed and maintains high pressure. As the flow continues along the hull, the turbulence creates less pressure and near the stern where the eddies form, you have the least amount of pressure. So, when the wind blows equally across the length of your hull, the high pressure near the bow helps anchor the bow into the water against the wind, and the hull areas near low pressure get pushed away from the direction of the wind. This cause the bow to appear to turn into the wind. Check out the kayak weathercocking diagram below.

Kayak weathercocking

Counteracting Kayak Weathercocking

There are two ways to counteract kayak weathercocking, either with equipment or technique.


For equipment use either a skeg or a rudder.

A skeg extends and retracts from the bottom of your kayak. It works by moving into high pressure and adding surface area. Imagine all the turbulence around the back of your kayak. The further away you get from that turbulence, the less there is. So, when you drop a skeg, the deeper it goes the less turbulence it encounters. When it reaches higher pressure, it counteracts the kayak weathercocking. Additionally, it provides more underwater surface area that the wind must push against, which helps stop weathercocking. You vary the depth of the skeg until you reach the point where weathercocking stops. Pushing it deeper may cause leecocking, which is the opposite of weathercocking.

A rudder drops down behind your kayak, and you can use it to help turn you boat. For kayak weathercocking, it works similarly to a skeg in that it provides extra surface area and can contact higher pressure, but because it doesn’t drop as deep as a skeg, it’s unlikely to encounter as much higher pressure. A rudder can also redirect the flow, which works against weathercocking. If your kayak is turning into wind from the right, give it a bit of left rudder and hold it in a position that stops the weathercocking.


The two main techniques for counteracting kayak weathercocking are edging the kayak or using sweep strokes.

To edge a kayak, you dip the windward side of your kayak towards the water by shifting your weight onto your windward side buttocks and lifting with the opposite knee. When edged your kayak creates an underwater profile that helps it turn away from the lower side. So, in the case of wind coming from the right, you dip the right side of your kayak towards the water.

To use sweep strokes, you do sweep strokes on the windward side of the kayak and vertical strokes on the opposite side.

While both techniques work, over the long haul it’s tiring and sometimes frustrating. Having a skeg or rudder is more enjoyable.

Kayak Weathercocking vs. Tracking

Kayaks with strong tracking aren’t immune to the pressure differences that cause kayak weathercocking. But because most strong tracking kayaks don’t respond well to sweeps without significant edging. This can make it difficult to counteract weathercocking by techniques alone. A strong tracking kayak may need a rudder or skeg.

Ideally, you want to have a kayak that responds to both techniques and equipment to counteract kayak weathercocking. To get one, you must also account for a hull’s ability to respond to kayak weathercocking in an efficient way. A hull that allows a paddler to easily correct weathercocking, either through corrective strokes or edging, feels less affected even if it weathercocks more easily than a kayak that doesn’t respond well to edging or corrective strokes, which might be the cause with a kayak that has strong tracking.

Learn more about laminar and turbulent flow in John Winter’s The Shape of the Canoe.

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  • This was a very good explanation about flows and pressures around a moving kayak. This is my article on using a skeg;

    • Thanks for the link, Robert. Overall a good article, I have a few nitpicks for you. In your definition of skeg use, point #1, to a certain extent this is true, but it won’t be true for all loads in all boats. Instead of turning downwind, you’re more likely to develop a directional stability issue with an extremely loaded stern. I’d take exception to your point #2, almost always the bow resists a sidewards wind pressure when underway. It’s all about balancing the stern to equal the bow. Point #3 is a simplification of what a skeg does. A skeg balances the degree the stern is able to resist wind pressure. Up it usually causes the stern to blow downwind, which causes your boat to turn into the wind. At some point as you lower your skeg the forces balance, which keeps your kayak tracking regardless of the direction of the wind. With the skeg all the way down (depending on the design), the stern has more resistance and the boat (depending on the design) will turn downwind. The last point depends on the skeg design and the kayak design — not all kayaks will do that. I have one that just won’t leecock regardless of the skeg’s position.

      Just a note: the term “trim” according to naval architect and canoe and kayak designer John Winters in The Shape of the Canoe is “The difference between the draft forward and the draft aft.” That draft is changed by load. Adjust the skeg doesn’t change the “trim” of the boat, so technically using a skeg isn’t “trimming” a boat as you suggest. Trimming a boat is moving the load around. Often in a canoe, you simply slide a pack forward or backwards to trim a boat. In a kayak, you need to land and repack.

      • Good technical information! I just copied your reply to my notes. In the near future, I’ll make an edit to my skeg article. Super thanks.

  • If what you are saying is true why does a kayak weathercock or leecock while motionless in the water. Perhaps reading books on Weather Helm/ Lee Helm for sailing yachts and an understanding of Center of Effort (CE) and Center of Lateral Resistance (CLR) would makes things clearer.

    Thanks for the article, good to get people thinking.

    David Garlock

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