Skip to main content

Hydrodynamic characteristics of sea kayak traditional paddles


We present a study of the hydrodynamic characteristics of sea kayak paddles without taking into account the kayaker. We focus on traditional paddles used in the Arctic, one from Greenland and one from the Aleutian Islands. A basic modern European paddle is included in the study for comparison. First the paddle stroke parameters specific to sea kayaking are identified because previous studies were devoted to a competition context. The hydrodynamic force generated by the blade motion is detailed: two terms are identified, one involving the inertia of the water surrounding the blade at the beginning of its motion, and the second term is the classical drag/lift force. Drag and lift force coefficients were measured in a wind tunnel. The data allow computation of the hydrodynamic force during a paddle stroke. The European paddle was shown to be more efficient than the traditional paddles because of its shorter length to width ratio which contributed to a larger inertia effect. However, the force obtained with the traditional paddles better follows the imposed motion by the kayaker so that they are more comfortable and less tiring in the context of long distance trips, as those practiced in sea kayaking.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9
Fig. 10
Fig. 11


  1. 1.

    Victor PE, Robert-Lamblin J (1989) La civilisation du phoque. Jeux, gestes et techniques des eskimos d’Ammassalik. Editions Armand Colin, Raymond Chabaud

  2. 2.

    Romain C (2015) Renaissance de la pagaie groenlandaise. Chasse-marée 270:68–79

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Frédérique et CC, Gilles H, Loïc B (2007) Construire et utiliser les Kayaks de l’Arctique. Le Canotier éditions, Yerville

  4. 4.

    Bernard M, Michel G (2014) Le kayak et la mer. Le Canotier éditions, Yerville

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Jackson PS, Locke N, Brown P (1992) The hydrodynamics of paddle propulsion. In: 11th Australian Fluid Mechanics Conference, Hobart, 14–18 December, pp 1197–1200

  6. 6.

    Golden H (2015) Kayaks of Alaska. White House Grocery Press, Portland, pp 445–502

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Golden H (2006) Kayaks of Greenland. White House Grocery Press, Portland, pp 481–529

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Heath JD, Arima E (2004) Eastern Arctic Kayaks. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks, pp 45–59

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Caplan N (2009) The influence of paddle orientation on boat velocity in Canoeing. Intern J Sports Sc Eng 03(03):131–139

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Mann Ralph V, Kearney Jay T (1980) A biomechanical analysis of the Olympic-style flatwater kayak stroke. Med Sci Sports Exerc 12(3):183–188

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Aitken David A, Neal Robert J (1992) An on-water analysis system for quantifying stroke forces characteristics during kayak events. Intern J Sport Biomech 8:165–173

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Jackson PS (1995) Performance prediction for Olympic kayaks. J Sports Sci 13:239–245

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Sumner D, Sprigings EJ, Bugg JD, Hesltine JL (2003) Fluid forces on kayak paddle blades of different design. Sports Eng 6:11–20

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Baker J (2012) Biomechanics of paddling. In: 30th annual conference of biomechanics in sports, July 2–6, Melbourne, Australia

  15. 15.

    Blevins RD (2001) Flow-induced vibration. Krieger Publishing Company, Malabar, p 25

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Ringuette MJ, Milano M, Gharib M (2007) Role of the tip vortex in the force generation of low-aspect-ratio normal flat plates. J Fluid Mech 581:453–468

    Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Kim D, Gharib M (2011) Flexibility effects on vortex formation of translating plates. J Fluid Mech 677:255–271

    Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Gharib M, Rambod E, Shariff K (1998) A universal time scale for vortex ring formation. J Fluid Mech 360:121–140

    MathSciNet  Article  MATH  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Eiffel G (1910) La résistance de l’air et l’aviation. Dunod & Pinat, Paris, pp 39–50

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    McCann Barret T, Bowman WJ (1995) Experimental study to determine the aerodynamic characteristics and performance of common kayak paddle designs. AIAA 95–221. In: 26th AIAA fluid dynamics conference, June 19–22, San Diego, USA

  21. 21.

    Farber J, Hamano K, Rockwell M (2010) Analysis of the Greenland paddle. Student report, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Rochester, USA

  22. 22.

    Barlow JB, Rae WH, Pope A (1999) Low-speed wind tunnel testing. Wiley, New York

    Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Gomes B, Viriato N, Sanders R, Conceição F, Paulo J, Boas V, Vaz M (2011) Analysis of the on-water paddling force profile of an elite kayaker. Port J Sport Sci 11(Suppl 2):259–262

    Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Kim D, Gharib M (2011) Characteristics of vortex formation and thrust performance in drag-based paddling propulsion. J Exp Biol 214:2283–2291

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The author is grateful to Caroline Frot from LadHyX for the 3D printing of the wind tunnel models and to Dr. Xavier Amandolese from LadHyX for the wind tunnel access and the force measurements. Traditional paddles have been manufactured and furnished by Alain Kerbiriou (

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pascal Hémon.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hémon, P. Hydrodynamic characteristics of sea kayak traditional paddles. Sports Eng 21, 189–197 (2018).

Download citation


  • Paddle
  • Sea kayak
  • Paddle stroke
  • Hydrodynamics