How to Measure Distance When Paddling a Kayak

How to Measure Distance When Paddling a Kayak
You don't need an expensive GPS system--be it a watch or hand-held system you can wear around your neck with a lanyard--to measure the distance you've traveled from point A to point B in your kayak. You can make a manual calculation if you are kayaking on open water where the horizon is visible and your GPS runs out of battery power. The calculation requires intermediate level math, but can be accomplished with paper and pen or by memory if you are especially good with crunching numbers in your head.


Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Paper and pen
  • Tape measure
Step 1
Slide into the kayak cockpit and sit upright with both feet extended forward. Bend your knees and place both feet on the front pegs, which will ensure you are as upright as possible and ready to start the calculation process.
Step 2
Measure the distance between the water and your eye line, which, on average will be approximately 2 feet, using a tape measure. Hold the tip of one end of the measuring tape over the kayak and drape it to the top of the water or slightly hold it just at the surface of the water with one hand.
Step 3
Guide the tape measure up from the water--while still keeping it in place just above the water's surface--to your eye level. Keep the measuring tape in a straight line; for example, don't bend the tape measure about the halfway mark and then pull it horizontally toward your eye line.
Step 4
Find a stationary object such as an island, rock formation or anchored boat to use as a marker. Choose a marker that appears directly on the horizon---not just beyond it, or in front of it---to ensure the accuracy of your calculation.
Step 5
Calculate distance using the formula: the distance from your kayak to the horizon is equal to the square root--see Tips--of your height at eye level. Find the square root of your height at eye level. If, for example, your height at eye level is 2 feet, the square root would be 1.5. You now know the distance in miles between you and the object in the distance.
Step 6
Paddle your kayak out to the island or rock formation you used to calculate distance. Based on the above calculation, you would have traveled 1.5 miles. If you make it to the halfway point, you can estimate your distance at .75 miles and so forth.

Tips & Warnings

Determine which two perfect squares your square falls between. For example, the square root of 12 will fall between the square root of 9 (3 times 2 equals 9) and the square root of 16 (4 times 4 equals 16). Divide your square by one of these two square roots. For example, divide 12 by 3 to get a total of 4. Take the above answer (4) and average it with the root by which you chose to divide your square: 3. Therefore, 4 plus 3/2 = 3.5, which means the square root of 12 is 3.5.

Article Written By Charlie Gaston

Charlie Gaston has written numerous instructional articles on topics ranging from business to communications and estate planning. Gaston holds a bachelor's degree in international business and a master's degree in communications. She is fluent in Spanish and has extensive travel experience.