Water Waves

How fast does the wind need to blow in order to produce different types of waves?

Wind rubbing against the water surface is a major cause of waves. Since the water cannot keep up with the wind velocity, the water rises and then falls, creating the familiar wave-like motion. Depending upon the wind velocity and the distance the wind has been able to travel over the water, different size waves are generated.

Type of Wave Wind Velocity Effect
Capillary waves Less than 3 knots Tiny ripples. The longer they are generated, the larger their amplitude
Chop or regular 3–12 knots Combined capillary waves that have traveled far and formed larger waves
Whitecaps 11–15 knots Amplitude of wave must be over 1/7th the wavelength in order to break into a whitecap
Ocean swells No specific speed Form over long distances from a combination of different waves


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