Adaptive control strategies utilizing preview information of upstream velocity are promising approaches for enhancing performance and reducing loads on hydrokinetic turbines. A control scheme relating a turbine’s characteristic performance curve and rotation rate to an optimal torque setpoint is implemented experimentally and in simulation for a laboratory‐scale helical cross‐flow turbine. Energy extraction performance for schemes employing adaptive/preview techniques is compared to performance under constant speed and non‐adaptive control. Results in simulation indicate significant improvement over constant speed operation and modest improvement over non‐adaptive strategies. Experimental results for adaptive strategies are comparable to non‐adaptive strategies, due to uncertainty in instantaneous performance curves.