Not every kayak adventure can take place in balmy weather and glassy waters. When cooler conditions prevail, you’ll want a spray skirt for your sit-in kayak. Fortunately, they aren’t all that complicated. Here’s what you need to know when choosing a spray skirt for your kayak:
- When you need a spray skirt: Your comfort is key.
- Parts and materials: Learn the pros and cons of neoprene vs. nylon.
- A few key features: Shoulder straps and pockets can improve fit and convenience.
- How to get the right fit: You’ll need to make sure the spray skirt fits both you and your boat.
When You Need a Spray Skirt
When air and water are warm, you may be more comfortable without a spray skirt because it can make things a little stuffy inside your sit-in kayak. If the water is very choppy, though, you’ll want a spray skirt because waves washing over the deck could destabilize and eventually swamp your boat.
When the air and water are cold, a spray skirt helps create a warm environment inside the boat, and it keeps out rain and splashes.
Note that a spray skirt is there to increase your comfort level, not to save you from hypothermia in the event of a capsize.
Spray Skirt Parts and Materials
Anatomy of a spray skirt: Spray skirts are made up of a tunnel, a deck and a rand. The tunnel is worn around the paddler’s torso. The deck is the skirt portion that radiates out from the tunnel to cover the boat’s cockpit. The rand, or the edge of the spray skirt, holds the deck taut by fastening over the cockpit coaming (the lip of the cockpit).
Spray Skirt Materials
Neoprene: This rugged material provides warmth when the air and water are bitterly cold. Neoprene skirts have rubber or neoprene rands that grip the cockpit coaming firmly, so the skirts can withstand the force of breaking waves or rolling a kayak. That’s a plus for both whitewater and sea kayaking in extreme conditions.
Because of its tight seal, a neoprene skirt is difficult to remove during a wet exit, so it’s important to practice your skirt-removal technique if you’ve never used a neoprene skirt before.
All-neoprene skirts have neoprene tunnels that fit snugly around your torso to seal out water there.
Nylon: All-nylon skirts will be more comfortable in moderate conditions. The nylon can be fully waterproof, waterproof/breathable or highly water resistant. The rand is often a bungee cord that provides a snug seal, but won’t keep out water in a capsize.
Nylon decks are easier to attach and release than neoprene, but they don’t create the tight seal needed for very rough water that neoprene decks do.
Nylon tunnels might have a spandex waistband or an adjustable fit via a drawcord or hook-and-loop fasteners. This design makes for easy venting of the cockpit but not a watertight seal at the torso. Many also have shoulder straps to hold the tunnel up.
Nylon/Neoprene: This combines the venting comfort of a nylon tunnel with the supertight seal of a neoprene deck. This design is good when conditions are variable, with the prospect of waves developing during the day.
Spray Skirt Features
These extra features can improve performance and convenience:
- Shoulder straps: Their biggest benefit is helping to keep the tunnel fully extended to prevent water from pooling at the base of the tunnel.
- Tensioned deck stay: Helps keep a nylon deck taut and prevent water from pooling on it.
- Pockets (Interior and exterior): These are handy for stashing essentials like sunscreen, insect repellent and snacks. Pockets can be on the deck or the tunnel. Mesh pockets drain quickly, and zipper and hook-and-loop pocket closures hold things securely. Fleece-lined pockets can help you warm up cold hands.
Special Types of Spray Skirts
Splash decks: Appropriate for calm water and warm weather, this type of spray skirt attaches to the front of the cockpit to keep the paddle from dripping water onto your legs. Because it doesn’t cover the whole opening, it allows air to freely circulate within the cockpit to keep you cooler.
Tandem kayak spray skirt: This fits a two-person boat that has a single open cockpit. The skirt comes in two pieces, each with its own grab loop. The pieces then fasten together in the center to create a single spray skirt that covers the overall cockpit. A tandem boat with two separate cockpits requires individual spray skirts.
How to Get the Right Fit
Cockpit fit: With so many cockpit sizes and shapes, a one-size-fits all skirt is not an option. Fortunately, spray skirt manufacturers have done the hard work, and have created elaborate sizing charts for you. You don’t need to measure your cockpit, but you do need to know the brand and model name of your kayak.
If you can’t find your model in a sizing chart, then consider a custom-made skirt. Contact spray skirt manufacturers, local paddling shops and paddling clubs to see what they recommend.
Torso fit: Nylon tunnels typically have an adjustable one-size-fits-all design. If you get a skirt with a neoprene tunnel, though, you need to measure the circumference of your “midriff” (the tunnel top sits higher than your waist, but below your chest). Then use that measurement and a skirt’s tunnel sizing chart to pick your tunnel size.
What are the parts of a kayak spray skirt?
Kayak spray skirts are typically constructed with four distinct anatomical sections.
The Tunnel/Tube is the piece worn around the paddler’s torso between the kayak deck and the top of the spray skirt. It attaches the kayaker to the deck and ultimately, to the kayak.
The Deck is the cover that expands from the tunnel, covering the cockpit and attaching to the coaming (cockpit lip).
The Rand/Bungee is the edge of the kayak spray skirt. A bungee/shockcord holds the spray deck (often nylon) tight against the cockpit coaming.
Randed spray skirts are constructed with ribbed rubber to secure to the kayak. These are particularly strong, holding the deck tight like a drum by fastening underneath the cockpit lip. Randed spray skirts are the least prone to implosion.
The Grab Loop is a loop positioned at the front of the skirt. Pushing it away and then lifting up allows the paddler to remove the spray skirt from the cockpit coaming.
Tips for putting on your spray skirt:
- To get a good fit at the waist, put on your spray skirt before you don your PFD.
- When attaching your skirt to your boat, start behind you. Slip the rand edge underneath the coaming at the rear of the cockpit. Hold it firmly there as you work your way around to the front of the cockpit, slipping the remaining rand edge under the coaming as you go.
- If your spray skirt has shoulder straps, readjust them after attaching the skirt rand to the cockpit. The goal is to ensure you have a taut deck surface.
- Always double-check that the grab loop is on the outside. In a capsize, you need to be able to instantly find and yank the loop to release the skirt.
How do you use a kayak spray skirt?
Step 1. Put the spray skirt on your body. If yours is a nylon skirt without a tunnel, then simply lower it over your head until the straps rest on your shoulders, like overalls.
If you use a full spray skirt with a torso, then step into the legs of the skirt like you would a pair of shorts.
Then, pull the skirt up until the top of the tunnel is about as high as your sternum. If it seems a little too high, then you’ve probably done it exactly right!
Step 2. Sit down in your kayak. (Most injuries actually occur when paddlers are entering and exiting their boats. I wrote an article about how to do it safely here.)
Step 3. Reach behind you and attach the back of the skirt to the cockpit. While looking straight ahead, reach behind you and take hold of the back of the spray skirt. Attach it to the back of the coaming.
Step 4. Sliding your hands from back to front, position the bungee or rand (depending on your skirt) under the lip of the cockpit.
If you have a neoprene spray skirt, this could start to become difficult when you reach your hips. Should this be the case, use your forearms to hold the rand in place while you continue to pull and secure it around the cockpit coaming.
Step 5. Attach the front of the spray skirt WITH THE GRAB LOOP OUT. Before you head out on the water, triple-check to make sure that your spray skirt loop is outside and accessible. If you capsize, the only way you’ll be able to exit your boat is by pulling that loop.
Congratulations. You’ve attached your kayak spray skirt.
When it comes time to remove it, simply follow the above steps, but in reverse.
However, there is a very important wrinkle in the first removal step. PUSH THE GRAB LOOP AWAY FROM YOU, THEN PULL UP THE RAND/BUNGEE. If you don’t push the grab loop away from you first, you’ll never remove that spray skirt.
This won’t be a big deal if you’re sitting on top of the water. However, as you can imagine, it’s a little bit of a bigger deal if you’ve capsized and you’re hanging upside down under your boat.
Practice removing the spray skirt so that, if you find yourself under duress, muscle memory takes over and your wet exit is performed seamlessly.
Kayak spray skirts. How to choose them. How to use them. Parting Thoughts
Kayak spray skirts provide comfort and safety to your kayaking experience. If you feel that you might benefit from a spray skirt, there are many models to choose from at whatever price point fits your budget.
Consider where in the world you paddle, what kind of water you paddle in, and how much your budget will allow.
Once you’ve purchased the right kayak spray skirt, spend some time practicing that exit and then you’ll be good to go.
Is a spray skirt necessary?
Any time there are waves, chop, windblown water, or rushing river water, using a skirt is essential. If the water is cresting the bow, it’s coming in your boat. And there is a limited amount of water you can have in your boat before you start getting into trouble.
Do I need a spray skirt to roll a kayak?
A kayak roll can be ideal for when you’re in a sit-inside yak with a spray skirt. The skirt will help to prevent the water from getting inside your cockpit. If you don’t have a spray skirt attached, the roll may not work as your cockpit will probably fill with water and you’ll have to empty it, before getting back in.
How long is a sea kayak?
around 12-17 feet
Sea kayaks—Sea kayaks (or touring kayaks) tend to be the longest of all, around 12-17 feet. (Though it is possible to engineer a compact sea kayak.) Performance kayaks—Performance kayaks are built for speed, and can run from 15-18 feet.
What is deck in kayak?
The deck is simply the top half of your kayak. Decks can vary greatly, from plastic with very few added features to fiberglass with hatches, deck lines, and more. Sea kayaks are designed for longer trips on open water, so their decks will have hatches and lines to store items in.
How is a kayak cockpit measured?
Using your retractable tape measure, start by measuring the length and width of your kayak’s cockpit. Measure the length from the centerline of your kayak and from the outside edge of the cockpit’s rim to the opposite outside edge. When measuring the width, you will want to use the widest point of your kayak’s cockpit.
What are kayak bungees for?
Bungee cords are dynamic, stretching to hold gear in place like a rubber band. They each have their place of utility along the deck of a kayak. Typically deck line cordage for kayaks come in two diameters: 4mm (~3/16) and 5mm (~1/4″).
Can you store kayaks outside in winter?
If you store it outside, do not allow snow to pile on it or trees to fall on it. It seems a small thing, but if you live in a wooded or snowy area, strong winds or heavy snowfall can crush your kayak or canoe. Warm storage is better than cold storage. The plastic may become brittle in the cold.
Should a kayak be stored upside down?
Upside down is the smartest choice to avoid dents. On its side: Again, when storing a kayak on storage bars, be careful which way you orient it. If you rest the kayak on its side, you risk denting the side that’s laying on the bars. Remember that storing the kayak upside down is your best option.