3 Ways to Keep Water Out of Your Kayak (Expert Advice)


Whether you are new to kayaking or looking to venture into more extreme kayaking conditions, you may be wondering if there are ways to keep water from getting into your kayak. Sure enough, there are a handful of accessories available to assist with this task.

Three ways to keep water out of a kayak are to wear a spray skirt, install drip rings, and buy a kayak with a smaller cockpit. Water that has gotten inside a kayak can be removed with a bilge pump (for excessive amounts) or with a sponge (for smaller amounts). 

Continue reading to learn more about these effective ways to keep water out of your kayak and how to choose what’s right for you.

Method #1: Wear a Spray Skirt

Why save the best for last? By far, this is the best and most effective thing you can do to help keep water out of your kayak. Spray skirts protect against rainfall and water splashing into your kayak, and when attached, they can turn your kayak into a practical storage space that keeps all your ride-along items dry as well. 

Features & Benefits

Spray skirts have three main components: the tunnel, the deck, and the rand. The tunnel is named such because it resembles a small tunnel emerging from the deck that you must “enter” to get into the skirt. This part is designed to be worn around your torso.

The deck spreads out from the tunnel and is the actual “skirt” part that blocks the water. It is held taut by attaching the rand—which is the edge of the skirt—to the lip of the cockpit (the coaming).

There are some additional features you can look for in a spray skirt to better fit your needs. Some features are there to provide convenience while others help to improve the performance of the skirt in rough waters. Various features available include:

  • Drawcords or fasteners for easy rand attachment
  • Secure pockets made with hook-and-loop closures or zippers to hold your essentials 
  • Shoulder straps to help keep the tunnel extended so water cannot collect in the folds
  • Reinforced decks which help keep a strong, taut skirt in extreme conditions

Typically, spray skirts are made from nylon, neoprene, or a blend of the two. Each offers different benefits to accommodate everyone from the touring paddlers to the whitewater extremists.  

Nylon

Nylon skirts have varying degrees of breathability and water resistance, and all nylon options, to some extent or another, will not be completely waterproof. Realistically, nylon skirts are best utilized for milder, recreational kayaking and offer more comfort in moderate conditions.

Many will have adjustable shoulder straps that help for ventilation as well as extend and hold up the tunnel to keep it from falling, bunching, and collecting water in your lap.

The tunnel may also have a drawcord or a spandex waistband so you can adjust the fit. This allows for easy venting of the cockpit but does not provide a watertight seal around your torso. 

Often these skirts have a bungee cord or elastic drawcord of some kind to get a good seal around the cockpit coaming. By comparison, nylon skirts are easier to attach and release than others, but the seal won’t prevent water from entering in a capsize, nor are they capable of performing effectively in rough water. 

You can find some really great nylon options such as the Seals Sneak Zippered Kayak Spray Skirt, which has double-stitched and sealed seams and removable shoulder straps.

Neoprene

Neoprene skirts will have neoprene tunnels, made to fit snuggly and seal out water. They usually have a lot of stretch and rubber rands that firmly grip the cockpit coaming for a secure and watertight seal. Some have reinforcement in the skirt deck for high-level performance and a withstanding against fierce, breaking waves and other extreme conditions. 

An example of a neoprene skirt is the Snap Dragon Women’s Flirt Kayak Spray Skirt that has a 4-way stretch neoprene deck and a heavy-duty power cord rand with rim guard reinforcement. 

Keep in mind that while the seal is tight and effective, it can also be pretty difficult to remove in a wet exit, so you will want to practice removing/exiting the skirt and be comfortable in your technique before utilizing it in the water for the first time. 

Nylon/Neoprene Blend

A spray skirt with a blend of materials will provide a blend of benefits as well. They provide the comfort of a breathable nylon tunnel and the efficient, tight seal of neoprene deck. If your level of kayaking is more on the moderate side, but you occasionally encounter waves or choppy waters, this may be a nice option for you.

Finding the Right Size Spray Skirt

Nylon skirts are much easier to shop for than neoprene. Since the drawcord at the rand makes them adjustable to various sized cockpits, your choices are fewer on the size spectrum. Nylon tunnels are usually a one-size-fits-all option that is adjustable as well.

To find an appropriately fitting neoprene spray skirt, you’ll need to know the dimensions of your cockpit to purchase accordingly. These skirts are certainly not a one-size-fits-all kind, so you will need to measure your cockpit or know the make and model of your kayak to match it with options online. 

Most spray skirt manufactures have already charted out dimensions for their skirts and the boats they fit for you to reference. It is essential to get this sizing correct, so you obtain an appropriate fit and watertight seal. 

Additionally, you’ll need to consider the size of the tunnel of neoprene skirts. Not only do you need to know your midriff circumference, but keep in mind that you will have on clothing or other gear when kayaking that you need to account for as well. The manufacturer’s online charts will come in handy again here, also. 

If you’re new to the concept of spray skirts, you can find more detailed information about this kayaking accessory by clicking over to Kayak Spray Skirts: What They Are & How They Are Used.

Method #2: Install Drip Rings Onto Your Paddle

Drip rings are placed on the paddle shaft near the blade to catch water from running down the shaft and into your kayak during the upstroke. In general, paddle drip rings are most effective for more leisurely styles of kayaking and less aggressive paddling techniques. Other factors affecting performance include the wind, your paddle’s length, and of course, whether or not you put them on correctly. 

Some paddles have drip rings attached already when you purchase them, but others do not. And even if your paddle did come with drip rings, you may want to try a different kind. There may even come a time where your pre-installed drip rings will need replacing. Whatever the case may be, installation is easy, no matter what style paddle ring you choose.  

Choosing Drip Rings 

The type of paddle drip ring you decide to go with is entirely up to you, based on your personal preference and paddle type, as all drip rings are designed for the same simple purpose, so not much pizzaz is required. (Though that hasn’t stopped various size options or even the Seattle Sports Glow in The Dark Seawall Drip Rings for Kayak Paddles from being produced.) 

There are two basic kinds of drip rings available to choose from: a split design that generally is used on one-piece paddles, and a solid design that works great for two-piece paddles. And while there are some mild differences in aesthetics, the main differences lie in the convenience of installation and adjustment methods. 

Split design drip rings have been severed so they can be widened to easily slide them across the shaft of a one-piece paddle, and they have a fastening mechanism that is used to tighten and secure them to the paddle. Choose from bolt closure drip rings or snap closure drip rings depending on what you find easiest and most convenient.

Both offer easy adjustment quickly—even while on the water—and neither require additional parts or tools to do so.

Solid design drip rings, by contrast, are an un-cut, solid piece of rubber that slips onto the portion of the shaft leading to the blade on a two-piece paddle. You can select from pressure mounted drip rings, which are tight enough to remain in position on their own, or zip-tie mounted drip rings which use zip-ties to stay in place.

Zip-tie mounted drip rings are fairly popular, but it should be noted that they do require you to have new zip ties and tools to make adjustments. 

Where to Set Drip Rings

There is debate over the all-around effectiveness of drip rings, as some find them to be beneficial and useful, while others think they are unnecessary or cause an even bigger problem than they solve. Many argue that rings just pick up even more water than you would get without them. Though the counterargument is that the rings won’t do that if they are set correctly.

Ultimately, it will be up to you to experiment with different types and variations on placement to determine what works best for you and if drip rings help or hinder your kayaking style. 

Most guides will tell you a drip ring should sit anywhere from 4 to 8 inches (~10 to 20 cm) from the blade of your paddle. A common suggestion is to use the width of your palm as a guesstimation of that distance, set the drip ring at that point, and adjust from there. If the ring enters the water, then move it further away from the blade.

If the water drips onto the boat instead of into the water, try moving the rings closer to the blade.

Method #3: Purchase a Kayak With a Smaller Cockpit

The size of your cockpit is pretty important in terms of accommodating your body as no one wants to struggle to get in or out of the boat each time it’s out onto the water. But more importantly, you need to be able to quickly exit in case of capsizing. 

Although more often than not, many kayakers will find they have some room to spare when it comes to how large the cockpit opening is, and reducing the size of the opening will cut back on water entering the kayak.

First and foremost, the size of your kayak overall should be directly related to your body proportions. The cockpit should be wide enough that you can get inside without wiggling or pushing your hips forcibly through, and the length should provide enough clearance for your legs to easily enter and exit. The kayak must also be physically capable of supporting your weight and comfortably accommodating your body. 

So long as you keep those considerations as a priority in kayak selection, you can look for an option with a small cockpit that will be able to reduce the possibility of water entry. Not to mention that paddlers tend to have an easier time attach their spray skirt to a smaller cockpit, as opposed to a larger one. 

Is It Actually Possible to Keep the Kayak Interior Completely Dry?

Asking this question online will flood you with responses from the “mockery mob,” all echoing the reminder that this is a water sport…and you get wet when you participate. And truly, the only real way to keep your kayak interior completely dry all the time is to never use it in the water.

So unless your kayak is a decorative ornament on the wall, even calm, recreational kayaking is bound to permit some water to enter the interior from time to time.

We already discussed the easiest and most efficient way to prevent water from entering your kayak, and that is by wearing a spray skirt. But when water does get in, what then? Well, there are a few solutions available for this too.

Ways to Remove Water From the Kayak’s Interior

Bilge Pump

A bilge pump should be considered an essential accessory to have on board when kayaking. Even if it is just there as “emergency insurance,” available in case of a capsize or surprise hull breach, it is definitely worth the investment. You can purchase a manual pump or an automatic pump, depending on what is best for you.

Manual Bilge Pumps 

These pumps are great for smaller kayaks, and if you are confident, you won’t be taking on large amounts of water. They are small and lightweight, so they are very portable and easily stowed on the boat. In general, manual pumps will cost less than automatic pumps since they don’t utilize an electric motor to operate. 

Check out this demonstrational video with some helpful tips for using a manual bilge pump:

Automatic Bilge Pumps

If you have a bigger boat and/or you take on more extreme kayaking conditions, then you may prefer an automatic bilge pump. They use an electric motor that pumps the water out for you, all with the simple flick of a switch. This is incredibly useful when you take on large amounts of water, and will allow you to continue paddling while it works versus needing to stop and take the time to operate a manual pump.

Automatic pumps can be a bit tricky to install, and they will take up more space than a manual pump as they are much bulkier. Additionally, these pumps will be the higher-priced options available. But if you do have a larger kayak or find yourself in situations where you are more likely to capsize and take on water, an automatic bilge pump is definitely worth having.

Each brand and type of automatic pump will have its own set of installation instructions, but this short video will give you an idea of the steps involved:

Sponge

If you wanted, you could visit a sporting goods store and find a specialty sponge with the word kayak printed on it that comes with a nice loop hook or accessory bag, and that would be fine. Generally, there is a decent variety of sizes to choose from, and they are just as good as the next sponge, which is also why any kind of sponge will do, really. It’s not uncommon to find a common kitchen sponge being used for drying a kayak.

But if you are looking for the best of the best in this case, then a natural sea sponge is the way to go. When it comes to absorbency, you can’t beat Mother Nature. Sea sponges are naturally self-cleaning as they can process mass amounts of water through themselves very efficiently. They contain antibacterial enzymes that block the growth of mold and mildew, helping to keep them free from toxins and hypo-allergenic. 

However, if the thought of living organisms as cleaning tools make you squirm, the only synthetic sponge that comes close to the performance of a sea sponge is a PVA (Polyvinyl Alcohol) sponge. PVA is a highly absorbent, hydrophilic material that can hold up to 12 times its dry weight in water and is unable to support microbial growth. 

Conclusion

The best way to keep water from entering your kayak is by utilizing a spray skirt. Paddle drip rings can help recreational kayakers keep the water that drips down their paddle from getting into their boat as well. Another option is to purchase a kayak with a smaller cockpit opening to reduce the possibility of water entry. Bilge pumps and sponges will help to dispel water from your kayak to keep it dry.

Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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