Kayak Spray Skirts: What They Are & How They’re Used


As you progress along your kayaking journey, you’ll inevitably gain interest in various kayaking accessories to enhance your paddling experience. One of the most popular kayaking accessories among seasoned paddlers is the spray skirt (or spray deck).

A kayak spray skirt is a protective cover that stops water from splashing in the cockpit and pooling in the interior of sit-inside kayaks. Paddlers fit the spray skirt along their waist via the central hole and arrange the spray skirt’s outer edges along the cockpit’s rim to cover the exposed area.

This is but a brief summary of what spray skirts are and how they’re used in kayaking. In the sections below, we’ll delve into the exact purpose behind spray skirts, its fundamental components, as well as the primary materials used to construct this kayaking accessory. We’ll also run through a step-by-step guide on how to properly use a spray-skirt in an effective manner.

A Detailed Description of What Kayak Spray Skirts Are

Before we go over how spray skirts are used, it is first necessary to go over what spray skirts are. Right now, a flurry of questions are probably running through your mind, like “Are they pieces of clothing? What do they do exactly? Do they even resemble a girl’s skirt?”

Lucky for you, all of these questions will be answered below!

The Purpose of Spray Skirts

The overarching purpose of the spray skirt is to keep water out of the kayak’s interior and keep warmth in to prevent hypothermia in cold weather conditions.

Spray skirts are a convenient accessory for whitewater kayakers where waves are aplenty. Without a spray skirt, there will likely be an excess amount of water in the cockpit. Not only can this trapped water be a nuisance, cold water that’s penned in may sap at your core body temperature.

Many novice paddlers overlook this potential risk. The prevention of hypothermia is just as important—if not more—than blocking off water from entering the cockpit.

The Basic Components of a Spray Skirt

Spray skirts can be broken down into four basic components: the front grab loop, the rand, the deck, and the tunnel.

  • Front Grab Loop – The loop located directly in front of the kayaker offers a quick and easy way to remove the spray skirt. By pulling the grab loop forward, the front of the spray skirt is released from the cockpit’s rim, more commonly referred to as the coaming. After that, the grab loop can be pulled backward to peel the rest of the spray skirt off of the kayak. The grab loop is often fluorescent to provide the kayaker with an easily identifiable visual, even when underwater.
  • Rand – This is the outer edge of the spray skirt that’s meant to be positioned along the cockpit coaming. If done properly, the rand should be stretched in a way that the spray skirt material is completely tense throughout.
  • Deck – This is the physical portion of the spray skirt that actually covers the exposed areas of the cockpit. Look closely and you’ll see that the deck material permeates out in order to fully shroud the cockpit’s interior.
  • Tunnel – This is the fourth and final component of the spray skirt. The tunnel is what kayakers put on their upper body to secure the spray skirt to their person. This shores up any potential vulnerabilities where water may be able to slip into the subtle cracks between the spray skirt and the body of the paddler.

The Materials Used to Make Spray Skirts

All popular kayak spray skirts are made from a common subset of ingredients. Each type of material has its own distinct characteristics that are both positive and negative.

Nylon

There’s a wide variety of nylon spray skirts out on the market, as it’s one of the most popular options for kayakers. The main attraction of nylon spray skirts is its ease of attachment and detachment.

When experimenting with kayaking for the first time, some people are afraid of the prospect of being trapped in their kayak in the event of a capsize. Since spray skirts are somewhat restrictive in the way they enclose the lower legs, they can stimulate underlying feelings of confinement in a new paddler.

If you’re also worried about the prospect of being stuck in your kayak, you can find more information about this topic by reading Can You Get Stuck in a Kayak? (How to Handle a Capsize Safely).

Spray skirts that are made from nylon can help to quell these fears since they’re so easy to release in the event of a capsize. Spray skirts made from other materials do not offer this same luxury.

The only drawback with the ease of attachment and detachment is that the waterproof seal between the spray skirt and the cockpit coaming may breach if the kayak flips over. Consequently, you may be forced to deal with pools of water in the kayak’s interior in the event of a capsize.

Neoprene

Neoprene is another popular spray skirt option for seasoned kayakers. Unlike nylon spray skirts, neoprene spray skirts create a much more rigid seal between the rand and the cockpit coaming. This stronger seal comes with both pros and cons.

The primary benefit of having an improved seal between the spray skirt and the coaming is that water is unable to enter the kayak’s interior, even if you completely overturn the kayak. This appeals to whitewater kayakers, as they’re able to effectively perform kayak rolls without fluid slipping through the seal. As a result, whitewater kayakers won’t have to interrupt their trip to empty their kayak of water.

A glaring drawback of this stronger seal is that it’s much more difficult to execute a wet-exit. As a quick reference, a wet-exit is a kayaking maneuver where the paddler slips away from the cockpit underwater to get back to the surface.

The characteristically tight seal of neoprene spray skirts is slightly more challenging to undo in the water, especially in an emergency. For paddling beginners that aren’t accustomed to self-rescue techniques, this can be a cause for concern. The last thing they need is another source of panic when they accidentally flip the kayak over.

Nylon/Neoprene Hybrid

There are also spray skirts that are made of a combination of nylon and neoprene. This type of spray skirt takes on elements of both spray skirts, which makes it a solid choice for fluctuating water and weather conditions.

How to Use a Kayak Spray Skirt (Step-by-Step Guide)

Now that you know the foundational elements of what a spray skirt is, you probably want to know how to use one. Although it may seem like a tricky process, setting up a spray skirt properly isn’t all that difficult if you break it down step-by-step.

Slide Both of Your Legs Through the Tunnel

The first order of business is to slide both of your legs through the central hole of the spray skirt, more commonly referred to as the tunnel. When you do this, check to make sure that the grab loop is in front of you. If you can’t locate the grab loop in the front, you probably have the spray skirt oriented backwards.

Pull the Spray Skirt Along Your Waist

Next, pull on the spray skirt so that the tunnel is fastened along your waist. If you look closely, you should notice a point where the bottom of the tunnel meets the beginning of the deck. As a general rule of thumb, you should pull on the spray skirt just high enough so that this juncture is positioned right above your hip bones.

By positioning the spray skirt in this fashion, you prevent problems later on down the road. Often times, novices that place their spray skirt too low run into issues fixing the rand over the cockpit coaming.

Sit in the Kayak and Fix the Rand Over the Back of the Cockpit

Once your spray skirt is on and ready to go, you can then assume a seated position in the kayak cockpit.

After you’re comfortably seated, you can finally start attaching the spray skirt to the kayak itself. You should start attaching the rand to the cockpit rim from the back and slowly work your way to the front. You can go from front to back if you prefer, but it’s typically harder to pull the rand entirely over the cockpit rim since your leverages are off.

Attach the Rand Over the Rest of the Cockpit (with the Grab Loop Sticking Outward!)

To wrap up, pull the rand over the cockpit coaming until all the exposed area leading into the boat interior is covered.

When doing this, make sure that the grab loop is facing outwards where you can see it. If the grab loop is on the inside of the boat, you won’t be able to pull the spray skirt away and free your legs from the cockpit. This is an easy thing to miss, so try to make a mental habit of checking this off your list before you paddle out on the water.

You can see all of the aforementioned steps in action by checking out the video below!

Should You Use a Kayak Spray Skirt?

All of the information in this article really boils down to this one question: Should you even bother wearing a spray skirt?

Wearing a spray skirt can certainly have its advantages, but it’s important to not overlook its disadvantages as well. Below, I’ve compiled the most prominent pros and cons of wearing a spray skirt so that you can better decide whether or not this kayaking accessory is right for you.

The Advantages of Wearing a Spray Skirt

Keeps Your Legs Warm in Frigid Temperatures – As discussed previously, the spray skirts is a powerful agent against the effects of hypothermia. In especially cold temperatures, the spray skirt will seal the heat dissipating off of your body within the kayak’s interior. This way, your legs won’t be as vulnerable to the frosty chills of the exterior environment.

Your Lower Body Can Stay Dry in Spite of Continual Splashing – If you’ve paddled before, you know that there will be occasional splashes that find their way into the kayak, even in flat water conditions. In whitewater conditions, this splash effect is even more drastic.

Wearing a spray skirt is ideal for those that don’t want to have to deal with little water pools swooshing around in the kayak’s interior. It can be a petty nuisance to feel the brush of cold water along your legs if you’re paddling for long distances.

The Disadvantages of Wearing a Spray Skirt

Executing a Wet-Exit is Slightly More Challenging – As far as the disadvantages go, there is no denying that the spray skirt complicates the wet-exit. For those of you that want to be able to quickly move in and out of the kayak during a capsize, wearing a spray skirt may not be the best option.

Moreover, those that aren’t that confident in their self-rescue skills may want to hold off on wearing a spray skirt until they’ve built up sufficient experience with the wet-exit. Otherwise, the spray skirt may end up doing more harm than good for their paddling outing.

Putting On and Taking Off the Spray Skirt Can Feel Tedious – In addition, spray skirts aren’t exactly the best fit for impatient individuals. Some kayakers want to get on the water as soon as they catch a glimpse of the shore.

Unfortunately, it does take a little bit of extra time before and after a kayaking trip to set up the spray skirt properly. If you don’t mind getting a tad wet while paddling, it may not even be worth the effort to put a spray skirt on.

How to Select the Best Kayak Spray Skirt for You

After reading through the advantages and disadvantages of kayak spray skirts, you may have ultimately decided that spray skirts are the accessory for you. Although you’ve solved one problem, this opens up a host of new questions for you to consider. The most common question of the bunch is typically something along the lines of… “What should I look for when buying a kayak spray skirt?”

Having anticipated this, I put together a few tips to keep in mind when browsing through prospective spray skirts to purchase.

Spray Skirts are “Not One Size Fits All”

For one, you should realize that spray skirts come in individual sizes to adequately cover the entire cockpit of your kayak. Too big of a spray skirt and the seal will be too loose to stay in place. Too small of a spray skirt, however, and the spray skirt won’t be able to spread over the cockpit coaming.

Prior to purchase, you should look up an online sizing chart for the particular make and model of your kayak. If you can’t find this information online, you can link over to a broad spray skirt sizing guide here.

In the event that you still cannot find the right-sized spray skirt for your kayak, you may have to resort to measuring out your cockpit and ordering a custom-made spray skirt.

Nylon for Recreational Kayakers, Neoprene for Whitewater Kayakers

As we discussed earlier, the material of your spray skirt can have a significant impact on its waterproof seal.

Generally, recreational kayakers lean toward nylon spray skirts because of their comfort and ease of detachment. Since recreational kayakers aren’t battling the elements with every paddle stroke, rogue waves and boat capsizes are rare occurrences.

Consequently, it’s in the best interest of recreational kayakers to invest in a spray skirt for its comfort more than anything else. An impenetrable waterproof seal is not absolutely necessary because they will most likely not be performing rolls underwater or absorbing the heavy force of river rapids. On the off-chance that the kayak does flip over, nylon spray skirts are also better for wet-exits anyways.

Whitewater kayakers, on the other hand, will have to perform underwater rolls and bear the full force of river rapids. This is why they gravitate toward neoprene spray skirts over nylon spray skirts. If a whitewater kayaker ends up underwater, they want to have complete confidence in their waterproof seal that it’ll keep the cold water out. Otherwise, they’ll be shivering for the rest of their trip!

The Bottom Line

Although spray skirts are not mandatory for all types of kayaking, they’re a worthwhile accessory for kayakers that want to keep their lower limbs dry and warm. They’re highly popular among whitewater kayakers, but they can serve a beneficial purpose among recreational kayakers as well.

Prior to purchase, make sure you do your own research so that you can get the ideal spray skirt for you. If you follow some of the buyer’s guide tips above, you’ll be well on your way to accomplishing this.

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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