You went kayaking the other weekend and you noticed your buddy used a kayak skirt, also known as a spray skirt. Your kayak doesn’t have one, and you’re debating if it’s worth buying. What does a spray skirt do, and should all kayakers have one?
A kayak skirt or spray skirt is a protective accessory that covers the cockpit of the kayak and keeps it dry. Most kayak skirts are made of neoprene, nylon, or a combination. If you go whitewater kayaking or boating in rough waters, a spray skirt certainly comes in handy.
In this guide to kayak skirts, we’ll talk about what they are, how to measure the proper fit, and how to put a spray skirt on. We’ll even recommend some kayak skirts so you can select the best one. You won’t want to miss it!
What Is a Kayak Skirt? What Is It Used for?
Let’s begin by talking more about kayak skirts, which have many nicknames. The most popular are spray skirts or spray decks.
A kayak skirt is comprised of three parts: the rand, the deck, and the tunnel. The rand attaches to the coaming of your cockpit, which is the technical name for the cockpit lip. The deck is the skirt itself, which extends over your kayak’s cockpit. It’s held in place via the rand.
Then there’s the tunnel, which is the wearable part of the kayak skirt. You slip the tunnel around your torso. The tunnel usually includes both exterior and interior pockets. In some instances, the pockets are lined with fleece, which will come in handy if you kayak in the autumn.
Most tunnel pockets are meshed to allow for fast drainage. With hook-and-loop closures, you can ensure your stuff stays secure. That said, these tunnel pockets are not a smart place to store your smartphone, as it can end up waterlogged. The same goes for your keys. Instead, you should put snacks, insect repellant, or sunscreen in the pocket.
Kayak skirt tunnels also have a feature known as a tensioned deck stay. The deck stay increases the stability of the tunnel so the deck doesn’t sag. Water can’t pool on the deck as easily. Some kayak skirts have shoulder straps as well, which maintain the rigidity of the deck too.
As you probably guessed by now, the purpose of a kayak skirt is to keep you dry when kayaking. For sit-in kayaks where you’re in the cockpit, all it takes is a rough wave and voila, your lap is soaked and so is the cockpit.
You might recall if you read our kayak vs. canoe article that kayaks sit a lot lower in the water, which increases your risk of being splashed. With a kayak skirt, now your lap and the cockpit are safeguarded by the spray skirt. If you get wet, it’s the skirt that takes the brunt of it, not the cockpit.
Kayak Skirt Materials
Kayak skirts create a tight seal around the boat’s cockpit and maintain their shape due to inclusions like a tensioned deck stay or tunnel shoulder straps. The skirt is made of malleable yet taut materials such as nylon or neoprene. Let’s talk more about these materials now.
Nylon is water-resistant, making it an excellent choice for spray skirt material. Abrasion-resistant and tear-resistant, a nylon kayak skirt can hold up to the rigors of boating season after season.
Another benefit of nylon is that it’s stretchable and almost elastic-like in some applications. It’s also strong and durable, another must-have for a kayak skirt.
Most nylon spray skirts will feature a bungee cord rand for airtightness. That said, should your boat tip into the water (hey, it happens), the water-reducing properties of a nylon kayak skirt are negated.
Even outside of capsizing, a nylon spray skirt’s airtightness is negligible. That’s due to the design of the tunnel. The waistband, which is usually spandex, has hook-and-loop closures or a drawcord for adjustability. Neither feature introduces the watertight seal a kayak skirt should have.
The other material choice you’ll see in many kayak skirts is neoprene. Capable of supporting heavier weights than you’d expect, neoprene is lightweight and water-resistant as well. Its durability across changing weather makes it a shoo-in as a kayak skirt material.
This synthetic rubber is especially recommended when kayaking in very cold waters. The rand of your kayak skirt will be made of neoprene or another type of rubber. The rubber grips a lot better into the cockpit coaming than a nylon spray skirt does.
That said, when the time comes to exit your kayak and the boat is wet, getting the neoprene spray skirt off will prove challenging. You’d have to let the boat (and the skirt) dry out a bit and then attempt removal again.
Some kayak skirts aren’t solely nylon or neoprene, but they include both materials. A combo spray skirt increases the airtightness and watertightness of the tunnel and provides venting.
When Do You Need a Kayak Skirt?
When you buy a kayak, it might include paddles, but a spray skirt, it won’t have. If you want one, you’ll have to purchase it separately. Since a quality kayak skirt can run you $100 or more, it’s okay to take some time to debate whether you really need a spray skirt.
Let’s identify some scenarios in which having a spray skirt is ideal versus when you can skip it.
When You Don’t Need a Kayak Skirt
If you usually go kayaking in very tranquil waters such as lakes or slow-moving rivers, then you can likely forego a spray skirt. The chances of the water becoming choppy enough to produce waves are low, especially if you’re boating on a clear, tranquil day.
Would you still get wet when kayaking? More than likely, yes.
Again, this goes back to what we mentioned before: kayaks sit low in the water. When we say you’ll get wet though, we mean a few errant splashes of water here and there as you paddle. You won’t get soaked unless the weather turns bad, or you capsize.
When You Probably Need a Kayak Skirt
In variable conditions when a body of water can change throughout the day, it’s a good idea to bring a kayak skirt. For example, let’s say you’re into ocean kayaking. You might set off during low tide, but throughout the course of your ride, the tides change.
High tide brings with it faster-moving water and taller waves. Even though in the morning, you were fine without a spray skirt, by the afternoon, you’ll be glad you have one. Otherwise, everything you stored in your kayak (outside of dry storage, of course), would be soaking wet. You would be wet too.
When You Definitely Need a Kayak Skirt
Kayaking can be a very relaxing activity, but some kayakers like to crank things up a notch and ride in choppy waters for a more thrilling experience. If that’s your M.O., then you should always venture out with a spray skirt.
For whitewater kayaking, high-tide ocean kayaking, and riding in other splashy bodies of water, a spray skirt is the only way to keep your kayak (mostly) dry.
Our 5 Favorite Kayak Skirts
If you’ve decided a kayak skirt is suitable for your kayaking activities, here are 5 highly-recommended skirts, with most links courtesy of Amazon.
Seals Sea Sprite Spray Skirt
One of the most recommended kayak skirt brands is Seals. Their Sea Sprite spray skirt is a mid-priced skirt that’s made of both nylon and neoprene. The hybrid construction makes the Sea Sprite suitable for whitewater kayaking and touring kayaking alike.
The three-ply tunnel is breathable and waterproof and includes an adjustable waistband made of tough neoprene. A stitched bungee attachment with E-Z Stretch technology is 3/8 inches for connecting to the rim. Included suspenders are removable.
Immersion Research Klingon Bungee Whitewater Kayak Spray Skirt
A pure neoprene kayak skirt, the Immersion Research Klingon Bungee skirt is tough enough to withstand whitewater kayaking conditions time and again.
All seams are blind-stitched then taped and glued for durability. Super-stick silicone patches with anti-implosion technology will keep the Klingon Bungee on your kayak. The front rim is reinforced with a type of high-density nylon known as nylar.
The spray skirt has a four-way stretch for easy placement and removal. The extended neoprene apron dries fast while the bungee rand is flexible.
Seals Inlander Spray Skirt
Next on our list is another Seals spray skirt, the Inlander. This kayak skirt is designed with sealed and double-stitched seams that will last for a long time to come.
The rim grip has safety slip technology to keep your spray skirt where you put it even when it gets wet. The tunnel waistband is fully adjustable.
A coated nylon pack cloth is midweight so it doesn’t slow down your kayaking adventures. Seals recommends the Inlander spray skirt for light and moderate kayaking, such as in calm rivers, streams, and lakes.
Attwood Nylon Spray Skirt
For a budget kayak skirt, the Attwood skirt is a suitable selection. Made entirely of nylon, we like this one because it includes a mesh storage bag for keeping your kayak skirt dry and away from the sun when not in use.
All seams are PVC-sealed to create a watertight surface throughout. The Attwood spray skirt adjusts on either side so whether you have a long, lean kayak or a shorter boat, this skirt should fit like a glove. Attwood recommends the skirt for boats that are no wider than 22 inches and no longer than 40 inches.
Its 210-denier nylon construction is sure to hold up for a while!
Seals Slash Deck Version 3
Do you plan on doing some light kayaking and so you need only moderate protection? The Seals Splash Deck Version 3 is designed for just those conditions.
Using adjustable bungees, the cord rim attachment easily slips onto your kayak. A tensioned deck spray prevents the nylon skirt from getting loose.
The zipper-slide mesh pocket is generously large for storing snacks and plenty of sunscreen. The pack cloth is made of nylon as well.
What Size Kayak Skirt Is Right for You?
Before you can purchase a kayak skirt, you need to confirm that it’s the correct size. The tighter your spray skirt is, after all, the harder it is to put it on, especially when it’s dry. Here’s how to measure the appropriate kayak skirt size for your boat.
Begin by Determining Rim Size
The rim of a kayak is the circumference, width, and length of the cockpit. We recommend checking out your kayak manufacturer’s website for this information. If the numbers aren’t available there, then you’ll have to pull out a ruler or some flexible measuring tape to take these measurements yourself.
You can get the rim size of the kayak by the cockpit’s circumference alone. If you don’t have that available, then you need the cockpit width and length.
When measuring the circumference, measure around the rim’s outer edge. If you just measure to the coaming, then your numbers will be inaccurate.
If your cockpit circumference is between 76 and 84 inches, then it’s considered medium-sized. A large cockpit is 84 to 90 inches. For cockpits that measure 91 to 95 inches, they’re extra-large. An XXL cockpit is one that’s 95 to 100 inches in circumference.
Correlate Rim Size to Kayak Skirt Size
Once you have your rim size, then you can buy a kayak skirt in the same size. For example, a large cockpit circumference would require a large spray skirt.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to measure your torso for determining the correct kayak skirt size despite the inclusion of a tunnel. The reason is that many kayak skirt tunnels are one-size-fits-all, so a torso measurement wouldn’t help. Tunnel adjustments are what make it fit, not the size.
How Do You Put on a Kayak Skirt?
You bought one of the kayak skirts we reviewed earlier and you can’t wait to try it out the next time you go kayaking. How do you properly put the spray skirt on your boat? Here are the steps to follow.
Before you even begin the process of putting on the spray skirt, stretch it out a bit. Wearing socks, place both feet on one side of the skirt, ideally the back. With your hands, pull on the front of the skirt. You’re not trying to rip it; just give it a few good tugs.
If you can, wet the spray skirt. It slips onto a kayak easier when it’s wet, which will help as you get used to the process.
Fold the skirt until it’s inside out and you can access the grab handle from the outside of the skirt.
Once you have the skirt in the correct position, it’s time to put it on. With the back of the skirt in your hands, hook it around the back of your kayak’s cockpit. Then raise the skirt to the height of your hips and begin stretching it.
The silicone strips on the inside of the kayak skirt should go on the inside of the cockpit. Adjust them now.
Continue stretching the skirt as necessary until it’s over the entirety of the cockpit.
Kayak skirts are recommended for many kayaking scenarios, especially if you’re kayaking in the ocean or in white waters as well as when the weather or water conditions can change. A spray skirt costs between $100 and $300 for a high-quality one.
Although it can take some time and patience, the more often you put on your boat’s kayak skirt, the easier it will get. If you’re really struggling, we always suggest wetting the skirt first. It should make a big difference. Good luck!