By Alan Bergman – The Spray Skirt: More than just a fashion statement! Just as there isn’t a single kayak suitable for all of the different types of kayaking, the same can be said for spray skirts . . . they serve different purposes for different types of paddling with a matching array of styles and price points.
WHAT IS A SPRAY SKIRT?
Before we get into its various uses on the water, let’s first nail down what a spray skirt is.
A working definition tells us that a spray skirt is worn by the paddler and connects him or her to the kayak. The spray skirt is worn around the kayaker’s waist and tightly attaches to the coaming or rim around the kayak’s cockpit.
These are typically manufactured from Neoprene or Nylon material, or a hybrid of the two, and are designed to keep the kayak’s cockpit water-tight.
Are spray skirts considered essential gear? Not always, but they do prove indispensable for certain types of paddling.
My own kayaking club, in fact, will designate whether a spray skirt is required gear for each of the different trips that we take. The trip leader has the final say whether or not participating club members must wear skirts.
Let’s explore the spray skirt’s different uses further.
FOR RECREATIONAL KAYAKING
When paddling a recreational kayak in mostly flat water, the spray skirt proves helpful in keeping out unexpected rain or waves, preventing the sun from beating down on one’s legs, and even creating some slight cabin warmth during Spring or Fall paddling.
Many recreational paddlers, not expecting to encounter much in the way of swells or wakes, will find that a Nylon spray skirt proves sufficient.
Nylon spray skirts tend to be less thermally insulated, and less water-tight, than Neoprene. They provide a “softer” grip around the coaming of the cockpit. For that reason, paddlers find it easier performing a quick release of the Nylon, rather than Neoprene skirt, from their boat’s cockpit’s coaming.
These skirts tend to have a lower price point than Neoprene or the hybrid, perhaps part of their appeal for many paddlers.
Another option for those who prefer kayaking in more mellow water is the half-skirt, which will keep the cockpit mostly dry and provides shelter from the sun on one’s legs, simultaneously. This skirt is not attached to the paddler’s body the way traditional spray skirts are.
FOR TOURING KAYAKING
Assuming that the touring kayak paddler is in more active water than the recreational paddler, Neoprene or hybrid skirts become an increasingly valuable and attractive option over Nylon. The spray skirt’s primary function here is to keep the water that’s splashing over the kayak deck, out of the cockpit.
Without a skirt, there is a good chance that large swells will swamp the kayak and eventually cause a capsize. The Neoprene skirt, and/or the hybrid, prevents that from occurring.
Because of its especially tight seal, in addition to keeping unwanted water out, the Neoprene skirt also creates glorious warmth on those really cold paddling days. The price point is higher, but so is the protection against the elements.
FOR OCEAN AND WHITEWATER KAYAKING
No question about which spray skirt to use for these types of paddling. Only Neoprene provides what’s needed when splashing through the waves or running the rapids. Neoprene is also the most logical option for those paddlers who are into rolling.
ANATOMY OF THE SPRAY SKIRT
Most spray skirts are made up of the following parts:
The Tunnel – this is the section that fits around the kayaker’s abdomen and mid-section. While it should be a snug fit, it should not be too motion-restricting or uncomfortable. Many tunnels also have suspenders attached, keeping the tunnel fully extended on the paddler’s body.
The Spraydeck – one size doesn’t fit all, and it’s imperative to find the proper size spraydeck that best fits your kayak AND your waist. A general rule-of-thumb is that the spray deck should be difficult to stretch over your cockpit opening, but not impossible to do so. Some skirt manufacturers have created Fitting Guides, which matches skirts to specific kayaks.
Rand or Bungee – this is the piping located around the outside perimeter of the spraydeck which creates the seal between the skirt and the boat. Rand piping provides a tighter grip than bungee, thus making it more difficult to put on and remove.
The Grabloop – this is the tab at the front of the spray skirt which is pulled to release the skirt from the kayak’s coaming. It is hugely important to confirm that the grabloop is reachable and can easily be released in case of a capsize. Some paddlers even practice pulling the grabloop off while upside-down in the water.
Pockets, Compartments and Adjustable Waist Bands – all extras designed to make the spray skirt fit better and prove more useful.
GETTING IT ON
Yes, it is a bit of an art-form and a balancing act getting the spray skirt on. These are the steps, in order, to properly doing so:
- Step into the spray skirt and pull it up waist-high.
- Place yourself into the kayak seat.
- Reaching behind you, start positioning the rand or bungee over the cockpit coaming.
- Reaching forward, pull the spray skirt down over the coaming, working your way towards the bow of the kayak.
- Confirm that the entire spraydeck is properly in place.
- Ensure that the grabloop is fully accessible at the front of the cockpit.
PLAYING IT SAFE
Just as it’s highly advantageous and prudent to test-drive kayaks to help determine which is most appropriate for you, the same is true for spray skirts. It’s just playing it safe to try a few on in the store to see which fits best and will provide the type of protection you require.