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Choosing a Spray Skirt for your Sea Kayak

Forrest Wells // January 16, 2015

As you may already know there are an array of different skirts out there that range greatly in price form and function. This article will give you some basic information that will hopefully aid you as you consider what is best for you and your needs.

Please practice putting the skirt on and especially practice taking the skirt off before you head out onto the water. Also practice your wet exit close to shore with a partner to ensure that if you end up in the drink you can get the skirt off without issue.

Basic Terminology:

The spray skirt is basically broken into three parts: 

First is the Deck: The Deck is the portion of the skirt that joins paddlers and kayak. It is designed to fit around the coaming (lip around the cockpit) of the kayak. The skirt mates to the coaming with either a bungee rim or a randed rim. The thickness of the bungee will depend on the skirt. Skirts designed for paddling in conditions will have a thicker bungee. A randed skirt does not use bungee to mate with the coaming, instead it is constructed of a ribbed rubber that grips the coaming. The Deck will be constructed of a laminated or coated fabric or Neoprene. Again the thickness of the neoprene can vary depending on what type of conditions the skirt is designed for. Deck sizing will depend on the make and model of the kayak and the material used.

Second is Tube: The Tube or more properly referred to as the body tube is the section of the skirt that joins the paddler to the deck.  The Tube size is a function of paddler stature. The body tube is constructed of similar materials used in Deck construction,  A neoprene Body Tube will be best for paddlers in Dynamic environments like the surf, tidal rapids, or other forms of “rough” water.  The neoprene body tube will be a tighter fit allowing less water to make its way down the tube and into the paddlers boat.

Other body tubes may be constructed of either a coated or laminated material. These tubes are a bit more comfortable but you are more susceptible to getting water into the boat in rougher conditions. It is common more a manufacture to use both neoprene and another material for the tube. By doing so you can get the best of both worlds when touring, both tight fit and comfort.  Smaller stature paddlers also have the option to decrease the height of the tube. The tube should come up to just underneath the sternum so smaller paddlers benefit from electing to shorten the tube height.

Third is the Grab Loop: The grab loop is just like it sounds. The loop is positioned at the front of the skirt when pulled towards to bow of the boat and lifted up off the coming will free the paddler from the boat. The loops are commonly nylon webbing and will vary in color. Bright colors are good for visibility. Some grab loops have a plastic sleeve component added to essentially hold the loop open making it easier for a paddler to grab and release.

Cockpit Coaming, is the lip around your kayak cockpit that will hold the bungee or the rand around the base of the deck of your spray skirt. The coaming depth will vary from boat to boat and will effect performance fit of the skirt.

Some things to consider when selecting a skirt:

Material Durability:

Skirts materials can be broken into 3 families: Coated materials, laminated and neoprene. Each materials will have is advantages and disadvantages of course.  

Coated materials: Are a good option for recreational paddlers who will be wearing the skirt every now and again and who may be looking for something that is cost friendly. These skirts are ideal for the flat-water environment. The coated skirts are a bit less expensive but as a result are a bit less durable.  These skirts have a waterproof coating that has been applied to the interior of the skirt to keep the paddler dry.  The downside being, the more you use and rub that coating the quicker it can degrade and eventually fail.  


Seals Sneak

Seals Coastal Tour

Laminated materials:  Like the coated material laminated skirts are great for the flat-water environment since the material doesn't stretch very much making the skirt a bit more prone to popping of the coaming (cockpit rim) as you paddle.  The advantage to a laminate material is in the realm of durability.  A laminate material like gore-tex consists of several layers of material that have been laminated together.  This process improves the durability greatly and allows for a higher degree of breath-ability.


Snap Dragon Glacier Breeze

Seals Tropical Tour

Neoprene:  is a great option for paddlers of all skill levels and for every environment. I say that because there are many different  levels of neoprene and configurations available that can be matched to a wide array of uses.  Neoprene in this case is waterproof but it also has much more stretch that either the coated or laminated options and is highly durable.  The one weak spot of the neoprene deck is where the skirt meets the coaming.  If you are practicing rescues on a regular basis we strongly recommend a skirt with reinforcement around the edge of the skirt to prevent excessive wear. 


Entry level: easier to get and and off the coaming, more stretch to the deck.  Best suited for calm to moderate conditions (0ft- 2ft waves/chop).  These skirts are a bit more prone to implosion in heavier conditions.

Snap Dragon Glacier Trek Breathable

Snap Dragon Glacier Trek Breathable Flirt (Women and or Small Stature Paddlers)

Snap Dragon Ocean Trek

Snap Dragon Ocean Trek Flirt (Women and or Smaller Stature Paddlers)

Seals Surf Skirt

Seals Sprite Spray Skirt

Is the Environment Calm or Rough?

When paddling in calm conditions near shore, the paddler can elect to go with any deck material. Typically these conditions warrant an entry level coated material simply because they are more budget friendly and a neoprene deck in this application can be a bit overkill. Also, please understand that these discussions are meant to provide information and insight to help you make an informed decision. In short it is rare that there is a black or white, right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing gear. It is largely a personal preference.

When Paddling in a Dynamic environments where you will encounter chop, waves and moving water you will best suited with a neoprene deck. The neoprene deck will stretch and allow the paddler to perform maneuvers such as bracing and rolling without the worry of the skirt pulling off the coaming. Since the material stretches the deck absorbs the tension you create as you bend and move in your boat and will absorb the impact from smaller waves.

Neoprene Decks are built and constructed in a number of different "weights". As the paddler enters more and more challenging environments where the forces acting to pull the skirt off or implode the skirt increase, the amount of stretch in the deck decreases and the tension applied by the bungee or Rand around the coaming will increase.

Entry Level Neoprene Skirts:

Entry level: easier to get and and off the coaming, more stretch to the deck. Best suited for calm to moderate conditions (0ft- 2ft waves/chop). These skirts are a bit more prone to implosion in heavier conditions.

Snap Dragon Glacier Trek Breathable (Medium to Large Stature Paddlers)

Snap Dragon Glacier Trek Breathable Flirt (Women and Small Stature Paddlers)

Snap Dragon Ocean Trek (Medium to Large Stature Paddlers)

Snap Dragon Ocean Trek Flirt (Women and Smaller Stature Paddlers)

Seals Surf Skirt

Seals Sprite Spray Skirt

Intermediate Neoprene Skirts:

Less Stretch, Taut Fit, will stand Up to Moderate to heavy conditions (2ft-5ft waves/chop), less prone to implosion especially with the addition of an implosion bar. A good choice for multi day paddling and paddling in a coastal or near coastal environment.

Snap Dragon Glacier  EXP (Medium to Large Stature Paddlers)

Snap Dragon Glacier EXP Flirt (Women and Small Stature Paddlers)

Snap Dragon Ocean Tour EXP (Medium to Large Stature Paddlers)

Seals Extreme Tour

Seals Pro Shocker

Extreme Neoprene Skirts

Least amount of stretch, these skirts offer the most resistance to implosion especially with an implosion bar.  Because of the tight nature of the fit, these skirts are best suited for experienced paddlers and will be more challenging to get on and off the cockpit coaming. Best Suited for the Surf Zone, Tidal Rapids, Rock Gardening etc...

Snap Dragon Armortex EXP

Snap Dragon Ocean Tour EXP (Medium to Large Stature Paddlers)

Seals Pro Rand

Seals Pro Shocker

Fitting the Spray Skirt:

Spray skirt Deck sizing is determined by the make and model of your kayak. A cockpit may have the same overall dimension when referring to max length and width but the shape of the cockpits vary greatly from boat to boat. If your boat is not found on either the Snap Dragon or Seals Fit lists we can have a skirt made. Having a custom deck made is a relatively easy process. Simply trace the outside edge of the coming making sure mark the location of the seat back and send it in:

Kayak Pro Shop, PO Box 236 Port Gamble WA 98364

Both Snap Dragon and Seals will build the deck to match the template provided.

Fit Lists (lists include tube sizing):

*when determining the size of the body tube remember that the tube is designed sit just underneath your sternum. So the measurement should be taken there not at your waist.

Please contact us at 1-800-592-5983 or send an email to oocshop@kayakproshop.com if you have questions about product selection or fit, we are happy to help!

buyers-guide   expert-advice   forrest-wells   kayak   seals   snap-dragon   spray-skirts   touring  

Forrest Wells
Forrest Wells


Forrest is a BCU 4 star paddler, ACA open water advanced instructor, ACA SUP instructor, Alaska Kayak Guide and has his 200 ton Master's ship license. In addition to keeping the KPS ship headed in the right direction and running efficiently, he is an avid outdoorsman and kayak/SUP racer. He also helps coach water polo, plays a mean guitar and can cook up a tasty oyster on the half-shell.

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