What is a Spray Skirt? – Whitewater Kayaking for Beginners

A spray skirt is a must-have to improve kayaking skills in higher categories of whitewater. With this equipment, you can face mild to fierce splashes of water and paddle with more concentration.

Spray skirts or spray decks are an accessory used to seal the torso and cockpit of the kayak and keep the water out. These skirts are waterproof and sit snugly on the coaming section of the kayak. Since they are worn below the waist just like a skirt, they are called spray skirts.

Why Do You Need a Spray Skirt?

First, let’s understand the construction of spray skirts to get an idea about their credibility. A spray skirt is divided into three parts; deck, tunnel, and rand.

The tunnel is a neck-like portion of a skirt that you wear on your waist. Tunnels come with the facility of shoulder straps and grab loops aimed to enhance the fitting.

The deck starts where the tunnel ends. In other words, the deck is the platform that connects the tunnel with the coaming rims. The material of the tunnel and the deck is the same.

Then comes the part that ensures that the deck stays in place and maintains the sealed environment of the cockpit: the rand. You will have to use this part to remove and install the skirt.

A spray skirt comes in handy when you need warmth and want to avoid coming in contact with water as much as possible while kayaking. Skirts are also advantageous if you can’t handle a kayak filled with water and the resulting situation distracts your focus.

In whitewater rapids, the movement of water can be mild to extremely aggressive and is classified into various categories. These categories help to determine the behavior and intensity of waves. According to Category I, the flow of water is calm, and kayaking in this water does not require advanced skills. But if you are a beginner, you are more likely to experience capsizes. So, consider equipping your watercraft with a skirt, even if the waves are not so strong. You can also choose a stretchable material in this case, and you’ll be good to go.

As the categories go higher, the waves get bigger and powerful. Consequently, more water enters the cockpit, making it difficult to navigate the watercraft. In this situation, if you paddle without having your torso covered, the flipping and capsizing of the kayak would be expected.

Furthermore, aggressive ocean currents will prevent you from regaining composure. For these reasons, it is better you rely on spray skirts while exploring the adventure of off-shore kayaking. Also, make the most of this accessory if you want to be a pro at rolling a kayak. When you roll a kayak, the deck of the skirt will keep the cockpit sealed. As a result, the weight of the kayak remains unaffected, and you manage to come back on the surface effortlessly.

kayak spray skirt whitewater

Are Kayak Spray Skirts Universal?

Since kayaks are available in different sizes and shapes, compatible sizes of skirts are also needed to achieve a snug fit. Skirts are manufactured in various measurements, keeping in mind the possible sizes of the cockpit. Similarly, a person having a long torso but a broad waist and another person having a short torso and slim waist can’t wear the same skirt. This means that the size of the paddler also matters.

Cockpit or Torso Fit

Whitewater currents are so fierce that it becomes very hard to maneuver the kayak and stay dry. A skirt has to sit on the rims in such a way that no water droplet should be able to make its way into the cockpit. In fact, a tight seal should be created, which is only possible if you choose the right fit. If you are new to skirts, be clear about the model and measurements of your cockpit. Then go through the sizing chart offered by the skirt manufacturer.

Apart from the fit, the stretchability of the material also plays a great role in making the equipment effective. The stretchable material is durable enough to handle calm waves only. For kayaking in whitewater of Category III or above, a non-stretchable material able to survive aggressive waves would be the best option.

When it comes to determining the size of the tunnel, the main thing to consider is the circumference of the waist. Note down the measurements of your waist and torso portion and check which size bracket has your noted measurements. If the material is hard, you will find difficulty in putting on the skirt and releasing it in case of emergency. However, harder materials ensure the utmost protection from the waves. Also, keep in mind that non-stretchable skirts can make you feel stiff while paddling. But it takes only two or three kayak sessions to get habitual of using tight skirts.

Many models come with the facility of adjustable waistbands or drawcords and enable the user to adjust the fit accordingly. Moreover, the shoulder straps allow you to make the fit as needed.

Still, if you have any doubt regarding the assessment of the size, reach out for guidance from an avid kayaker you may know or use skirt sizing tools. But avoid purchasing a skirt randomly, as choosing an imperfect size will also affect your capabilities.

Types of Kayak Spray Skirts

Rand style skirts are similar to a Tupperware lid and incorporate an extruded rubber ring that should cling to the kayak’s coaming. In bungee-style skirts, there is a spandex cord that attaches the deck to the kayak.

Kayak spray skirts are either manufactured from neoprene or nylon. Neoprene skirts tend to be warm, waterproof, and more resilient so they can withstand unnavigable waves. Plus, neoprene, being thick, provides adequate warmth to the kayaker. That’s why spray decks made from neoprene serve the best in frosty weather. Meanwhile, nylon is more suitable for hot weather and can survive small and regular waves. It is also lightweight and breathable, so you can opt for nylon skirts in the summers.

kayak spray skirt cockpit


To sum up, kayak spray decks are, no doubt, a wonderful accessory to stop water from entering the cockpit. The reason behind establishing a barrier between the torso and ocean water is the need to keep the body dry. When your body and foot area are dry, you can paddle more conveniently in narrow sea routes obstructed by relentless waves. Moreover, if the water is chilly, spray skirts keep your lower body warm while helping you navigate the kayak. This accessory also saves you from the consequences of kayak capsizing in the deep ocean. The story does not end here, as spray skirts make kayak rolling risk-free.

To avail all these benefits from a spray deck, it is important that you lay hands on the right fit. If needed, you should look for sizing instructions and charts provided by skirt manufacturers. If the size is not right, the product will not be able to give the desired results. It is highly like that it will fail to keep the water out. There are some criteria that we need to follow to determine the size. You must be aware of your cockpit’s dimensions. When a skirt is loose, water waves will set it apart from the rim.

The next important thing to consider is the size of the waist. The tunnel should not be overly tight or oversized. Extra-tight skirts affect the paddling capacity of kayakers, whereas loose skirts make them feel uncomfortable.

In addition to all this, the quality and characteristics of skirt materials should also not be ignored. Neoprene skirts are tight and withstand harsh ocean waves without any sign of wear and tear. Also, you get warmth when you wear neoprene skirts. A nylon skirt is breathable and good for the summer season kayaking. However, before using a nylon skirt, make sure the waves will not be fierce.

Once you pick the right fit and material, you can delve into the fun that whitewater kayaking promises. What’s most interesting is that this easy-to-use equipment helps beginners tackle rogue waves and inclement weather confidently.