Spray skirts for kayaks all share basic anatomy: the torso, the deck and the rand. The torso or tunnel is worn around the paddler's waist. The deck is the "skirt" portion that goes from the paddler's torso to cover the boat's cockpit. The rand, or the edge of the spray skirt, holds the deck taut over the cockpit. The rand can be as simple as an elastic cord or as sophisticated as custom-cut rubber or neoprene bands that fit specific boat models.

To decide which spray skirt is right for you, first consider materials and design.

Consider Spray Skirt Materials

Neoprene

Neoprene spray skirts are used mainly for whitewater or surf kayaking. They fit snugly around the waist and over the cockpit. This design keeps water out during rolling or bracing and withstands the force of breaking waves.

Neoprene skirts typically have rubber edges (or rands) that grip the cockpit coaming (lip) and stay in place unless the paddler pulls the grab loop. This is especially important for advanced river runners or rodeo participants who would be endangered by having their skirt come off in the middle of the action.

The neoprene in spray skirts measures about 3 millimeters, thicker than most wetsuits. They provide insulation for the paddler in cold conditions. For sea kayaking (or touring), all-neoprene skirts can be uncomfortably tight and warm, however. For this reason, lighter materials such as coated nylon are used in sea kayak spray skirts.

Nylon

All-nylon skirts offer adequate dryness and security for most sea kayaking, plus their roominess and venting capability make them comfortable for long days of touring. Most types are made of waterproof, polyurethane-coated nylon, while others feature waterproof/breathable materials that let moisture escape the cockpit when you start working hard.

Nylon tunnels (or the portion of the spray skirt that is worn around the waist) may be equipped with an adjustable elastic cord or a neoprene or Lycra® spandex waistband. Some feature suspenders to allow the wearer to vary the position on their waist. This design makes for easy venting of the cockpit as well as quick battening down when conditions get rough.

Nylon decks are easier to attach and release than neoprene, but they don't create the tight seal needed for very rough water that neoprene decks do.

Nylon/Neoprene Combination

This construction style offers the best features of both materials. It combines the comfort and venting capability of a nylon torso tube with the tight seal and taut surface created by a neoprene deck. Many sea kayakers use combination skirts because the nylon allows them to adjust ventilation and the neoprene provides extra protection from breaking waves in the surf zone.

It should be noted that spray skirts do not prevent water from entering a boat if it capsizes, nor are they substitutes for flotation bags in boats without bulkheads.

Consider Spray Skirt Design

You may want to select a spray skirt with extra features for fit, comfort or convenience:

  • Quick-release nylon or elastic shoulder straps to adjust the fit and hold up the torso tube
  • Drawcord waist for a snug fit, ventilation and adjustable sizing
  • A panel sewn into the deck of nylon skirts to make them taut and prevent water from collecting
  • Internal or external pockets to store sunscreen or other accessories

Some Special Designs

Mini or half skirts, used for calm water and warm weather paddling, are not worn, but rather attach at the front of the cockpit. Because they don't cover the whole opening, they keep water and sun off your legs but allow air circulation in the cockpit.

Tandem touring skirts are designed to fit two-person, open cockpit boats such as the Perception Keowee. They consist of two separate pieces, each with its own grab loop. Once in their seats, the paddlers join the skirts with Velcro® or some other kind of fastener in the center of the boat.

Get the Right Fit

Because they're used in whitewater and ocean surf, neoprene spray skirts are designed to fit snugly. They are consequently offered in different waist sizes, typically small through extra large. Check the waist measurements for a particular model's size range to make your choice. (See the sizing chart link provided on all Seals product pages on REI.com.) Most often used in gentler water and worn for long periods of time, nylon touring skirts offer a roomier fit. They are highly adjustable at the waist and are usually offered in one size to fit a wide range. These tips will help you fit your spray skirt the first time you use it:

  • Put on your spray skirt BEFORE you don your PFD. You'll get a better seal that way.
  • Cinch up the waist cord, if the skirt has one. If it's a nylon touring skirt, adjust the shoulder straps so the spray skirt has a taut surface when attached to the cockpit edge.
  • When attaching your skirt to your boat, start behind you, running the shockcord or rubber edge underneath the coaming (lip) of the cockpit. Keep one hand on the edge as you continue to attach the rest of the skirt around to the front.
  • Be sure that the grab loop is accessible—make sure it's not caught on the inside of the cockpit where you can't get at it when you need it.