How to Choose Kayak Accessories

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Kayak on a mountain lake

Once you’ve taken the plunge—purchased a kayak, a paddle, a PFD and a boat full of safety gear, the fun’s not done yet. The realm of kayak accessories beckons. None of these accessories are essentials per se, though a few might rise to that status on your own personal checklist. Kayak accessories include:

  • Kayak carts: Rolling a boat is a lot easier than carrying one, especially if you don’t have a buddy to help.
  • Dry bags: You’ll need these for on-deck essentials, as well as overnight supplies.
  • Clip-on deck accessories: Chart holders and compass mounts help keep you on course; cargo nets or extra bungee cords keep essentials handy.
  • Screw-on deck mounts: Permanently attached mounts let you secure items ranging from fishing-rod holders to cell phones.
  • Cockpit cover: A cover keeps the rain out before you launch and deters camp creatures from stowing away during storage or overnight trips.
  • Scupper plugs: This sit-on-top kayak accessory blocks a scupper hole whenever more water is coming up through it than is draining out.


Kayak Carts

Person rolling kayak on a cart

If you have a lakeside cabin with a boathouse, then getting your kayak from land to water is pretty straightforward. But most of us have to drive to the put-in point, where we often find that the parking lot is a long way from the water. Savvy paddlers, especially after having wrestled an unwieldy kayak from the lot to the shore a few times, eventually turn to a kayak cart:

Center-hull carts: These large rigs have a center cradle between a pair of large wheels. You and a buddy lift the kayak onto the cart so that the centerpoint (the balance point) of the hull sits in the cradle. From there it’s an easy roll to the shore. Generally, the bigger the wheels the easier the rolling, and wider tires handle soft sand better.

Stern wheels: This compact cart straps onto the back of your kayak. Then you lift the bow and the stern wheels will follow. The rolling won’t be as easy as it is on a center-hull cart, but stern wheels are easier to store. Some people stow them in their kayak so they can roll their kayak far from the water’s edge when they reach their campsite.

Sit-on-top kayak carts: These feature vertical prongs that slip into a boat’s scupper holes. The width between the prongs is adjustable to fit a variety of sit-on-top kayaks.


Dry Bags

Dry bags lashed to a kayak

When storing gear, assume that every nook and cranny of your boat will get wet. That means anything that can soak up water has to go into a dry bag. The tip here is to get a wide variety of types and colors to help you organize and easily find things. 

Another tip is to avoid overly large dry bags, even for your overnight gear. The logic is that “trimming” your boat—loading it so the weight is distributed evenly from side to side and front to back—is easier to do if you have a lot of small bags to shift around.


Clip-on Deck Accessories

Bag secured on kayak deck

Securing key items on your deck keeps them readily available:

  • Deck lines: Most kayaks have perimeter static lines for safety and bungee cords for quick-stash storage. You can also add your own, either using existing eyelets on your boat or by adding eyelets and lines or bungees you purchase.
  • Cargo net: Some attach to deck rigging; others attach using suction cups.
  • Chart holder: This clear, waterproof sleeve typically has cords with clips at each corner, so you can mount it to deck rigging directly in front of the cockpit.
  • Deck compass: Deck compasses can be read from the side (behind), so you mount them on the deck rigging directly in front of the cockpit. Other kayak compasses mount permanently to the deck using screws.


Screw-on Deck Accessories

Hardware-mounted kayak accessories

Hardware-mounted accessories offer secure attachment for a range of items. Most consist of a base mount that attaches to the kayak deck and a specialized holder that attaches to that mount. You’ll also need to place electronic gadgets and pricey optical gear inside a fully waterproof case.

  • Phone holder: for access to your usual apps or kayaking-specific ones
  • Camera holder: for an action camera or a pro-quality still camera
  • Beverage holder: keeps your drink of choice within arm’s reach
  • Fishing-rod holder: so you can react quickly when the big one strikes


Cockpit Covers

Cockpit cover

You always want to start your paddling day with a dry boat interior. One way to ensure that is to add a cockpit cover for the drive to the put-in. Make it a habit to put the cover on every time—if you wait until the rain starts, the cockpit can get soaked.

Also be sure to attach the cover on overnight kayak camping trips and while you’re storing your boat. You’ll keep both rain and unwanted camp creatures from sneaking inside during the night.

You’ll need a cover that fits your kayak model, so check sizing charts carefully when you shop.


Scupper Plugs

Scupper holes in sit-in kayaks are designed to make the boat self-draining. (No bailing required!) There are times, though, when the holes can make things less comfortable. Rough water can turn a scupper hole into a mini geyser. A heavily loaded boat might sit so low that a hole admits water. If you have a set of scupper plugs with you, then you can strategically dam-up any problem holes.