kayaking banner

Making a simple DIY kayak spray skirt

my Kayak in the pool

I recently bought this hand made plywood kayak. It did not come with a spray skirt.

I took the boat to Lake Erie after checking it out in the pool. There were 2 ft waves and a rising wind. The kayak behaved very well but took on quite a lot of water with the breaking waves.

If you are only going to paddle in very quiet water you don't need a spray skirt at all, but if you are planning a day where the waves might wash over the deck then you need the extra protection. A spray skirt will also keep you warmer and stop the dripping in of water from your paddle.

If you plan to kayak in really rough conditions where there is a good chance of tipping (and having to roll), then you might consider a heavy duty spray skirt made of neoprene.

This spray skirt is intended for recreational and touring use. It is NOT intended to keep the water out if you like to play in rapids or in big waves.

This is Mountain Equipment Coop's page on choosing a kayak sprayskirt

Kayak Spray Skirt Details

Kayak spray skirtrip stop nylon for kayak spray skirt

The completed spray skirt has a 1/4 inch bungee/shock cord knotted around the coaming ridge, to keep it onto the kayak, and 3 rows of elasticized bands around the tunnel (the top part that fits against your body) to keep it snugly against the torso and keep out water.

It's actually not a difficult project but I found it hard to clearly describe. I hope it's clear enough.

Kayak Spray Skirt Materials

The material I used is coated ripstop nylon. It is quite lightweight with a thin layer of rubberized material to make it completely waterproof. This was readily available at Fabricland. I would have preferred a slightly thicker material but so far it has performed well so I have no issues recommending it. I think one of it's main uses is as a tent flysheet material.

I bought one metre and that was enough but not a lot of extra. I used 60 inch material. Welcome to Canada where you can buy 60 inch wide material by the metre. Plywood is sold in sheets 4 feet x 8 feet by 6 millimetres.

I'm sorry I did not get 2 metres and did not make a plain rain cover for the kayak while I was doing the spray skirt. The exact amount depends on the size of your coaming so buy fabric accordingly.

You will need 1/4 inch shock cord that fits comfortably around the coaming and allows you to make a big bulky knot with a loop that is easy to grab and pull of if you need to bail if your boat tips. The shock cord should be firm enough to hold the skirt in place but easy enough to pull it off if you need to. I ended up using 86 inches of cord.

I got mine from a sailing supply company. Here is a link to an Amazon.com seller, Goldberg, that sells it.

You will also need good quality sewing elastic that is flat. I used 3/8 inch wide elastic. There are 3 elastic bands around the top and these should fit around you torso with a little extra. You will adjust the fit later.

Get appropriate thread to sew the nylon.

Sewing in the waterproof coating makes it leak so you can cover the seams with waterproofing such as a thin coat of silicone sealant, or special goop sold for the purpose. I expect tent seam waterproofing would work, as would 3M 4200 caulking compound if you have it around. I have not done this and I get some water dripping in. Since I get wet anyway it makes no difference to me when it's warm. Next time I'm installing sailboat hardware I'll do the spray skirt seams.

Making a pattern and taking measurements

plastic stretched over coamingplastic spray skirt pattern

Get a piece of plastic that will fit comfortably over the coaming. Using a bungee cord, a bunch of elastic bands tied together, or a length of sewing elastic attach the plastic over the coaming and stretch it so there are no folds. I tried using just string and I found that it really did not work very well and I could not get the plastic to stay stretched.

Using a felt pen, mark the inner opening, the outside of the coaming and around the lower part of the elastic where the coaming meets the deck.

shock cordadd seam allowance

You now need to add a seam allowance to the outside dimension. This will vary depending on the shock cord / bungee cord you choose. This one was left over from one of the sailboat project and is a quarter inch thick. It was a perfect size.

You will need to add the circumference of the bungee (3.14 x .25 inch) plus some slack to allow the bungee to move freely plus some seam allowance (about 3/8 worked for me). On my skirt this turned out to be about 2 inches or a bit less.

depth of kayak

You need a couple more measurements. You need to know how deep you are when you are sitting in the boat, and how heigh the skirt needs to go on your torso (the tunnel of the sprayskirt).

I measured the distance in the boat, then I sat down on the ground and measured from the ground to the height I wanted it to go and noted the figures. The height of the tunnel is then the total length less the depth of the kayak.

In hindsight it would have been just as easy to sit in the kayak and measure directly the height that I wanted above the coaming.

Whichever method you use make sure you allow for the height of any seat or padding you use in the bottom of the kayak.

Cut and start sewing the spray skirt

depth of kayak

Using the plastic pattern on which you have added the bungee and seam allowance cut the nylon top. I used weights rather than pins to hold the pattern on to make as few holes as possible.

Sew in a small patch to reinforce the front part of the skirt. This is a piece 4 x 4 inches. This will reinforce the hole you will make to thread the bungee through the channel.

Set up your sewing machine to zig zag around the perimeter of the nylon to stop any unravelling.

It is possible to sew this by hand but might take a bit of time and you will have to waterproof the seams. If you are working by hand then do an overhand stitch all the way around the perimetre.

Next fold over the edge, coated side to coated side and sew around to make the channel for your bungee cord.

If you are not completely confident about your sizing, then sew by hand making long basting stitches. You want the channel where your shock cord passes, to be oversize to allow the cord to slide easily in.

fold and sew

Here the edge of the sprayskirt has been folded back and tacked in using big stitches. There is a small rectangle of reinforcement in the fold at the front, not very visible. We are looking at the underside.

Thread your bungee through, between your long basting stitches, pull the bungee to tighten the fabric and put in a loose knot.

Try the skirt on your kayak. The skirt should fit well but not drum tight. A bit looser is better than a bit too tight. If you are making a rain cover fit it a bit tighter than a skirt so that the water does not pool onto the cover.

If you need to make adjustments, mark then carefully. IF you find that you have made your skirt too small, it is possible to sew on a long strip along the edge to make it wider.

Take out the bungee and make a permanent seam around the edge to replace your temporary seam.

At this point this skirt could be used as a rain cover for the kayak.

Working from the top carefully cut a slit in the channel that will hold the shock cord. This slit is placed at the very front of the cover. It will allow you to put in the shock cord. Only cut the top layer of the fabric and the top layer of the small reinforcement you put in. Sew around the raw edge by hand to reinforce it and stop it from unravelling

It should look like a more or less tidy button hole slot the size of your bungee.

Fitting and sewing the tunnel

The next step is to figure out where to put the opening for the tunnel. The best way to do this is to sit in your kayak and figure out what position is comfortable. If you have a back rest then it should be in. It is not really ideal to sit and paddle leaning back, because it interferes with the rotation of the torso that should happen as you paddle. Ideally the back rest is really there for the occasional rest and to prevent a hard spot if you happen to lean back.

Decide where you are most comfortable while paddling and measure from your back to the inside of the backrest/coaming. In my case it was about an inch.

You then need to measure your chest. Add lots to allow for movement. I added 10 inches plus one inch for seam allowance. The extra gets taken in by the elastic so it fits tightly. This will be the diametre of the tunnel. I'm quite large so I added more than a skinny person would add.

making the opening

You now need the height of the tunnel. You had measured this earlier when you checked the depth of the kayak. In my case the tunnel is 6 1/2 inches heigh. Add another inch for seam allowance.

Note that the extra width of the tunnel and of the hole needed to fit it in, means that some of the tunnel will curve towards the horizontal so add a bit extra to get the height you want. see images below.

spray skirt installed on kayakspray skirt installed on kayak

This is clearly visible on the back part of the skirt. The tunnel actually starts where the creased section begins but it does not go straight up. This is deliberate. It adds some play in the fit so movements are not restricted.

You now need to cut a strip of fabric that is the circumference of your chest plus 10 or so inches plus 1 inch seam allowances. The height is twice (because it gets folded over) plus one inch seam allowance (plus the allowance for the oversize. In my case 5 1/2 inches twice plus one inch seam allowance plus 2 inch horizontal spread, 14 inches wide. It's better to make the tunnel too high rather than too low. It can always be cut. It's harder to add material.

The height of the splash skirt is a matter of preference.

Sew the short sides together to make a tube.

You need to be able to slip this tube either over your hips or over your head. You could be wearing a wet suit or heavy windbreaker so make sure it is not too tight.

making the opening

In order to position the opening, I used a tape measure that I had taped at the correct size so I could place it on my pattern and move it around. Position your tape measure on your pattern and decide where you want to put your opening. You have measured the distance from the back to the tunnel to the back of the cowling, so mark that on your pattern and position the tape measure taped at the correct size onto the plastic pattern.

The opening should be an oval. Mark this on your pattern then mark 1/2 inches inside your mark for a seam allowance. This is where you will cut your opening. The seam allowance is 1/2 inch so the tunnel will be in the right place after sewing. Mark your opening just a bit smaller than what you think it should be. That way if you have made a small mistake and marked it too large you will still be able to fit the tunnel on. A small fold in the tunnel after sewing is irrelevant and will not show.

Transfer this inner mark to your skirt and cut the opening.

Sew the tube to the base

This part is harder to explain than to do. Imagine you are putting a stovepipe onto a stove. Instead of screws you are sewing it on.

sew together and clip

Start by pinning or tacking the good side of one of the ends of the tube to the underside of the skirt. Pin it all around the opening hole. The hole will be smaller than the tube but that is not important. You want to match one half inch away from the opening to one half inch up the tube. If the tube is larger, allow small pleats to take in the extra material. Baste this in place using big stitches just inside the half inch allowance.

Check the fit and sew it in place. Take out basting stitches and cut little notches between the seam and the inner edge so that the little flaps you create can be pushed upwards and hidden inside the tunnel.

fold top edge

Pull the tube through the hole.

Fold back one half inch of the top end of the tunnel. Crease the fold with your fingers, so that it stays in place. No need to tack this.

sew on the spray skirt tunnel

Fold the tube so that the top edge covers the little tabs. In this way all your seams and untidy tabs are hidden inside the tube. This will make the tall tube only half as tall.

Your tube will now be double sided.

You now need to carefully align the very edge of the tube onto the base. You already have one seam at the very bottom so this seam should follow it very closely. The seam will be about 1/8 inch, or less, away from edge so position it carefully

Sew the assembly staying near the edge of the so that all the layers are included in the seam. This top stitch should hide your bottom stitch if possible. If not it's not a problem, it just looks a bit messier.

This results in the tunnel getting neatly attached to the skirt with seams inside.

Channels for elastic

Sew 5 seams around the tube so that it makes 3 channels for the elastic that will tighten your sprayskirt around your chest. The lower channel should start at least an inch above the lower seam. The very top channel only needs one seam because it is located at the fold. The size of the channels depend on the elastic you have bought. It should fit loosely in the channel.

cut 3 small slots on the inside of the channels to thread in the elastic. No real need to finish these edges since once the elastic is in there is no stress on the slots.

Cut your 3 elastics to the size of your chest. Thread the elastic by attaching a large safety pin to it and working it in the channel feeding the elastic through the slots. Once it's through tie it loosely and check your skirt for fit. Depending on how stretchy your elastic is you will need to shorten it till it feels comfortable. It should not really feel tight, just snug. Remember you might have a jacket or wetsuit on so don't make it too tight. The bottom channel should be just a bit looser than the top one.

Check the fit of the spray skirt sitting on the kayak with the bungee properly attached. Hopefully you will have figured out the height of the tunnel correctly and will not need to adjust it. If you have to add a piece to the top or fold down your top till it's the right size.

Once you are happy with the tightness of the elastics cut them to proper size and sew them together. It's useful to have a couple of inches overlap in case you need to lengthen the elastic later.

Tying the shock cord

shock cord

The shock cord which hold the skirt onto the rim of the kayak needs to be tight enough to hold the sprayskirt in place but not so tight that you can't pull on the knot and quickly remove it if you need to in case of a capsize. Make a large knot and leave a good loop to make it easier to grab. If you want you can thread a piece of hose or a large bead, to provide a better handle.

Some spray skirts have suspenders that keep the sprayskirt lifted. This avoids any pooling in the area around your lap and makes the skirt dryer and less likely to drip small amounts of water inside.

Waterproofing the seams

You can cover the seams with waterproofing compound used for tents, or a thin layer of silicone sealant. I'm sure there are other waterproofing goops out there.

NOTE: I have used this spray skirt for a couple of seasons and have found that it works really well.

I also made a paddle float to help me get back into the boat if I capsize. I have found it hard to get back into the kayak when practicing. This will allow me to brace myself against the paddle to steady the tippy kayak.

This kayak came with a very ugly Kayak Dolly that has worked very well.

email me: Christine

Kayaking books and stuff