Why Does My Kayak Fill With Water?


Checking kayak for leaks

Kayaking is a super fun activity. Whether you are enjoying a recreational paddle, calmly touring lakes or ocean shorelines, or maybe holding on for dear life during a whitewater adrenaline rush, there aren’t many better ways to investigate the water than on a kayak. But, we all like to stay dry while paddling so why does your kayak sometimes fill with water and how can you stop it from happening again?

If large amounts of water are getting into your kayak check it for hull damage. Check the fittings are secure and watertight. Check hatch gaskets are not worn. On sit-on-top kayaks check the rudder and pedal mechanism are secure and fittings are watertight. Check the drainage plug, scupper holes and scupper plugs for damage/bad fit. On sit-in kayaks check the compartment hatches are watertight and check your spray skirt for holes. Replace damaged fittings and apply sealant to all possible leak areas.

Why does water get into a kayak?

If you find that small amounts of water are getting into your kayak don’t panic. It is totally normal for some water to get into the cockpit of a sit-in kayak and to get onto the deck of a sit-on-top kayak. The top of the boat is practically sitting just above the water line after all.

With such a low freeboard on a kayak you have to expect water to get into your boat even if the water is just being carried in from your paddle. Obviously though, if large amounts of water are getting into your kayak this is probably a sign of a much bigger problem.

Let’s take a look at the potential problems that could be causing the issue of water getting inside your kayak.

As there are 2 different types of kayak, sit-in and sit-on-top, we need to approach this problem from two different angles.

Water getting in to a sit-on-top kayak

If a small amount of water is getting into the deck area of your sit-on-top kayak it is probably not much to worry about.

But, even though small amounts of water getting onto the deck area of a sit-on-top kayak is a small problem it can still be annoying. No-on wants to paddle in the wet. So, I will cover the reasons for this happening and the fixes for it – if fixes are available.

If large amounts of water are getting into your deck area there may be more complex problems and fixes involved.

Small amounts of water getting into deck area

If you start to notice small amounts of water gathering inside your kayak, say a few cups over the space of a few hours, then the culprit probably lies with your boat’s hatches.

Well maintained hatches will not let in water. However, water can splash up over the hatches and rest in the gaps only to fall into the boat when the hatch is open. This is not a big problem and is unlikely to be the cause of water in your boat. It is much more likely you have a faulty hatch.

Worn gaskets in hatchets can lead to small amounts of water getting into your kayak and over time time these small amounts start to grow bigger. This is an easy fix by either fitting a new gasket, a new hatch or just by using some seal tape if the problem isn’t that bad.

I always advise to replace worn parts rather than trying to patch them up though; you are just creating a bigger problem for a later date if you patch instead of replace. You don’t want to have several repairs to make that keep you off the water simply because you didn’t make minor repairs to problems as you encountered them.

If the water is not getting into your kayak via the hatches then the next place to look is at the fittings.

Are there any lose deck fittings that may be letting in water?

If you come across any lose fittings simply screw them back in tight and as an additional measure use some good grade marine silicon sealant at the point where the fitting meets the hull. If need be, replace the fitting. I always advise people to use sealant as an extra measure because once a fitting comes lose it never really fits back in as tightly again – even new ones may not be as tight a fit because the holes have widen fractionally.

Next, check the rudder lines. Are they perfectly sealed into the holes? Again sealant is your friend. Using some silicon sealant around these areas creates an even more secure point denying water any access.

Large amounts of water getting into the kayak

If a large amount of water is getting into your sit-on-top kayak the first thing to do is look for a crack in the hull. If there is sign of hull damage you will probably need to take the boat to a specialist to get fixed.

If you want to attempt a home repair watch the video below.

If there are no signs of obvious hull damage the next thing to check is the drainage plug. Is it securely and tightly screwed in? Are there signs of wear on the gasket and thread?

Again replace any worn parts and use sealant to create a secure watertight fit.

If the problem is not with the drainage plug, look next at the scupper holes.

Scupper holes are an important safety feature on a sit-on-top kayak, especially a sit-on-top kayak being used by a beginner, so check that they are not clogged up.

If the scupper holes are clear then you may need scupper plugs so you actually can clog up the holes. Why would you do that?

Well, scupper holes can sometimes let in more water than they drain away. For example, if you are paddling over large waves in your kayak, it is likely that much more water will make its way up through the scupper holes than makes it way out of them. In circumstances like this scupper plugs are useful.

If you are not using supper holes and are kayaking in very choppy water this could be the reason for water build-up inside your boat. Get some good quality universal scupper plugs that are sure to fit your kayak and carry them with you at all times on the water in case you need them.

If you already use scupper hole plugs then check them for damage and make sure they are a tight fight. Do not use sealant on scupper hole plugs because you will definitely want to remove them under certain conditions!

Learning when to use scupper plugs and when not to use them usually comes down to experience. If you are unsure simply ask other kayakers who frequent the same waters you do when you should use plugs and when you should not.

If the scupper holes or scupper plugs are not the problem your next port of call is the seat plugs. Check the seat where it is fastened to the hull to see if there are any cracks or obvious signs of wear. It is all too easy for water to get through damaged seat plug holes. Replace any word parts and, again, sealant is your friend.

If your sit-on-top kayak is fitted with a pedal system look at this very carefully. Is it secure and sealed properly where it is attached the hull?

Fixing the problems

In most instances you will be able to fix most of the problems listed above yourself. However, if you find that the problem still persists or you find an indication of more serious damage to the hull of your kayak you will likely need to seek professional assistance.

Get a lightweight, hand-operated bilge pump, like this one, so that you have an efficient way of removing water from inside your kayak quickly and easily.

Water getting in to a sit-in kayak

Just like a sit-on-top kayak, if small amounts of water are getting into the cockpit of your sit-in kayak it is probably nothing to worry about.

If larger amount of water are getting into the cockpit then you may have bigger problems.

Small amounts of water getting into cockpit

Water in the cockpit of a sit-in kayak is not that much of a problem, unless of course there is a large amount of it. However, it can be uncomfortable having water sloshing about around your feet as you paddle so you will likely want to stop this from happening.

Most water gets into the cockpit from splash and not from leaks. Check your spray skirt is in good order and that it fits securely around the cockpit opening so no water can slip through. Be sure there are not small holes in it. Small holes are very easy to miss in a spray skirt and even just a few almost imperceptible holes can let enough water into the cockpit where it becomes annoying over time.

If you are not using a good quality spray skirt get one!

Try fitting one when you go out on the water and you may be surprised at how easily you have just eliminated your problem.

Large amounts of water getting into compartments

If large amounts of water are getting into the cockpit of a sit-in kayak you have damage somewhere in the hull. You will likely need to take your kayak to a specialist so they can restore the integrity of the hull.

If you want to try a home repair watch the following 2 videos.

However, many of the problems that can allow a lot of water to get into the compartments of sit-in kayak are the same problems that let water into a sit-on-top kayak. So let’s re-look at those.

The first thing to do is to check the hull for damage look for holes that could be letting the water in. Holes are easier to fix than cracks because there are easier immediate fixes as you can see in the video below.

Again if you want to use a home fix try the advice in the following video.

If there is no sign of hull damage look at the fittings to make sure they are tight. Consider applying some silicon sealant to points where the fittings hit the hull for extra protection against leaks. If you find that you only need to re-tighten fittings apply some silicon sealant anyway just to be sure.

Contrary to popular belief by beginners, there are no scupper holes in a sit-in kayak. If you see some, they are not scupper holes but just regular holes and you need to fix them. 😉

Fixing the problems

As long as there is no hull damage done to your boat you can fix most of the leakage problem yourself very easily.

As you can see in the videos above many problems that stem from hull damage can be fixed at home with some ingenuity and a few clever products. If you do perform your own hull repairs be sure to test the boat in a safe environment before heading out on a trip especially if you like whitewater kayaking or touring in the ocean or open waters.

Where you can, get replacements for damaged or worn parts. Use good grade marine silicon sealant around fittings to give them extra protection.

And if you’re feet are getting wet, get a spray skirt!

Get a lightweight, hand-operated bilge pump, like this one, that you can easily carry with you on your kayak. A portable bilge pump makes it easier to remove water from inside a sit-in kayak. You can pump bilge water out of a kayak compartment and the cockpit a lot easier than you can get it out by turning the boat over or by trying to soak it up with something like foam.

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