Can You Roll a Kayak Without a Skirt? (Tips for Durable Kayak Rolling)

I know what you’re thinking, isn’t rolling a kayak without the skirt going to make it easier for water to get in? Well, not necessarily.

Rolling a kayak is an important skill for any paddler, and there are ways to practice and perfect this technique without the risk of damaging your boat or getting wet.

Kayakers can use a spray skirt to keep water out of the boat. In rougher waters, it is generally only used by more experienced paddlers that traverse through harsh conditions.

If you want to learn how to roll your kayak in calmer waters as a casual paddle, knowing if this accessory is necessary could be helpful for you.

Can you roll a kayak without a skirt?

Yes, you can roll a kayak without the use of a spray skirt. But it’s not recommended because there are no other advantages to rolling without one (and some disadvantages). 

A successful roll has more to do with technique and skill than paddling accessories. Spray skirts may prove advantageous during rolling, but they weren’t created solely for that purpose.

A woman kayaks in rough water with a kayak skirt

Kayak rolls are an exciting part of the sport. For a long time, people were rolling without any skirts or equipment at all. But as kayaking became more popular, some people thought that you might need safety gear.

It is possible to roll over and get hit by waves in the water when you are kayaking. Spray skirts offer such protection for those who learn how to do these things right!

How does a kayak spray skirt work?

When kayaking, paddlers wear a tunnel-like neoprene skirt called a spray skirt around their torso. A deck of the spray skirt is on top of a boat’s cockpit. The deck is held tight by an edge or a rand. It’s the spray skirt that seals off water from getting into your boat.

When kayakers tumble, they can get sprayed in the face with cold water and saltwater. With a good spray skirt on, you can go ahead and roll without worrying about wearing yourself out or being hit by waves. It also makes it easier to stand up when capsized.

Spray skirts have been shown to reduce fatigue during rolling, but they weren’t created solely for that purpose. Spray skirts are cheap and easy to use. You can buy them and practice using them without spending too much time or money. Spray skirts will last a long time as long as you take care of them properly (more on that below).

Couple of kayakers in kayak skirts looks at the forest

Are kayak skirts universal?

Absolutely not. There are actually two sizes that matter: trunk size and deck size. Trunk size is the circumference of the boat that your kayak covers, while deck size is intended explicitly for opening at the boat’s space.

Both come in different sizes, so be sure to pick one that best fits your needs.

The measurement for the deck is typically on the underside of your spray skirt. Some people will have it at the front, near where you would remove or rescue the person wearing it; others might put it on one side.

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The measurement should be in centimeters and written with a decimal point so that you know whether to round up or not. Typically there are two measurements: one for length and another for width, but they can also measure in inches.

The size of deck you need to match your kayak is found in the specs of your boat’s manufacturer. For example, my board has a large trunk but requires an extra-large deck for my boat. It’s best to find the right size.

If too small, it will be hard to get on the boat, and premature wear may occur, whereas if too large, there can be enough room for water between it and the skirt’s seal, or it can pop off during a roll.

Experienced kayaker kayaks rough waters with help of skirt

Do I need a skirt to roll appropriately?

Many people think that the most critical aspect of kayaking is purchasing a skirt. Some boats don’t have skirts at all and can be rolled.

Rolling without a skirt is more challenging than rolling with one because it’s more difficult to get back on top of the boat quickly after performing an Eskimo roll technique.

A flooded kayak is less stable, making it easier to roll but more demanding not to do so.

The purpose of a spray skirt is to prevent water from entering the kayak, which can contribute to instability and loss of control.

A kayak skirt is helpful for edging, deep braces, and rolling the boat in rougher water. It helps to keep water out of the vessel as a result, but it does not do away with mid-paddle sprays entirely.

I will put on my neoprene spray skirt for any type of water or paddling situation outside the calmest steadiest season.

Why you can roll a kayak without a skirt

No matter what type of kayak a paddler uses or the water conditions they are traveling in, there is always the risk that mistakes will happen and capsizes may occur.

In the event of a kayaker capsize, it’s best to know what to do. One of the most common ways that kayakers handle this is by rolling their boat back up right-side-up via a quick roll maneuver.

Kayakers can make a move in their kayaks. It is called rolling. You do it by making your back suddenly go up to 180 degrees. It lets you turn over without getting out of the kayak, and then you are sitting up again with your feet on the ground.

Research shows that the only way to do a roll without getting wet is by using a spray skirt. Spray skirts cover your kayak’s cockpit and keep you from floating away when being tossed around in waves.

While a skirt might not be the most fundamental part of rolling, having one will help make this procedure much more manageable.

Spray skirts prevent water from spilling over the kayak, not rolling it

The primary intended use of a kayak spray skirt is to prevent water from entering the cockpit when there are waves. It was not designed for rolling and should only be used for that purpose if in calm waters.

When you kayak, it’s not unusual for water to get inside the cockpit. You would expect this from paddling or even if it rains.

To ensure that your kayaking experience goes as smoothly and painlessly as possible, you need to take steps to prevent water from invading the interior of your kayak.

While kayaking, you never want to be distracted by the frigid water and chilly weather.

A kayak without a skirt is the rough equivalent to a plane without wings. A spray skirt protects you from water and keeps your boat’s cockpit relatively dry, even in adverse conditions.

The spray skirt proves valuable in both cases because it acts as an umbrella surrounding the kayak’s interior and lower body with protection against water exposure.

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It is easier to tip a kayak if it’s been flooded

One of the most important uses of a spray skirt is to prevent water from getting inside your kayak. And because flooded kayaks are easier to tip over, protection from flooding can be one of the most valuable features for anyone looking to buy a new one.

The next major step in learning to roll a kayak is the hip snap. The weight of floodwater helps rock your kayak in the brace you need, and this extra “push” makes it complete the roll so that you can get back upright.

One additional benefit to rolling is that it helps keep the kayak upright. Even if you manage to climb back into your kayak, don’t be surprised if it begins to slide or flip over.

The roll may help stabilize the kayak from overturning while turned side-on in water, but not much protection is offered when a kayak is upside-down.

For kayakers, the primary consideration is whether to wear a spray skirt. Many people opt for the more traditional skirt because they worry about water filling up their boats.

People who are not confined might be less scared

Kayakers need to understand both the risks and advantages of using a spray skirt.

Spray skirts anchor the kayaker to the boat by wrapping around their waist. To take a bow, or roll in this case, of your kayak, you must loosen this skirt and then shift weight to the other end of your boat.

This confinement may lead inexperienced paddlers to experience fear because they are not used to the feeling of being restricted in the water.

If you’re not accustomed to using a spray skirt, the fear of being capsized while wearing one might cause paralysis, which can lead to difficulties finding air.

How do you get into a kayak with a spray skirt?

Red kayak and rough waters
  1. First, you get a spray skirt that will fit snugly against your body. The part of the suit that fits around your chest is called “the tunnel.” You step into it and pull the strap up higher on top to where it comes up close or even crosses over to one side of your sternum if needed.
  2. Once you are strapped in, most people find that they can move around much more smoothly. They stay warmer because it is all over their body.
  3. Installing the spray skirt on a kayak is a crucial step to keep you and your boat dry. There are many sizes available, so make sure it fits both needs and size of the kayak.
  4. Place the back of your skirt over your knees, and then pull it tight. Next, slide both hands forward until they reach a cockpit combing on either side.
  5. Make sure to tie on your boat’s grab loop (the cord that attaches the skirt material to your boat) in front of the cockpit, never behind. For added safety, you can place the loop over or under a plastic button.

How tight should a kayak skirt be (What size kayak skirt do I need?)

One of the problematic aspects of kayak gear is finding a skirt that’s both dry and affordable. Usually, these three requirements go hand in hand, but there are some exceptions to this rule:

  • Neoprene skirts are more challenging to put on than regular skirts but tend to offer more protection.
  • More robust materials usually cause the skirt to be more difficult to slip on, making them less of a hassle.
  • Stretching, waterproof materials that are durable enough for kayaking can be expensive.

With so many different cockpit models available these days, finding the perfect skirt for your kayak can be challenging. Some people prefer a skimpier skirt for more comfort, while others find extra protection from a neoprene skirt is necessary since they may not enjoy cold water and long paddles.

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In the end, there’s no substitute for actually trying a kayak skirt on before you buy it. Even if you’re pretty sure which size of kayak skirt is best for your boat. Don’t rely solely on guesswork, and keep in mind that personal preference also plays a role in picking out what size is best.

Scenic view of waterfall and a kayaker in a kayak skirt

The Problems with Rolling a Kayak Without a Skirt

It’s not a bad idea to try rolling a kayak without using a spray skirt, but there are still drawbacks.

It is more difficult to control a kayak when it has water in it

One way to minimize the effect of water in a kayak is with a neoprene skirt, which seals off the bow and cockpit opening. It makes it easier for paddlers to maintain control of their boat during wet weather conditions, especially when they wear chest waders or dry suits.

As a result, kayaks’ stability on the water is lessened when paddling without a spray skirt. The chances of capsizing also significantly increase with being without a paddle skirt.

Even if an overturn can still be rolled, it’s much more likely that this will happen again on the next attempt because of increased instability in flat and rough water.

Your legs might get cold when there is water inside

A spray skirt not only keeps water out of the boat’s cockpit but it protects your lower body from cold temperatures. The shivering that results from these types of conditions can affect stability and concentration.

If not having enough time to get on the water doesn’t make kayaking seem daunting enough, severe cold weather or water temperatures could cause hypothermia. Shockingly high waters can trigger a standard reaction of blood vessels constricting in an effort to conserve heat.

When you are kayaking in cold water, the more layers of neoprene skirts you can wear will help to keep your body warm.

The tricky balance between technique and comfort quickly falls apart when one is constantly exposed to freezing water, risking hypothermia.

How do you measure a spray skirt?

Skirt sizing is an essential measure when getting outfitted with one of these beautiful items – but what exactly should you look at?

Firstly, there are two key things: how wide is the outside edge or “rim” where your boat rests; secondly, do you need a full-length or shortie style (that sits below the calf).

These details make all difference as different styles offer various benefits such as improved warmth against colder waters.

For instance, a shorty skirt is the ideal choice for warmer waters but can get caught up more easily in rough seas.

Kayakers enjoy calm water on the river

Is it better to wear a skirt or no skirt when you roll?

A kayak roll when wearing a spray skirt is much easier because the waistband confines them to the kayak comfortably and securely.

Doing so minimizes the space around the kayaker since skirts are connected to the cockpit of the boat. It allows for an easy flip of the ship back to an upright position with a mighty push of the legs.

Using a spray skirt can isolate you, making challenging waters – especially if you do end up capsizing.

For many people, the fear of confinement is why they shouldn’t use a spray skirt. However, if you have gotten over this fear and would like to benefit from its added positives and control your buoyancy while paddling, then it’s time to give in and buy a spray skirt.

It’s possible to roll a kayak whether or not you have a spray skirt on. A roll is about skill, technique, and experience rather than the product of the spray skirt. So this means that if you want to wear one for rolling purposes, it’s up to you. The decision regarding what equipment depends on a paddler’s preferences and what they find comfortable.

Last updated on June 19, 2022 by Duncan Barrett

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