In Search of A Dry Boat

The quest continues for a spray deck that really keeps the water out, reducing or eliminating the need to stop and dump. As we push into more serious and committing rivers, this is a serious problem that needs a “Manhattan Project” approach.

I’ve tried all the various deck designs produced so far and none of them really fits the bill. I am convinced that the driest design is on Roman Dial’s boat and involves an “air dam” cuff at the waist. This 4" air dam effectively blocks water from pouring into your lap, one of the major points of entry.

I recently tried the newest design (we’ll call it “Spraydeck 5.0”), which involves a series of plastic teeth (made from cutting board material) that slot into pockets along the side of the boat and replace the velcro seam. I did like the snugness of this design, once it was closed, but it is difficult to close one-handed, an essential trait when you are in a micro-eddy that wants to spit you back into the current above the next drop. While this latest model eliminated other major points of water entry (eg; the velcro seam down the middle of the boat, or the velcro seam across the front of the boat), water still pours into your lap. It is one of the driest designs yet, but still needs some tweaking. I think that using a stiffer material for the plastic teeth might enhance the ability to slot the teeth one-handed. Currently it is easy to bend the plastic, which requires more fiddling while you’re struggling to get your deck closed before you get sucked toward Killer Fang Falls.

My first spray deck was the “vulva” design (Spraydeck 2.0), with an air dam surrounding the cockpit and a flap of deck fabric that closed over the top. This was a fairly dry design, except for the fact that the fabric did not close snuggly across the front of the body. Sheri replaced this deck for me with Spraydeck 3.0, the model with the central velcro seam. This is the worst yet, as it is very hard to close one-handed and waves breaking on the deck split the seam with ease.

Spraydeck 4.0 was an improvement, with the center velcro seam replaced by a side velcro seam. In a modification of this design, Spraydeck 4.1, the front cross-seam is completely sealed. On Spraydeck 5.0, the front cross-seam has a waterproof zipper.

After paddling numerous times with Roman and watching with envy as he bobbed along dry as a bone while I struggled to stop, dump and re-enter, I am convinced that the air dam is an essential component. In big water where waves break on your deck, any rocking motion sends the water straight towards your lap. That water is going to breach the velcro waist seal and start filling your boat.

I think the ideal solution involves an air dam and a taller waist that closes higher on your torso.

What do you think?

Brad Meiklejohn

I have Spraydeck 4.0 on my latest boat. While a dramatic improvement over the vulva (v2), too much water gets in when steep creeking or floating big water, and it’s difficult to create the seal on the cross seam, whether with one hand or two.

I like the idea of a zip but am not a fan of something that doesn’t separate fast when you flip. I don’t like getting stuck and having to slither out of a slit opening.

The air dam is a pretty essential component, but I find that the skirt is too low to make it functional. There is too much gap for a skinny person in the front, because the dam doesn’t secure in a perfect conforming circle. I haven’t seen Roman’s boat so can’t comment on his rig.

I’d rather see both the air dam and an elastic rim, say 1-2" wide, at the top of the skirt (the drawcord is inadequate) which would create a bomber seal yet still have a breakaway Velcro center release seam.

It’s tricky, this design. Lots going on with the elastic dynamics of the boat that you don’t have in a hardshell … but worth investing the design time; it’s probably the one design limitation to taking Alpacka’s into long stretches of hard water without having to dump the boat periodically.

In the last couple years we have taken a quantum leap with even having spray decks. I have already heard a couple campfire talks where seasoned packrafters were telling great tales starting something like “back in the days of open boats.,.”. In my opinion we are 90% of the way to having a truly dry boat. Getting that last 10% is proving to be difficult.

The air dam design for the waist collar is good but has problems. Depending what life jacket you are using it may get pushed down creating a place for the dreaded crotch puddle. The Velcro on the side tube seems to have eliminated a lot of seepage entering in this area. Some of the 2007 boats had loose spray decks, with too much material, making it difficult to get the deck tight enough to prevent the crotch puddle. I have suggested making the entire spray deck out of stretchy Gortex (or similar material). Sheri is concerned that it would be too heavy.

I used the Alpacka 5.0 prototype on Cataract Canyon. Overall I like the plastic teeth design. I did not find it any harder to close then Velcro. Getting a good Velcro seal always takes me two hands anyhow (In whitewater I will often get in my boat on a rock, seal my spray deck, then slide into the water). The teeth appeared to produce a better seal. The only problem I had with the teeth was that they broke when yanking the spray deck for rapid evacuation . Sheri assures me that she can easily resolve the durability issue. The zipper on the bow seam was great. I would like to see it extended at least part way to the stern. I would even like to try a boat that zipped the whole way. Sheri won’t make it because of liability. I have noticed that when I swim I often just come out the hole and don’t even open the Velcro closure.

My answer: A zipper on the bow seam and halfway up the tube. Doublewide velcro (like Roman’s) for the rest of the seam. The waist (maybe the whole skirt) made out of a stretchy material.

Spay decks are not always desirable. I have found when doing the most adventurous steep creeking the deck is more a liability then an asset. I keep a couple 2003 open boats handy for these occasions. I like to be able to get out as rapidly as possible. The nature of the creeks often involves getting out frequently so dumping the boat is not a big deal. Most of the trips are in June or July in the Rockies so temperature and staying warm is not an issue. I am not the only one that has come to this conclusion. The MediaFritz crew doesn’t like skirts. They have cut them of a couple of their boats. It would be nice to hear from Nathan regarding this.

Its true–I scalped my precious several months ago and haven’t regretted it. I found the skirt great for ocean paddling, flatwater, bigger flow stuff, but we often seem to find ourselves in low flow steep creek descents that are as equally akin to canyoneering as they are to kayaking; i.e. constant scouting, constant portaging, often times dropping bags into boats and jumping into them from significant heights–activities that are definitely hindered by a skirt. We are always dressed for a swim or ten in these places anyway, so a skirt just slows us up and makes things awkward, though it would be great to not dump the boat so much (having dry wet dreams of a self-bailer). Getting out quickly is also a critical thing. Also I like the way my pack wedges in the front of an open boat a little better than a pack strapped above the tubes on the skirted model.

Here’s an alternative approach: Install a couple grommets in your floor, and paddle with a big insulmat in your boat as a false-floor. It’s kind of turning your boat into a wet-boat, like a wet-suit, but you’d never get more than the equilibrium amount of water in the boat. Has anyone paddle much with a perforated floor, and this arrangment?

Sheri’s told me straight up that, when the Roman-style deck fits right, it’s a dream. Only problem is, like I think Forrest said, is fitting: different PFDs and body types push it too far down, making a big depression. If Alpacka can go to installing docks per-order, that might make it feasible in the future to have a wide selection of deck options, and more custom decks.

I still find my old-school open boat is my favorite: it gives me so much freedom.

The problem with a self bailer is IK (inflatable kayak) syndrome. Self bailing IKs typically suffer from one of two ailments. The first is that insufficient floor or seat floatation results in the paddler sitting in water (Sevlor). The other condition results from two much floatation in the floor or seat (NRS Bandit) resulting in a top heavy and tipsy boat. The stability of an Alpacka is partially a result of a low center of gravity. In big white water (with no rocks to but bump) I partially deflate my seat to create an even lower center of balance and more stability. For the same reason I do not like using the inflatable floor mats when in whitewater. A porous floor would most likely result in a wet and cold behind. In low latitude creaking situations this might not be an issue.

After 20 years in an open boat the first spray-skirted boats were soooo nice – except that they came off like a death shroud when flipped. The glued-on deck, as I understand it, on my red Yak was perhaps the second glued-on deck – a prototype. But it’s stil the best boat I have ever paddled. I suck in a kayak, inflated or hard shell – too many packraft paddling habits that don’t work well in kayaks. Indeed packrafts are their own breed of watercraft, seemingly requiring a different skill set of paddling techniques for keeping the little bubble-rider dry, warm, and happy.

The air dam does not fit me as ideally as the above postings suggest; there is a big gap between my belly (which varies in protusion depending on season and length of trip) and the velcro closure. I keep a big throw bag clipped to my PFD’s front and it plugs the gap rather conveniently. Nevertheless, It works very well for me, although it would be gerat to have even a better velcro cuff on the air dam than I have – in icy conditions last October I strapped the closure shut :blush:.

Running Six Mile and Ship Creek are far more fun in decked boats, even though my first trips down each were in open boats. As Shoutdiggity mentions above, when you’ve got in and out in and out in and out and in and out all in a mile or two, then f-in around with a deck is a real hassle. So is two people in one boat with a deck; so is a dog in a boat. I also like teaching people in open boats. It also occurs to me that the amount of water in an open boat when running icy cold water without dry-suit is inversely proportional to comfort.

Personally, I’d rather not have a self-bailer for wilderness trips that are equal parts walking and boating (or more boating), preferring a deck as it keeps me and everything dry. A self bailer would be great for the Media-Feliz documentary youtube video-style huck-fests for sure. They’d make great stunt boats and canyoneering boats, when you have to haul a boat up some slab, cliff, or otter slide, and don’t want any water in the boat 't’all. Open boats are not much fun in Class IV, particularly for people in their first Class IV runs, but they are THE classic craft for mostly walking trips, and open boats in Class II and III are a great place to learn techniques of how to keep water off you and out of the boat, and that will also apply when a decked boat gets out in bigger water.

Now Forrest, get back to that thesis!

Hi Guys,

I have to respond to this one. There are many many reasons why Roman’s style of spraydeck doesn’t work for everyone and isn’t the answer. It works great for Roman because it fits you right Roman, but it doesn’t work for many other people. I had one myself and made about 10 others of that style. What I found was, it works well for men who have thin waists. If you are built like Ian Thomas you wouldn’t be able to close your boat Roman. And if I made the opening large enough to fit Ian you would be shipping alot more water than you now are. And it doesn’t work for women at all. Women have shorter torsos and when you put that inflated tube around the opening with anyone under 5’9" and especially a woman you will have the tube push your life jacket up to your ears. It is incredibly unfomfortable if you are in a standard PFD like a lotus. With women it also ends up that the coaming rubs on their arms when they paddle because it comes up too high on them. If everyone wore the same kind of PFD I could design a combing that would work for men and then one that would work for women but obviously that can’t happen. Personally for me, I find this years skirt drier than the skirt that I had like Romans. I used that model for a full season myself. There isn’t much difference between this seasons model and that one. Roman tends to slide forward in his boat and push his throwrope in that hole. I have watched his PFD and it comes down right to the top of the coaming. If brad were in that boat he PFD would fit differently and he would have more of a hole and it would be wetter. This is what I found in the initial testing. The people it fits well it works great for, everyone else is screwed. it just isn’t an option for fitting different sized waistlines and heights. I am working very hard on some different ideas right now so keep throwing stuff out at me but you all have to remember that whatever fits your size also has to fit someone who has a waistline as much as 6 inches wider or narrower and a height as much as 5 inches shorter or taller than you are. And the closure also has to adjust to atleast 4 different types of PFDs.

And Stretch in fabric will not work. When you put water on anything with stretch it just makes a sinkhole. You think you have water puddling now on your spraydeck, if it were stretchy fabric in there you would have a complete bathtub. Having no stretch in the fabric is actually your friend in this situation. Fabric strong enough to spring back when the weight of a gallon of water is dumped on it would be way too heavy to work as a spraydeck.

I am glad to see Sheri joining this conversation. We love you for enabling our habit, Sheri, so don’t take any of our feedback the wrong way.

One of the simple things that I’ve done to modify my decks is to add a button snap at the top of the skirt. This helps keep the skirt from busting open at inopportune moments. The snap provides just enough resistance that the skirt stays closed more often but doesn’t impeded your wet exit. You can get snap kits at most fabric stores and probably at REI.

I’ve also eliminated the front cross seam on my decks as a point of water entry by sealing the seam completely. With a pack on the boat, the cross seam is often the lowest point on the deck and is a major point of water entry.

The winter boating we’re still doing here in Alaska requires neoprene gloves which reduce your dexterity for dealing with complex closures. I really struggled with the cutting-board teeth on Spraydeck 5.0 and managed to bend most of them trying to fit them into their slots. You also need to be able to close the skirt one-handed because often your other hand is busy holding onto the bank or some bushes. The cutting-board teeth also flunked this test.

The essential spraydeck trade-off seems to be between ease of exit and boat dryness. Increasingly I am tilting to Forrest’s point of view that a completely sealed deck with no seams is the solution for high-end technical boating. Having a boat full of water and no place to pull over can be just as dangerous as a boat that takes a bit of wriggling to get out of.

For my two cents, I think the skirt should come up higher on the torso than it currently does. My experience is that water pools on your lap or sloshes toward your lap, pulling the fabric down and eventually opening the seam. I find myself continually pulling the spray deck up to shed the water and to keep it up on my PFD. Doing this while you should be watching out for the next hole is a real drag.

Brad Meiklejohn
Eagle River, AK

Fear not Brad,

I am delighted you guys are batting things around. We all learn from ideas just throwing things out there. I don’t often come on here because I don’t want people to think I am trying to influence stuff but sometimes it is helpful if I can throw in some of the reasons why the boats have what they have.

I agree that the teeth are too hard with gloved hands. That is what prototypes are all about. Gotta try it and find out how it works. That is just how it was with "Roman’s design.

I am with you with that darn hole that is in your lap. I am playing with some different ideas but it is the most frustrating part of the deck for me. And with the side opening it isn’t even leaking through there. It is just as you say, the water rolls back there and pools in your lap. Then, again as you say, you are headed for the dreaded drop trying to pull the deck up to shed off that pool of water.

I really feel strongly that you don’t want a non opening deck. You think putting those teeth in are hard. Pushing yourself down through that hole to get into the boat in a tight eddy is a nightmare waiting to happen.

One of the big problems with the water pooling is that you have a situation where you have these big 12" tubes, which is important to the stability of the boat with the light weight fabrics. However the downside of this system is your lap is below the level of the tubes. If you sat up higher than the tube height the deck would drain perfectly. But you would be way too top heavy as we all know and have tried. With your lap slightly below the tubes when your seat is inflated and lower yet when you run with your seat partially inflated, you almost need some kind of aid to keep that deck from sinking down. Suspenders would be so simple and would hold that deck up fantastically but what a huge hazzard we are looking at there…bummer.

Keep the ideas coming because I am working on a new deck right now. i have 4 different ideas I am trying out.


Well, I like the airdam and think that maybe what it needs to make it more adjustable, is an airbag style liner with a tube that you blow into – it inflates around your waist a bit like a blood pressure cuff – clearly not so hard, but it’s maybe designed with folds/pleats that expand with pressure to help plug the gap around your waist.

I have also long wanted littles sleeves inside the deck and near my body (behind my back and below my ribs) to put air bags (like platypusses) into to plump up the boat’s deck making it more dome-like and less cup-like, thus spilling water more readily. My experience is if water crashes over but spills off quickly, then even small gaps can’t take on a lot of water. It’s the pooling up of water that works its way into small gaps.

One idea is to work on ways of using air to create a dome-shaped or arched deck so water just runs off.

Heh, anything goes here in the forums, right?

Late last night when I should have been sleeping but was counting rapids instead I had a thought. Not a revelation or divine inspiration, just a plain vanilla thought.

The air dam as configured on Roman’s boat is a full wrap-around deal, sort of like a doughnut, with the person sitting in the hole. How about if the air dam was merely a semi-circle (or less) in front of the boater, sort of like an air foil. That way you wouldn’t have to size it for different boaters with different waists and different life jackets. In my dream you would still have the skirt closing higher up on your torso, with the air dam in front of you blocking the water from getting into your lap.

OK, back to sleep…

If sitting lower in the boat bewteen the tubes creates the pool of water there due to the inadequate tension / something pushing up in the middle. How about attaching some swimmies around your thighs so that they push the deck up? I could think of a few other things that could be straped on as well but I’ll leave that creativity up to you.

ha haa…

yes I’m joking.

Hi Brad,

The partial inflation in just the front is one of the projects I am playing with. It has some definite possibilities.
Cheers, Sheri

How about using stretchy nylon for, or part of, the section of deck that goes around the waist? That way it could contract or expand in accordance to Romans waist line?


Unfortunately I can’t think of any fabrics that have the stretch and waterproofness that meet the weight stipulations. Everything that I know of that would work would be prohibitively heavy weight wise. I will keep that in mind though and look more for something that might fit the bill.

The driest boat yet has arrived and it is a smash hit. Sheri, ever the innovator, has added some great features to the 2008 boat that are great leaps forward.

The 2008 has an inflatable spoiler sewn into the spraydeck that prevents water from pooling in your lap. This feature is a bit like an inflatable codpiece in front of the boater and is very effective in driving the water off the deck. The new boat also positions the sideseam well off the side of the boat, creating a very taut deck without an entry point for water.

Two thumbs up for the 2008!

Howdy all,

I’m new to packrafting but have 10+ years and over 1000 days of whitewater kayaking (mostly in AK) and messing with whitewater gear. Back before manufacturers included such accessories many kayakers used a cheap plastic beach ball inflated between their knees to incease deck volume for bigger hole tricks, to be more retentive in holes and just to add volume. It also created a nice bulge in the cockpit and kept skirts from imploding. Another, possibly more beneficial, part of using this was the way the ball kept the knees held firmly under the thigh braces. Some complained that it made getting out of a boat more difficult but we seldom used them in places where it would have been an issue. The point of this is that these balls weigh very little and could be added to older skirted packrafts to create an effect similar to this years boats. I think it might even improve control since packrafts lack the ability to have control over the edges. With the right sized ball I think the velcro would stay together. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet as I still haven’t purchased my own Alpacka. Cheers, Paul

Well, I think it’s time to trade in the ole’ red boat for the new 2008 model with the cool inflatable spray screen.

Brad has the new version deck and has done a few modifications to keep it shut (snaps!), and we paddled a splashy, boat soaking run today and for the first time I can remember, he had to dump less often than I did. In fact he dumped less often than anybody I have ever seen before.

I was actually envious.

All these snazzy dry ideas sound great. My boat sux arse, it is one of the not actually that old but obviously outdated vulva models. Due to an unfortunate turn in my lifestyle i have mainly been paddling in the surf lately, where a good skirt is essential, and i have been finding my current setup extremely frustrating. Given that i cant afford to buy a new boat and other than the skirt there is nothing wrong with the one i have i am wondering how realistic it would be to modify my boat to make it like these vastly superior sounding 2008 models. Ideally i would also like to do away the velcro as i see velcro as a disposable item and not really something that has a place on a quality piece of gear. So what is the go, part zip, maybe some of these snap things, where do i get them how do they work?