To spray deck or not to spray deck, that is the question

I have a couple of the “big” rafts (dorys) that have gotten some good use for a few years, no spray deck, not even sure that was an option back when I got them. Anyway, as my skills have increased (or my fear has decreased!), I find myself doing more and more whitewater. As you can imagine, without a spray deck I can take in a wee bit of water going through rapids so I was thinking of getting one or two of the more “sporty” rafts with spray decks. However, I don’t know if the trade-offs of the advantages of my current rafts would be worth it or not, hence I ask the great packrafting community to chime in!

Here’s what I enjoy about the “open” rafts:

  1. See a problem, able to get out in half a second
  2. Easy to grab for carrying/portaging or hanging onto while swimming
  3. Wet and moving re-entry is possible (I didn’t say easy)
  4. Can stretch out pretty comfortably when things are quiet (6 foot tall)

I have a dry suit so the getting wet is not a problem during rapids, its that once a few gallons are sloshing around in there I have the maneuverability and control of a river-barge. I do not have a background in river kayaking so having a skirt/spraydeck would be new to me.

Has anybody gone through this? Made the switch? People with the spray decks, do you find yourselves wanting some of the advantages of open rafts above? Any advice welcome. My biggest concerns would be 1) being able to bail out easily if trouble struck and 2) being able to grab the raft easily during #1.

I chose to have a spray deck fitted on my Denali Llama on the principle that having it fitted gave me the choice to use it or not.

That being said, I value the protection afforded by the spraydeck, being warmer and drier matter to me, and I’ve no specific desire to try whitewater (frightwater!) anytime soon.

Consider the following, but make your own choice, do only what you feel okay with!

Ensure that your PFD is entirely compatible with the spray deck enclosure and that the pullcord is readily accessible, free of obstruction or snag/hang up potential and that you familiarize yourself with exit techniques and practice, practice, practice, until you feel confident that you can exit in a controlled, safe manner even whilst inverted in moving water.

Have someone with you for your first few attempts, someone whom you’ve discussed your intended exit sequence with fully, and ensure that you’ve done a few dry runs first to instill the basics of the sequence in your mind.


I’ll preface my opinion by stating I’m a pretty casual rafter and don’t do anything hardcore. My wife and I have two rafts, one with and one without a spray skirt. I feel really uncomfortable doing rapids in the one with the spray skirt because I feel trapped. I know it’s a totally irrational feeling, but I don’t like it.

That being said, I do use the spray skirt for easy stuff because I get less paddle drip into my lap.

I added my own spray decks to my rafts last year, and use them variably. Although I designed them carefully, and “know” that I would be able to get out easily, I am also not that comfortable using them in white water, although I think this probably relates to an unpleasant experience trying to get out of an upside down kayak, and my limited ability to go rafting in my yak. Sheri can apparently “retrofit” decks to boats if you want to go that way.

In making my own, I was able to choose the “ultimate” design that suited me, and I found Sheri extremely helpful in assisting me “put it all together” - eg - the types of glues to use etc. I was able to use very light materials, which may not last as long as those produced by Sheri, but the weight was more important to me.

The only downside I have really had with my spray decks, which are an adaptation of the current ones, is that water does seem to pool in the lap area, and although this is better than in the boat, it is still annoying. There was a thread a year or so ago about the ultimate spray deck design, and I think that someone suggested some form of airbag around under the skirt to lift this area, and this would be a great feature.

Overall, I think that they are a useful addition, and the current Alpacka design allows you to either use it or to roll it up out of the way if you don’t want to do so.