I have found every paddler has their own opinion as to where and how to store gear on the decks of their kayaks. Some are more passionate about the subject than others. I would like to share some thoughts and considerations with you so you can make a more informed decision when using your decks for storage.
Regardless of the equipment, there are some general considerations worth mentioning before you start putting gear on your decks. Think about the gear you put on your deck with respect to the following considerations:
I want to take a brief moment to remind paddlers about not opening hatches while on the water. Other than day hatches, the rule of thumb is not to open your hatches when you are on the water. The chamber created by your bulkhead, kayak and hatch are designed to provide floatation to your kayak when your cockpit is flooded. If water enters an open hatch the sea worthiness of your kayak could be in question. It is not wise to compromise the floatation potential provided by your compartments. Therefore, any equipment you need during the day should be stored in a day hatch, kept in your cockpit (usually behind your seat) or on the decks. Now that many PFD's have pockets some gear can be stored there too. Remember not to offset the positive buoyancy of your PFD with too much weight in the pockets.
Over the years I have seen more and more equipment being put on the decks. Much of the new equipment is electronic in nature (cell phones, GPS units, radios and waterproof cameras). Deck storage bags are becoming popular because paddlers need a way to store and secure some of these new devices and keep them from getting banged around. When the bag is filled to capacity will it change your paddle shaft angle during sweep strokes? There are even spray skirts that have pockets on the deck portion of the skirt. The idea seems to be a practical one but be sure the gear stored in the skirt doesn't interfere with your ability to climb onto your kayak during a recovery.
A question I am often asked is "where do you store your recovery equipment?"
I have had my recovery equipment (pump, paddle float & stirrup) all over my kayak until I finally settled on storing them on my front deck. The final deciding factor was when I was asked for the use of my pump in extremely rough conditions. At that time I had the recovery equipment stored in my cockpit slipped in on the sides of my seat. There was no way I was going to open my skirt in those conditions. I realized my "in the cockpit" storage didn't meet my needs. Back deck storage seems OK if I am in the water, but it is difficult to turn and get the equipment in rough conditions if I am seated in my kayak. It is even more difficult to restow the equipment behind me when the water is tossing me around. In addition, gear on my back deck is a bother to me when I climb back into my kayak. I live in a surf environment so I also had to find ways to reliably secure my equipment on the front deck when passing through the surf zone.
I have had a number of circumstances where I needed to get to my recovery equipment while upright and seated in my kayak. Some of those times the water was very rough. I realized my deck storage decisions were originally made from flatwater experience. I have developed a new testing system for my sea kayaking skills, drills and theories. When the tide is high I plant myself in front of the local sea wall and test my ideas in the reflecting waves. I choose conditions that will NOT surf my kayak into the wall but offer the mass confusion I need to see if my theories are practical.
If it is a rough day on the water and you want to take a break while staying on the water a possible solution is using your paddle float to provide you with an outrigger for stability. If your skirt is leaking from the repeated waves washing over your kayak and you need to pump out some water before you get to shore, access to your pump and paddle float becomes an even greater issue because your stability is already feeling shaky. If the seas are bouncing you around can you get to your equipment and restow it and stay upright? How much twisting and turning in your seat can you do in rough conditions? Do you think about the conditions I just mentioned when selecting deck storage locations?
I am very pleased with the variety of hydration systems available on the market today. I store my Platypus drinking system in the back pouch of my PFD. Now I don’t need to keep water bottle(s) on my deck.
There are kayak manufacturers that use netting on the front and rear decks instead of elastic shock cords. You may wish to get some of your own netting to help hold your gear on your decks. Make sure you don't get tangled or hung up on the netting when climbing back into your cockpit during recoveries. Practice before the real thing. I have seen many knives get caught on deck lines. Netting would present an even greater challenge to a knife on the front of your PFD.
I used to store my extra paddle on my rear deck until I had to restow it in rough conditions. I found I was much more stable if I kept my spare on the front deck. I had to outfit my kayak with some additional shock cord but now it works like a charm. My spare paddle is quickly accessible without any major contortions on my part.
When I have taken multi-day trips in Canada I inevitably end up with two long dry bags lashed to my back deck. Once I store all of my food, stove and fuel, sleeping bag, clothes, tent and dry shoes in my kayak my front and rear compartments are full (Keep in mind my shoes alone are sometimes considered small kayaks because they are size 14. If I attached my shoes to my spare paddle and lashed the paddle to my back deck my kayak would become a trimaran.)
My full length Therm-a-Rest ends up in one bag and my "ready to use clothes" are in the other dry bag. These two bags present quite a target for the wind. I can feel the difference on windy days but the trade off is worth it to me. I prefer not to use my rudder because I enjoy the feeling of steering by using my body, boat and blade. However, on windier days with my long dry bags on the back deck, I know I may end up using my rudder more than normal depending on the energy I wish to expend.
I have often heard the front deck should only be used for your compass and chart; nothing else should be there. Philosophically I like it when there is no equipment on the decks so the lines of the kayak are seen as the designer imagined. However, my practical side has not found a way to keep the gear off of the deck. Knowing my practical side will win out I make sure I know how the deck storage will affect my kayak and me in a variety of conditions. I suggest you do some testing to see if your deck storage is necessary and/or can be improved so it does not impede performance.
Wayne Horodowich, founder of The University of Sea Kayaking (USK), writes monthly articles for the USK web site. In addition, Wayne has produced the popular "In Depth" Instructional Video Series for Sea Kayaking.
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