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Spray Decks and options
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Author:  Dave_k [ March 25th, 2019, 9:45 am ]
Post subject:  Spray Decks and options


I'm looking to tackle some bigger WW on our, my wife & I's, canoe trips. We are planning on paddling the Ashuapmushuan this summer and since it is not a drop and pool kind of river I'm considering purchasing a spray deck for our tandem, a Starlight. I haven't seen any YouTube videos showing folks paddling the river with spray decks on that river so maybe it's not needed but I'm since looking to tackle bigger water I figure it would make sense to get a spray deck sooner than later and get used to it so we're comfortable with it as we tackle rougher water, Moise. I did a search in the forums on the phrase "spray deck" and read many of the threads that surfaced but I only went back a decade in a search that returned 35 pages. I found lots of good information.
A link to Kevin Callan's article for one,

So is there anyone out there that is anti-spray deck? I'm always interested in counter opinions.

It seems North Water is the biggest provider of spray decks. There seems to be a bunch of options that drive up the price. What is important and why? One, two or three piece? Two paddle pockets seem logical for a tandem tripper. What about suspenders? There isn't a much information as I'd like for making an informed decision. I guess I could phone up North Water but I'm looking for other opinions.

I don't think I'll be able to talk my wife into learning how to roll an open canoe so thinking safety, does that affect the options you'd get in the deck or how you use a canoe with a deck?

Then there is the whole topic of tying your gear in. I found this older thread on the topic which briefly touched on decks but left me with a bunch of questions. ... ck&start=0
Is there any good article about how you might alter your approach to handling a capsized canoe with a deck versus not decked. Since my wife and I trip on our own does change how'd you approach the topic.

I'm always left wondering what little nuggets of knowledge am I missing that others might have that would make life tripping safer? So I seek the input of the experienced.

Author:  Canoeheadted [ March 25th, 2019, 11:46 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

Spraydeck fan here.
If you buy quality gear AND use it, then yes, go for a skirt.
Otherwise a bright jacket will serve you just as well in your pictures and be a lot less of a pain in the ass.

Seriously though, we use our skirts a lot.
We made our first couple, then bought several Northwaters, and I have a Cooke Custom Sewing (CCS) for my solo as well.

Homemade= Inexpensive with customization, laborious, and warm fuzzy "I made this myself" feelings.
Store Bought= Expensive with customization, less labour, a tested product that works.

All the bells and whistles do make the whole package trimmer and easier to use.
If you are always needing access to your large gear then go for multi-piece. Nice easy access.
Multi-piece for newbie paddlers, animals, or people that like to have more modular room.
Single piece if you know exactly what you want for features.

Our first Northwater is one piece with one very large centre access opening. We wanted easy access to our gear and we can roll the whole hatch open for when we have dogs with us or an overabundance of gear.
My wife's Northwater for her solo is stock.

Both of our Northwater skirts are attached to the hull differently than the standard lacing. We use a perimeter shockcord with S-hooks that is permanently attached to the skirt. Pull the S-hook down and hook in the hull loop.
Putting the deck on or accessing the gear while loaded is much faster and far less tedious.

My solo CCS skirt is multi-piece for adaptability, CCS for a major weight savings, and attaches with snaps. Very fast to put on and lightweight enough to portage.

I would suggest to practice dumping with whatever setup you paddle with. Talking about it is not practice.
As with anything... practice makes you better at it and it shows you what skills you need to work on.

This activity can be life ending so why wouldn't you want to be as prepared as possible?

Maybe renting or borrowing a setup would help you decide?

Author:  Peter K. [ March 25th, 2019, 12:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

Boy! Are you going to get swamped with advice and opinions! Here's my two bits worth:

* types of decks. There are two types -- one sets up a "deflector" in front of each paddler, the other uses a skirt-like tunnel. I will only use the deflector type. Suspenders are an entrapment hazard and without them after a couple of big waves you can have a circle of water around your waist which will release all at once into the boat. The deflectors work just fine;
* tying in gear. I do leash my stuff in, but in general the deck itself contains everything if you roll. Decks, however, can "unzip" if a boat is pinned and worked by the current. Your stuff can end up kilometers away;
* rolling. Never seen a decked tandem boat rolled. Most people can't roll an empty tandem with air bags. You might be the exception (but I would have doubts);
* using on the Ash. The Ash is not the sort of river I would think of using a deck on in moderate or low water levels. The extra protection is not worth the weight and inconvenience. High water might be different.
* rescues and where to use. I would only use decks on big rivers with not a lot of opportunities to pin on boulders. I would also use a deck in really cold weather because they make a big difference in keeping you warm. You do need to learn the "rodeo rescue" which I think is pretty much the only way of recovering a dumped boat full of gear with a deck. See ... rn-rivers/

BTW, I'm jealous of your boat. Super nice. I have an Echoee and the stiffness and light weight is a real benefit. To install a deck you will have to drill holes in the hull. If you are attaching metal fittings -- no problem. Tbe carbon will cut fibres however, so if you are passing cord through remember to put grommets in the holes.

Author:  Paddle Power [ March 25th, 2019, 12:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

Spray decks are useful for ww as well as provide protection from the elements--rain, wind, cold...
Useful for launching and landing in surf.

Decks add weight and bulk to your outfit. Decks may slow you down getting into and out of your canoe in part because you may have to adjust the skirt (open and close it, etc.). Decks can be warm on hot still days. Decks cost money. Decks slow down loading up and unloading.

Decks in general keep your gear contained below them.

North Water and Cooke's Custom Sewing are the most common ones I hear about. Does Black Feather still make/sell them?

Options can be very useful but can also add weight and cost

In general, decks are safe. Definitely worth practicing a wet exit from a skirted canoe.

Rescuing a deck canoe usually means towing it to shore etc. because with all the gear held under the deck the canoe and gear combined weighs to much for any type of canoe over canoe or parallel/curl rescue. For a solo tandem canoe, linking throw bags together and swimming to shore is an option.
Not actually your situation but nevertheless a good link: ... rn-rivers/
Of course, any solo tandem trip should be within your paddling comfort and safety zone.

Author:  DougB [ March 25th, 2019, 3:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

My first spray deck was homemade with the aid of a friend who was handy with a sewing machine. It was functional and worked out well for my first trip down the Moisie. On the other hand it was a lot of work and in the end not worthwhile to repeat. I purchased my second spray deck from a company that I think was called Outdoor Solutions. I would highly recommend it but I don't believe they're in business anymore. My advice in any cover would be to avoid snaps or any securement method that is not adjustable. Also get a two piece - I would hate to have to remove the cover completely at each portage - the 2 piece can be rolled up part way from center. Both my skirts have the adjustable tunnel. I have to admit I'm never completely comfortable using it well secured which largely defeats its purpose. If you go this route test it out with some intentional dumps in calm shallow water so you're comfortable exiting it.

My deck is for a Starburst - I'd be willing to let you try it or at least check it out before you order something custom if your close by.

Author:  Dave_k [ March 26th, 2019, 11:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

folks, thanks for your responses.... Peter K, not swamped so far.

CanoeHead, I firmly agree in buying quality products especially when there isn't a store near by to replace something broken.

PaddlePower & Peter, thanks for the link on the rodeo rescue video. Hadn't seen it before.

Peter, No I can't roll a canoe though I'd like to. Andy C & his wife can so I figure it is something to aim for. I have part of the equation since I have the same boat as them :wink: . I'd like one of his Echoee too. You wouldn't bother with a deck on the Ash huh?

DougB: Guelph to Cambridge is a short distance my books. My wife and I would very much like to try your Starburst with a spray deck. Maybe we could have a swap day..... but I'd like wait for a few weeks. Will contact by PM if that's OK. thank you

So nobody is coming out hard against spray decks yet folks are saying there is the hassle factor and maybe they aren't worth it unless it going to be in extreme water. I'm thinking I'll have an easier time selling my wife into running bigger rapids is she isn't concerned with taking on too much water. Callan's article seem to sing the praise of decks without restraint. In all the videos I've seen of Stanjanleafs, he never seem to leave home without one..... or is that product placement :wink:. (it has been great to see the spray deck in action in his videos). Maybe I need to divide the commentary between folks saying they'd use a spray deck all the time vs saying they'd occasionally use one between lake and white water paddlers. Rivers are my priority for now but I figure we will return to lakes in time. I'm not sure how many trips I'll be taking in rivers that folks consider spray deck worthy with my own boat. Definitely want to do a few and Lake Superior but in some cases it will be cheaper to rent at the destination. If I'm just going out for day play in WW then a center airbag would be a lot cheaper.

Hassles? I'm thinking the "Options" $ will make things easier. Jump in a correct me if I'm wrong anyone. Maybe I'm just falling for the ads but the portage hatch option in the North Water seems like it wouldn't take much more effort when you're just undoing a zipper and lift the packs/barrels out. Put the deck on at the start of the trip and leave it. Obviously not good if tanning your legs is a priority.

So is it the price that is the big draw back? Obviously, its what got me thinking twice about priorities. Is it considered a luxury item? Is there a "not macho to run rapids with a deck unless you're in Artic rivers" mentality out there? How many extra pounds are we talking about with a spray deck?...ah just found it under FAQ. 9 to 3 lbs depending on size, material and options. Drilling holes in the hull for attaching a deck does kind of feel weird. Is there really a big safety concern like DougB eludes to and the deflector vs tunnel debate.

I definitely agree with everyone. If I buy one I will be practicing dumping with it.
Still open for more opinions.

Author:  Peter K. [ March 27th, 2019, 8:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

I think that weight and convenience are the major deterrents to using a deck all the time. If you are on a multi-day trip with few portages, it might be worth it even if you aren't on challenging water -- especially if you expect rain or cold weather. Otherwise, it's carrying a piece of gear you don't really need. They are also expensive, which is another factor if you don't really need one.

Our club bought a couple of decks a few years ago and outfitted two boats for them. They have been used for a couple of long trips and big water, but otherwise no so much for the usual day or weekend trips locally.

I don't think there is any real safety issue with decks, although personally I would not use suspenders or anything else that ties me into a boat. The few flips I've seen of boats with decks the occupants were out and swimming before the boat was all the way over. I also have never heard about a "macho" factor.

Author:  Quinn [ March 27th, 2019, 10:18 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

We use a CCS cover, and I think the benefits far out way any inconvenience. It's nice for whitewater, but I don't think of that as the main purpose. It really shines in wet cold weather, and in high winds. I also enjoy not having to bail the boat all the time, either from a day of rain or whitewater.

Usually the bow and stern pieces go on and stay on at the start of the trip. On calm days the center section stays off unless we encounter serious whitewater (because our trips involve portaging frequently).

The downsides are the snaps are a pain when your hands are cold.


Author:  Dave_k [ March 27th, 2019, 10:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

OK, I'll own making up the "macho" factor. I just figured people who had them but didn't use them on bigger water were being macho (running big water but showing they were skillful enough not to take on water) but that could be my ignorance about why you wouldn't use one if you have it.

So opinions, if you go with a portage hatch option on your deck is it still beneficial to have a three piece as
Quinn suggests?


Author:  Peter K. [ March 27th, 2019, 11:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

Never used a three piece, just two pieces that open in the middle to access gear. I don't really understand the advantage of a three piece. If I need a deck, I definitely want amidships covered.

Author:  Paddle Power [ March 27th, 2019, 12:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

Can you test drive (rent or borrow) a canoe with a spray deck?

Author:  rab [ March 27th, 2019, 1:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

Hi Dave,
The one I own was purchased second hand off a guy on this forum. The price I paid made it worthwhile, but I've not used it much. On a river with lots of portages, unless the water was going to be quite high, or the weather cold, I wouldn't want to use it.
The one I have is a Northwater, two piece that has the portage hole. After several days of big water and lots of rain, I can say the the boat is significantly heavier when portaging with the deck on. Since your boat only weighs a couple of pounds though, that may not matter to you!
I do find it a bit more challenging to get gear into and out of their compartments with the deck on and do find it a challenge to place my fishing rod and other miscellaneous gear somewhere handy with the deck on.
I guess the last thing I'd want to say about a spray deck is that the spray deck will keep water out, but it won't make you a better paddler. Don't become more daring paddler just because you have a spray deck.


Author:  Dave_k [ March 27th, 2019, 3:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

Hi rab

I was hoping you'd join in. Thanks, good input about decks gaining weight during a trip. Yes, I chuckled. I bought a light WW canoe and here I go wanting to add weight to it.

So you're saying the portage hole isn't the ultimate solution I'd hope it to be.

Good call to self-check on being more daring..... I don't think it will make me more daring but I'm hoping it will do that for my wife. A CIII label that anyone puts on a map has her thinking hard about running it and I think we're capable. You saw us paddle the one CIII on the Dumoine last summer. I welcome a PM if you think otherwise.

Peter, I think the three piece was designed before there was a portage hatch option and to let you have different options for a middle section. The one photo on their website showing one with two kids.

Brian, yes, I will take Doug up on his offer to try a canoe with one.

Thanks again to everyone for this discussion. It's helping arrive at a decision.


Author:  recped [ March 27th, 2019, 4:48 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

I transitioned from no deck, to a deck and then back to no deck.

My first was a solo cover (Outdoor Solutions) for a MR Explorer tandem. When I bought a solo boat (MR Guide) I had a cover made for it (also Outdoor Solutions). Next I bought a more appropriate WW boat (Mohawk XL14), no deck for that and I'll probably never use a deck again (never say never).

The positives (for me):

Kept my legs warm
Contains gear within the boat in an upset
Keeps "splash" water out

The cover allowed me to test my upper limits as I gained experience, allows one to paddle the big waves trains that don't require much technical skill but are intimidating and a pain if you are continually taking on water.

The negatives (for me)

Gear access issues
Another thing to carry on a portage, either separate or making my boat an extra 7lbs heavier
Potential entrapment (rare situation, I usually fell out easily but I have had my foot caught up in the tunnel)
Cost! I paid a lot of money for my decks (Marine Polyester)
Water still gets in, much harder to get it out with a deck in place.
Can interfere with boat recovery in a dump

When I first had the deck I used it all the time when there were any rapids, then I started to use it only on Class III/III+, then I only used it only some times in big water and then finally I went on trips where I took the deck and never used it at all. Since then no more decks for me!

I tend to think of decks as a crutch, sounds bad but not intended that way, if you break a leg, you use a crutch, when the fracture heals you don't need the crutch anymore. Maybe it's more like training wheels on a bike, help you get started or move beyond your comfort level but in the end you don't need it anymore because your skills have improved.

Last year when my Mohawk was in transit back from Ungava Bay I went on a short trip (Groundhog), i got out my old MR Guide (considered to be a Class II boat), I was surprised a bit to find that even in that boat I didn't miss the deck at all.

Author:  Dave_k [ March 27th, 2019, 8:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Spray Decks and options

thanks recped. good insight. I am not a Jedi. I still have much to learn.

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