How To Stay Dry in a Sit-on-Top Kayak

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You can stay dry in a sit-on-top kayak by raising your seat, wearing the right clothing, using scupper plugs, and stopping water from splashing into the kayak. You may also want to avoid going out in wet, windy, or rough conditions. Kayaking is supposed to be fun, after all!

In the colder months, splashing around in a sit-on-top kayak may lose its appeal. Getting wet in cold water when it’s cold outside is uncomfortable and can be dangerous.

A sit-inside kayak has an enclosed cockpit to keep you dry, but a sit-on kayak exposes your full body to the elements. That makes staying dry challenging—but not impossible.

In this article, we look at how to stay dry in a sit-on-top kayak, so you can keep paddling whatever the weather.

Key Takeaways

  • A sit-in kayak offers protection from water but a sit-on-top doesn’t. However, there are a few things you can do to stay dry.
  • You can start by raising your seat, wearing waterproof clothing, using scupper plugs and drip rings, and avoiding rough water conditions.
  • If water gets into your kayak, remove it using a bilge pump, a sponge, or a drain plug.
  • Hypothermia is a risk that you should be aware of when kayaking in cold conditions. It is advisable to prepare for the worst and carry dry clothes and an emergency kit.
  • Kayaking can be fun at any time of year, but staying dry can be challenging and requires some planning and precautions, especially during the colder months.

How Do You Stay Dry on a Sit-On Kayak?

Here are my top tips on how to avoid getting (too) wet on a sit-on-top kayak.

1. Raise Your Seat

Water collects in the base of a kayak. By simply raising your seat a few inches, you can keep your butt dry. You can do this by shoving a foam pad underneath the seat (if it’s not fixed to the kayak deck) or fitting a frame seat.

Kayaks designed for kayak fishing often come with a raised seat to make sighting and casting easier.

You may also like: Kayak fishing tips.

2. Wear Waterproof Clothing

Waterproof and water-resistant clothing protects you from rain, wind, and wave spray. Layer warm clothes underneath a waterproof outer layer on cold days. Don’t forget to pack spare clothes in a dry bag in case you get wetter than you planned.

If you spend a lot of time paddling in rough weather or you think it’s likely you’ll end up in the water, you may want to invest in a dry suit.

Also read: How much wind is to much for kayaking?

3. Use Scupper Plugs

Scupper holes are designed to drain water from sit-on-top kayaks. They’re an important safety feature, but have one significant downside. In choppy water or if there’s a lot of weight on board, water can come up through the holes into the cockpit.

It’s usually only a small amount of water, but it’s enough to get your butt and legs wet. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution. Buy a set of kayak scupper plugs and if you find water coming into your kayak, plug the drainage holes.

Also read: Sit-on-top Kayak Scupper plugs.

4. Carry a Bilge Pump or Kayak Sponge

Bilge pumps help you expel water that collects in your kayak. They’re useful if you get a significant amount of water into your kayak, for example, from a wave breaking over the side or if you capsize.

Bilge pumps are recommended for sit-inside kayaks as they don’t have drainage holes. It’s not usually necessary to carry a bilge pump in a sit-on-top kayak, unless it doesn’t have drainage holes (e.g. if it’s an inflatable kayak). 

Related: Are inflatable kayaks safe?

A kayak sponge is a super-absorbent sponge that helps you mop up smaller amounts of water. Use the sponge to soak up bilge water, then squeeze it out over the side of your kayak.

5. Practice Your Paddling Technique

Even when the water and weather conditions are calm, water can still enter your kayak from your paddle. When you paddle aggressively, pushing the paddle blade vertically into the water, you can throw water into the boat.

Also read: How to paddle a kayak.

Focus on making your paddling strokes precise and drive the blade into the water at a shallow angle. This means water will drip off the paddle blade back into the water rather than into your kayak.

6. Add Drip Rings To Your Paddle

Drip rings are handy accessories that you fit to the shaft of your kayak paddle. They catch any water that drips down from the paddle blades, shedding it before it reaches your hands. 

This makes a big difference in cold weather, when wet hands quickly turn numb. Even if you wear waterproof gloves, it’s best to avoid your hands getting wet altogether.

Related: Do inflatable kayaks tip over easily?

7. Watch the Weather

Water can enter your kayak from above as well as from below. The easiest way to stay dry in a sit-on-top kayak is to avoid going paddling in the rain.

Rain isn’t the only thing to watch out for. Strong winds can turn a calm lake into a wind-whipped nightmare.

If the weather looks changeable when you head out, take waterproof or windproof clothing with you. A water-resistant jacket will protect you in a light shower and takes up very little space.

8. Avoid Capsizing

Sit-on-top kayaks are designed to remain stable, even when you move around or stand up. That said, it is possible to capsize sit-on-tops, particularly in rough conditions. If you do capsize, you’re guaranteed to get wet.

You may also like: How to get in and out of a kayak.

You’re most at risk of getting wet when getting in or out of your kayak. It’s tricky to launch without getting at least your feet wet, but it is possible, especially if launching from a dock.

Fishing kayaks are often stable enough to stand up on. In this case, you may be more likely to lose your balance and fall in than capsize. Unfortunately, the end result is the same–you end up soaking wet.

Also read: Are inflatable kayaks good for fishing?

How To Get Water Out of a Sit-on-Top Kayak

Most sit-on-tops have self-bailing scupper holes to prevent water from building up in the kayak. If you use scupper plugs, you’ll need to remove these to let the water drain out.

Some kayaks have a drain plug as well as or instead of scupper holes. This is designed to remove water from the kayak once you’re back on land. Simply remove the drain plug and tilt the kayak up to let the water drain out.

If you’re on the water and you don’t have scupper holes or they aren’t draining the water effectively, you can use a bilge pump or sponge to remove water from your kayak.

You may also like: What size kayak do I need?

How To Keep Your Feet Dry While Kayaking

Nobody likes cold toes, but your feet are the hardest part of you to keep dry when kayaking. Water gravitates to the lowest part of the deck, which is usually where your feet are. Even if you can keep water out of your kayak, you’re likely to get your feet wet getting it in and out of the water.

The simplest way to ensure your feet stay dry is to wear waterproof shoes or a dry suit with built-in dry socks. If that’s not an option, then try to keep water out of the boat as much as possible. Inflatable kayaks often have higher sides that offer more protection in rough water.

Related: Are inflatable kayaks good?

Will a Sit-on-Top Kayak Sink?

Sit-on-top kayaks are designed to be unsinkable. They’re less likely to fill with water if you capsize than a sit-in kayak. They also have scupper holes to drain water out of the cockpit.

The only time a sit-on-top kayak is likely to sink is if water gets inside the sealed hull of the kayak. This could happen if a storage hatch is left open or if the kayak suffers serious damage that breaches the hull.

Related: Sit-in vs sit-on kayak.

Why Is It Important to Stay Dry When You’re Kayaking?

You may welcome a few splashes of water to cool you down on a hot summer’s day, but in winter, it’s a different story. If the air and water temperature are cold and it’s a windy day, your body temperature drops, making hypothermia a real possibility.

It’s especially important to stay dry if you’re kayaking far from shore or in a remote location. In these situations, prepare for the worst and make sure you have dry clothes and an emergency kit to keep you safe and warm if you capsize.

Related: Difference between inflatable kayak and inflatable boat.


Kayaking can be fun at any time of year, but staying dry can be a real issue, especially when cold weather paddling.

Some people say you can’t stay dry in a sit-on-top kayak, but that’s not completely true. The tips we’ve covered above can help you stay dry and warm whatever the weather. So you’ve no excuse not to get out paddling.

If you’ve found these tips useful, please share this article with your friends. If you have any other tips for staying dry, let me know in the comments!

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