Updated May 2015
Here are a variety of simple kayak modifications that I have done, or seen done, that can improve the utility of most kayaks. More detailed post will follow for a few of these. Please let me know which one’s interest you the most and I will do those first.
My first task when acquiring a new paddle is to add a simple, hand crafted kayak leash. This allows me to drop the paddle in the water beside the kayak when getting on or off, without worrying about it floating away. I’ve read a variety of solutions for a home made kayak paddle leash, but prefer a simple 3/16 braided poly cord about 5 ft. long (Lowes, <$3 for 50 ft.) with a brass swivel clip on one end (Lowes, <$2). The brass clip secures the paddle to the kayak, and I simply tie the other end around the middle of the kayak shaft. I sometimes add a velcro band over the line to keep it from sliding around on the paddle shaft. If you would rather have a fancy commercially produced leash, check out these at NRS.
If you enjoy kayaking but sometimes your backside gets sore from sitting too long, then a padded seat cushion might help. I like to use thin closed-cell foam sheets taken from an old square throwable cushion. However, there are many commercially available kayak seat pads. I have read good things about gel kayak seat pads. These foam kayak outfitting kits allow you to customize the shape to fit your kayak.
Some kayaks have deck bungees installed, some don’t. For a tinkerer like me, there is usually an opportunity to modify the stock arrangement to better fit my needs. NRS also sells very nice NRS kayak bungee rigging kits which simplify typical deck installations. The kits I used came with 1/4 in. black bungee, pad eyes, hook ends, and rivets. Although the kits are reasonably priced, I’ve also had great luck using J-hooks to allow sections of the bungee to be reconfigured to accommodate loads of varying size or shape. I can’t say enough about the utility of deck bungees for quickly securing cargo, or to give a hand hold for re-boarding the kayak from the water.
As an avid non-fisherman, I don’t have personal experience with this. However, I can attest to seeing the passion with which fishermen select and lovingly install their prized fishing rod holders.
Yes, I said “holders”. I’m told that “real fishermen” require multiple rod holders. By the way, the reason the holders are required for kayak fishing, is that it takes two hands to paddle the kayak, leaving no way to hold the fishing rod. Kayak anglers cast, then put the rod in the holder so their hands are free for paddling.
A perimeter line is a great safety addition that gives an easy hand hold for a kayaker that ends up in the water. While deck bungees can also provide great hand holds, a non-bungee line around the perimeter with something to raise it off the deck a touch (stand-offs, little balls, etc… but never knots) to allow for an easier hand hold, can provide a more secure grip when things get hairy.
I’ve seen this in a few forms, usually involving a bungee that is stretched over the paddle shaft and hooked over a button or J-hook. We found a cockpit lip clip at NRS that looks intriguing if you are using a Sit-In kayak. A paddle holder keeps the paddle secured to the kayak, as opposed to floating in the water, as if on a paddle leash. On my Tarpon 160 I use a short section of 3/16 in. line which is tied to a pad eye on one end, and has a brass clip on the other. I secure a paddle blade under a deck bungee near the bow, and wrap the paddle holder line around the paddle shaft, clipped to a pad eye beside the seat. This arrangement holds my paddle securely in place along the side of the kayak.
Bow and stern lines:
For boaters, adding a bow and stern line goes without saying. However, many new kayakers are not boaters. It never crosses their mind to add lines to secure the kayak to things like docks, other boats, while pulled up on shore, etc. When I get a new kayak I add a 10 ft. line at each end of the kayak, with a clip on the end of each line. I can use the clip to secure the kayak directly to something, or clip it back onto the line to make a loop to attach to a dock cleat. I use the same 3/16 in. line and brass clips mentioned above. However, I am considering increasing the line diameter to add additional strength for things like towing the kayak behind the boat (we rarely go faster than 5 knots. NEVER tow a kayak behind a boat going faster than this).
I’ve mentioned the brass clips a few times already, but like the so much that I just had to mention them again. I get them from Lowes for less than $2 each, and they are marine grade swivel clips. Other uses not previously mentioned: securing dry bins or other items so they don’t get away in the event of a capsize, securing objects that are too bulky to attach to the normal deck bungees, etc. They are cheap and effective.
Hatches with cat bags:
I actually haven’t installed the 5″ Harmony screw in hatch yet, but have no doubt it will be a straight forward installation. I’ve installed pad-eyes with a rivet gun before. Installing the hatch will just involve cutting a circular hole first, and there is an ideal spot for the hatch on my Ocean Kayak Malibu Two kayak. Once installed, I’ll have a dry place within the kayak to put my wallet, keys, etc. I’ll likely still carry the dry box for my cell phone… but then again, maybe I won’t have to, since I already carry the phone in a dry bag. My harmony hatch attaches with rivets and has a watertight bag inside. Other models attach with screws and have mesh bags inside.