I bought a Seals brand spray skirt to protect me from the deluge of water my boat takes on every time I drop through the last chute at Ann Arbor cascades. Knowing I’d only get moderate use out of one, I wasn’t prepared to spend an arm and a leg for it, so I opted for the lower cost skirt carried by REI. It’s called the Seals Islander Spray Skirt and it runs about $50 in store.
When buying a skirt , the first thing you’ll want to do is find out what size you need for your craft. Click HERE to go to the Seals website’s size finder page. Put in the relevant info about your boat and it will give you a decimal number which you’ll see on the labels of the skirts off the rack in the store. Your numbers can range from 1.5 to 7.0 and it’s critical to buy the correct number if you want it to fit around your craft’s coaming correctly. Keep in mind, though, that this number doesn’t correspond to any other company’s sizing system. This is for Seals brand only. I chose this brand because it’s the only brand I could find in any of my local stores and I wanted to be able to return it without hassle if it didn’t fit correctly.
This style of skirt is a formless nylon jacket that covers the cockpit with an opening in the middle for your torso. That baggy opening cinches with an internal bungee around the waist like a belt. Then the actual skirt, which also contains a sewn-in bungee, gets folded over the boat cockpit coaming after you’ve entered your craft. When it’s in place, it appears taught like you see in the picture, otherwise it looks like a folded piece of material on the rack.
When I got it home, the first thing I did was put it around my waist to make sure it fit. This is a one-size-fits-all type of skirt. The more rigid, neoprene skirts are made for specific boats and come with specific waist sizes. This type does not. This one properly fit my girthiness, so I turned my attention to the boat. Without me in it, I took the skirt and tried to pull it around the coaming. For a few minutes, I thought it was going to be impossible, so I loosened the internal bungee at the rear of the skirt. You can’t see this in the picture, but in the rear of the tunnel (waist area) the bungee exits the hem of the skirt and is tied with an overhand knot. Loosening this knot and re-tying it gave me the length I needed to stretch it to cover the cockpit. After more use, the bungee and skirt will loosen and stretch, just like any other material does, and you can re-tie the rear knot to give you more tension. So, since everything fit, testing was next on my agenda.
I wore it to my next A2 Cascade trip down the Huron and the test was successful. It kept me from bottoming out and being completely waterlogged on the final chute. However, since this was a bare bones skirt, there were some shortcomings. First, the waistline cinch would not stay in place. Constant paddling loosened the cinch and it would sink down from under my chest to my actual waist. Water would collect in the low point around the depression and found it’s way down into my lap. This explains why most skirts have suspenders built-in and are more expensive. I’m thinking about making my own suspenders and sewing them on myself since I was too cheap to buy the built-in ones in the first place.
Second, even with the waist cinched up, water would collect around the crotch area. This skirt had no panel to keep it in a convex shape to allow the water to shed off. It’s a heavy duty, waterproof backed nylon, but it’s floppy, so water will always collect in the depressed areas. I’d consider getting a skirt with an insert to keep it’s shape with the boat deck next time.
Third, the skirt’s bead didn’t want to stay around the boat’s coaming. Every time I had to make a power stroke, there wasn’t enough give in the fabric area behind me to allow me to bend my torso forward and the skirt would pop off behind my back. I tried tightening the cord around the coaming to no avail. The tunnel, where your body pokes through the skirt, was simply made too far to the rear of the skirt to allow me to move my body forward without popping off. I can’t fault the skirt for this as it’s a generic skirt and not made for my specific boat. Some skirts are made with a zipper in front which would have been a good solution for me. I would be able to unzip during flat paddling and my torso wouldn’t take the skirt with me when bending forward. I’m planning on putting some kind of snap fastener on the rear to keep in in place better. But, you don’t want to do anything permanent, or hard to remove during a wet exit. You need to be able to rip off the skirt in an emergency to keep from drowning. Most skirts have a handle in the front to do this, by the way. If not, I wouldn’t suggest buying it at all.
Overall, I’m happy with the Inlander skirt. I got what I paid for, at $50. It did the job, but wasn’t perfect, and since it’s a generic skirt made to be used in a myriad of different boats, there’s no way it could be perfect since every boat is a little bit different. If I had to choose again, though, I would opt for a more expensive one with suspenders and a zipper.