There are various accessories that go with kayaks. Some could be labeled as “essentials” and others could be categorized as “luxuries.”
Paddles, for example, would fall squarely in the “essentials” category. But you might not need an accessory like mounted fishing rod holders if you don’t plan on fishing from your kayak.
In this article, we’re going to focus on scupper plugs. We’ll talk about whether or not they’re necessary, what they are, what purpose they serve, and how to use scupper plugs on a kayak.
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Do You Need Scupper Plugs?
There’s a relatively short answer to this question. Whether or not you need scupper plugs on a kayak largely depends on the type of kayak you’re paddling.
The history of ‘scuppers’ goes all the way back to some of the earliest seafaring trade ships.
They learned that they needed holes on the ship’s deck so that water could drain when large waves came over the sides (gunwales) of the ship.
This is the same principle used in kayaks. However, because the deck of a kayak is much closer to the water’s surface than a ship’s deck, scupper holes also allow water into the kayak’s cockpit.
Scupper plugs are only applicable for kayaks that have scupper holes. Without scupper holes, there is simply no need for scupper plugs.
It’s important to remember that scupper holes are included in sit on top kayaks for a reason. They are an important safety feature and highly recommended for beginner kayakers.
If you have a sit on top kayak with self-bailing scupper holes, you might consider having plugs for those holes.
These plugs will allow you to significantly reduce the amount of water that accumulates in the cockpit.
Having scupper plugs on hand will allow you to deploy or remove them as conditions change.
When you’re moving over larger waves in your kayak, it’s more likely for more water to make its way up through the scupper holes and into your kayak.
It’s also more likely for water to splash over the sides of the kayak and into the cockpit.
It is hard to argue against the fact that it is generally more comfortable to not be sitting in a puddle of water while paddling.
However, you’ll also have to consider the downsides of eliminating your kayak’s natural ability to drain water from the cockpit. We’ll cover more of the disadvantages of scupper plugs later in this article.
Scupper plugs are also most effective for kayakers in colder locations. As air temperatures drop, keeping the cockpit of your kayak dry becomes a much higher priority.
If you paddle a sit-inside kayak, there are no self-bailing holes in the kayak’s hull. The advantage of this design is that no water will make its way up through the hull and into the cockpit while you paddle.
This means that the only way for water to get inside the cockpit is to splash up and over the sides of the kayak.
While you can avoid this by purchasing a spray skirt, it’s much more difficult to remove water from the cockpit of a sit-inside kayak than a sit-on-top kayak.
If you have a sit-inside kayak and you’re searching for the self-bailing drain holes in its hull, you won’t find them! As you might imagine, there is no need for scupper plugs on a sit-inside kayak.
What Are Scupper Plugs?
Scupper plugs are small rubber or plastic pieces that block or cover the drain holes of a sit on top kayak. There are a number of different designs depending on the type of sit-on-top kayak the plugs are made for.
There are universal scupper plugs that will fit most sit on top kayaks.
These plugs are made of rubber and also contain a small piece of string that makes it easier to remove the plugs when you no longer need them.
There are also certain scupper plugs that feature a screw-in design. If you choose this design, you’ll need to be very sure that the plugs you choose are a match to your specific kayak.
The best scupper plugs provide a water-tight fit and are easy to install and remove.
Using them is simple and they are one of those kayak accessories that you’ll probably forget until you lose one and find more water in your kayak’s cockpit than you’d prefer.
DIY Scupper Plugs
Some folks even opt for a DIY solution for scupper plugs. The goal for any DIY scupper plug is to seal the cockpit of your kayak so that you don’t sit in water while you’re paddling.
Foam practice golf balls are one of the most popular choices for DIY scupper plugs. The challenge with this solution is making them easy to remove.
Many industrious kayaks have also made their own scupper plugs from rubber stoppers.
These are usually sold in assorted sizes, but it’s really important to make sure you measure the diameter of your kayak’s scupper holes to choose stoppers that match that size.
Once you have these stoppers, you can drill a hole through the center and install a small length of paracord to make the plugs easier to remove.
Next, install a small metal washer under the narrow end of the stopper before you tie a knot at that end of the paracord.
The washer will help to prevent the knot from sliding back through the hole in the rubber stoppers when you’re removing the plugs.
You should also tie a knot on the other end of the paracord to prevent it from falling out of the stoppers.
This is just one example of an easy and relatively cost-effective DIY scupper plug solution. The photo below gives you a good idea of what this solution looks like when finished.
What Do Scupper Plugs Do?
Scupper plugs give you the ability to cover the self-bailing drain holes in the hull of a sit-on-top kayak. This helps you achieve a drier ride by preventing water from coming up through the scupper holes.
Naturally, most sit on top kayaks collect a small amount of water while you paddle. This is a relatively normal process and should be expected when using this type of kayak.
Even if you do purchase scupper plugs for your kayak, it’s best to paddle without them for the majority of the time.
To avoid a wet, uncomfortable bottom, you can also consider getting paddle pants or sitting on a towel to stay drier.
Most sit-on-top kayaks are designed to provide plenty of buoyancy when you’re on the water.
While the idea is that only a minimal amount of water comes up through the scupper holes, a 100% dry kayak ride is often the exception rather than the rule.
When you add your body weight to a sit on top kayak, the hull naturally pushes further down into the water. This causes a small amount of water to come up through the drain holes and into the kayak’s cockpit.
On a really warm summer day, it’s often a benefit to have a small amount of water inside the cockpit of your kayak. This helps to cool you down and keep you comfortable throughout a long day of paddling.
However, conditions can change and you might not always want to sit in a puddle of water while you’re kayaking.
When this is the case, scupper plugs allow you to significantly reduce the amount of water that is allowed into your kayak’s cockpit.
Scupper Plug Disadvantages
When considering installing scupper plugs on a kayak, it’s also important to consider their disadvantages. Sit-on-top kayaks come with self-bailing drain holes for a reason.
The major advantage of scupper holes in a sit on top kayak is that it allows water to drain from the cockpit. This is really important if you happen to capsize in rough waters.
It is much easier to right and climb back inside a sit-on-top kayak than a sit-inside kayak. This is largely because a sit-on-top kayak won’t fill up with water when it is turned upside down.
With a sit-inside kayak, capsizing causes water to fill the cockpit.
Draining that water requires a bilge pump and climbing back inside a sit-inside kayak in deep water requires a very specific technique that requires practice.
If you do install scupper plugs in a sit-on-top kayak, it can be a good practice to store a kayak sponge and bilge pump on board (much like you would with a sit-inside kayak).
This gives you the ability to absorb or pump out excess water without completely removing the scupper plugs.
A sponge is going to be the most cost-effective and lightweight method for removing water from the cockpit of your kayak.
If you’re always paddling on flat water and in relatively mild conditions, you’ll probably be fine with this option.
Bilge pumps, however, do come in handy when you find a lot of excess water inside your kayak, but they are generally heavier and more expensive.
A bilge pump is a great way to remove more water quickly and with less overall effort.
Sit on top kayaks are much easier for beginners because of this fact that they don’t fill with water when they flip.
By installing scupper plugs on a sit on top kayak, you’re taking away the kayak’s natural ability to drain if you do happen to capsize.
Testing Your Scupper Plugs
To test the effectiveness of your new scupper plugs, install them on land first. Then grab a water hose or a five-gallon bucket of water and fill the cockpit of your kayak.
Now look around underneath and on the sides of your kayak for any water leakage. This is a great way to test whether or not your scupper plugs have been installed effectively.
It’s always a good idea to test your scupper plugs before you’re actually out on the water. It will save you a lot of time and the potential for a wet ride when you aren’t expecting one.
How Do You Use Scupper Plugs?
Most universal scupper plugs can be installed while you’re sitting in the kayak’s cockpit. They can also be installed while the kayak is still on land.
The easiest scupper plugs simply push down into the scupper holes of your sit on top kayak.
The strings that they are equipped with allow you to easily pull them out if you do need to drain water out of the cockpit.
If you have a sit on top kayak and you’re tired of always sitting in water while you paddle, you can create your own scupper plugs.
As we mentioned above, foam practice golf balls are a popular solution for DIY scupper plugs.
However, the challenge with this solution is engineering a way to remove the “plugs” if you do need to drain water from your kayak’s cockpit.
Some folks install their own pieces of string for easy removal.
Most kayak scupper holes are slightly larger on one side than on the other. That’s why the typical scupper plug design is not a perfect cylinder.
In a pinch, you should be able to push the scupper plugs out from the hull of your kayak. This isn’t the easiest technique if you’re already out paddling, but it’s much easier on land.
Storing A Kayak With Scupper Plugs
It is important to note that temperature changes can impact the rotomolded plastic in most sit-on-top kayaks. Really warm temperatures can cause sit-on-top kayaks to swell as hot air builds up inside them.
If you don’t remove the scupper plugs from the drain holes while your kayak is in storage, this swelling can cause plugs to get permanently stuck in the drain holes.
In extreme cases, this can also cause damage to your kayak’s hull.
For these reasons, it is best to remove scupper plugs after each use. You should also loosen the drain plugs in the bow or stern of your sit-on-top kayak so that hot air doesn’t build up inside your kayak.