What you need to know about deck lines

By John Drent with contributions from Doug Childress and John Halliday

Does your kayak have the best possible arrangement of deck lines for the paddling activities you like to do? Did you know that the number one issue people have with getting back into their kayak after a water exit is poorly designed or missing deck lines? The paddle float deck lines in particular can be problematic.

This article describes PIKA’s recommendations for deck lines.

What are deck lines?

To learn about the various types of deck lines and their purposes, read Deck Lines & Rigging by Tom Watson

Rescue/assisted re-entry grab handles

To learn how to add rescue/assisted re-entry grab handles, watch this video:

Deck line material available from PIKA

PIKA provides the following deck line supplies to members at cost. Contact safety@pikakayak.com to find out how to purchase these items.

  • 5mm black static cordage with reflective material interwoven throughout the fibres
  • Clear flexible tubing

Bow and stern handles

Bow handle

Bow and stern handles are not there just for carrying your kayak. They are essential for rescuing a swimmer in challenging waters such as when the swimmer is close to rocks.

Handles should dangle loosely against the hull from their attachment bracket so they are available for a swimmer to grab quickly. They should not be stowed on your deck when you are on the water.

An unmanned kayak in turbulent water can behave erratically. Therefore the handles should be of a flexible design, as in the picture. Also, you are advised to not place your hand or fingers inside the cord loop to avoid entrapment within a twisted cord, but rather to grasp the handle.

Securing a paddle in a paddle float re-entry

The deck lines immediately behind the cockpit are used to secure your paddle during a paddle float self-rescue/re-entry.

During a paddle float re-entry, these deck lines serve 3 purposes:

  • To allow you to slide your paddle easily into place from a swimming position
  • To hold your paddle firmly in place while you re-enter the kayak, and
  • To allow you to release your paddle quickly after re-entering the kayak.

The following paragraphs describe 3 popular ways to implement these deck lines in the order of best to least recommended by PIKA. Be sure to test your arrangement before setting out on a paddle.

Quick-release straps

Quick-release straps

Quick-release straps are the best choice for meeting the 3 criteria listed above for paddle float re-entry deck lines. The straps are very adjustable and can accommodate various paddles blade sizes. Straps can be purchased from local suppliers and are installed using stainless bolts, SS nylock nuts and fender washers. However, they should be installed by someone who is proficient with drilling holes in ABS, fiberglass, kevlar or carbon.

Bungee cord

Bungee cord

Bungee cord is commonly used for this application and can work quite well, being flexible enough to satisfy our requirements. However, we do not recommend that the bungee be used exactly as described by Tom Watson in the above article. The X configuration is not adequate for securing a paddle and the typical single strand of 6mm (1/4”) bungee cord is not strong enough.

A double strand of 8mm (5/16”) or larger bungee attached along the sides of the X, as in the image above, can work well. The bungee must be tied off so that it is independent from the X pattern bungee cord, is snug enough to secure the paddle and yet loose enough so that the paddle is easily inserted.

The bungee cord shown above is fitted tightly into the deck line guides so that there is no need to isolate it from the rest of the X configuration. If 6mm (1/4”) bungee cord is used, the paddle grip portion should be 3 strands  and the arrangement should be fitted so that they are tight enough running through the deck line guides that the side bungee cord cannot pull out slack from the rest of the X configuration. If the deck line guides are too large, then tie off the side bungee cord to be separate from the rest of the rigging.

Static cord encased in flexible tubing

Static cord encased in flexible tubing

This method requires careful adjustment to ensure a good fit. The perimeter line must be tied off so that you can easily insert the paddle blade but still be tight enough to hold the paddle while re-entering the kayak. This method is not easily adjustable while underway; it must be set up beforehand for your blade size.

Static cord encased in flexible tubing also makes great grab handles but their disadvantage for paddle grips is that it is really hard to get them just right so that they are neither too tight nor too loose. This method works better on kayaks with a very flat rear deck and not as well on more rounded decks or on rear decks with a day hatch.

Questions? Comments?

Your questions and comments to improve this article are welcome.

Send them to safety@pikakayak.com