Are There Supposed to be Holes in a Kayak? (Scupper Plugs)

When you are purchasing a vessel to take out onto the water, it can be very concerning if the bottom is full of holes. I mean, everything we watched on television as children tells us that we shouldn’t want a boat that is full of holes.

So, what’s the deal with the holes in the bottom of your kayak? Are those even supposed to be there? Well, never fear, they are supposed to be there, and they are called scupper plugs.

Are There Supposed to be Holes in a Kayak? (Scupper Plugs) 1

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Are kayaks supposed to have holes in the bottom? (Scupper Plugs)

Kayak scupper holes are usually found in the footwell of the kayak and sometimes in the tank well. Scupper plugs are made to self-bail the kayak, meaning that they actually let water out of the kayak, not in.

If you’re a paddler and want to learn more about why there are drainage holes in the bottom of your kayak, keep reading!

We will tell you everything you need to know about rubber scupper plugs, why they are important, and how they work.

What Are Scupper Holes?

Scuppers, or scupper holes, are found on the bottoms and sides of any open-air vessel. These holes actually help drain out water from the bottom of the boat or the deck. These are positioned at the ground level of the kayak, which allows the water to drain off the sides.

In your kayak, you may see these scupper holes in the footwell, cockpit, or tank well depending on the design of your kayak. These holes are self-bailing, so you won’t have to worry about them flooding your boat and affecting your buoyancy and capsizing.

They actually release water that could into your craft via waves or sloppy paddling, so they are helping to keep you afloat. Don’t worry, these vertical holes at the bottom of your boat won’t leave you sunk.

Most kayaks will have about four scupper holes along the water line of the kayak’s hull as this is thought to be the safest amount. They are placed so that water will drain every time the kayak is at a standstill, so they won’t necessarily be working while your cruising at a decent pace.

This is because if you become overloaded with water during a big wave in the ocean or any other rough waters, you want the kayak to be self-bailing without the need for forward movement. This is good if you think about it.

You are going to have a hard time paddling forward if you suddenly take on a lot of water. Some kayaks are designed to fully self-bail in as little as sixty seconds

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So, What are Scupper Plugs and Why Do I Need Them?

Now that we have discussed scupper holes and why they are an important safety feature on your kayak, let’s discuss scupper plugs.

A scupper plug actually plugs up the scupper holes. You may wonder why someone would want to do this, and the answer is that while scupper holes are self-bailing, they do let a small amount of water in, usually in the form of splashes, especially when water is choppy or the boat is moving swiftly. A little water like this won’t make your kayak sink.

If it is a chilly day or a lot of paddling is left to do, it is probably not best to get the cockpit and whoever is in it soaking wet. For that reason, scupper holes come with scupper plugs in order to keep everyone nice and dry during their journey.

Some of these scupper plugs will have adjustable valves, so that water may be released at a lower rate than if there was no plug.

So, if you are in choppy waters and want to drain water from the cockpit somewhat consistently while still not allowing the scupper holes to be un-plugged, you will need to look for scupper plugs that have this adjustable valve.

Holes In The Bottom Of Your Kayak Is Normal (Sometimes)

It is important when you are going out in your kayak to know what is normal vs what is abnormal so you can keep yourself and potentially your family safe, and also keep yourself from any unnecessary panic.

A little bit of water is going to come through your scupper plugs while you are in your kayak, and this is completely normal.

There is no need to panic if there’s a bit of water coming through a scupper plug, even if the valve is completely tightened.

Too much water is not a good sign, but you will definitely be able to tell the difference between a scupper plug leaking and there actually being structural damage to your vessel.

Are There Supposed to be Holes in a Kayak? (Scupper Plugs)

What to Do With Excessive Water

It may be cumbersome to adjust the valve or remove the scupper plugs after each and every wave when you are in choppy water. So, what do you do if this is happening to you?

A quick, easy, and affordable solution is to purchase a bilge pump or even a large sponge to get rid of excess water on-the-go.

Having one or even both of these options in your standard kayaking gear is never a bad idea, you never know when they may come in handy.

If you are the type who doesn’t like to sit in a pool of water while you are kayaking, or you are planning on kayaking in colder conditions, a bilge pump and a sponge should definitely be on your must-pack list.

Do You Even Need Scupper Plugs?

The short answer here is yes, you do need scupper plugs for your kayak in order for it to function at its peak performance.

Sometimes there will be an excess of water that has found its way into your kayak, and you are going to need the scupper holes to release the water out of your boat so you are not wasting hours bailing your kayak out by yourself.

While scupper plugs will let in some water, they aren’t going to make you sink. One option is to mix up which ones you have open and which ones you don’t.

If you keep the scupper plugs closest to you closed, and the ones closest to the bow and stern open, you can allow water to self-bail while also keeping yourself drier than if you had all of them open at the same time.

Safety and Maintenance of Scupper Plugs

It is important before each voyage to check the seal on your scupper plugs and also to check for any issues or damage.

If your scupper plugs are not installed properly or were damaged somehow, they will not work properly and can be difficult to adjust, which isn’t something you want to find out when you’re already out on the water.

What Affects Water Coming in From Scupper Plugs?

If you are finding that a lot of water is coming in through your scupper plugs and you are getting absolutely soaked every time you take your kayak out, it could very well be that you are too close to your maximum load capacity.

Remember, you should aim to hit 70% of your maximum load capacity, not 100%. Load capacity tells us how much we can put on a kayak with it still floating, not how much we can put on a kayak and have it perform optimally.

This is why it is important not to hit your full load capacity and to aim for 70%. If your kayak has a heavy load, it will sit lower in the water. When it sits lower in the water, the force that is bearing down on the water is greater.

When you hit some choppy water, that will thereby force more water to shoot up from the scupper plug. I

f you like your kayak to be nice and dry while you’re touring, make sure to get a higher-quality kayak with a greater load capacity than what you need.

Where Can I Buy Scupper Plugs?

If you have checked your scupper plugs and have found that you have some damaged ones, never fear!

You can indeed buy after-market scupper plugs on the internet or your local outdoor adventure store. However, there are some considerations you need to make before buying replacements.

If you are looking for a universal, easy, do-it-all scupper plug, these are a great bet. They are able to work in all kinds of different sizes, and you can pull them out and put them back in quickly and easily.

There are even one-way scupper plugs on the market. While these are unlikely to come standard with your kayak, these could be a great option if you would like your kayak to self-bail without the water constantly coming up and splashing you while you are in choppy waters. These one-way scupper plugs have great reviews, so they could be worth trying out in your kayak.

The Bottom Line

Now you know what those weird drain holes in the bottom of your kayak are, they are called scupper holes. Kayak scupper plugs can keep water from coming in through your scupper holes, but they can be cumbersome to use if you need your kayak to be self-draining.

If you want to use scupper plugs, having a sponge or bilge pump on board will allow you to keep things nice and dry when water comes up over the side. You can also try one-way scupper plugs that will self-bail without allowing water to come up and into the kayak.

And finally, if you are finding that too much water is coming in through your scupper holes, it could be that there is too much weight in your kayak, and you should either unload some gear or buy a new kayak with higher load capacity.

Are There Supposed to be Holes in a Kayak? (Scupper Plugs)