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Scupper Plugs: Should You Keep Them In Or Out?

If you are in the market for a sit-on-top kayak (also known as SOT), you have probably noticed that there are holes inside. The holes may seem insignificant, but they are designed with a purpose. Scupper plugs are used to seal these holes. It’s a great debate for many paddlers whether a scupper plug is necessary or not.

Scupper plugs help to keep water from entering your kayak. With a sit-inside kayak, when water gets in, you have to manually bail the water out. With a sit-on-top kayak, scupper holes allow for self-bailing (a way to get water out) so you don’t have to do it manually.

Read on for more information on what scupper plugs are and why you may need them.

Why does my kayak have holes?

Kayak with scupper holesPin

Kayak designs have changed over the years and there are many different types (read more). First was the more traditional kayak or sit-in kayak. This model allows paddlers to sit inside the hull while their legs are under the deck.

Sit-in kayaks have skirts that can cover the cockpit opening to prevent water from splashing inside. This is good for use in cold water.

Sit-in kayaks are easy to maneuver. But when water pools inside, it adds weight to the kayak. Thus, it makes it heavier and harder to paddle through the water.

As kayaks have grown in popularity, the design of the sit-on-top kayak emerged. This is how scupper holes on kayaks were introduced. You will see these self-bailing holes in various places, including the deck, front, cockpit area, and rear of the boat.

Scupper holes are purposely placed in these parts as a safety feature to prevent water from pooling in. Scupper holes allow water to pass in and out and the kayak drains efficiently.

What are scupper plugs?

Package of scupper plugsPin

Scupper plugs are an essential kayak accessory for sit-on-top kayaks. These are the little rubber bungs that seal the scupper holes. Contrary to scupper holes’ purpose, they block the water from entering the kayak. Scupper plugs are typically made of rubber or plastic.

There are different types of scupper plugs. The universal scupper plugs fit most sit-on-top kayaks and are easy to find. These plugs are made of plastics and have strings that make them easier to detach from the scupper hole.

Some plugs have a screw-in design that ensures a water-tight fit. However, this type of scupper plug only fits specific kayaks. If you prefer this scupper plug, you should check if it matches your kayak’s model.

Why do you need scupper plugs?

The concept of scupper holes and scupper plugs is a bit confusing. Why do you need scupper plugs anyway? Scupper holes are designed as a safety feature of sit-on kayaks. Then, why do you need to seal the holes?

So, let’s talk about the importance of scupper plugs.

As I mentioned, scupper plugs are designed to cover the scupper holes. Imagine you’re paddling in choppy water, the continuous water flow may hamper your kayak’s natural buoyancy. This is when scupper plugs are handy.

By plugging the holes, it keeps the stability and balance of your kayak. But the water that pools in your kayak while the scupper plug is in will not drain by itself.

If you’re kayaking with a heavy load, you should plug in your scupper plugs before paddling. The extra weight will submerge your kayak further down, and water will rise from the holes. The scupper plugs will protect you from capsizing.

In different weather conditions, scupper plugs are very efficient. If you’re paddling in a colder location, you might want to keep your cockpit dry. You might also want to consider a wet suit or a dry suit (more information)

In the summer, covering the scupper holes might not be a priority. You might want a small amount of water in your kayak. This can cool you down during high temperatures throughout the day. If you don’t want to sit in a puddle, you can always insert the scupper plug anytime.

Why is water in my kayak?

Many paddlers have experienced that water enters their kayaks even with scupper plugs. Is this something you should worry about? If it’s just a small amount of water, the answer is no.

Getting water inside your kayak is unavoidable. It will always find its way in your kayak one way or another. You can accumulate water from paddle splashes and waves. Your scupper plugs can be an entry point of water too. Don’t be alarmed when this occurs, your kayak is buoyant and will keep you afloat.

If the accumulated water bothers you, a sponge or a bilge pump can be efficient. These tools can help you remove excess water without dislodging the scupper plugs.

I highly recommend using a sponge. It is absorbent, and it’s a great way to reduce water in your kayak. Not to mention, it is cheap, small, and easy to replace. However, you should always dry it out after use as it is prone to molding.

A bilge pump is also a must-have for your kayaking adventure. It’s a safety drainage system that sucks up the water in your kayak and sprays it outside. The standard hand-use pump can do the work well. If the physical effort is an issue for you, electric pumps are available as well.

How to use scupper plugs?

Scupper plugs are easy to install. You can even do it while you’re sitting in the cockpit. All you have to do is push it on the scupper holes. Most of the universal scupper plugs fit scupper holes between 1 and 1-3/8 inches. Though they are universal, they only fit well in some specific models and brands of kayaks. With that being said, you need to get the right scupper plugs.

Some scupper plugs come with a string. It makes it easier to pull them out when you want to drain your kayak.

It is also essential to know that you should remove your scupper plugs before storage. Hot air may build up in your kayak. It can cause your kayak to swell while in storage. When this happens, and the scupper plugs are still in place, they can be stuck permanently. Extreme heat may also damage the hull.


Scupper Plugs - Should you keep them in or outPin

Scupper plugs and scupper holes are designed for a significant reason. They protect paddlers in a variety of different situations. In normal conditions, you can leave your scupper holes open. It is designed to let water in and out of your kayaks and serves its purpose. A well-designed kayak won’t let a lot of water in.

There are also exceptions; in some circumstances, your scupper plugs are handy. When you’re paddling in choppy waters, it is important to keep all the holes closed. By doing that, your kayak may lose its self-draining feature, and water may build up. So, it’s best to bring a sponge and bilge pump to remove the excess water out.

You should know by now the pros and cons of plugging the holes in your kayak. It’s always a personal choice whether to use a scupper plug or not. However, keep in mind that you should prioritize your comfort and safety on your kayak adventure.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Steve Morrow Founder of Paddle About
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.