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Kayak Bulkheads – What Are They And How Do They Work?

Mark Armstrong
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You’ve probably noticed that some kayak descriptions and various articles mention bulkheads. But what exactly are bulkheads and is it important to have them on your kayak?

We’ve knocked up this article to explain all about what they are and how they might help you on your next kayaking trip.

What Is A Bulkhead (for a kayak)?

A bulkhead is essentially an internal compartment that acts as an airtight and watertight section within the hull. This means that air is trapped within this compartment, creating added buoyancy which will help to keep the kayak afloat.


With many kayaks you might find there are hatches that can allow access to sealed storage space. When the hatch is sealed the interior space acts as a bulkhead.

In the event of a capsize and the hatches are open, the bulkheads will fill with water, making it difficult to empty. This could also mean the yak may end up under the water, as if there were no bulkheads in the vessel.

Video: Understanding Kayak Bulkheads

However, with sealed bulkheads, it will only be the cockpit area that will flood in a capsize, meaning you should only need to empty the one section, as the bulkheads will stay dry and filled with air, which should make it easier to flip it back and re-enter.

> Can a kayak sink?


Some kayaks will have foam bulkheads. These are chunks of tough minicell foam that creates a vertical wall that is sealed around the inside of the craft. This then becomes a bulkhead, as no water can get through to this foam section, so it acts as additional floatation.

On a sit-on-top yak, you’ll likely find there are drain plugs for drainage and no bulkheads. This is because of the open design and the sealed hull, unlike the enclosed cockpit on a sit-inside that can fill with water. Generally, sit-on-tops are considered to be unsinkable because of their sealed hull design.

Foam may act as a bulkhead for sit-inside yaks, and can be installed on integrated kayaks that don’t have any compartments separate from the cockpit.

> Outriggers for kayaks (DIY style)

Can I Fit My Own Bulkhead? Yes, Using Sealant…

You may find that your kayak doesn’t have bulkheads but these can easily be installed yourself.

One way you can fit your own bulkheads is by using minicell foam, ideally 3 inches thick, such as this one. This is a closed cell foam that will add buoyancy to your vessel.

Your foam should be larger than the area where you plan to put it, so you can then cut it to shape. Once you’ve shaped it and fitted it into either the bow or stern, seal it using a marine silicone sealant (kayak bulkhead sealant) on each side of the foam to ensure it remains watertight.

It can be a good idea to fit the foam near to the end of the foot braces at the bow and in the space close to the back of the seat at the stern.

> How To Store A Kayak


Now that you know a little more about kayak bulkheads you should be better informed for your next paddling trip. Bulkheads can be a great tool for providing better floatation and helping you correct your sit-inside yak after a capsize.

You’ll have discovered that they can also be added to your vessel, if you think you can benefit from them.

If you found this article helpful, let us know and don’t forget to share it with your friends.

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