About the Reviewers
We’re two intermediate-level open-deck canoeists, based in Hokkaido in northern Japan. We paddle a mix of whitewater (CII to CIII) and exposed flatwater in our Novacraft Prospector 16 open deck canoes, with some multi-day tripping. We paddle exclusively in the far north of Japan, on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido (see all routes we’ve paddled here).
The North Water Spray Deck is extremely sturdy. After almost 1,000km of paddling with it, there’s almost no indication of wear. It doesn’t keep all water out of the canoe, but reduces ingress compared to no deck. Noticeably effective at reducing windage in exposed paddling situations.
There is a mild weight penalty, which is noticeable when portaging. However, this is made up for reduced fatigue in bailing, as well as less corrective strokes in windy situations.
Why We Like A Spray Deck
We like the North Water Spray Deck because it allows us that extra bit of flexibility and performance in almost all paddling situations. If it’s cold, the deck protects our lower bodies from the cool wind. If it’s windy (particularly a cross-wind) it considerably reduces how much work we have to do to keep the canoe going straight. If we’re in big water, it considerably reduces the amount of water we take on. It also just looks really nice!
There have been a couple of instances where we’ve really noticed the windage-reducing effect of having a spray deck. Once was when we were paddling into a quartering headwind at the expansive Ishikari River mouth. Haidee and I were in the canoe without a spray deck, whereas our friends (Geri and Derek) were in our canoe with the spraydeck. Whereas we (mostly I in the stern) struggled hard to keep the non-decked canoe from being pushed towards the river bank, Geri and Derek in the decked canoe had very little issues at all.
And, we looked on in envy as they used the large portage hatch as a makeshift downwind sail…
That’s not to say that the spray deck makes a canoe impervious to the wind. Haidee and I had to abandon our attempt at paddling along the exposed shoreline of Lake Abashiri due to high winds blowing on the beam, even after we’d attempted to tack our way along the shoreline. We came back the next day after the wind and waves had died down.
Keeping Dry(ER) in Big Water
The reality is that we do most of our paddling on either Class 2 rivers (about 60% of the time) or lakes (20% of the time). So far, we’ve only paddled about 20% in more committing CIII whitewater. So that’s why windage and keeping comfortable were the first two things on this ‘what we like about a spray deck’ list.
However, when we do hit larger whitewater, we do appreciate the water-shedding properties of the spray deck. It’s not a magic bullet, but when it comes to pressing the all-rounder Prospector into service in big water, the spray deck is a godsend.
That is to say, we probably get only a little less water in the boat compared to our friends in their Esquif Pocket Canyon – a proper whitewater tandem boat, which is on par a dryer ride than the Prospector design.
EDIT: North Water got back to us and has suggested the use of their Shoulder Straps to help reduce the amount of water that pools around the spray skirts. This looks like a nice addition, as probably all of the water we do get coming into the canoe comes from spray skirts getting pulled down from the weight of water.
North Water Spray Deck is Durable
There are other makers of canoe spray decks out there, and North Water also offers a lighter weight spray deck, but we went with the high durability 1000D PVC coated Polyester option. It’s incredibly durable. In the stern of the canoe, I J-stroke by leveraging off the gunwales, but after close to 1000km of paddling, there’s hardly any wear on the heavy-duty polyester webbing that wraps over the gunwales.
What we Don’t like
Overall, we like having the spray deck on the canoe. We’ll have it fitted most of the season. There are some things that we don’t like though.
A spray deck inherently increases the faff-factor of canoeing, to a degree. Relatively speaking, it’s a hassle to portage with a spray deck. To be sure, the large portage-friendly zippered hatch in the middle of North Water spray decks makes portaging much easier than other spray decks out there, but unzipping it and rolling the hatch cover away is one more step in getting the canoe onto your shoulders.
It’s also more of a hassle to hoist a spray-deck-fitted canoe up onto a car if you’re doing it on your own, as you need to unzip the portage hatch, press the canoe up onto the racks, then zip up the portage hatch again while balancing it on the racks. Of course, this is not an issue if you’ve got two people.
It can be noisy and flap when driving – we get around this by adding two extra straps around the canoe front and back, to give more support to the deck when topping. Note that North Water recommends the use of zippered cockpit covers when topping a decked canoe. Without zippered cockpit covers, North Water officially recommends that the canoe is not car topped. But then that would mean having to add and remove the deck every time you use the canoe. You can’t quickly and easily ‘slap it onto the canoe’, as threading the paracord is a relatively fiddly, 10-minute job. So, we just leave the thing on for most of the season.
Overall, when we don’t have the spray deck on during easy, sheltered trips, it feels nice not to have the extra bulk and bother of the deck.
We were lucky in that we were donated our two Nova Craft Canoes by a local outfitter (Canoa) for our Hokkaido paddling routes project. That meant that we had a little extra cash to spend on the spray deck. Had we not had this extra, we might not have laid out the extra cash for the deck. It’s a tough call though, to be honest. The spray deck does add a considerable amount of comfort on the water, which I do think outweighs the extra effort off the water.
If you can afford it, I’d say without a doubt it is a worthy upgrade to an expedition-style canoe, where you expect to encounter a wide range of paddling conditions. It adds that extra little margin of safety when paddling in exposed flatwater situations, and helps protect against swamping in bigger water.