Understanding Kayak Bulkheads

What are Kayak Bulkheads?

Bulkheads are sealed barriers on the interior of the kayak that provide separated compartments within a kayak. They are typically found in sea kayaks and can be made from a variety of materials including foam, plastic, or a composite material.

In contrast to an integrated kayak, a bulkhead kayak will be split into the area where the person sits, a compartment towards the bow, and a compartment towards the stern. An integrated kayak will basically be just one open space inside the kayak.

What are the benefits of having bulkheads in a kayak?

If a bulkhead is installed properly then each compartment within the kayak should be air-tight and water-tight. This creates areas within your kayak where you can store food or any other items that you may need to keep dry.

Foam bulkheads are inherently great for buoyancy in your kayak. If they are installed in the front and rear of the kayak it can make it very hard to sink the kayak.

In addition, bulkheads make it easier to empty water out of your kayak if it ever gets flooded. Since each bulkhead is water-tight, water that floods the cockpit will only fill the cockpit compartment as opposed to the entire kayak.

Are there downsides to having bulkheads in a kayak?

There has been a lot of discussion as to whether an integrated kayak or a bulkhead kayak is safer. Some people will argue that bulkheads are safer but most others disagree. The reason for this is that although bulkheads can make a kayak less likely to flood, it can also make it harder to right a flooded kayak. For some kayaks it may even be impossible!

This is due to the nature of the compartmentalized sections within a bulkhead kayak. For example, in an integrated cockpit the flooded water is in one large compartment and can be drained or pumped out with a bilge pump from one location.

In contrast, if all of the bulkhead kayak’s compartments flood you might have trouble accessing each compartment to pump or drain the water out of it.