Greenland Kayak Deck Rigging

I just bought a used Wilderness Systems Arctic Hawk, which is a Greenland shape boat. The deck rigging tie downs are non-elastic lines, spaced a few inches apart, running across the hull. Those lines have a couple of sliding wooden toggles connecting them. Slide the toggles toward the outside of the hull and the lines are tight, slide them together at the center of the hull and you get a little slack. But the slack is only enough to lift the lines up an inch or so.

Does anyone the purpose of this system? You really can’t get enough slack to secure much of anything on deck.

I may just re-rig with elastic shock cord unless there’s something I’m missing here…

Greenland rigging
I’ve got a Greenland kayak, a skin on frame replica of an actual native boat, with that kind of rigging. It’s meant (and works very well for) to be used to stash flat items like a traditional paddle, a hunting harpoon and a norsaq (the throwing stick, a paddle-like wooden tool used like an atlatl to increase the force of the harpoon). Greenland hunters don’t usually carry bulky stuff on the bow deck. And all they carry on the stern deck, if anything, is an inflated animal skin to attach to the harpoon as a drag float. Since they are always prepared to roll, keeping a lot of junk on the deck isn’t a good idea. Also, they didn’t use nylon rope (obviously), but leather, which does stretch somewhat.

But, back to modern reality. I admit I am not a purist and I have clipped a deck bag to that Greenland rigging many times in order to carry stuff on outings in mild water. Since I use Greenland style paddles, they are easy to slide under the non-stretch rigging between the toggles, and once the toggles are slid and tightened down I don’t worry about my spare sliding out. If the cord was bungee, sliding the toggles wouldn’t lock it down firmly. But I know it is not easy to slide a standard blade paddle under them, so I can see where that might be a problem for you.

Personally, I don’t use bungee riggging to hold anything on the kayak except the spare paddle, even on the several other kayaks (plastic and folders)I own that have it. Stuff tends to shift under stretch cord and you have to clip it in somehow anyway. Think about when you try to carry a kayak up the bank at take out with the paddle slipped under the bungees – if you aren’t really careful how you fasten it the paddle will slide around and try to fall off. I tend to attach anything I am carrying top side to the non-strech perimeter lines or d-rings, not the bungees. In fact, the last time I replaced the stretched-out bungees on an older kayak I had bought, I used non stretch cord instead, and have not missed the bungee at all.

If you want to keep the traditional look you could replace the non-stretch cord with latigo leather strips or the round leather cord that is used for the drive belts for old treadle sewing machines (you can get 6’ lengths of it on Ebay for under $5. But if you prefer bungee, you can get the 3/8" black stuff by the foot at places that sell climbing webbing and perlon cord by the yard (like REI, EMS or your local backpacking and climbing shop.) Some kayaking outfitters stock it too.

It’s your kayak and you should rig it however it works for you.

If you are curious about traditional Greenland rigging and what they carry there is a lot of background over at

Or, if you are ever in Pittsburgh, the Polar World exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has a collection of wonderful native kayaks and their gear, plus documentary videos of native hunters using them.

Thanks, willowleaf, for all the great info. I figured it must be a traditional thing, since the Iniut didn’t have bungee cord way back when. With this system, some walrus hide and driftwood makes a really secure system. I like the look, so I may run a couple of bungee cords in parallel with the existing ones, but not through the toggles. That way, I could secure something bulkier if needed.

By the way, I really like the feel of the kayak. It’s only been out for a test run on a smooth lake, maximum winds probably 10-12 mph, but it seems to have a nice mix of straight line tracking and maneuverability. And as much as I could judge in the light breeze, it didn’t seem to want to weathercock. I am seated all the way back in the cockpit, using the coming as a back band, so that might help trim the boat. It’s pretty neat that a 150+ year old design is so effective.

Greenland kayaks

– Last Updated: Aug-02-12 11:40 AM EST –

Glad to hear you are digging the new boat -- it really is a great design. I love the effortless speed of mine too and the way it responds to bracing and edging. I'd be interested to hear how you like it in rougher water.

What kind of paddle are you using with it? I admit I first got a cedar GP to use with it for the aesthetics but am now completely hooked on it and use GPs with all my kayaks.

I have a Snapdragon backband, which has proved to be very comfortable.

My own kayak has very similar lines -- it's the jade green boat with the little "tail" in these photos on the website of the guy who built it 6 years ago (some photos were before he added the rigging):

(you can see why I named it "Willow Leaf", from which I took my forum nickname)

There's a lot of neat background history and links to information about design and use of Greenland style boats on this blog site that you might enjoy, too. He mentions the historical model that the builder of the one I have copied, the 1935 Sisimuit replica. One of my favorite kayaking blogs:

old and new…
“I figured it must be a traditional thing, since the Iniut didn’t have bungee cord way back when.”

Interestingly enough, modern Greenlanders do have bungee cord, but don’t use it for deck rigging. They continue to use the traditional decklines (sealskin straps and bone sliders). While following tradition plays a part, the stiff straps hold narrow profile items much more securely than bungee (gear under bungee cords is often stripped off the deck if you get hit by a breaking wave).

Also, Greenlanders get into their kayak by stepping into the center of their kayak and reaching down to grab the stiff decklines – to allow them to slowly lower themselves into the cockpit, in control. There are few beaches and this is often done stepping down from high rocks. Bungee would be too stretchy to allow this technique.

That said, I agree with Willowleaf’s advice that it is your kayak and you should trick it out as you see fit!

Greg Stamer


– Last Updated: Aug-02-12 12:56 PM EST –

That is a nice looking boat. My glass one is light blue deck on white hull, so definitely not traditional looking in that respect. I bought it because it looked like it would be nimble and fast and the price was right. I have an old family house near the Maine coast which is where this boat will reside. A key thing for me was that the larger keyhole cockpit that WS put on these gives me just enough room to flex my knees occasionally.

I'll have to get the boat to Maine before it gets any rough water testing, and frankly my current skill level means I have no business out in anything beyond moderate conditions. I am curious to see if it weathercocks much when a 20 knot sea breeze kicks up.

For a paddle, I'll probably use a Bending Branches Breeze-Evening. It's the best paddle I keep in Maine. I may try a greenland at some point, but I'm a little restricted because I'll realistically only get about 10 days a year in this boat so I have to balance playing with new things against just getting out and having fun.

Is this a new boat or used?
I haven’t seen these before.Very nice.

If you mean my Wilderness Systems boat, it’s a used one, built 2001. But I expect you mean that nice one of willowleaf’s.

both older
I don’t think WS makes the Arctic Hawk any more. I could be wrong but I have not seen one in their ads for a while.

The guy who built my green boat built them custom and is no longer in the business. But Brian Schulz of Cape Falcon still builds them or you can pay him to teach you to build one yourself at his shop in Oregon.

Not original to the boat

– Last Updated: Aug-05-12 5:31 PM EST –

That rigging was added by the previous owner to get a more traditional look. My A/H was built in 03 and came with bungee as did every model that was made. Unfortunately W/S stopped building the boat in 04 or 05. They were a little ahead of the times as this boat was built before Greenland boats became very popular. The boat was actually designed by Mark Rogers of Superior Kayaks. I absolutely love mine and wouldn’t trade it for any other boat.
You will find the boat does weathercock some but it isn’t that bad. Mine has been in Lake Superior several times in heavy wind w/o much problem. I started with the same Bending Branches paddle you have but I’ve switched to a GP and Storm. I have removed the original seat and just use a pad and back band combo as I find the boat more comfortable that way and much easier to roll.

I’m thinking of going the other way
I have bungees. Wave wash thing out of them. They are useless on the front deck. I was thinking of putting line a sliders there.

Sparrow Hawk too
At 5’ 10" and 180# I found the AH a little too corky as a day boat, but the Sparrow Hawk was just right for day and weekend touring. While not made for years now, both are wonderful boats. Light not many FG boats out there under 50#, well made, tougher than you might think, and they perform well as in they track pretty well and yet turn quickly on edge. I have found both to be good in rough water. They have a feel not too far from a SOF Greenland boat. More so than an AA seems to me. The AH is one fast boat and the SH no slouch either. A good used one can be a real bargain.

The traditional slider rigging won’t work for hard, bulky items, but works extremely well for what it was designed to do.

Greenland toggles
The old-timers had it right. The non-strechy lines and toggles are far better than bungies.

On boarding from a rock, dock, etc, insert the GL paddle under the toggles and slide the toggles towards the gunwales. This locks the paddle tightly to the deck and the paddle acts like an outrigger to slow down a roll (not prevent the roll, just slow it down.) Try this with bungie, and it’s like using rubber bands. I use the rear toggles when boarding, and the front ones when exiting (they’re easier to use when I’m in the cockpit).

If using a paddle float, the toggle system is much more stable. Bungie cord allows the kayak to wallow when you try to re-enter.

In my opinion, bungie is useful only for keeping a jacket or water bottle.

I’ve done it on all of my boats
Bungee cord is pretty useless for actually SECURING anything and anything held purely by bungee is pretty much guaranteed to get washed away with the first wave across the deck. In contrast, cord and sliders provide very secure storage and I can’t recall ever losing anything stored under them. That said, I’m also a member of the minimalist club when it comes to gear on the deck; I keep as little as possible there.

I like bunge cord

– Last Updated: Aug-06-12 12:18 PM EST –

The Arctic Hawk is just trying to style their boat like an early skin boat with a traditional cord tightening system.

ALL commercial boats come with bungee and it works fine with no complaints. Early British boats used weak, thin crappy bunge but now the 1/4" stuff is very strong and works perfectly.

I agree with Greg - outfit it how you like.

Liking the Arctic Hawk
I’m really liking the fiberglass Arctic Hawk so far. It tracks straight, but doesn’t feel like an ocean liner when you go to turn it. I like the lower initial stability of the vee hull. It makes the boat feel lively, even when paddling in calm water. I got out yesterday for a test in some winds gusting to about 20 and flat water, and it didn’t seem to weathercock more than most other boats I’ve been in.

This boat also has just a minicell butt-pad for a seat, and I’m basically using the cockpit combing as a back band (with a little padding). I did decide to switch over to bungee cord deck rigging. The toggle system on mine only provided an inch of so of clearance for gear, which pretty much limited it to holding a spare paddle. Bungee will be better suited to my needs, and a blue on white fiberglass boat has really lost the “traditional look” right from the factory anyway.

bungee taking an unfair hit

– Last Updated: Aug-07-12 5:44 AM EST –

Agreed, bungee ON ITS OWN, is useless for securing anything (kind of like cord without sliders).
For some unknown reason, the 'olive clip (cleat)' has never caught on in the US.
I found them all over the place in Australia (Whitworths, nearly any Chandlery), the UK has them as well (Coates Marine).

I use them to cinch everything on (or off) the yak.

Never had my paddles (spare set) budge when going through heavy surf.

Many uses.
a better picture of one:


Why bother with olive or clam cleats…
…and bungee when cords and sliders work just fine and are at least as secure? For the types of things I store on my deck, there’s no advantage to bungee and cleats.

Arctic Hawk
I think this was the original design:

What are you carrying on deck…
…that’s more than 1" thick? Anything thicker than that is probably best stowed elsewhere.