Keyholes and Oceans

Help me understand, kayak brothers and sisters. Ocean cockpits are better than keyholes… how? I mean it’s just so EASY to get in and out of my keyhole. My legs fit the thigh braces just fine. Don’t feel the need to brace them toward the middle. What is it?

some of us don’t like the idea of getting out of the boat, unless we absolutely have to. Get suck out of the boat in cold rough conditions and one can get paranoid. Some of us have taken to small cockpits PLUS seat belt just to feel “comfortable” about being out in the rough stuff.


Here’s My Idea Of An “Acceptable”

– Last Updated: May-22-07 6:47 AM EST –

keyhole cockpit...

Waiting for more foam to outfit my Impex Mystic the same way.

Cockpit sizes and preferences are personal/subjective.

Here's a small keyhole, fairly aggressive thigh braces, PLUS seatbelt


Not better just a choice
I sell plans for the wood Outer Island kayak and have an ocean cockpit opening. I like having thigh bracing right under the deck for a very positive feel. You’re knees just can’t slip out of position. Many sea kayaks were made that way for years. It also made some people nervous and American manufactureres started using the large cockpit so paddlers could exit and enter easily. WW boats used it so paddlers could wet exit easily. Now it’s the standard and paddlers have accepted it. Plus the manufactueres for the most part have adapted nice thigh bracing which they originally didn’t have.

Ocean cockpit boats have a longer deck look and I think that adds to the beauty of the boat. Not many boats with the Ocean cockpit left. Betsey Bay, Anas Acuta, Greenlander and Impex OI (option).

Is one style better - no. For marketability, the large cockpit is king.

WW cockpits

– Last Updated: May-22-07 10:04 AM EST –

It's not just wet exiting. In my swiftwater rescue class we did a vertical pin drill, simulating a bow-down pin that you might get going over a bad drop. The only way most folks could get themselves out was to pull one foot up to the inside edge of the cockpit coaming and then use their leg strength to push themselves up out of the cockpit. It was a real eye-opener.

I'd be wary of buying WW boat that I couldn't do that in.

Don’t Believe IT
I don’t believe that one is better than the other. The smaller ocean cockpit allows for a smaller skirt which might by the fact of being smaller provide more protection from implosion. The Ocean cockpit also allows for a differant thigh brace set-up which many prefere. Wet exits are more difficult with Ocean cockpits.

Keyholes are a compromise, I think. They offer some additional access room, reasonable thigh brace backing, and additional room for entry and exit. Ive not been trashed by bracking waves as often as some, but practice in the surf has had me head over heals more than once. My skirt never imploded. When tired and not able to get up from a thrashing I was easily able to get out of a keyhole.

I believe that this is another example of the many things that differant people will call better each way depending on what they want and what they are comfortable with.


Cockpit size
On the river, big cockpit always. On the ocean, if I could get teleported into the boat I would still be using an ocean cockpit for all sorts of reasons.

For me the major deciding factor was getting in to the kayak in difficult places. This is one of the advantages of wave skis and surf skis, you can just jump back up on them (with a little practice). If I always launched from a beach, ramp, low dock etc. ocean cockpit might work but I like paddling in more varied places.

Its worth bearing in mind that most control happens through your seat. The main function of seat belts, thigh braces, knee hooks etc. is to keep your butt on the seat.

I was talking to “a guy who knows” recently and apparantly the international/olympic slalom kayakers are going away from being super tight in the cockpit and are now trying to get a slightly looser fit.

I don’t like frog legs.
I’ve got 3 boats with standard North American sized keyholes. I learned to roll in these. Over long hauls, I can’t keep my legs splayed like that; I find myself bringing one leg at a time into the keyhole slot to rest and dropping the other to stretch. I did 46 miles in 3 days in a keyhole OI last year, and even with the smaller keyhole I still found myself doing this. In fact the only keyhole I haven’t cramped up in, in real-world long distance, has been in the P&H Sirius. If it had a bulkhead footrest, it would have been superb. Trying to find keyholes sized for smaller people (and lower decks) downright sucks. I’ve been looking hard for ocean cockpit long boats for this reason.


If in Florida…
The basic combo that I like these days is to be as lined up or close to something I can brace against while allowing just enough room to be able to wet exit a bit thoughtlessly in a pinch. That is, I want to be tight but not enough that I have to really stop and plan how to get out. In a sea kayak I also want to be able to do a wet re-entry, but it’s OK if there is a little planning needed.

I suspect that’s a common balance that people strike.

Since I am not big and fairly limber, I might prefer an ocean cockpit if I lived in a warmer climate. But living in the northeast and tending to dress quite warmly, I tend to go for a more aggressive keyhole rather than an ocean cockpit. The combo of drysuit and layers that I am wearing for the colder parts of the year have some impact on my limberness, enough that I hesitate to go for an ocean cockpit. That and my inability to diet…

This is what I had always been told…
“The smaller ocean cockpit allows for a smaller skirt which might by the fact of being smaller provide more protection from implosion.”

I also believe that Greenlanders don’t naturally swim, so the ability to wet exit may be immaterial for them, hence the design of the ocean cockpit on traditional Greenland-style boats.

It’s not physically easy for everyone
to get out of keyholes. Even in sea/touring boats where (unlike ww boats) there is no front wall, the slot in the keyhole may be too narrow for people like me with really big frames. Not that I advocate what people call “ocean” cockpits, but a return to keyhole cockpits need NOT mean an ignorant reversion to boats that some of us can’t use.

In that water?
Sorry - couldn’t resist. But in barely above freezing water it’s hard for me to imagine anything other than a seal naturally swimming regardless of body density.

charts & knee braces
With an ocean cockpit, your chart can be placed on the deck right in front of you, where the skirt would be in a keyhole cockpit.

Also, you have thigh and knee contact everywhere you might put your legs.

Wet exits are no problem in an ocean cockpit.

Biggest drawback to an ocean cockpit: trying to do fiberglass and repair work down near the front bulkhead through the cockpit opening: ugghhh…

also, very tall people, or those with long legs may have trouble wih an ocean cockpit.

I like ocean cockpits because:
I feel more comfortable in the boat with a deck over me that I can brace against, or as stated above, rest a map or whatever. And lets not overlook the pure asthetics - they do look cool. Plus, the tiny spray skirt is nice.

On the minus side, the only way I know to self rescue is a re-enter and roll. Has anybody found another way?

Yes - its called a roll…
Its the best self rescue I know of – 3 seconds from flip to paddling again.

I am 6’2" and will ONLY paddle in Ocean Cockpit boats. Entry and exit is VERY EASY…with one exception…and that is when landing in a surf zone its important to exit the boat very fast, and if the surf is pounding up on an angled beach it can be challenging to exit fast enough before the next surge turns you sideways…


Heat and ventilation
Aside from the difficult-landing situations, there is the question of hot weather.

The keyhole cockpits let more air circulate on the very hot days when I dispense with using a skirt.

"Wet exits are more difficult with OC?"
I don’t find that to be the case at all (WW pin scenario noted, but I’m talking sea kayak).

Excuse my questioning this comment, but such blanket statements tend to shift me over into “Mythbuster” mode.

Wet exits from OC are a piece of cake (so is re-enter and roll). When getting in and out while upright I may do it differently in OC vs. Keyhole, but when inverted I slip out of my SOF’s OC, or the Pintail’s before that, the exact same way I do my keyhole. When I slip off a pair of pants I don’t need to shove my knee out the fly to do so.

Easier to stay in an OC when you want to? Yes. Harder to slip out of an OC when you want to? No.

If you find difficulty/difference on wet exiting, I have to wonder if you’re speaking from experience actually doing wet exits from an OC, or just buying into the common assumptions among non-OC paddlers? Maybe assuming some difficulty based on dry entry differences? Maybe from squeezing into someone’s over tight interpretation of a Greenland SOF requiring painful contortions? Maybe just a technique thing? Are you doing a controlled wet exit sliding out and back or trying to step/get knees out first?

If you have experience to support this assertion, please add some context. Some OC may indeed be “more difficult” as you say, and I’d like to hear about this if so, but I haven’t found this to be the case in the half dozen or so OCs I’ve tried (some quite tightly outfitted - which can by done with keyhole too).

self rescue
Anyone that can R&R (with or without float) - is better off doing that (assuming need to exit at all) than other methods anyway. Less effort (no fighting gravity), less chance of injury. No climbing, balancing, slipping, banging…

FWIW - I can PF/cowboy my OC SOF quite easily. Paddle outrigger (no float needed), hop on rear deck - and get in. Exactly the same as getting in to launch, just done in deeper water. If conditions won’t allow, I’d just skip the outrigger and go in sideways or inverted (R&R).

spray decks, surf landings
Paddling without a spray skirt: hmmm. I guess that’s one of those things I was taught not to do, and have never been hot or uncomfortable enough to deviate from early indoctrination.

I find getting into an OC pretty easy, getting out a bit harder.

Having some texture on the deck where you put your hands to hoist is a big help.

In a surf landing, one can exit the cockpit fast enough if willing to abandon the idea of looking graceful while doing so.

On becoming clearer on what is meant
by an “ocean” cockpit, they can only work for me if they are quite tipped toward the stern so I can shoot my big feet and long legs in. Back in the old days, ww boats had the equivalent of “ocean” cockpits, often tipped hardly at all, and many of us just couldn’t get into them.