Ocean Cockpits

-- Last Updated: May-05-04 8:37 AM EST --

Can anyone fill me in on why some paddlers and some manufacturers prefer ocean style cockpits to keyholes? Other than the nostalgia of paddling a traditional style SOF boat or something, what are the advantages?

I alreay understand that keyhole style cockpits are thought by many folks to be a safer solution as they are, at least for many people, much easier to get out of. I'm not really looking for a safety discussion on this one, more of a technique and / or boat construction question.


I don’t find them easier to get in and out of, actually its the opposite for me. it doesn’t allow me to lift both legs at the same time and forces me to twist while getting in or out, a real PITA!!

Ocean Cockpits
When you’re out on the ocean, a smaller cockpit means that the force of a breaking wave will be on a smaller area. Much easier for a spray skirt to stay intact if its smaller.

Well… It Is A “Safety” Issue…

– Last Updated: May-05-04 9:31 AM EST –

although you will have opposing sides to it. Ocean cockpits go well with tight fitting, kayaks where paddler had very snug (but comfortable) fit in the cockpit. You have to almost snake into an ocean cockpit. Once in, you're in. Generally (folks, I am speaking from my general experience with folks I run into), paddlers who like ocean cockpits tend to have very good rolling and sculling skills. They don't want to come out of the boat. The smaller cockpit not only minimizes a collapsed skirt on a dumping wave, but helps to lock you in if you need to by lifting/splaying/wedging the kness against the deck/masik.

There are also many good rollers/scullers who like keyhole cockpits. They're big paddlers and/or have knee problems that is less stressed perhaps by the cockpit entry and exit. But, most common, is finding beginning/novice kayakers who are reassured by keyhole cockpits. They want to know they can get out in a capsize (although getting out of an ocean cockpit ain't really that hard either) and get out quick. Heck, in some of my keyhole cockpits, I have enough room to bend my knees and push my way without evening having to manually pop my skirt.

But, here is the illustration of the problem that some want to avoid by using an ocean cockpit. In the winter RISK surf session, I got hit by a dumping wave which flipped me ass over head backwards. The water hitting my paddle literally pulled right out of the boat. I didn't even have a chance to do anything. I was sucked out of the boat that fast. The boat and I were quickly separated. I took a major thrashing in the subsequent dumpers. Not fun and life threatening if I were not near shore. This happened in my Riot Boogie. Folks who have or know Riot boats know that these have one of the smallest keyhole cockpits out there right now. But that keyhole coaming is still at least a third bigger than my ocean cockpit coaming on the greenland sof and s&g.

When it comes to the cockpit affecting technique, I don't think it does as much as the overall fit of the kayak and well as it's beam. I think how paddle my SOF would be the same regardless whether the coaming is a ocean or small keyhole size. However, on some of the larger keyholes, I may fall out of the boat trying to reverse sweep rolls where I am facing to the ocean bottom instead of up to the sky.


I weigh 230 and have a hard

– Last Updated: May-05-04 1:02 PM EST –

time getting into ocean cockpits. No problem coming out of them when needed.

If you are committed to your roll ocean cockpits are very nice. Keep you locked in. Several friends whose paddling I respect, (like Sing if he does not mind my callling him friend) prefer them. Of the keyhole styles I've seen, my favorite for interesting conditions it the NDK, VCP style. Although the center is narrow, and because the outer area has weird concavities in the first third of it's area after it comes back fron the apex, those large flat areas in front really keep the skirt fron imploding. Certainly the more pure oval type is easier to get into and out of but offers less security for the skirt.

As we consider our own options, let's remember that Sing is on the small size for a guy (though quite powerful), and very athletic.

Another reason
I vastly prefer to paddle with my legs together as opposed to the usual seakayak frog’s legs position.

It makes leg pumping action/body rotation much more natural.

In my kayak with ocean cockpit, my knees are located well in front of the cockpit rim close to the deck. A small foamblock provides me with boat contact when conditions demand it. This wasn’t possible in my old

keyhole style boat.


That’s the thing
I too like to paddle with my legs together - at least part of the time. Maybe it is a result of all the time I’ve spent in canoes. The position is doable in my Arctic Hawk, but the front edge of the cockpit does interfere a bit.

The size of the skirt makes good sense too. I wonder why more manufacturers don’t offer the ocean style cockpits. Doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal to offer it as an option - at least on composite boats.

remember the money is in
plastic boats, at least 25 inches wide. Paddlers even thinking of ocean cockpit are a niche market of a niche market. That does not mean that a passionate boatbuilder cannot serve them, but the options will not be very plentiful.

Security and control
All of my boats except my first one have had ocean cockpits. I won’t buy a boat with a keyhole.

The main advantages of a small cockpit are that they keep you in the boat more securely and you never have to worry about slipping off a knee/thigh brace in rough water or during hard maneuvers. I’ve never come out of an ocean cockpit unless I wanted to. I’ve never had trouble getting out when I needed to.

As for entering and exiting, there’s not that much of a difference once you get used to the the smaller cockpit. The way I look at it is that in a typical 4 hour trip on the water, I probably spend less than a minute getting in and out of my boat and the rest of the time paddling. Why would I want to sacrifice performance over 99.5% of the time for something I do less than .5% of the time?

I think the keyhome design was driven by the serious whitewater boaters, where getting pinned and being unable to exit an old-syle small"ocean" cockpit is a very real safety concern.

OT - S&G Greenland W/ Ocean Cockpit
Here are the pics of various stages of completion for the 5th prototype Murre. The pic of me and a buddy on the beach shows the 4th prototype compared to an Explorer HV. BTW, my Murre has very little rocker and is more a point a to b boat. As I found out that day, she tends to broach on waves. Sidesurfing was the game that day. The new one should do better.



i would like to have
an ocean cockpit on my silhouette, but not at the expense of the quality for the rest of the kayak.

Keyholes do offer a little more room for getting in and out.

But an ocean cockpit offers a little bit more of the sensation of wearing the kayak, rather than sitting in a “boat”.

Hey ya’ll look at that skin on frame boat on Sing’s webpage. I love it! What design is that?


Little round cockpits
are OK for the “roll or die” school of sea kayaking, also they look great. But I love the NDK keyhole, great contact and control and easy for us older folks to gracefully exit at the beach. And I have some experience trying to squeeze my long legs in and out of the o. c. when the next set is crashing in.

Being kind of short
I’ve fallen out of my large cockpit boat. It has good thigh braces but sometimes things just happen fast. My first combat roll in surf was actually a quick re-enter and roll (without coming up) because one of my legs shot right out of the boat. During rolling practices it’s not uncommon for this to happen me.

Falling out is nearly impossible in my other boats. But getting out of the small cockpits in even the smallest of breaking surf is embarrassing.

I love the connected feel of a narrow and low volume kayak with a small cockpit. But on long trips the larger boat and cockpit is much more comfortable and the ease of getting in and out of the boat in tough spots is a plus.

It’s all about tradition. I’ve owned many Nordkapps, and 3 Arluk 1.8’s with Ocean cockpits. Reality is that a good keyhole actually affords BETTER grip! My surf boats have keyhole cockpits, and I have been far more hammered in them than in any sea yak with an ocean cockpit. BTW, you end up with a foam wedge between your knees in these little cockpits so you can brace against something, as there are no thigh braces. I fully disregard bnystroms argument for these little cockpits affording better implosion resistance. Like I say, my surf yaks get a lot of implosion, and I’ve only had a deck pop twice in 15 years. After many miles in both and many years, my vote is for a thoughtfully designed keyhole. How many surf or WW yaks have ocean cockpits? DUH… It’s all bullshit.

Yep that’s very sharp Sing

One reason not to use ocean cockpit
…is if you want to photograph while on the water.

A keyhole cockpit, even a small keyhole cockpit, allows passage of a waterproof camera box from between or in front of the legs, and then it can be opened while it sits on the lap.

Lest someone sneer that this can only be done in a wide kayak, I will point out that I was able to use a 1300 Pelican box and SLR like this, in a 20" beam low-decked kid’s kayak (WS Piccolo) with a keyhole cockpit. The cockpit opening was small enough that I could not sit butt first and pull both legs in simultaneously like I normally can, but had to turn slightly sideways and bring in one leg at a time. But it still accommodated use of the camera box.

Sure, you can stow and access the box on the front deck but I prefer to keep it on the hull floor rather than add weight and windage to the deck.


– Last Updated: May-07-04 5:22 AM EST –

I have sof building books by Starr, Cunningham and Morris but mostly followed the "recipe" by Morris. However, Morris' anthropmetric measurements would have produced a middle of the road sof of 15.5'x20". Since I was already paddling the Murre with a beam of 20", I decided to increase the OAL and decrease the beam width, to maintain relatively the same displacement. So the SOF is 17'x18" with a back deck height of 5.5".

I really do love this SOF for day tripping. I have enough wood and skin to build another SOF and was thinking something with a swedeform (like the Mariner lines) for better surfing. Truthfully, I doubt I will produce anything that I would be happier with for general day paddles.

At 25 lbs, the Ronin is a breeze to carry and cartop.


Excuse me, but…
…I said nothing about implosion. Other than in rec boats with huge cockpits, I don’t consider it to be a significant issue.

Furthermore, for me it has nothing to do with “tradition” and everything to do with personal preference and functionality.

BTW, I have no need for a foam wedge between my knees. I pad my boats in a somewhat unorthodox manner (using a foam “masik”) and paddle with straight legs, Greenland style. Regardless, before making the switch to this style, the padding in my boats was similar to any other sea kayak, foam pads that wrapped around the inside of my knees/thighs. The only difference is that there was no hole in the deck between the pads.