What Are Kayak Scupper Plugs? Do I need them?

Kayak Scupper Plugs

If you’ve ever paddled a sit-on-top kayak, you might’ve noticed the holes in the bottom of the hull. The first time I saw those kayak scupper holes, I wondered if I needed them and if I should just plug them up. But those holes in the bottom of your kayak are there for a reason and most of the time you should just leave them alone. However, there are circumstances where you might want to plug those kayak scupper holes up with plugs.

What are kayak scupper plugs? Kayak scupper plugs are small, round stoppers that are designed to seal off the scupper drain holes in the bottom of sit-on-top kayaks. These kayak plugs stop water from coming up through the holes in the bottom of your kayak. Kayak scupper plugs come in varying sizes to fit different model kayaks.

But kayak scupper plugs are only half of the equation in controlling how much water gets into your kayak and how it drains out. And not all kayaks have scupper plugs in the first place.

So, let’s dive deeper into kayak scupper plugs, what they’re for and why you might need them.

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What Are Kayak Scupper Holes?

Kayak scupper holes are molded-in drain holes that are built into the bottom of sit-on-top kayaks like ocean and fishing kayaks. Kayak scupper holes are mainly for draining water from the inside of the kayak, but they also increase the strength of a sit-on-top kayak’s hull.

When you get into a sit-on-top kayak that has scupper holes, you’ll notice that the kayak settles down into the water a little. And as your kayak takes on more weight, it displaces volume and lowers into the water even more as it finds its buoyancy equilibrium with that surrounding water.

During this, you may notice water come up through the scupper holes. This is normal and these scupper holes are actually a big part of kayak safety for sit-on-top kayaks.

I know, it seems a bit counterintuitive as kayak holes are primarily designed to drain water, but it’s perfectly normal. During normal paddling, your sit-on-top kayak, equipped with scupper holes, will continually let water in and drain it back out through the scupper holes.

If you’re a big guy or gal, more water will come up through the scupper holes as your kayak sinks lower in the water to accommodate your weight.

Still, no matter whether you are a large or lightweight paddler, water will flow up and down through the scupper holes as you paddle in rougher water or as water comes over the side of your kayak.

How Many Scupper Holes Are in a Kayak?

A kayak will have 6-8 scupper holes coming up through the bottom of the hull. Depending on a kayak’s manufacturer and model, there may be 2 holes in the front, 2 in the back and 2-4 holes in the seating area of the kayak. (Sometimes the cockpit area has 4 holes because that’s where most of the weight is.)

As you paddle your kayak, you’ll notice which scupper holes let in the most water. And depending on how much water they let in, you may want to stop some or all of them from allowing water to flow up through the hull.

Closing off those holes with kayak scupper plugs are how you’d do that.

But first, understand that not all kayaks even have scupper holes.

Do Sit-in Kayaks Have Scupper Holes?

One of the main design difference of a sit-on-top kayak vs a sit-inside kayak is that sit-in kayaks don’t have scupper holes.

Sit-in kayaks don’t have scupper holes in the bottom of the hull. Sit-in kayaks are designed differently than sit-on-top kayaks. Sit in kayaks are designed to keep water out of the hull, not drain it once it gets inside. Sit-on-top kayaks are the only kayaks designed with holes built into the hull.

In order to get water out of a sit-inside kayak, you would have to use a kayak bilge pump and manually pump the water out of the inside of the kayak.

What Are Kayak Scupper Plugs?

As I mentioned at the start of this article, kayak scupper plugs are round, cone-shaped stoppers that seal off the scupper drain holes in the bottom of sit-on-top kayaks. The plugs also have a piece of rope or string attached to them so that you can pull them back out of the scupper holes when you don’t need them.

The best kayak scupper plugs are water-tight and prevent any water from coming up through the kayak scupper holes and filling your kayak with water.

Most recreational kayak scupper holes will take a universal kayak scupper plug. However, some kayak holes are model-specific and may require that you buy a custom fit or special screw-in scupper plug to close them off.

But if you plug up the scupper holes in your kayak, they won’t perform their primary function, draining water that comes over the sides of your kayak or is dripped inside your sit-on kayak. So it’s a balancing act between letting the water drain out of your kayak and keeping the water from coming up though the scupper holes.

Do I need scupper plugs for my kayak? You need scupper plugs if you have a sit-on-top kayak and want to prevent water from coming up through the scupper holes and into your kayak. So, if you are paddling on calm waters and don’t feel like getting wet, or if you have a heavy load in your kayak, you’ll need kayak scupper plugs.

How Do Kayak Scupper Plugs Work?

Of all the different parts of a kayak, scupper plugs confuse beginners the most. But kayak plugs are pretty simple devices. They are plastic, silicon or rubber plugs that you press or screw down into your kayak’s scupper holes to prevent water from soming up through your kayak’s hull.

Why would you use scupper plugs when there are holes designed into your kayak?

By pressing kayak scupper plugs tightly into the scupper holes, you create a watertight seal. That seal prevents water from passing in and out of your kayak’s self-draining scupper holes and into the hull of your kayak. In short, you stay drier by having the scupper plugs in.

Sit-on-top kayaks, by nature of their open top design, will get water splashed inside of them. Also, any waves that splash the side of your sit-in kayak may get larger amounts of water in the cockpit and storage areas on top of your kayak.

By plugging the scupper holes in your kayak, there will be no way for the water that’s gotten onto the top of your kayak to drain out. Also, if you happen to flip your kayak, once you turn it back over any water that got into it won’t drain either.

So in most situations you’ll want to leave your kayak scupper plugs out and paddle normally. After all those holes in the bottom of your kayak were put there for a purpose.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Kayak Scupper Plugs

There are a few great advantages that come from using kayak scupper plugs:

  • Preventing water from bubbling up into your cockpit
  • Keeping you dry
  • Giving your kayak greater buoyancy to float a heavy load
  • By plugging your kayak’s scupper holes, you’ll sit higher in the water, allowing you to paddle faster

Disadvantages of using kayak scupper plugs:

  • Water won’t drain from your kayak’s cockpit or hull area
  • If you flip over and get water in your kayak, it won’t drain out when you flip it back
  • Your kayak will ride higher in the water and be pushed around by the wind more

But listen, sit-on-top kayaks are designed a specific way to perform a specific function. And the scupper holes in the bottom of your sit-inside kayak are there for a reason.

Allowing water to drain from your kayak and to come up from beneath and drain back out as your kayak is loaded and unloaded is an excellent feature. Open sit-in kayaks are going to get water in and out of them constantly as you paddle. Allowing that water to drain out is what the scupper holes are for.

That being said, kayak scupper plugs were invented to give you some control over that process of draining and filling. So it’s probably a good idea to carry enough kayak plugs along that you can plug those holes up if you need to. (Carry an extra scupper plug with you in case you lose one)

But don’t plan on paddling with the kayak scupper plugs in all the time. That will defeat the purpose of the scupper holes.

Will a Kayak Sink Without Scupper Plugs?

Your kayak will not sink without scupper plugs. Sit-on-top kayaks with scupper holes were designed to self-bail. They let water in and out as they find equilibrium with the surrounding water.

Also, they were designed so that even if you flip over and get a lot of water in the cockpit, that water should drain down through the scupper holes once you flip the kayak back over.

Storing a kayak with scupper holes/plugs.

Kayak Plugs Summary

Sit-on-top kayaks have 6-8 holes distributed throughout the bottom of the hull. These scupper holes allow water to drain from the cockpit area of your kayak. But they also allow water to flow up into the cockpit area under heavy load or in wavy conditions.

Though those scupper holes serve a good purpose, there are occasions when you might want to plug some or all of them up. You can do that with any number of specialized kayak scupper plugs.

Kayak scupper plugs are small cylindrical stoppers that are designed to close off your kayak’s scupper holes and make them watertight. Get yourself a set of kayak scupper plugs and an extra one in case one gets damaged or lost.

You’ll be glad you did.


I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

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