Why Do Kayaks Have Holes? (The Truth About Scupper Plugs)

When you first lay eyes on a kayak, especially a sit-on-top, you might be puzzled by its design. And you might ask yourself, “Why do kayaks have holes?”

These holes aren’t design flaws or mistakes. They serve a specific purpose.

What are they used for?

Let’s dive in and unravel this mystery.

One of the most helpful features of modern kayaks is the presence of scupper holes. 

Sit-on-top kayaks, unlike their sit-inside counterparts, often come equipped with scupper holes. These are strategically placed at the bottom of the kayak.

Their primary function? To drain water out.

Imagine paddling with waves splashing onto your kayak. Without these holes, water would accumulate inside, making your kayak unstable and increasing the risk of it sinking.

But what if you want to keep the inside dry? Enter scupper plugs.

These small devices plug the scupper holes and prevent water from entering the kayak. 

However, when you’re out in choppy waters or engaging in kayak fishing, you might want to leave the scupper holes open. This should go a long way in keeping the kayak’s weight balanced and preventing it from becoming waterlogged.

Are Kayaks Supposed to Have Holes?

Kayaking has evolved over the years, with modern designs incorporating various features to enhance the user’s experience. One such feature, which often raises eyebrows, is the presence of holes.

Do Kayaks Have Holes in the Bottom?

Some do, yes. Most sit-on-tops have scupper holes whose primary purpose is to allow water that splashes onto the kayak to drain out. 

Now, if you’re new to kayaking, you might wonder about the difference between sit-on-top and sit-inside kayaks.

Sit-on-top kayaks, as the name suggests, allow the paddler to sit on top of the kayak, where they are exposed to the elements.

Sit-inside kayaks enclose the paddler’s legs inside the kayak’s hull, offering more protection against cold water and weather.

But why are holes in the bottom of the boat beneficial? For sit-on-top kayaks, scupper holes are essential for draining water out of the kayak. 

When you’re paddling through rough conditions, water can easily splash into the kayak. Without these holes, the water would accumulate, making the boat heavy and unstable.

What Are Kayak Scupper Plugs?

Kayak scupper plugs are small devices specifically designed to fit into the scupper holes of a sit-on-top kayak. Their primary use? To prevent the kayak from filling with water. 

Can You Use a Kayak Without Scupper Plugs?

Venturing out on a kayak without scupper plugs might seem like a bold move, but it’s not uncommon. In fact, there are both risks and benefits to kayaking without these plugs.

If you’re kayaking in calm waters, the chances of water splashing into your kayak are minimal. In such scenarios, the natural self-draining mechanism of the scupper holes can be more than sufficient.

(For more information on kayak clothing, see our article “What to Wear Kayaking (Layer Guide)”.)

But how do these scupper holes work in self-draining kayaks? These holes are designed to allow water to flow out but not in, thanks to the kayak’s elevated seating position and the holes’ strategic placement.

It’s a design marvel that ensures you stay relatively dry while the kayak remains buoyant.

Whether you choose to plug your scupper holes or leave them open, always prioritize safety and make sure your boat is well-maintained.

Why Do Kayaks Have Drain Plugs?

The design intricacies of kayaks are a testament to the passion and ingenuity of the boat engineers who’ve developed countless designs over the years. 

From their Inuit origins to the modern recreational vessels we see today, kayaks have undergone significant transformations. One such feature that often intrigues both novices and seasoned paddlers alike is the presence of drain plugs.

Why Do Kayaks Have Holes in the Bottom of Them?

The history of kayak design is rich and varied. Initially, kayaks were designed for hunting and transportation by indigenous Arctic communities. Over time, as kayaking grew in popularity, the design evolved to meet diverse needs.

The introduction of holes and plugs in kayaks, especially in sit-on-top variants, was a game-changer. Scupper holes were designed to keep the kayak dry and prevent it from sinking. 

However, it’s essential to distinguish between drain holes and scupper holes. While both serve to remove water from a kayak, drain holes are typically found in sit-inside kayaks.

Scupper holes, on the other hand, are unique to sit-on-top kayaks and serve a self-draining function.

For enthusiasts who indulge in kayak fishing, these holes aid in fishing kayak stability and often make it so that the boat doesn’t get waterlogged, especially when one is reeling in a catch.

(Anglers: check out our articles “Does Walmart Sell Fishing Licenses?” and “Largemouth Vs Smallmouth Bass (Fishing Guide)”.)

Some models come equipped with specialized holes for storage, fishing rod holders, and other accessories. 

What Are Kayak Plugs For?

Kayak plugs, especially scupper plugs, play an important role in managing the water inside the boat. These plugs prevent water from entering the kayak through the scupper holes.

Depending on water conditions and the kayaker’s preference, one can decide when to use a scupper plug and when to remove it. In calm waters, a kayaker might choose to plug the holes to stay completely dry.

For the DIY enthusiasts among us, there are options to craft a DIY scupper plug. Using simple materials like foam golf balls, rubber stoppers, or even wine corks, you can craft a plug that fits snugly into your kayak’s scupper holes, preventing unwanted water intrusion. 

Maintaining Your Kayak

Always keep your kayak’s interior dry if possible. Tools like kayak sponges can help with this.

Regularly check the bottom of your kayak for any unwanted holes or wear and tear. Proper management of holes and plugs is an important part of boat maintenance.

To Plug or Not to Plug?

While kayaks with scupper holes are beneficial, there are times when you might want to keep these holes plugged, especially in calmer waters or when you’re looking to prevent any water from entering your kayak.

Scupper plugs are small rubber devices designed to fit snugly into these holes. The universal kayak scupper plug is a popular choice, fitting a range of kayaks. However, there are also specific kayak scupper plugs tailored for particular models.

During heavy rainfall or in choppy waters you might want to leave the scupper holes unplugged. This is done with the goal of allowing any water that enters to drain out quickly. 

So, whether or not you need to use scupper plugs depends largely on the conditions you’re kayaking in.

Easy Plug Management

Scupper plugs are easy to use. When you’re about to embark on your kayaking journey, simply insert the plugs into the holes if you wish to keep the water out.

Remove them when you’re done, allowing any trapped water to escape. It’s also a good practice to occasionally check the inside of the scupper for debris or obstructions.


Understanding the role of scupper holes and when to use plugs will greatly enhance your kayaking experience. Using scupper plugs can mean the difference between a smooth boating adventure and an unexpected dip in the water. 


Why do kayaks have scupper holes?

Kayaks, specifically sit-on-top kayaks, have scupper holes to drain water that splashes into the kayak. 

What happens if I plug scupper holes?

If you plug the scupper holes in your kayak, you will prevent water from entering.

What are the different types of scupper plugs?

This depends on the type of kayak and the scupper hole size. Some are rubber and plastic, while others are more sophisticated self-draining scupper plugs which that water out but not in.

Can I use a DIY scupper plug for holes in a kayak?

Sure, but make sure your homemade scupper plug fits securely and is watertight.

Do I need to use scupper plugs all the time when kayaking?

No. They can be useful while kayaking in calm water as they prevent water from entering through the bottom, but often you don’t need scupper plugs when you’re in choppy water, where it may be useful to not use the plug and let the scupper holes allow water to drain out of the kayak.

Do I need scupper plugs in a sit-in kayak?

Generally, sit-ins do not have scupper holes as they are designed to stay dry inside. You will not usually need scupper plugs for a sit-in kayak.

Is it possible that the holes in my kayak might sink my boat?

No, scupper holes are not able to sink your kayak. In fact, they help prevent your kayak from sinking by allowing water to drain out. 

Can I remove the scupper plugs while I’m on the water?

Sure. This depends on your boat design, of course. It’s perfectly safe to remove your scupper plugs during a paddling excursion.

Why is the water not draining from the scupper holes in the bottom?

This might be due to a blockage, or maybe the scupper plug is still in place. Check if debris, seaweed, or the scupper plug is obstructing the flow of water.

When should I leave the scupper plugs in?

When you are in calm water and when you want to stay dry.

Image Credits

Photo 1 by NJR ZA

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *