Customizing Kayak Seats
Question from a customer:
I'm considering replacing the seat in my kayak. I find the way it angles up a strange way to sit, plus I don't think I need a big plastic, stiff seat wrapping around from one hip to another. I'm thinking about taking the seat out, and replacing it with a gel seat, or an air seat (if I can find one). Do you think either of these options will negatively affect being able to control my kayak, or will it cause me to sit too low
Many kayak seats are poorly designed, or at best they may fit the designer well but not allow much adjustment for other body types and sizes.
One of the most common seat problems is too much upward tilt of the seat bottom as it extends forward. Sometimes this can be adjusted or the front edge of the seat can be cut in a way that lowers the front edge. Another way to, in effect, reduce this seat tilt angle is to add some padding on top of the seat that is thicker at the aft edge of the seat and tapers to nothing at the front edge of the seat. The only drawback of adding foam on top of the seat is that it raises your center of gravity which can reduce your stability significantly, but if you can handle the reduced stability this may be an excellent fix. Its also one of the quickest and cheapest fixes, so give it a try before committing to replacing the seat entirely.
I'm not a fan of air pads for kayak seat bottoms or seat backs as the air support tends to move to the places you don't want it, and when you try to use body english to control the kayak the air immediately moves to the least favorable part of the pad.
A small bit of gel padding might be nice for softening a seat bottom, but if the whole seat bottom was made of gel padding the seat would probably have the same problems as with air seat, though I haven't tested any such seats so I am speculating on this.
For sea kayaks, if the seat your kayak came with can't be adjusted or modified enough to suit you, I recommend buying or making a foam seat. A foam seat can give you much of the padded feel that makes air and gel pads seem appealing, but the foam doesn't shift when you edge the kayak etc.
Hip braces and seat backs can also be carved from foam.
A foam seat can be carved with a knife and coarse sand paper, but it takes a good eye and much trial and error experimentation to shape it right.
There are people who make custom foam kayak seats for sale. They are not cheap, but once you've made one yourself you'll understand why ... it takes a lot of labor to make a good seat. Also foam is an expensive raw material. Our Web Links page contains a link to one such source for custom foam seats under the heading of "Services".
If you want to carve your own foam seat, we sell blocks of foam precut as seat blanks. Call us for more details.
If you carve a whole new seat out of foam you can make the seat height any dimension you want. Lowering your seat will make the kayak more stable and give you a bit more leg room in terms of knee height. But if the kayak is wide and/or tall for you, a higher seat may allow you to paddle more efficiently (i.e. if the lower seat makes you lift your elbows to clear the sides of the kayak while paddling).
For more ideas on how to customize kayak seats, hip braces, knee braces, and foot braces, see the article I wrote for Sea Kayaker magazine (around 1989?). Reprints of old articles are available from the magazine.