TopKayaker.Net: Guide To Kayak Diving

kayak diverOutfitting & Modifying Your Dive Kayak
Important Safety Tips & Anchoring Procedures by Jim Spears

Jim SpearsJim Spears, an active participant on our forums, retired from the San Diego Police Department in 1992 after 21 years and moved to the Kihei area of Maui, Hawaii in 1993. His favorite sport is scuba diving from his Scrambler XT sit-on-top kayak Spear's website, JimSpears.net covers both the equipment used and the techniques he has developed over the years. All photos courtesy of Jim Spears
Browse Assorted Gear at Tom's TopKayaker Shop.

Here we present Jim's insights on outfitting and modifying this popular dive kayak, although the principles he uses may be applied to other sit-on-top designs. We have also included many of his other valuable tips.

MY KAYAK - The Scrambler XT

There are several kayaks out there that are suitable for scuba diving. My choice was the Scrambler XT made by Ocean Kayak. I chose yellow for it's high visibility on the ocean. This is a very important factor. White, along with green, blue and some other dark colors, are not visible on a windy choppy ocean in the event you needed rescuing.


This kayak is fairly inexpensive and lightweight as well as being very stable. It is not built for speed. The front and center hatches are optional. I strongly advise against installing a center hatch. It is close to, or below the waterline, when the kayak is loaded. If that hatch cover comes off, the kayak will instantly fill with water and become impossible to paddle. This happened to me. I do use the front hatch to store my dive gear and miscellaneous items.

This kayak has an open tank well in the rear. It is a sit-on-top type kayak and is self bailing via the four drain holes as seen in the photo. Therefore, you get wet in this kayak, but then again you are going diving anyway.

The XT's interior is open front to back. If you elect to install a front hatch you will need to place something inside to prevent smaller items from drifting past the front hatch area. I used a section of a foam swim noodle to wedge inside. If you do not install a front hatch you will need a mesh gear bag to place up front to hold your dive gear.

KAYAK MODIFICATIONS - (These principles can be applied to other models of sit-on-tops)

  scramblerThe XT comes with eight factory installed accessory eyelets as indicated by the black arrows. The two marked with the * are where you attach the front side of the backrest straps.

At Tom's
TopKayaker Shop:

kayak parts
We carry a variety of kayak hardware.
like Strap Eyes, Rivets & welnuts. These strap eyes (pad eyes) also available in chrome or stainless steel, are black nylon plastic, strong enough for all but the cruelest punishment. The industry standard for kayak assembly, most commonly used for backrest and knee strap attachments, leash, shock cord, deck lines.
The two marked with x may have to be removed and the holes filled with rivets because these eyelets can poke you in your hips while seated in the kayak, depending on your body size and shape and the style of backrest. I consider those two eyelets to be useless in this location and wonder why Ocean Kayak put them there.

I installed nine additional eyelets as indicated by the red arrows. You will need them for the front and rear anchor line safety connections (See "Anchoring Procedures" section), tank leash, and front hatch leash. The two extra ones along the top sides can also come in handy.

The red "X" indicate two areas that are marked at the factory for eyelets by tiny raised bumps. I advise you not to use these locations. The one near the center hatch location may be convenient for the paddle leash but it was the spot on one of my kayaks that depressed and cracked at the rivet. Even without a center hatch, that area is where you are likely to sit while gearing up for a dive, causing the material to flex. The flexing is where the rivets would be. The other red arrow is near the front of the kayak and may have been intended for the paddle leash as well, or the front hatch leash.

If you use it for the front hatch, the hatch cover will be between you and the hatch when open. I also don't think it is a strong area for the paddle leash. The floating paddle can create a lot of stress on that eyelet if the surface current is strong while you are below diving. Surfacing from a dive to find no paddle is not a pleasant thought. I use one of the side eyelets for the paddle leash, as that appears to be a solid firm area on the kayak. I put the hatch leash eyelet in front of the hatch.

scramblerThe XT comes with four straps that have male-female plastic buckles. The straps are riveted to the kayak. The top set of the double set connects to the back side of the backrest. I use the lower set for securing the weight belt across the base of the scuba tank. The rear set is used to secure the tank in the tank well. I use the front set to secure the lifejacket. The key to not losing any gear is to secure everything. See Side Release Buckles and Webbing Strap at Tom's TopKayaker Shop.

scramblerThe strap buckles have a tendency to slide off the straps. After losing a couple of them I took steps to prevent this from happening again. I installed grommets at the ends of all the straps, then put ultraviolet black cable ties through the grommets and trimmed off the excess. This prevents the buckles from sliding off.

You may be wondering why should you purchase this kayak and have to make all these modifications? Hindsight is always 20-20. I discovered these issues after having the XT for some time. Aside from that, the XT remains an excellent dive kayak.


PFD at Tom's TopKayaker ShopThis is a required piece of equipment. I mention it ...only because some people are under the impression that their BCD qualifies as a lifejacket. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, it does not. Therefore you must carry a Coast Guard approved lifejacket on board. It does not have to be worn unless your local laws require it. Buy one that is highly visible in the ocean under adverse conditions.

Yellow is my choice. I carry it on top of the front hatch cover with the kayak tie down strap loosely locked through it. Remember to fasten it down while you are diving in case the wind comes up.

See PFD selections at Tom's TopKayaker Shop.


Dive Flags at Tom's TopKayaker ShopA dive flag is required by law in most states. Not only does it tell others a diver is below, it also tells them your kayak is not lost and adrift. I prefer the collapsible flag as it sticks up higher for better visibility.

Check your local laws for any minimum dive flag size requirements. This flag may measures 8" X 10". I modified it by adding a heavy fishing weight to the bottom with a cable tie to help keep it upright, a bronze clip to connect to a kayak eyelet so it wont blow away, and a piece of foam shaped to wedge into one of the drain holes in the kayak to keep it upright. (Be sure the fishing weight fits through the drain hole.) I use a hair tie to keep it folded up. See flag mounting attachments and Dive Flags & Poles at Tom's TopKayaker Shop.

Find Anchors at Tom's TopKayaker ShopANCHOR & LINE

I use a 3 pound collapsible Dive Anchor. It fits easily into the front hatch along with the anchor line and other gear. This is 250 feet of 3/16 inch braided nylon line on a winder. I picked the winder up at a marine supply store.

Purchases support TopKayaker.netThere is a brass clip on the end for easy connect/disconnect to the anchor. This line has held 3 or 4 kayaks with no problems. It has held 2 kayaks in a strong current.

See also Brass Snaps & Rope and an Anchor Trolley System at Tom's TopKayaker Shop. This will allow the user to deploy an anchor from the cockpit and position the anchor line toward the bow, stern or middle of the kayak, as desired. The system is easy to install and comes with instructions.


These photos show how to connect the front leash to the kayak handle and the two safety lines to the eyelets. The leash is long enough to reach the backrest to put it at your fingertips.

dive kayakdive kayakdive kayak

Connect the clip to the backrest hardware while paddling. Another option is to permanently connect this leash to the kayak by using the eye-splice knot thereby eliminating three of the four clips involved. These photos show the rear leash connection which is the same as the front, with the exception this leash has a floating ball and bronze ring at the end. This allows for an easy hookup for a second kayaker. Without this setup, the second kayaker would have to connect to the rear handle and two eyelets, then disconnect after the dive. Having a single target to deal with is much easier, especially in rough waters and offers a "no bumping" zone between the two kayaks while connecting and disconnecting. This leash can rest in the tank well while paddling and the second kayaker can knock it in the water with his/her paddle when ready to anchor. Or, just let it drag in the water. These photos show the front leash connections of the second kayak. They are the same as the lead kayak. The bronze clip on the free end is larger than all the others because it offers easy connect/disconnect to the floating bronze ring at the rear of the lead kayak. This leash is also long enough to reach the backrest so it is at the users fingertips.

dive kayakThe left photo shows the wear on the hole for the front handle on my older kayak. I replaced the handle cord with a softer braided nylon one to minimize the friction wear. For safety reasons I hook the leash to the rear of this kayak so the second kayaker has to hookup to the lead kayak backwards.

The newer model XT has more material around the hole. Ocean Kayak apparently saw the need for some improvement here. Although I like my XT's, I think this is still one of their weak points. This is all the more reason not to carry these kayaks by the handles with the added weight of gear in them.

dive kayakIf these holes break through, you would have to install an eyelet on the end of the kayak for the handle as shown in the below photo.

Ocean kayak is now doing this on some of their other models in lieu of the molded handle hole.

At Tom's
TopKayaker Shop:
Anchor Kits & More Dive Supplies
Two sizes 3 lb & 1.5 lb galvanized folding anchor, Both w/ 70 feet of line (3/16 parachute cord), brass clip for bow attachment and comes in a durable case with plastic zipper, brass keeper clip, and grommet drain hole.

First and foremost, know where you are dropping your anchor. Do not drop your anchor on coral or other marine life. The small size of the kayak anchor is no exception.

There are two basic ways to dive from the kayak:

  • Drop your anchor and tie off leaving the anchor line winder on the kayak. This is the most common practice.
  • Drift while you are gearing up, then drop down carrying the winder with you, giving you control over the amount of line you let out. This method is okay for drift diving with no specific dive site. I suggest having a large clip to connect the winder to your BCD or weight belt to keep your hands free.

    My Technique:
    • Drop the anchor.
    • Let out a generous amount of scope on the line.
    • Make a loop in the line to connect the kayak leash clip to.
    • Let out another 2 to 3 feet of line.
    • Tie your lifejacket to the line.
    • Put the winder in the lifejacket.
    • Let the whole thing float and observe the surface current. Check and see how quickly you move away from the lifejacket. The current won't pull the anchor off target with just the lifejacket on it. This gives you an idea of what you are dealing with as far as the anchor holding.

If their is little or no current, attach the kayak bow leash to the anchor line. If the currents appear strong, tying the kayak off to the anchor line may cause it to drag the anchor off your dive site.

Paddle up-current from the floating lifejacket and gear up as much as possible at a fast, but safe, pace. Put the tank in the water and get into the BCD in time to drift or swim up on the lifejacket (a yellow one is an easy target here).

Immediately connect the kayak leash to the loop you made in the anchor line, then drop down quickly before the kayak can drag the anchor off the site. Set the anchor securely when you reach the bottom.

This technique has worked for me every time. If you have a second kayak diver with you, have them connect their kayak to the back of your kayak when you start your descent. This is where the floating ring connection system comes in real handy. Your buddy should not be more than a few minutes behind you and therefore won't affect your bottom times by that much. If you are diving on a fixed site and won't be moving the kayak around put the dive sausage on the anchor line about 20 feet from the anchor.

Put a tiny amount of air in the sausage to keep it upright. This will give you a better fix on the anchor location.

dive kayakdive kayakdive kayak

This 1st photo above shows the dive sausage approximately 20 feet up the line from the anchor. Just before surfacing clip your dive sausage, an inflatable long tube, to the anchor and inflate it just enough to start lifting the anchor to the surface. If you put too much air in it, it will expand upon ascending and likely explode, depending on the depth you are at. I let out enough scope on the anchor line so that I am able to hold the line as the anchor ascends without it pulling me up with it. This procedure allows you to have your hands free for a camera, speargun, or any emergency. This 2nd photo shows the anchor and goody bag rising to the surface with the dive sausage. The last photo shows the dive sausage on the surface with the anchor and goody bag attached beneath it.

Please visit JimSpears.net for much more detail from Jim Spears on getting started scuba diving from a kayak.


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