Seat belts have long been used by the Aussies and Americans on their wave skis and surf skis. Some paddlers have been mounting seat belts on their touring and surfing kayaks as well. Noyo Pacific Outfitters sent us their "Lap Strap" for review. This accessory is no longer available but we've kept this review up for those of you wondering about such devices.
IMPORTANT: Seat belts for kayaks ARE NOT A SAFETY DEVICE. I know they are in a car, but in a kayak they are a performance enhancers and require practice to use.
No matter what kind of seat belt you are using, you must familiarize your self with it's workings before you get on the water. On dry land, seated in kayak, PFD on, put on the belt. Start with hands off belt, close eyes and take off the belt with one hand. Do this several times, or until you are quite confident you can do it under water. Then, with a buddy standing by, in water that is about waist deep, roll over your boat with the strap on and release. Keep our hands on the paddle until you are well under water. If you fail your buddy will get you up. Do this until you are confident you can take off the belt in rough surf conditions with out thinking. Bear in mind that it takes a conscious effort to remove a hand from your paddle and reach for the quick release. An unconscious paddler will not be able to perform this, nor is he likely to float out of the seat, like he would with knee straps. Yet another good reason to wear a helmet in rough water. OK enough of this scare talk and warnings.
My first impression on opening the Kayak Lap Strap box was: "This is very well made!" It is well made and strong. The installing procedure is up to the kayak owner, and this is clearly stated on their website. I used the photo (Scupper Classic) pictured on the website, and the suggestions of placement to formulate my installation plan. It was a puzzle and somewhat tricky to decide exactly where to mount the strap's four anchors.
I chose a Cobra Expedition to install the Kayak Lap Strap on. I chose this boat because I want to use it for roll practice. I like rolling the Cobra Expedition because it is so skinny and has a low center of gravity. I find it easy to roll compared to some other sit-on-tops that are wider and have a higher seat. Rolling is a skill that needs constant practice. Sit-on-top paddlers who do roll may lapse into a non-practice mode, because they do not have to rely on a roll. I need practice, as the video may show you, and the combination of the Lap Strap and the Expedition is my path to achieve this.
Installing the unit was not too hard. My Lap Strap came with quality stainless steel nuts and bolts, but one could easily use well nuts and or rivets depending on the type of kayak and access to the internal space. Fortunately there was adequate access (just barely) for me to reach in and fasten the hardware.
Before I drilled my holes, I carefully fitted the strap to the kayak while seated in the cockpit. I resisted the urge to mount the strap close to the hips as warned on the Noyo-Pacific web page. I did end up trimming off some of the strap to customize to my skinny Cobra.
This was not a problem to do: cut with a sharp pair of scissors, melt frayed end with lighter or candle, melt new holes with a hot Phillips head screwdriver, planning carefully before cutting and melting. (Use an old beat-up Phillips, and heat screwdriver with a candle, not lighter, to make holes.) I liked the fact that Noyo provided extra strap to fit wider people and boats.
Once in place and firmly mounted to the gunwales I tested the Lap Strap fit. My Expedition has a very deep seat and is outfitted with a seat pad (Hot Seat); I use a seat-less backrest with it. I felt that the Lap Strap could feel a bit tighter against my thighs. So I will suggest this: the Lap strap will fit best on kayaks that do not have a very deep seat. Fortunately this is most sit-on kayaks, and all wave skis. I think that only a few kayaks have the real deep seats. In the future I will use a backrest with a seat pad in combination with the Hot Seat to get a better fit.
The Kayak Lap Strap performed well for rolling, despite my concerns on fit. The placement suggestion of "snugly across thighs" was right on! Just like Aussie wave skis. This allows the paddler to press legs out against the seat belt, similar to how sit-in-side paddlers press out against their thigh pads mounted under the deck. In many ways I felt that the Lap Strap is a superior rolling aide over knee straps. The diagonal side straps keep the main strap from flipping over, and also create more contact with the hips for better control.
View Video Clip of Lap Strap Roll - This is called a "sweep roll" technique...unlike the c to c most recommended for surfing. (Video will open in a separate window. Please wait for full load)
The Kayak Lap Strap is perfect for surfing kayaks and wave skis, and the paddlers who are looking for an edge in performance, willing to go to the extra effort to learn how to safely use the seat belt and install on their kayak. (And those who want to roll like me.) Otherwise knee straps will do well for most paddlers who tour, or surf casually. I do not think one would ever need to use the lap strap and knee straps at the same time.
There are a few features I would like to see improvement on. First off some padding on the strap would be nice. I was wearing nylon shorts, and got a bit of a "rash" from the belt. If I had been wearing a wet suit I am sure it would have been fine, I will in the future. Some padding could be added. Look for strap padding at wind surf shops, wave ski dealers, or find some XSL knee straps, cut and use the padding from them. Also it would be nice if the Lap Strap could be more adjustable in length, and geometry to fit more precisely to individual paddlers and to change quickly form one paddler to another. I am not sure how this would be done, but thought it worth mentioning.
Finally, I believe a right hand release would be better than a left hand release. As a scuba diver, I was trained with a right hand release mentality, and have always installed a seat belt on a wave ski that way. The Lap Strap is left handed, and does not pose a problem, but a universal right hand release on all belts would help to make it more intuitive, and I think your right hand is smarter and quicker to respond in most people. (Lefties may feel differently.) Noyo suggest the addition of a grab ball, and I think that is a good idea. Many sit-in paddlers use a wiffle style golf ball on their spray skirt grab loops, and this would be the right thing to do for the Lap Strap as well.
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