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Outfitting Tips For Dummies

I can’t say I miss the days of spending hours shaping foam and gluing pieces into a new boat to get a good fit but I do like tweaking my JK boats a bit to get even more out of the near-perfect standard outfitting. JK boats are really easy to get a super snug custom fit and the few extra minutes you take to do this will pay off in boat control down the line. These comments are related to the Elite Boat outfitting since that is what I am most familiar with.

Most people have the most to say about the Happy Feet and comments range the whole gamut from very positive to extremely negative. I think most of the positive comments come from the people that take the time to understand how the bag works and the negative ones are probably from people who didn’t understand the tweaks in the first place and see the bag as a gimmick; it’s not. The bags come in 3 sizes and they are usually shipped according to what size and type of boat you buy. In the smaller boats you generally get the small bag but if you are a really small person you might be happier with a bigger bag. Conversely, a larger person might like a smaller bag to accommodate bigger feet. Before you leave the dealer’s store make sure you know how the foot bag works and try to figure out whether you would be happier with a smaller or larger beanbag for your feet. At the end of the bean part of the bag is an inflatable bag that you can pump up to bring the bag closer to your feet. If you have to depend on inflating the bag a lot it will feel squishy and move around more than I like-get a bigger bean bag model or stuff some foam in front of the bag to displace some of the room the air would have to displace. In some of my boats that have a lot of room up front in a pinch I have stuffed a liter bottle half inflated in front of the bag and it actually ended up working really well except for the noise. It conforms to the nose shape better than foam and gives a really solid platform to push off of and the price is right.

There are also a variety of ways to shape the foot beanbag itself. For the most part I like the pocket method that creates custom pods that surround my feet but in my Fun I like the wedge method. For the pod method you open the valve to the beanbag and puff a bit of air into the bag and then slide your feet straight into the bags, moving them around as much or as little as you like to make the perfectly shaped foot area pockets. Suck all the air out of the bag and close the valve and you have a permanent pod that holds its shape until you want to change foot positions or try something new. The pods are really nice in the winter for insulation too because most of your foot is surrounded. The wedge method shapes the bag into a “V” form and your feet have a solid block to push on with the entire bottom of your foot. I like this style in the larger boats because I tend to wear bigger shoes and need the room.
A good idea is to Velcro the bag in place. This helps keep the bag in the front of the boat for transport and makes it less likely to shift around on you. You can get stick on industrial strength Velcro at a Home Depot type store and you only need one piece about 3-4 inches long. Use the soft side of the Velcro on the boat itself (inside bottom) so that if the bag shifts the grippy side won’t rub a hole in your footbag.

The foot system for the Hero and Villain series doesn’t have a beanbag but consists of a removable plastic footplate that holds a 4-inch chunk of foam on top of it to create a solid bulkhead. This combo is simple and brilliant. The plastic footplate base can be taken off relatively easily by pulling it towards the cockpit off the track and you can stuff things for overnighters in front and then slide the plate back in place. The 4 inches of foam gives you a lot of cushion for hard hits and it will not allow your feet to get past the footplates which I have seen happen with ugly consequences in boats that have gaps in this area. It is easy to move the entire foot platform back and forth to snug up the boat for harder rapids or loosen it for flat cruising mode with a simple cord lockdown system that is accessed in the front of the pillar. Once locked down the cord doesn’t move and is super solid. You do get a certain amount of give from the foam for harder front hits and the entire system acts as a shock absorber.

The Sweet Cheeks beanbag seat also come in two sizes and your mileage may very about which one you prefer in your boat. Most boats come with a standard 100 and that works for most people. If you are small in relation to your boat or feel buried too deep in the cockpit a 200 might be a better option. You can also modify the 100 fairly easily by cutting out a piece of foam in the shape of the plastic seat and putting it under the 100 Sweet Cheeks seat. You can add different thicknesses until you see what you like best. Once you figure it out either glue the foam to the seat or Velcro it to both the seat and the Sweet Cheeks 100 to make it more solid. The backband works well with the seat and is easy to micro adjust with a cleated cord system on each side. It has never failed in any of my boats and if it did it is a simple fix with a knot until you can replace the old cord. You can adjust the backband a bit up or down by playing with the elastic cords running through the back holding it in place but for the most part you just set it and forget it. For long flat stretches you can undo one side and stretch out. Another good use of the backband is to micro-adjust your position in the seat. For features that you want to be a bit back on just let out a bit on the backband. When you need to be forward more, tighten it up and you are good to go.

The hip pad set up is simple and effective. They strap around the side of the seat and you can easily add or subtract pre-cut shims of foam to make it as snug as you need to. They have Velcro on the back to keep them from moving around and you can flip them up to access the bolts to move the seat forward or backward.

One thing about the seat, and it’s something that a lot of people don’t think too much about; the seat moves. The first thing you need to do is to trim out the boat in the water. Loosen both the side bolts inside the side of the seat (through the hole) and undo the hose clamps at the front and back of the seats (depending on the model) and set the seat in a neutral or middle position and jump in. Have a friend tell you how the boat looks sitting in the water with you in a forward paddling position. Is it boat bow heavy, biased too far back, or neutral? I would start with neutral. Mark it with a magic marker and tighten the side seat bolts. Take a screwdriver with you the first time you boat to loosen the hose clamps and micro-tune the seat position so the boat performs the best for your style of boating. What works for one person doesn’t usually translate to another so take the time to do this step because it is worth it. Generally the smaller the boat, the more critical the seat position so make tiny correction either way until you dial it in. Tighten the hose clamps and the side seat bolts and mark this favorite position. Every few times you boat, check the marker to see if the seat has shifted and re-position and tighten everything down again. If you find a position that you absolutely love you can replace the screw down bolts with some lock nuts or cut a piece of PVC pipe in half lengthwise and cut it the right length behind the seat and back pillar and hose clamp it down. Your seat will not move now. I can’t count the number of people I see on the river with their boats trimmed one way or the other complaining about their lack of boat control. Usually after I have them move the seat they can’t believe how much better their boat performs. Demo boats are notorious for being under-outfitted or poorly trimmed so if you take the time to demo a boat, take the time to make sure it is fit to you first!

Moving on to get you locked into the seat and to get you really connected to the boat you can add the Happy Seat—either alone or in combo with the Happy Thruster. The Happy Seat is my most favorite accessory. It is basically an inflatable bag that lifts your legs up into the thigh area, snugging up the fit and giving you all day support for your legs. The Thruster is generally used to add volume around the cockpit area for aerial play—I use it to give my small Star added volume to make it a bit more retentive at my weight—and it does make a difference. In larger boats I don’t inflate it as much and it acts like an implosion bar—supporting from under the skirt.

One final JK accessory is either the Fun Float or Creek Float. The one-piece design works so well it is a wonder no one thought of it before. They are tough, light- weight, don’t shift or pop out in a swim and last. One “out of boat experience” and your boat and boat rescue friends will thank you for adding them to your outfitting.

So that’s it—spend a few minutes tweaking your outfitting and be rewarded with better boat control, a more comfortable boat, and a boat that will take you as far as you want to go on the river. All of these accessories can be retro-fitted into non JK boats.

Team JK