08 February 2011

GEAR: carabiners for sea kayaking.

On my sea kayak I often use carabiners (snap shackles) to attach items to the deck.
The convenience of being able to release the item without tools or too much fumbling is the main reason that a biner is used. Other items, like stays for a sail, that don't require quick release are usually secured by D shackles with a screw on gate.
I use this type of biner for the items that might need occasional use (hand bilge pump secured below deck).
This biner is compact, light and cheap.
But I don't like using this type of gate on a towrope.
There was an incident where the sharp hook ripped somebody's hand open when grabbed by its end.
A larger snap shackle is desirable when trying to attach a towed kayak since some kayak handles will have a hard time accepting a small opening gate.
A larger stainless steel snap shackle from marine chandleries seem to do the job.
What I don't like on this option is the little hook that the biner has when the gate is open and often snags on ropes when least needed.
I thought that a high quality anodized aluminum climbing biner with a key-lock style gate would be the perfect tool.
It was, for a while. The biner has a spring gate and the spring is housed inside the gate itself.
With time the spring corroded and failed leaving the gate wide open. While the rest of the biner still looked in great shape it was no longer usable/safe.
I then tried a carabiner that uses a wire gate as spring. The anodized climbing crab was perfect. The gate was free of hooks that could snag on a rope and would shut securely.
Less then a year later the carabiner started to show signs of corrosion and eventually just exploded!

Finally I sourced a biner that meets my needs.
Stainless steel with a key-hole gate designed for salt water.
The carabiner is made by Kong in Italy (holders of the key-hole gate patent).
There are no signs of corrosion after a year and the action of the gate is very positive.
I don't snag on ropes when releasing from a towline and there are no sharp edges to cut myself on.
The biners come in different sizes but they are not easily sourced. Only high end marine chandleries seem to carry them.


  1. I didn't know these things are so rare. Here in Vancouver pretty much any marine supply store has stainless steel or (preferably) brass carabiners available. The brass are pretty much the best, but the most expensive.

  2. Kamil, most of the biners depicted are rather common, it's the Kong ones that I have a hard time sourcing.

  3. I want the KONG ones. We've been using the petzls and replacing them regularly. Who carries the KONGS?

  4. Cate, I don't who carries the Kongs in California. Kong's website mentions Eugene Fleischer as distributor for USA. Contact him at sales@eugenefleischer.com to find your local retailer.

  5. Gnarly, I've used the same two Kong type keyhole crabs for nearly 15 years scuba diving and they really are robust and bomb proof. Just a little quirt of WD40 or similar light oil once a year or so will keep them sweet. Dan

  6. Climbinganchors.com.au carries some Kong gear. If you contact Steve he might be able to source the particular SS biner that you need. That photo of the busted anodised biner is a bit disconcerting. I'm going to go home and very carefully check all my biners that have been used for sea cliff climbing.

  7. Scott, I looked at the site and I see Petzl Angle S that potentially would be ideal for my needs. My previous Petzl (Spirit) was great but the spring inside the gate went cactus. The Angle S does not have a spring. Will test and see if good for sea kayaking. Thank you for the tip.

    1. I can report that the very nice looking Petzl Ange S carabiner cannot handle salt water.
      After one summer of use by the Baltic sea, in only moderately salt water, corrosion is clearly visible.

  8. Buy whatever brand you want at REI and when the gate starts sticking have them warranty it. I use a locking biner for my anchor line and have had to warranty it once after three years of use. Dipping in fresh water after a day on the water helps prolong their life.

    1. That might work if you live close to a REI store but I feel that it's a bit dishonest: climbing biners were never designed or intended for marine applications. While some might think that REI is acronym for "Return Every Item" I believe in sourcing the right gear/tool for the job :-)

  9. Black Diamond HoodWire carabiners might also do the trick. They are wire gate carabiners not easily snagged on ropes thanks to a protecting hood. The specificications says "all-around use" which off course should include sea kayaking and marine use :)

    1. I had a look at those and they look good. My worry is that they are made from aluminium and corrosion could be a problem.
      Admittedly the Petzl carabiners did not corrode in tow years; it was the spring that failed. With the BD Hoodwire there is no separate spring, the spring is the stainless steel gate. If the body of the carabiner is 6000 series aluminium (instead of 7000) most likely they would be durable enough. Light too.

  10. aluminum and stainless in salt water is galvanic action and destroys it in short order. Kong website says you can buy direct in three sizes. Kong USA site


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