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A Complete Inflatable Kayak Guide

Inflatable Kayak Guide

All inclusive inflatable kayak guide: Tired of having to rent hard-shell kayaks every time you travel for water sport vacations? Inflatable kayaks are the way to go. They offer light compact backpack storage and work as well as hard-shells with guaranteed better safety chances.

Famously known as duckies or IKs these inflatable kayaks have their appeal in their portability. Mostly common among kayakers who don’t have enough storage space for hard-shells, their durability and efficiency also serve as a bonus. With the right care, inflatable kayaks can be one of the best investments that you make.

People who are not familiar with water sports tend to confuse a kayak and a canoe. Though they might look similar in some aspects, a canoe has an open deck (which basically means the inside of the canoe is exposed to the sun) whereas a kayak has a closed deck (the top and inside the boat are covered). That is the most obvious difference. Of course if you want more detail then look it up. Be sure to understand the difference before a purchase to be able to get the right product.

How to Choose an Inflatable Kayak

Now that you’ve decided that an inflatable kayak sounds like a grand idea, what next? Similar in workings as a hard-shell, the same rules of purchase apply to inflatables. Therefore you consider a number of factors before you get one.

  1. Consider the type of kayaking you’re into

Available in a range of designs, inflatable kayaks are oriented to do better in one particular type of water. They are also geared according to the level of skill one has, ranging from beginner to advanced paddlers. Having a general idea of the type of kayaking you’ll be determines the type of experience you’ll have. Choosing the right one (this might require some consultation if you’re a beginner) will enable you to have a better experience.  Quality of the inflatable kayak also rides on where you’ll be kayaking. We have found that paddling in flat waters like a local lake works with any type of inflatable kayak. However, if what you have in mind is a bit on the windy side, best get a performance oriented sit-in kayak.

  1. Passenger Capacity

Inflatable kayaks come in single passenger or double passenger. You might decide to make it a one person activity or think it’s a good idea to have someone come along. A single passenger kayak has more maneuvering ability than a double where coordination might be required. A double effort however, makes the paddling easier and faster. Ask yourself whether you’d rather go alone or have someone come along. If its family you might want to take the double passenger, it’s more fun. I’d suggest you get a convertible kayak though (yes, there is that option…at a slight extra cost) it converts to a solo when you want to be alone and can be made into a double when you invite someone along.

  1. Consider the weight and portability of the kayak

The main reason people choose inflatable kayaks over hard-shells is their portability and easy storage. As much as inflatables are intended to be lighter than hard-shells, that is not always the case. Inflatables can differ considerably in weight and size. You might want to consider how much you’re actually willing to carry around. Sometimes taking your flight baggage allowance is also important if you’re planning to fly around. Lugging it in and out of your car might also be an issue if it’s too heavy for your weight. I’d recommend you take into account what other equipment you’ll be lugging around in addition to that of your kayak backpack.

  1. Cost

With the varied designs and sizes of inflatable kayaks, their costs also vary greatly. Just like the weight, you might find yourself looking at inflatable kayaks that are more expensive than hard-shells. So working with a budget might be a good idea. You have the option of starting with a less expensive IK if the one you want is on the pricey side. Just make sure you stick to calmer waters till you get the high quality you need.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Inflatable Kayaks

Out of all the advantages that come with using an inflatable kayak, storage capacity and transportation has to be the largest advantage. These reasons alone make the inflatable boat worth your hard-earned money. In most cases, kayak owners will attempt to tie their vessel to the roof of their car and hope that it does not fall off as you travel down the road.

For many, it is a very hard job to accomplish alone, and you need to be careful on it unless you want to see the costly kayak falling off the roof. If you own a regular kayak, taking fishing trips is a planned effort.

Easy portability: For a majority of inflatable kayaks, you can fit them easily to your backpack, into the back of your car, during your hiking journeys, and even in airplanes. You can even bring them along during mass movements.

Their size allows you to store and carry them, even in places and situations that you cannot carry a regular kayak. With inflatable ones, it is so easy to obtain flexibility and freedom as you go and enjoy the water.

Durability: If you look at it critically, inflatable kayaks may not impress you much, as they do not have a “durable look”. They seem to be fragile, as if the first brush with a rock will leave you with a deflated rubber pile. However, dedicated users will tell you that is not the case.

The truth is that inflatable kayaks have the capability of taking rough conditions in stride. In fact, many are made from the same material as high-end water rafts.

In the event that the kayak has a puncture, repairs are very easy to make. An advantage of purchasing inflatable kayaks presently is that they come with repair kits. Your only job? Cut out a patch of cloth, fasten the patch on the puncture using glue, and then let it rest throughout the night.

They offer you stability: Most extreme sports documentaries on kayaking show that the kayak sometimes tip over, and the participants in the boat need to correct the situation quickly. Do not be scared off however – these incidences are not very common, though they sometimes happen, and riders know the handling of the situation. We know that tipping over is a possible occurrence on any kayak, but the truth is it is less probable in inflatables.

You may wonder why this is so. The inflatable kayaks actually have wider surface areas, as opposed to regular kayaks. Due to this factor, they tend to have greater stability in water. This will reduce the speeds you can move through the water, but keep in mind that stability trumps speed every time.

Inflatable kayaks have another advantage from their surface area – they have more bounce than regular kayaks, resulting from the air pockets in the boat. V-shaped vessels have lower centers of gravity, and this makes them slide through water quickly and smoothly. However, inflatable kayaks are high and tend to resist sinking down in water.

All these factors increase their stability, regardless of the condition. In fact, when you go out in rough water, it is better to utilize inflatable kayaks compared to regular ones.

Affordability: Let us admit it – taking up fishing as a hobby is an intimidating experience, and you may not know where to start. The good news is that you can start easily through inflatable kayaks. They tend to be more affordable compared to regular kayaks. This means that you have no regrets purchasing something that was so expensive and did not work out for you.

Keep in mind that you can spend more on high-end kayaks compared to low-end regular vessels. However, purchasing beginner-level kayaks is the best way you can start out on your hobby. Here is a great buying guide that you can follow for purchasing an inflatable kayak. 

What are the Drawbacks of Inflatable Kayaks?

Despite all their advantages, they do have some disadvantages. Some of these are:

Loss in speed: When you decide on an inflatable boat, you will definitely sacrifice your speed. This is due to their design, which sits on top of the water, and does not move through the water as quickly.

However, keep in mind that when you lose speed, you increase stability. This is important especially for beginners, who will want a vessel that makes them feel comfortable.

Width changes: The kayaks that are inflatable tend to have issues with squeezing into tight spaces when fully inflated, thanks to their wide surface area. However, when you lose sleek movements, you make up for that in stability rating. You only need to remember the size of your vessel, and make sure you know the spaces you are attempting to slip into.

Issues in shelf life: Like all things inflatable, you may encounter risky situations that can damage the kayak. However, do not assume the kayak will suddenly deflate and leave you in the water. If leaks occur, they will occur at slow rates, and this allows you to exit the water safely. When damage occurs, it is easy to fix – just makes sure you examine the boat after every use, repair any leaks, and you will be fine.

For regular kayaks, it is possible for them to undergo some damage, though they are more difficult to repair in addition to expensive costs.

Inflatable Kayaks Vs Hard-Shell Kayaks

Old school kayakers might feel affronted at the thought of tucking away their hard-shells in favor of an inflatable kayak. However we can’t deny the obvious benefits an inflatable kayak provides. But how do they measure up against each other?

  • Performance

When it comes to performance both inflatable kayaks and hard-shell have areas where they perform better than the other. Since inflatable kayaks weigh much less than rigid kayaks, they can be difficult to control in inclement weather, hard-shell kayaks are more stable because they sit heavier in the water. However, inflatable kayaks are quite stable and harder to capsize due to their buoyancy.

  • Storage

Anyone who has ever owned a hard-shell kayak knows that storing it takes up a lot of room. The ability to be stored in small compact spaces is one ace inflatable kayaks have up their sleeve. Deflated, inflatable kayaks fold down to the size of a backpack and easily transferred to the water in the back of your car or in your trunk. Unlike hard-shells that might cause damage (and get damaged) during transportation, IKs have no such problem and can even be taken on flights.

  • Comfort

Where hard-shells have a very short rigid back rest, inflatable kayaks come with a clip in seat that is very supportive to your back. These inflatable seats can also be swapped in with another inflatable seat that suits your back rest specification. Seating in an inflatable kayak means you can go for hours in the water without feeling numb. You need solid support from a backrest, not anti-butt-numbing comfort. However you are more likely to get wet in an inflatable kayak than a hard-shell kayak.

  • Maintenance

Inflatable kayaks only need to be inflated or deflated each time you need to use them. Even with the presence of IKs made out of tough material, there is always a chance of puncturing. However hard-shells don’t need much maintenance unless they’re wooden. The process of drying an inflatable kayak can also be tricky.

  • Reliable

The safety of an inflatable kayak has come into question a number of times. With most people looking at inflatable kayaks as ‘water toys’ it’s really hard to determine if they’re safe in rough waters. Inflatable kayaks have several air chambers that ensure you’re always afloat and don’t get trapped in a hydraulic lock.  If you fall out of an open inflatable kayak in deep water it’s easy to flip the boat back upright and crawl back on, all without help, paddle floats and in as little as 30 seconds. That can mean less risk of hypothermia. Doing the same in a hard shell takes several minutes and can be difficult alone in rough water; and once in, the flooded hull will require pumping out.

  • Performance

Inflatable kayaks sit higher in the water due to their several air chambers that make them buoyant, therefore are more exposed to the wind. This might cause them to be a bit harder to paddle than hard-shells. Some inflatables might be made wider for more stability, however this reduces their speed due to a large surface area compared to hard-shells. Here are some great lightweight oars from Amazon.

When deciding whether an inflatable kayak is good enough for you, mostly it’s a personal choice. Are you willing to overlook some cons in favor of pros? Both makes have pros and cons, now it’s up to you to see what suits you best.

Types of Inflatable Kayaks

Sea kayaks: These kayaks are oriented to have speed and stability. They have a flat hull to increase stability due to ocean waves that might knock you off balance. There kayaks are also long to give you more distance per stroke making you cover greater distance. These kayaks will also allow for below-deck storage of cargo with multiple hatches to maximize storage space.

Surf kayaks: Though they are also used at sea, the have a few additional features that are uniquely made. They typically have flat bottoms, and hard edges, similar to surf boards. They come in two main varieties High performance and International class. High Performance sets are designed for high speed dynamic movement, to allow easy cutting in on waves, and come equipped with a cluster of four fins. International class are long and have a slightly convex or concave hull with no fins. Their surfs tend to be smoother and more flowing.

Sit-on-top kayaks: They come in one to four paddler configuration. They are very stable and easy to paddle even for beginners. Ordinarily the seats will sit on top of a sit-on-top is slightly above water level, so the center of gravity for the paddler is higher than in a traditional kayak. To compensate for the higher center of gravity, sit-on-tops are often wider and slower than a traditional kayak of the same length. They’re popular for fishing and other activities that need easy exit and access to the water.

Whitewater kayaks: In white waters maneuverability is key. They are carefully crafted to ensure that they hold up well in rough waters. They have round hulls and minimal chines that makes rolling easier in the water by reducing surface area contact. This also makes it easier to maneuver and adjust to the fast flowing and rough white waters.

Recreational kayaks: Designed for casual paddlers who are interested in peaceful paddles in lakes or flat water streams. Compared to other kayaks these are the most sought after type. They have a large cockpit for easy entrance and exit and a wider beam for more stability. With a limited cargo capacity they do not do well at sea or rough waters.

How to get Into an Inflatable Kayak

Getting in and out of an inflatable kayak can be quite a task, especially for beginners. It might sound easy, but knowing what to do will save you a lot of trouble that is likely to come up. Whether it’s a sand or gravel beach or a shoreline there are easy ways to safely get in and out of your kayak.

Getting into your inflatable kayak from the shore.

You need some kind of support to hold on to for an easier entrance into the kayak. Having it well into the water will prevent the kayak from sticking to the bed of the waterfront. From there straddle the kayak while still in the water with its seat right underneath you. You can use the paddle to steady you, but don’t use too much force or it might break. Sit carefully into your kayak shifting from one foot to the other while still using the paddle for support and balance. Getting into the inflatable one leg first, find a balanced footing then go in with the other and sit in carefully. Having someone around will help a great deal in them holding steady the kayak while you get in.

Getting out is basically the reverse of the same process. Find something solid to hold on to or still use your paddle for steadying you while you lift yourself out of the kayak.

Getting into your inflatable from the pier.

Place the paddle on the pier where you can easily reach it once you are in your kayak. Then lift yourself into your kayak seat while keeping the majority of your weight on your hands. The trick is to keep your weight even over the center line to avoid tipping the kayak. Move slowly into the kayak seat and paddle away.

Getting out is in the reverse order, though you still start with placing your paddle on the pier. Lift yourself out of the kayak by using the pier as support and keep majority of your weight on your hands.

Inflatable Kayaking Tips for Beginners

For beginners, these are a few basics you can start with:

  • It’s always smart to start off with getting yourself a kayaking lesson. Sure it might look easy to paddle, but without proper guidance you might find yourself paddling in circles for over an hour. So to save time and effort on your part, invest in a kayaking lesson (which don’t tend to be expensive).
  • Dress for the appropriate water not weather. You might go out dressed for a sunny day but find that the water is icy. It’s usually recommended that you know the ins and outs of the water you’ll be on beforehand. Dealing with a water activity requires you to wear some sort of wetsuit to ensure you’re comfortable even when wet.
  • We’ve looked at the various types of kayaks available. Make sure you pick the right type of kayak for your expedition. This is dependent on what type of water you’re dealing with and the activities involved. To be on the safe side, pick a sit-on-top or a recreational kayak for any activity done in still waters.
  • Always wear safety gear. In the water buoyancy aid is essential for any kayaker. These are like the life jackets of kayaking but allow more movement in the arms and neck. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, they are always required. A helmet is absolutely crucial if you will be kayaking rocky waters. Here is a great life jacket that I would recommend from Amazon.
  • To keeping your things and yourself dry you might consider using spray skirts, which is used to cover the opening of the cockpit. It protect your lower body and belongings from getting wet. However you need to know how to detach yourself from a spray skirt quickly while underwater. You can also store your things in dry bags.
  • Learning to sit properly in a kayak is also an important factor. Most kayaks come with a comfortable back rest, use it. However the best position you can be is with your back straight and at a 90° angle with your buttocks. Use the foot pegs to rest your feet with your toes pointing outwards.
  • Holding the paddle might also seem easy, but is better done with a technique. Hold the paddle with both hands, just over the shoulders. Making sure the concave part of the blade is facing you. Grip onto the paddle with hands over and thumbs under. In general, you should have a relaxed grip on the paddle. The torso is your source of power, so you should be winding it to help you stroke, preventing strain of your arms, back, and shoulders.
  • Your strokes on either side should be even – this will help to keep you in a straight line. At the start you will find it tricky to go in a straight line. Focus on a point on the land and practice paddling straight towards it. Making a turn will require more of a sweep stroke on one end of the paddle. An instructor can give you more directions on how to do it.
  • Do not push yourself too hard. Beginning kayaking is just like any other skill, you need to be honest with yourself. As a first timer you’re bound to have a bit of snags getting along. Go easy on yourself and focus on learning the techniques. After that everything else will come easily enough. Try to stick to still waters for a while before you get your footing.
  • Know how to rescue yourself and others. Being a beginner you’ll likely stick to calmer waters therefore will hardly run into any emergency. However it’s important to always know how to save yourself and other people. Make sure you go through a capsize drill with your instructor. They’ll teach you how to right the boat and get back in.
  • This might be obvious, but people usually tend to forget it. Always carry an extra set of clothes. In a water activity you’re bound to get wet at one point or another. Ensure you always have a bag with extra clothes to avoid the uncomfortable situation of walking around in wet clothes.

Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?

This is among the common questions people are still unsure about on inflatable kayaks. Especially in rough water activities where you’re bound to run into rocks and other obstacles. However, the question of safety is highly dependent on what you spend on the kayak. Cheap inflatables aren’t made for any prolonged used. In fact the cheaper variety works best in local shallow waters once in a while.

If you’re thinking of a long term use on the far shores, with the assured safety, then expensive inflatables are for you. They offer a combination of double and triple layer fabric, separate inflation chambers, and airtight valves among other things. The 2 or 3 layers of fabric provide extra protection against a tear or puncture. Even if one layer is punctured the kayak will still go on functioning with no problems as other layers will hold it up. Because the whole kayak is filled with air, it is not very likely to sink unless you have punctured all or most of the air chambers. The air tight valves ensure that once the air goes in, it doesn’t come out.

The material used to make proper inflatable kayaks are nylon or polyester woven fabric base onto which PVC, PU or a type of rubber is bonded to coat both sides with a waterproof and durable layer. Basically inflatable kayaks are made using the same materials and construction processes as those used to make military equipment. Therefore are durable and rather safe.

The fact that they float during a capsize and don’t get caught in a hydraulic lock is also a plus. You will be able to flip and get back on with little struggle…hoping this never happens.

When it comes to children and water sport, a lot of caution is placed because of the imminent possibility of drowning. When it comes to children and inflatable kayaks, you can provide the best quality kayaks and paddle boards so that they can enjoy the water. Inflatable Kayaks provide a special selection to cover a child’s needs. Before you get one for you child, make sure it’s suited for children as not all inflatables work for them. Inflatable Kayaks come with thigh strap on them that will ensure your child stays in the kayak even in windy conditions. Both you and your child can enjoy paddling in your respective inflatables with no problems.

Can you Take an Inflatable Kayak White Water Rafting?

There is a specially designed kayak used for white water rafting (see the section on types of kayaks). It’s very possible to go white water rafting on an inflatable kayak. The kayak is specially designed to smoothly transition and maneuver in the rough water. Adjusting and safe movement during white water rafting is also taken care of in the construction of the inflatable kayak.

Can you Fish from an Inflatable Kayak?

If you are passionate about boats that allow you to store your fishing equipment as well as your trip catches, while retaining comfort and reliability, then inflatable kayaks are your best friend.

Kayak fishing is becoming increasingly popular as a recreational activity. They are characterized by their wide beams that are over a meter in length. These beams increase lateral stability and decreased the chance of capsizing. In a bid to add yet more stability, a lot of fishing kayaks give you the option of adding outriggers. These outriggers that increase their stability, and others feature twin hulls enabling stand up paddling and fishing. Compared with motorboats, fishing kayaks are inexpensive and have few maintenance costs. Some people even use the outriggers to hold up more fishing poles.

So yes, fishing from an inflatable kayak is very possible. Here is a great buyers guide that I have written on inflatable fishing kayaks.

How to Repair an Inflatable Kayak

Inflatable Kayaks come with a user’s manual and a repair kit. Ensure you always carry your repair kit with you whenever you go out on your kayak. It makes you be prepared for any eventuality.

  • For small leak, deflate your boat, clean and dry the area to be repaired thoroughly. Apply a small drop of glue. Let dry 12 hours. If you need to get on the water sooner, let it dry 30 minutes then inflate the boat, inflating the area with the repair only ¾ full. Then make a permanent repair later.

If you are having a hard time locating the leak – apply soapy water, as it will bubble out from the source of the leak. From there, follow the instructions above. You can also listen with your ear very close to the kayak with the sensitive part of your face feeling for air movements. Most leaks are usually at the bottom where it’s likely to scrape something.

  • For a leak larger than a pin whole, you’ll require a patch.

-Deflate the kayak and remove the punctured section to locate the leak;

– Clean the area around the hole;

– Apply the patch, pressing strongly for 1 minute;

– Wait 4 hours before inflating your kayak again, and getting back on the water.

This bit is more about building your kayak knowledge than something you’ll have to put into practice often. Knowing how to handle one though will help you to be prepared for the worst. I would recommend that everyone keeps this repair kit from Amazon with their inflatable so you are always prepared.

How to Maintain and Store an Inflatable Kayak

With good maintenance and storage you can reduce the chances of wearing out your kayak.

  • Store it in a cool, dry spot – make sure the kayak is clean and dry before you pack it up so that no mold can accumulate. Keep it in a clean and dry place that is not affected from major variations in temperature and other damaging environmental factors.
  • If there is a little moisture left over (possibly in the tubes) after you have dried it, leave it partially inflated for a few days in a dry area to completely dry it out before packing away. Some airflow circulation is nice as your kayak will likely still be a bit “moist” after cleaning and drying.
  • Rodents can ruin a kayak completely by chewing on it. If you have a rodent problem find a rodent proof place to place the kayak.
  • Use a protectant to help with UV damage protection. A 303 Protectant spray will greatly prolong the strength and the life of your inflatable kayak material by protecting it from the harmful UV rays. It is really cheap to buy and easy to use. This is your inflatable boat “sunscreen” and should be applied every 1 – 2 months for ultimate protection.
  • Clean it every month: (if used extensively) but recommended seasonally before storing for the winter. However never use high pressure cleaning equipment that may damage the kayak. Open the self-bailer and wash the kayak with a hose to remove sand and other particles.
  • Use an inflatable boat cleaner to remove dirt, oil and tough stains on the kayak. If you don’t have a specific inflatable cleaning agent then you can also use an all-natural cleaner as well… just don’t use any harsh chemical cleaners that could do harm to the material. I would recommend this cleaner from Amazon.
  • If you leave your inflatable kayak outside, raise it off the ground and cover with a tarp. Don’t allow it to be exposed to direct sunlight, leaves, berries or rain.
  • When deflating your inflatable kayak check that the valves and gaskets are clean and not damaged. Inflate the buoyancy tube.
  • Remove the floor or floorboards where applicable.
  • If you have been on salt water you will want to rinse the kayak with fresh water. Clean off any scum, sunscreen, algae and such with a rag and maybe some mild dish soap if needed. Look into the crevices along the side tubes and the floor for sand and muck.
  • You may store the kayak deflated and rolled up or lightly inflated. If you own an inflatable with a removable tube set, take it off for easier, more thorough cleaning. You may store the tube set on or off the kayak. Dry thoroughly. Sun dry if possible.
  • When at the take out after a long days paddle you can feel free to roll up your boat and stow it in its case. Storing your kayak wet and dirty will not necessarily kill it, but it will shorten its life.
  • You should probably fold and roll up your kayak differently each time to ensure you do not develop a crease or a wear spot.

Wrap Up.

Ultimately, even with its pros and cons (which aren’t that many) an inflatable kayak is definitely worth the price. It’s fun and efficient requiring very minimal care and storage space. Now you can go backpacking with your kayak with no problem. They perform as well as hard-shells, so why not?

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