Despite advances in materials and construction, many beginning and experienced kayakers still wonder if inflatable kayaks are safe or even dangerous. But inflatable kayaks have become increasingly popular over the years, and for good reason. Inflatable kayaks are not only durable and safe but they are a convenient alternative to full-size hardbody kayaks. Inflatable kayaks are lightweight, affordable, and easy to transport and store.
After a ton of research and my own experience paddling both inexpensive and pricey inflatable kayaks, I’ve boiled down the basics of inflatable kayak safety.
So, are inflatable kayaks safe? Inflatable kayaks are indeed safe for many different types of kayaking and water conditions. Modern inflatable kayaks are made of durable materials using time-tested construction techniques. And their multi-layer material design allows them to resist scrapes and punctures.
Though inflatable kayaks aren’t inherently dangerous, there are still some things you need to keep in mind when kayaking on an inflatable kayak.
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What are Inflatable Kayaks Made of?
One factor that affects the inherent safety of inflatable kayaks is the materials used in manufacturing them.
Many inflatable kayaks are made from PVC. Many entry-level inflatable kayaks are made of this vinyl and polyester, yet even these inexpensive kayaks hold up rather well to rough use.
Some inflatable kayaks are covered with a durable fabric or use a fabric core covered with multiple layers of synthetic rubber during the manufacturing process.
If you’re looking for premium quality or need a kayak that will withstand abuse, rough water and rocky shorelines, choose a kayak made of Hypalon or Nitrylon.
Which Inflatable Kayak Material Should You Choose?
What’s the difference between these types of materials, and why do their prices vary? It’s very simple. Vinyl is thick enough to withstand punctures. The downside is its inability to resist ultraviolet (UV) light. However, it’s easier to repair or patch.
On the other hand, Hypalon and Nitrylon are more rigid and resistant to UV light, harsh chemicals, and high temperatures. Hypalon is the toughest material used for inflatables. Nitrylon is more medium strength. Manufacturers often combine the two to reduce costs. The material types used in manufacturing affect the price of the kayak.
How to Find Premium Quality Inflatables in the Market?
Ideally, a quality inflatable kayak should have:
- Exterior UV coating and abrasion-resistant reinforcement. These coatings provide protection from ultraviolet rays of the sun and will make a kayak last longer.
- Higher denier rating of the fabrics. This makes the kayak more resistant to ripping.
- Drop-stitch construction for rigidity. The most durable inflatable kayaks use drop stitch technology.
Do Inflatable Kayaks Puncture Easily?
Certainly inflatable kayaks would be dangerous if you accidentally popped a hole in them, wouldn’t they?
Quality inflatable kayaks rarely pop during normal and expected use. The rigid materials and design used in making them allow them to withstand harsh conditions like heat and sharp objects. In addition, the best inflatable kayaks for whitewater are designed to withstand scraping rocks and rough water conditions as they are paddled downstream.
Though punctures don’t happen often, they can occur especially if your kayak hits a sharp object at high speed. They can also occur if you use your inflatable carelessly. For example, dropping your pocket knife while fishing on your inflatable kayak would most likely puncture your kayak. Though I’ve lost a good knife that just bounced off of the side of my kayak when I dropped it.
Be extra careful when paddling waters with sharp rocks, submerged logs, or even carelessly discarded glass.
So what happens if one of these objects punctures your inflatable kayak? Will it explode like a balloon and send you sinking into the ocean? Not quite.
An essential feature that helps avert such a scenario is the multiple air chambers on your kayak. Due to this innovative design, your inflatable kayak will just lose air slowly and gradually. You should stay afloat long enough to get to shore.
Are Inflatable Kayaks More Stable?
Inflatable kayaks are just as stable as their hard-shell counterparts, if not more so. It’s difficult to flip them over on calm water, even if you’re trying to.
Kayak width is one of the most important factors in kayak stability and thus their inherent safe or dangerous operation.
Inflatable kayaks are usually pretty wide at its midsection, generally wider than a hardshell kayak. Combine that with the fact that the sides of an inflatable kayak are basically large floating pontoons, and that makes inflatables very resistant to rolling sideways and capsizing too easily.
Are inflatable kayaks stable enough to support you while you’re standing up in them?
Not all inflatable kayaks will support a standing person. To maintain good balance while standing in your inflatable, you need to ensure that the bottom of the kayak is firm and hard enough to support your weight. Some inflatable kayaks include a metal or rigid bottom to help you stand safely.
Regardless of whether your inflatable kayak is designed to allow you to stand in it or not, always inflate your kayak to its ideal PSI rating. This ensures that the thick materials used to build it will keep it firm and stable on the water. It’s crucial to inflate your kayak to the manufacturer’s recommended PSI level, since an under-inflated kayak will not provide good stability or performance.
Can an Inflatable Kayak Sink?
Inflatable kayaks are sometimes called unsinkable boats. I wouldn’t go that far, but while a sit-inside hardbody kayak may fill with water and become extremely less buoyant and less maneuverable, if an inflatable capsizes or fills with water it probably won’t sink (as long as there isn’t a hole in it).
And that’s because an inflatable kayak’s air-filled chambers provide excellent buoyancy to keep it afloat, even filled with water. Every inflatable kayak comes with multiple air chambers. So even if the outermost chamber gets a puncture, it will only leak out slowly. Meanwhile, the other chambers will support your weight, giving you time to paddle back to shore.
And if that does happen you’ll appreciate having a patch kit around. Patches are so easy to place you can do it on the spot. But if your kayak gets a big rip or other major damage, you should send it to the manufacturer for repair or replacement.
What Activities are Safe to do With an Inflatable Kayak?
Here’s a list of some activities you can enjoy safely from an inflatable kayak:
- Lazy paddling on a lake
- Calm ocean inlet touring
- Kayak adventure expeditions and camping
- Lazy River or whitewater kayaking
- Taking your dog on a kayaking trip
- Hauling gear
There are different types of kayaks on the market from many well-known kayak brands meant for all different kinds of paddling. These range from all-around recreational paddling, flatwater paddling, fishing, and whitewater kayaking. Inflatable kayaks also come in sizes and styles to fit most types of water and paddling conditions. The best model of inflatable kayak is that one that suits your lifestyle and needs.
Vinyl-material and low-capacity kayaks are suitable for use on sheltered water like bays and canals or flatwater lakes. You can also use them for a lazy paddle on gentle moving rivers.
If you plan to fish from your inflatable kayak, you should consider an inflatable between 10 and 12 feet long. Kayak length is an important part of the stability needed to fish. Fishing kayaks generally come with an elevated seat. They also offer generous cargo capacity.
But if you plan to do some real whitewater kayaking in an inflatable, it’s best to use tougher, heavy-duty inflatables. In this case, look for kayaks made with Hypalon materials. The reason for choosing Hypalon is its ability to withstand the beating of whitewater and rocky river bottoms better than vinyl. It also handles collisions with logs and debris much better.
Can Kids Handle an Inflatable Kayak?
Yes. Inflatable kayaks are suitable for paddlers of all ages and sizes. They’re incredibly stable and easy to control, making them safe—and fun—for both kids and adults.
You should consider starting kids with a smaller, lighter-weight inflatable kayak. They are easier to paddle and control. Once again, any paddling adventure is much less dangerous if you only take your kids paddling during calm weather.
Can You Put a Dog in an Inflatable Kayak?
Yes, it’s perfectly safe to let your pets jump in your inflatable kayak with you. Your kayak will paddle comfortably provided your weight, and your dog’s weight is below the carrying capacity of the kayak (Overloading a kayak is dangerous). Additionally, most inflatable kayak construction materials are rigid. So in general you won’t have to worry about their claws damaging your inflatable.
Remember to always provide a PFD and leash for your pet on every outing. Keep in mind that you should also observe your pet’s reaction to the experience. This is especially important if it’s their first time.
Dogs can easily get distracted by birds and other wildlife while kayaking. It’s best to only go short distances and close to the shore before exploring areas farther out in the water. Should your dog get nervous or jump out of your kayak, they could swim to shore.
Safety Precautions for Inflatable Kayaks
Kayaking safely is the primary goal of any good, responsible paddler. So here are some safety precautions you can take to ensure you have a fun and safe time paddling your inflatable kayak.
- Inspect your kayak carefully before setting out on the water. Look for any signs of leaks around the seals. Next, look at the valves to make sure they’re in good condition and securely plugged. Also, check your PFD and kayak seat to ensure they are in good serviceable condition.
- Don’t drag your inflatable kayak over rocks & gravel. It increases the risk of damage or puncture. Instead, consider getting a kayak cart or having a paddling partner help you carry it to and from the water.
- Always travel with your repair kit. Punctures aren’t that common but they can occur. Being prepared for punctures is never a bad idea. Fortunately, kayaks are pretty easy to fix and you can apply patches quickly.
- Never underinflate or overinflate your kayak. The manufacturer’s recommended pound per square inch (PSI) is what you need to follow. You need to inflate to that ideal PSI to get maximum performance for your kayak.
- Your inflatable kayak will take in some water whether you are paddling on calm water or a rough river. This is the reason you need to carry a bilge pump, to remove water from your vessel manually.
- Always wear a life jacket when kayaking. Even if you’re a good swimmer and the weather is ideal, you’ll still need to have your life jacket on. Besides ensuring your safety over water, wearing a life jacket is a legal requirement in many states and recreation areas.
- Distribute the weight on your kayak evenly for your kayak to remain balanced and stable.
- Since inflatable kayaks are lightweight, it’s best to avoid using them on windy days.
- Never kayak alone or go without informing friends or family of your trip plans.
- Don’t paddle too far from land. If you do capsize or get a puncture, you’ll want to paddle to land quickly.
Should You Get an Inflatable Kayak?
If inflatable kayaks were frail, as many people believe, then expert kayakers would avoid ever using them. The opposite is the case. Many whitewater kayakers prefer inflatables over their traditional kayaks. And this is largely due to their mobility, buoyancy, and ease of transportation
Inflatable kayaks are most liked for their portability, affordability, and lightweight. It may even prove the best watercraft if you enjoy traveling to different types of water to paddle. Inflatable kayaks are a great option if you’re short on storage space in your home or you have a small vehicle to transport your kayak to and from the water.