Are Inflatable Kayaks Dangerous?
Author: Nicole Malczan
Kayaking is a great means of exercise that lets you spend time out in nature. Whether you want to ride alone or with someone else, seeing the world on a kayak is always a memorable experience. Does it necessarily matter if your kayak is inflatable or made of polyethylene, a harder type of plastic? Is one type of kayak more dangerous than the other?
Inflatable kayaks, when used properly, are a perfectly safe option on par with regular plastic kayaks. Their wider size makes the kayak difficult to capsize, and following the weight limits means your inflatable kayak is unlikely to pop or burst.
In this article, we’ll discuss in detail what an inflatable kayak is, including its size and materials. We’ll also delve into whether these kayaks are safe and if it’s a good idea for you to rent or buy one. Keep reading, as you won’t want to miss this!
What Is an Inflatable Kayak?
Kayaks are paddle-driven watercraft with one or more cockpits for the paddler(s) to sit. The deck of the kayak is covered, and the cockpits might be outfitted with their own spray decks to ward off water and make paddling a more enjoyable experience. The difference between a kayak and a canoe is the latter is much more open.
Many materials produce today’s kayaks. The traditional hard plastic ones are polyethylene that’s rotomolded to the correct shape. Kevlar with a gelcoat for durability and appeal is another durable material choice. Thermoform and wood are two other options.
Then there are inflatable kayaks. Like traditional kayaks, the inflatable variety is plastic, but a more malleable type of plastic such as polyvinyl chloride or PVC. Nitrylon and Hypalon are two other materials used in inflatable kayaks.
Nitrylon is an eco-friendlier PVC replacement. Comprised of natural rubber and nitrile synthetic rubber, Nitrylon inflatable kayaks are 1,200 deniers or more for strength, although the material doesn’t stretch much. Even in cold conditions, Nitrylon holds up, and it’s resistant to abrasions and punctures. If your inflatable kayak is damaged, you can patch up Nitrylon easily.
Hypalon is a DuPont synthetic rubber and polyethylene product. It’s resistant to ultraviolet light, high and low temperatures, and even chemicals. It’s also beloved for its long lifespan, so you might have your inflatable kayak for quite a while if it’s made with Hypalon.
Inflatable kayaks, as you could have guessed, inflate, be that with an electric pump or a hand pump. Depending on the pump you use and the size of your kayak, it may take only two minutes for the kayak to fill, which isn’t bad. Hand pumping increases the time to upwards of eight minutes, FYI.
How much air your inflatable kayak needs is expressed in pounds per square inch of pressure or PSI. The kayak will have a max recommended PSI. By overinflating it past that point, the kayak could pop, so don’t do that. Getting close to the recommended PSI adds more rigidity to your inflatable kayak.
What Are the Benefits of Inflatable Kayaks?
Now that you’re more familiar with inflatable kayaks, let’s discuss some of the advantages these kayaks possess.
The average price of a non-inflatable kayak is $400 to $1,350 depending on the type. For example, a beginner kayak typically doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, so it sells for $200 to $350. Fishing kayaks are more expensive, starting at $300. If you plan on riding whitewater rapids, you’d need a whitewater kayak. This is pricier at over $1,000.
The costliest non-inflatable kayak by far is an ocean or touring kayak. Since these boats must be able to withstand the roughness of the ocean, you’re paying around $2,000 for a good touring kayak.
Inflatable kayaks start as low as $100, with the more expensive ones around $500. That’s an average price of $300, which is still lower than your everyday non-inflatable kayak.
Riding a kayak is often a leisurely experience, but getting your kayak to the lake or ocean? That’s another story entirely. You have to take your Kevlar or wooden kayak, lay it diagonally across the backseat, find a way to stuff it into your trunk (you’d need some rear cargo space for this), or strap it to the roof of your vehicle. No matter how you do it, it’s a pain to transport your kayak.
An inflatable kayak can be depressed and folded up, making portability convenient. Granted, you do need to bring a pump with you, but even that’s not such a big deal.
What if you only have an electric pump and you need to inflate your kayak before you go? The inflatable material is more malleable than wood or Kevlar, so you can find room in your backseat for your inflatable kayak.
A Good Entry into Kayaking
If you have a young child who you’d like to introduce to kayaking, an inflatable kayak is a great choice. We already discussed how your cost overhead is low, so you can get your kid into this hobby without spending a lot of money. If your child decides that kayaking isn’t for them, then it was essentially no harm, no foul.
Even if you’re an adult who’s not sure if kayaking is the right hobby, with an inflatable kayak, you can find out whether you like kayaking in a low-cost way.
Wide Size for Comfy Seating
Inflatable kayaks are wider than their non-inflating counterparts so capsizing is more difficult. The added perk of a wider kayak is it’s roomier and more comfortable to sit on. Whether you have an inflatable kayak for one person or a second paddler is fortunate enough to come with you, you might not want to go back to the narrower confines of a regular kayak.
Are Inflatable Kayaks Dangerous?
Let’s circle back around to our main question now. Just how safe are inflatable kayaks? As we explained in the intro, very.
The two concerns most people have with inflatable kayaks are that they’ll pop and/or that they’ll tip right over in a strong enough current. Let’s talk more about both those worries now.
First, there’s popping. An inflatable kayak isn’t made of the same cheap material as a swimming pool float or inner tube. It’s a pliable yet durable plastic. Hypalon may be used for the hulls. Some inflatable kayaks even include aluminum framing that can compact when the boat is not in use.
In other words, these materials are selected with longevity in mind. Remember, Nitrylon, a newer material that’s appearing in more and more kayaks, is known for being puncture-resistant. Now, there’s a difference between puncture-resistant and puncture-proof, that’s true. You could still damage your inflatable kayak, but it would be a lot harder to do.
That said, all this very much depends on the quality of the inflatable kayak you buy. The $100 ones, while appealing from a money-saving standpoint, are that inexpensive because the manufacturer skimps on materials. Your inflatable kayak might be more prone to popping, ripping, or tearing. You’re much better off spending $300 to $500 for a quality inflatable kayak you could have for years.
Okay, so that’s the risk of popping, but what about capsizing? Again, an inflatable kayak is not an inner tube. When fully inflated, one of these kayaks may weigh 20 to 50 pounds. A non-inflatable kayak is anywhere from 35 to 100 pounds, so the inflatable variety isn’t a whole lot lighter.
It’s not as easy as you would think for a wave to pick up a 50-pound kayak, even a 30-pounder. Plus, you have to add your body weight on top of that as well as the potential body weight of a second paddler.
Inflatable kayaks are also designed with a wider shape to make capsizing more difficult. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but your boat is much less likely to tip than you’d expect.
Should You Use an Inflatable Kayak?
Now that you know an inflatable kayak can be safe on the water, should you buy one?
If you only plan on doing basic, leisurely kayaking and not venturing into whitewater or the ocean, then an inflatable kayak is a viable option. Keep in mind that besides the price of the kayak itself, you’ll also have to purchase a pump, which could add $50 to $100 extra to your spending, sometimes more.
You’ll also have to make a decision each time you inflate your kayak, and that’s how long to leave your kayak full of air. If you’ll paddle today, tomorrow, and the next day, then it’s fine to let the kayak sit in between trips. If you only go kayaking once a month or so, then all the inflating and deflating might get kind of annoying.
Some kayakers might not like how inflatable kayaks aren’t as narrow as the non-inflating rigid ones. That’s at least partially a stylistic choice, so you may not be bothered.
The last point to consider is that putting away your inflatable kayak is not necessarily a fast process. When you deflate the kayak, you need to let it dry and clean it off before rolling it up and tucking it away. This reduces odors and keeps the kayak in good condition.
Inflatable kayaks are not dangerous. They’re designed for a lower capsizing risk, and they won’t pop if you buy a quality kayak and don’t over inflate it. If you were considering an inflatable kayak but needed more information, hopefully this article is your impetus to go ahead with your purchase. Best of luck!