Inflatable kayaks are portable, comfortable, lightweight and inexpensive… but let’s address the most important question of all – are inflatable kayaks safe?
Before we get into the detail, I should point out that paddle sports can be dangerous no matter what kind of watercraft you are in. In fact, if we are getting philosophical, LIFE is dangerous.
I understand why people are concerned – they are worried about the kayak getting a puncture and being stranded. And the truth is that this could happen. But if you look for the following safety features when buying an inflatable kayak, the chance of this happening becomes very, VERY slim (like winning the lotto or being struck by lightning kind of slim).
Multiple Main Air Chambers
Even if you have multiple layers of material around your air chambers, it’s good not to put all your eggs in one basket. Having multiple main air chambers gives you that ‘just in case’ peace of mind – if something happens to one of the chambers, you still have some buoyancy to get back to shore or signal for help.
Advanced Elements have an ingenious design with their AdvancedFrame inflatable kayak – they have put a wall down the centreline of the main chamber. If one of the chambers is compromised, your remaining buoyancy is even, not just on one side.
Multiple Layers Protecting Your Air
What you do NOT want, is a pool toy – i.e. a single layer of PVC holding your air in. Most people have experienced the extreme disappointment when you jump onto your pool flamingo and it tears at the seam.
You need to make sure your kayak has multiple layers of material around the air chambers. That may look like an inner tube cover, it may look like a shell, or maybe even both.
Quality Manufacturing and Materials
This is where things get a little bit complicated…
It can be hard to understand the difference between materials, seams, valves etc. For example, ‘denier’ sounds important, but is it?
Let me whittle it down to a few key safety factors that you want to look for when buying an inflatable kayak:
- RF welded seams (avoid glue)
- Heavy duty PVC Tarpaulin or PU tarpaulin on the hull
- The brand has a documented quality control process
- Warranty – the longer the better! And make sure it is from YOUR purchase date, not the import date
- Two-way valves that do not allow air out when inflated
A reputable brand will have adhered to design standards for canoes and kayaks. For example, all Advanced Elements inflatable kayaks comply with ABYC H-29: 2012 from the American Boat and Yacht Council and EN ISO 6185-1 : 2001 from the International Standards Organisation.
If these standards are not mentioned on the sales page of the inflatable kayak you are looking at, it’s worth asking about.
Kayak Speed and Tracking
Believe it or not, having a fast kayak that goes in the right direction is critical to your safety. Why? Because fatigue could cause you to be stranded. If you’re trying to paddle a bath toy across a lake, you’re going to be pretty tired once you’re out in the middle. Not just because it is soft and therefore doesn’t move very fast, but also because it takes a lot of energy to be constantly correcting. Getting a kayak that goes straight and fast allows you to enjoy an adventure without worrying so much about getting back to shore.
If a kayak is overloaded, it will sit lower in the water and your chance of being swamped increases.
And this is not just a risk in open ocean. Even in flat water, you can get swamped by the wash from a boat.
Look for a kayak with a large enough maximum load to carry you plus some gear and then an extra 10kg to spare.
So What's the Verdict? Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?
Nothing in life is guaranteed, but if you get a quality inflatable kayak, the risk of kayaking is probably no higher than with a quality hard-shell.
Hopefully this article has helped you to choose a high-quality inflatable kayak.