Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe, or Are They Just Pool Toys?

Mooring Marine is reader supported. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Inflatable kayaks? They’re made of the same material as those inflatable pool floats shaped like rainbow unicorns, right?

Well, not exactly.

Inflatable kayaks are actually surprisingly robust, and many are even more stable than a traditional plastic or fiberglass kayak!

Inflatable kayaks are not only durable but are super easy to transport and store. While these kayaks have many positive features, many are a little skeptical about them, especially when it comes to their safety. Are inflatable kayaks safe to use? In the ocean? What about whitewater? Will an inflatable kayak withstand heavy usage?

Below is more information about inflatable kayaks and whether or not they are safe for you to use.

Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe


To start with, let’s go over the basics of inflatable kayaks, and then we’ll dig into the best ways to use these cool personal watercraft.

What is an Inflatable Kayak?

An inflatable kayak is a kayak made of waterproof, air-tight plastic/vinyl. The vinyl forms two or more bladder-style chambers that are filled with air to form the hull of the kayak. The kayak is pumped up with an electric or manual pump. It is lightweight, stable, floats quite well, is surprisingly maneuverable, and generally tracks well.

While companies like Intex make both inflatable kayaks and inflatable rainbow unicorn pool floats, the toughness of the plastic on an inflatable kayak isn’t really comparable to a pool toy. Many of them are made with high-grade puncture-proof vinyl in thicknesses like 1,000D (1000 Denier), and are capable of handling rough waters even up to Class III or IV rapids!

Intex Two-Person Inflatable Kayak

How is an Inflatable Kayak Different From a Traditional Kayak?

An inflatable kayak is different from a hardshell kayak in a few significant ways.

Materials and Construction

Traditional kayaks are usually made of rotomolded plastic or composite fiberglass. While ultra-durable, these materials are heavy to carry around. Lifting a solid-body kayak on to a car can cause scratches to the vehicle, the kayak, and scratches to your pride!

And unless you want to spend a kayak-load of money on a folding kayak, these types of kayaks are inconvenient to store and move.

Inflatable kayaks are constructed mostly out of vinyl bladders which are filled with air. However, depending on the type of inflatable kayak you choose, that vinyl is more or less reinforced with sturdier materials in different places.

For example, an inflatable whitewater kayak will have extremely strong sides with reinforced PVC, a surfboard-material skeg (for use in waves), and probably a very thick tarpaulin base material designed to resist punctures. And a high price tag!

A more typical inflatable kayak suitable for a lake or slow-moving river is much less expensive. Of course, it’s also made with significantly lower-quality materials. Punctures are significantly less likely to occur in these situations, so there’s less need for reinforcement.

While durable, you need to be cautious when using and moving an inflatable kayak. This means you shouldn’t drag the kayak along a sharp and rocky pathway, avoid any glass, etc. as you can puncture blow up kayak.

Be sensible with these boats.

Hybrid Kayaks

Hybrid Kayak

One of the new trends in inflatable kayaks is to combine materials in interesting ways. Many manufacturers are starting to work inflatable systems into their kayak designs, and the resulting hybrid kayaks are quite appealing. They offer the strength of traditional hulls, with the ease of portability of an inflatable.

The Cost

Base-model inflatable kayaks that are suitable for slow-rivers, lakes, ponds, and the like are typically cheaper than the lowest-end rotomolded plastic kayaks. Here’s a price comparison example of a low-end inflatable, and a low-end rotomolded plastic kayak:

Sale
Intex Challenger K1 Kayak, 1-Person Inflatable Kayak Set with Aluminum Oars and High Output Air Pump
Intex Challenger K1 Kayak, 1-Person Inflatable Kayak Set with Aluminum Oars and High Output Air Pump
Lightweight, compact and easy to assemble; Made with rugged vinyl construction and built for performance
−$56.20 $90.79
Perception Rambler 9.5 | Sit on Top Kayak for All-Around Fun | Storage with Tie Downs | 9' 6' | Funkadelic
Perception Rambler 9.5 | Sit on Top Kayak for All-Around Fun | Storage with Tie Downs | 9' 6" | Funkadelic
Roam new waters with versatility, supreme stability and fun all wrapped up into one; Adjustable seat back height and angle provides personalized fit and comfort

However, as you move up in quality and robustness, higher-end inflatable kayaks quickly approach the price of rotomolded-plastic ones. For those capable of handling Class III or IV Rapids, the inflatable much closer in price to a solid-body kayak.

Reliability

All kayak frames are pretty reliable, including inflatable kayak hulls. Inflatable hulls are obviously more prone to getting punctured than a solid-hull kayak would be, but these punctures are usually pretty easy to fix, and if you don’t take any stupid risks with the inflatable, are not very likely to occur.


The Benefits of Using an Inflatable Kayak

There are many benefits that come with using an inflatable kayak.

They Are Durable

As long as you choose the appropriate inflatable kayak for the type of kayaking you plan to do (lake, bay, ocean, rapids, etc.), an inflatable kayak can be just as durable and robust as any other kind of kayak.

When you get up to the more technical kayaking with open ocean and rapids of class IV and up, you see fewer and fewer inflatable options. But for the type of kayaking most people do, inflatables are a great solution.

They’re Stable

Inflatable kayaks almost always have a wider base than hard-shell kayaks do. The wide base makes them more stable in rough water than most plastic and composite kayaks.

They Are Surprisingly Maneuverable

As inflatable kayaks are incredibly light, compared to plastic or composite kayaks, they are really easy to control and turn. However, they typically aren’t as fast as most hard-body kayaks.

They Track Pretty Well

You really want the kayak to go where you point it! Inflatable kayaks are light and have a wide hull. However, they are typically designed in such a way that they track pretty well, and keep you moving in the direction you intend to go.

They are Easy to Transport

Besides being durable, inflatable kayaks are very easy to transport because they are lightweight and pack down so effectively. In fact, most weigh no more than 30 lbs.

In addition to this, easy transport also means you’ll be able to put it on top of a vehicle without worries of it falling off or damaging the exterior of it. Because of this, it makes them perfect for those who want something that isn’t difficult to move around.

They are Compact

Inflatable kayaks are extremely compact and can easily be stored away in a garage without taking up much space. You can also store equipment inside it which can help to free up space in the area you put the kayak in.

The only downside to store is that you need to lay the kayak out before storing it. Otherwise, mildew and other nastiness tend to grow during storage.


Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?

Yes, absolutely! Blow up kayaks are quite safe as long as you use them responsibly.

Choose the right kayak for the environment you’ll be in, and use your head. Don’t push the kayak into questionable circumstances, and do your best to avoid any obvious obstacles, environmental hazards, or debris that might puncture or otherwise damage the kayak.

Stay away from rocks, tree branches, and the like while kayaking. And if you’re going to be doing rapids, be sure you have a kayak rated for the rapids you intend to attempt.

Despite not having a hard protective outer layer, inflatables are durable and are made with a heavy-duty material. These kayaks are thoughtfully reinforced in the appropriate areas, which helps prevent damage.

However, just as with any type of kayak, you need to make sure to use the right equipment for the right circumstances. And be diligent when out with the kayak.

That generally means no alcohol, by the way!


Tips for Using Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable Kayak at Night

Before you use an inflatable kayak you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.

Make Sure It’s Fully Inflated

It’s always important to make sure to check if your kayak is fully inflated. Otherwise, it might not support the weight in the kayak very well which could lead to it the kayak dropping to the bottom of the ocean, river, or lake.

Avoid that.

You can check this by feeling the exterior. If it’s not firm, you’ll need to add some extra air into it.

Distribute Weight Evenly in the Kayak

You want to make sure to evenly distribute weight in the kayak. This way, one side won’t be heavier than the other which could end up causing it to sink or pop up on one side. You’ll want to spread any equipment you bring with you throughout your kayak to help prevent this.

If you need to put excess weight somewhere, it’s usually best to put the excess weight in the back rather than the front.

Bring Your Pump and Patch Kit With You

Keep the pump and patch kit in the kayak with you, and if you have a problem, you can repair it fairly easily. Keep them in a waterproof kayak bag or dry bag so that they don’t get damaged by water.

Watch Where You Take The Kayak

While these kayaks are very durable, you need to be careful with where you transport it. For instance, don’t drag it along the ground, especially if it’s rocky. You also want to watch waves and prevent taking it into intense and heavy ones.

Be smart.

If you’re going into the ocean or large lake, keep close to shore. This is especially true if it’s windy out.

Head Into the Waves

You don’t want to take waves broadside on a kayak, so keep the bow perpendicular to the waves. This will provide extra stability and sense of security in any wave conditions. Of course, if the waves get strong, head to shelter ASAP.

Take Care of It

As with any type of device or piece of equipment, you want to make sure to take care of it. This will help to keep working for many years. To properly care for your inflatable kayak you’ll want to make sure to always check its air pressure, clean out its valves, and prevent it from sitting in the sun for too long.

You should also wipe your inflatable kayak off every now and then to remove dirt and other particles from it. Once you’re done rinsing it off, always dry it off with a clean towel. This will help to prevent mold and mildew from forming on it.

Leave the Kayak to Dry and Drain Fully Before Storage

This is one of the hassles of inflatables that make them a bit of a pain. Before you deflate your inflatable kayak, you want to make sure that it’s dry and drained. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting mildew, scum, and other nastiness to grow.

Additionally, if you take the kayak in salt water, you need to rinse it with fresh water before you let it dry.

Deflate the Kayak Before Storing it Away

When it comes time to store the blow-up kayak, always make sure to deflate it fully. This will help to prevent sharp items nearby from poking it and stop the valves inside from having too much pressure in them.


Conclusion

Inflatable kayaks are a great option to consider if you don’t want to invest in a hardshell kayak. They are durable, come with plenty of features, and are extremely safe to use.

Choose the right kayak for the kind of boating you plan to do, and you can enjoy time out on the water without having to fear it tearing or sinking.