Are inflatable kayaks safe? You won’t want one to burst when you’re in white water rapids.
Inflatable kayaks are as reliable as traditional kayaks and they have hundreds of advantages.
Let’s discuss whether or not kayaks are safe and how you can minimize your chances of injury.
Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?
Inflatable kayaks are safe because they’re made from durable plastic that won’t puncture easily. You’ll need to make sure you look after your kayak properly. It can be a little dangerous depending on the activity you’re doing. For example, white water rapids aren’t 100 percent safe.
How Safe Are Inflatable Kayaks?
The best inflatable kayaks are definitely not toys even though the average person might think they’re inferior compared to hardshell kayaks. You can use them for literally everything. Here are some of the top reasons why they’re so good, plus a few drawbacks they come with:
- No capsizing
- Bouncing off rocks
- Sink proof
No capsizing – Staying upright is the most important thing when you’re in strong rapids and big waves. Your personal safety doesn’t start to become a major concern until you end up falling into the water. But when you’re in an inflatable kayak it’s very difficult to capsize.
Inflatable kayaks are wider than hardshell kayaks.
Most great inflatable kayaks are going to be wider than hardshell kayaks because it’s just the way they’re designed. Even when the conditions are choppy it’s going to take a lot to turn you upside down. Do you remember anything from physics class when you were young?
A much greater force will be required to smash into one side of your kayak and throw it up into the air. If you’re leaning to the wrong side it might be easy to end up capsizing, but once you’ve got more inflatable kayak experience you’ll be able to lean to the right side making it safer.
Bouncing off rocks – You can’t bounce on inflatable kayaks like a trampoline, but you’ll still be able to bounce off things when you hit them with enough force. Most of the rocks you bounce against in white water rapids will throw you around like you’re inside a pinball machine.
Inflatable kayaks aren’t going to crack into pieces like hardshell kayaks.
Are hardshell kayaks going to smash into pieces every time you bang into rocks at high speed? No, of course not. Skilled kayakers wouldn’t use anything that could break so easily. But crashing at the right speed, force, and angle could jeopardize the integrity of hardshell kayaks.
If you do end up with a hole in your inflatable kayak you’ll be able to use a puncture kit to fix the problem before continuing on with your journey. It’s probably the most annoying thing that’s going to happen.
Sink proof – One reason inflatable kayaks won’t sink straight away when you bounce into a rock is because you’re not sitting on one giant balloon. Maybe cheap inflatable kayaks are essentially party balloons, but advanced models are a hundred times more sophisticated.
Each one comes with multiple air chambers to prevent complete failure. Even if you do accidentally burst one air chamber by smashing into a sharp rock at high speed, it’s only going to cause a single chamber to deflate which is not enough to sink an inflatable kayak.
Think about how many rocks you would need to bounce off in quick succession before you ended up with holes in all your air chambers.
Plus there are another few reasons why it’s not going to sink before you get to safety:
- Time to deflate
- Max weight limit
Time to deflate – How long do you think it takes until all the air empties from an inflatable kayak chamber? It’s not like the air is going to escape within a few seconds. It’s going to depend on the size of the hole, but you’ll have some time to make your way to safety before it’s empty.
Max weight limit – Inflatable kayaks have pretty impressive maximum weight limits considering they’re filled with air. Unless you’re carrying everything including the kitchen sink (pun intended) your weight isn’t going to cause the kayak to sink quickly even when it’s leaking air.
Inflatable Kayak Safety Issues
Now it’s time to look at the biggest safety issues when it comes to inflatable kayaks. There are lots of tiny things detractors could say about them, but there’s only a few big ones you need to fear. Here are the safety problems every inflatable kayaker should keep in mind:
- Slow speeds
- Moving straight
Slow speeds – The extra buoyancy inflatable kayaks provide comes at a cost, because this creates extra drag. Hardshell kayaks can move pretty fast in the water when you combine less drag with a narrower shape. Inflatable kayaks can be hard to get moving even if you’re strong.
You don’t want to end up in these situations while in the water:
- Large boats passing
- Logs coming towards you
- Other kayakers too close
If there is something you need to avoid there might not be enough time due to the slower speed you’ll be moving at. There are still some things you can do to avoid accidents, but it would be nice if inflatable kayaks could move as fast as hardshell kayaks in the water.
Lightweight – Any blow up kayak is going to be lighter than you’re probably used to because they’re filled with air. Portability is a huge benefit because it’s simple to transport them around. But lightweight inflatable kayaks still cause trouble in a couple of ways:
- Strong currents
- High winds
Strong currents – Have you ever tried to kayak against a strong current? There is a reason why you kayak down rapids as opposed to kayaking upstream like a salmon. Inflatable kayaks are so lightweight they’re going to be pushed around much more when there are strong currents.
If you get swept out to sea it’s going to be a fight to get back. Even though you’re inside a kayak it’s not exactly safe. You are always going to need to work harder unless you’re kayaking with the current.
High winds – Kayaking on windy days is problematic too, because when it’s strong enough you could be pushed around in all directions. The best outcome you can ask for is being extremely tired because you’ve had to work so hard. When the wind is violently strong it’s not pleasant.
Moving straight – A lot of the problems we’ve talked about require you to expend more energy when kayaking. The fact it’s not easy to move in straight lines while on an inflatable kayak only makes things worse. Big and lightweight inflatable chambers really cause issues when you’re moving.
Does this mean inflatable kayaks are a lot less safe? Not really, but you might find it more difficult to avoid something than someone using a hardshell kayak. It’s also not as safe when you’re tired from doing extra work because it’s more likely something will go wrong.
Luckily certain inflatable kayaks are coming out with new technology to help minimize issues like these, so get one and you’ll find it much easier to travel in straight lines while paddling.
8 Inflatable Kayak Safety Tips
Inflatable kayaks are safe enough to use no matter where you are, but things can always be safer. There are a few things to ensure you don’t end up in danger while you’re in the water. Let’s look at some of the best tips everyone should keep in mind when using an inflatable kayak:
- Examining your kayak
- Wear a kayak lifejacket
- Always dress correctly
- Using the right equipment
- Inflatable kayak weight limit
- Kayaking with a partner
- Don’t drink any alcohol
- Take some kayaking lessons
1 – Examining your kayak
Before you go out on the water you should always examine your kayak. Check it thoroughly before you leave home in case there is a big problem, but you must take a look before you go anywhere near the water. You don’t want to find yourself in any of these situations:
- Sinking in rapids
- Trapped at sea
- Stuck in a lake
Remember we said it takes a while for air chambers to deflate, so if something sharp stabs a hole in your inflatable kayak you might not notice anything is wrong until it’s too late. Going into the water with a damaged inflatable kayak is more unsafe than anything else.
2 – Wear a kayak lifejacket
You must wear a kayaking life jacket even if you’re a very experienced swimmer. Do I think you’re going to drown even if you fall into rapids? If you’re fighting to survive in strong currents you’ll probably be able to reach dry land even if you don’t have a suitable life vest on.
But what happens when you’re unconscious? You really need to worry about being knocked out while in the water. At least you’ll have a chance to stay afloat until you wake up if you’re wearing a life jacket. In any water sport where you bang into rocks you know it’s essential.
A good kayak life jacket should always:
- Give you freedom of movement
- Keep you warmer in cold water
3 – Always dress correctly
It’s not always warm when you’re kayaking. When it’s cold and windy at the same time it might reach a point where it starts to get unbearable. I know it’s a lot nicer kayaking in swimming shorts when it’s sunny outside, but you need to care about safety more than aesthetics.
Remember these two crucial rules before going kayaking:
- Dress for the water temperature
- Dress for sun protection
Dress for the water temperature – There is a reason why you’re supposed to keep your clothes on when submerged in water even though it weighs you down. When you’re dressed in multiple layers of clothes it’s going to keep you warm when you fall into the water.
Some kayakers think they should be dressed according to the air temperature, so when it’s sunny they won’t wear much. But you must dress for the water temperature because when something does go wrong you need to stay safe when you’re in the water.
Dress for sun protection – In the middle of summer people will know they have to stay safe from the sun. But don’t forget the sun can hurt you even though it’s not boiling hot outside. You’ll always be vulnerable even on days when it’s cloudy and not particularly toasty.
It’s a good idea to keep two things in mind before you leave home:
- Wear UPF clothes
- Apply sunscreen
Ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) fabric clothing is a good choice when you’re going to be spending time on the water. It’s okay to wear cotton but it shouldn't be every layer you’re wearing. And don’t be afraid to apply a generous amount of waterproof sunscreen to your exposed skin.
4 – Using the right equipment
Did you hear the story about the guy who got lost in the middle of nowhere while kayaking down a large river? No, because he had a GPS device on hand. There are certain pieces of equipment you need to take with you every time you go for an adventure on your kayak:
- GPS device
- Printed map
- Food and drink
- First aid kit
You can keep everything inside one of those nice dry bags that will protect your equipment even if it falls into the water. It’s always a good idea to take your smartphone with you too, but it might need a special waterproof case before you go kayaking in case it gets destroyed.
It’s also important to take a kayaking helmet with you, but it shouldn’t be kept inside a dry bag. When you’re kayaking in certain places it should be on your head. If you’re anywhere with objects you can hit your head against a helmet can prevent you from losing consciousness.
5 – Inflatable kayak weight limit
Even though some things are essential you don’t need to take everything with you. Inflatable kayaks have a pretty impressive weight limit depending on which one you get, but they do have a limit. It means any extra weight and it’s going to affect your kayaking ability.
Here are three pretty important things you’ll ruin by carrying too much:
Speed and maneuverability will probably only inconvenience you, so you won’t enjoy kayaking as much. But stability is something else altogether. We’ve talked about the fact it’s hard to tip inflatable kayaks over, but not when there is a huge amount of weight sitting on it.
6 – Kayaking with a partner
When possible it’s always better to go out with a fellow kayaker in case you get into trouble. If you knock yourself out it’s good to have a friend to help you out. It’s not just so they can save your life straight away. They’ll be able to keep an eye on you after an accident just in case.
Some people won’t always have someone available. Maybe you don’t have many friends who enjoy kayaking, or you might decide to go on adventures whenever the thought pops into your head. If you’re alone try to stay close to other kayakers instead of straying off on your own.
7 – Don’t drink any alcohol
Spending the day at the lake drinking and kayaking might seem like a good idea, but it’s only fun until you fall into the water. Trying to save yourself is a hundred times more difficult when you can’t even get back onto your inflatable kayak without falling off the other side.
Kayaking while under the influence of alcohol should be illegal. But you’ll just need to use your common sense. Wait until you’re finished kayaking for the day before you get the beers out. Here are a few problems that can affect you when alcohol is involved:
- Acting less rational
- Panicking too much
- Slower reaction times
8 – Take some kayaking lessons
You won’t need to go kayaking with a friend if you take kayaking lessons. I know anyone can order a kayak from the internet these days. If you enjoy catching fish you might order a fishing kayak so you can go into the lake on your own to hunt for your dinner.
But even if you’re not doing anything extreme when it comes to kayaking it’s always good to take some lessons first so you learn the basics. If you find yourself in difficult positions you’ll know what to do. It’s worth the extra money because it could potentially save your life.
Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?
Inflatable kayaks are extremely safe as long as you use them correctly. By now you should know why they give you an advantage and how things could go wrong. Pay attention to the tips we’ve talked about today and you’ll almost certainly stay safe when you’re kayaking.