Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe? Here’s What You Need To Know

A lot of people tend to view inflatable kayaks as some sort of a glorified pool toy. I hate to say it, but – I was one of them.

I’ll gladly admit I was wrong. But the point is, I get where these assumptions come from – and I get that they lead to a relatively common concern:

Are inflatable kayaks safe?

So, let’s put an end to the misconceptions about inflatable kayaks, shall we? 

Durability Of Inflatable Kayaks: Materials, Construction & Puncture-Resistance

Two people kayaking down river rapids in inflatable duckie

You have every right to question an inflatable kayak’s durability and the chances of it getting a leak.

These things do happen.  

Rocks on the river bed and other sharp objects in the water pose the biggest risk to any inflatable boat.

But there are certain things about inflatable kayaks – mainly related to their construction and the materials used – that reduce the chances of this happening down to very slim.

Getting-struck-by-lightning kind of slim.

Here are some indicators of heavy-duty, puncture-resistant construction quality to look for in inflatable kayaks:

  • Higher denier rating of the fabrics
  • Exterior UV coating and abrasion-resistant reinforcements
  • Drop-stitch construction for rigidity
  • Multiple air chambers, typically three to five

Inflatables can handle a lot more abuse than you might give them credit for – a lot more, for that matter. 

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Do Inflatable Kayaks Puncture Easily? 

I won’t try to convince you that inflatable kayaks are invincible – because they’re not. 

I will, however, try to show you that they’re not nearly as susceptible to punctures as they might seem. 

Manufacturing technology and the use of modern materials have come a long way – and today’s inflatable kayaks are built with multiple layers of incredibly tough and thick coated materials, topped with a puncture-resistant shell. 

Leaks and punctures are improbable during regular, expected use. 

Sure, if you try hard enough, you will succeed in puncturing it. But doesn’t the same hold true for hardshell kayaks?

Accidents happen, and punctures are a possibility – albeit a sporadic one. But your ‘yak won’t pop and explode like a balloon. If anything, it will start losing air slowly; you’ll still have plenty of time to figure out what to do – but I would away still recommend packing a pump and small patch kit 

How Long Do Inflatable Kayaks Last?

Generally speaking, most inflatable kayaks have a lifespan of 5 to 10 years. Pretty impressive for a glorified pool toy, huh?  

Inflatable watercraft made from tougher materials, like Hypalon, will likely outlast PVC. But how long an inflatable kayak lasts ultimately comes down to proper maintenance

The better you take care of your ‘yak, the longer it will last. 

Inherent Buoyancy To The Max

Paddler pumping up inflatable whitewater kayak

The best thing – well, one of – about inflatable kayaks is that they’re inherently buoyant. Think about it:

Inflatable kayaks feature multiple air-filled chambers.

They are the very definition of “buoyant” – and that buoyancy brings about notable advantages.

For one, inflatable kayaks tend to stay afloat even if you capsize. Two, they will typically have a higher-than-average load capacity. And three, since they’re generally wider, inflatables are hard to capsize, too – even for someone who has zero experience with kayaking. 

Can You Flip An Inflatable Kayak?

Capsizing is always a possibility; the sooner you realize it, the better.

But here’s the thing about inflatable kayaks: 

Inflatables tend to be wider than hard-shells and have thick, air-filled tubes, which makes them super-stable and incredibly buoyant – and, in turn, extremely hard to flip.

Every kayak will have its tipping point and a varying degree of primary and secondary stability. You’ll have to try really hard – or encounter some extreme conditions – to capsize an inflatable kayak, though. 

Can An Inflatable Kayak Sink?

If you’re concerned about getting an air leak in your inflatable kayak, I have great news for you:

Today’s inflatables typically boast at least three separate air chambers – two for the sides and one for the floor. Even if one of the air chambers does puncture and starts leaking air, you will have at least two other chambers that aren’t affected.

That should keep the boat afloat long enough for you to reach the shore and patch up the leak.

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Perhaps you’re worried about taking up too much water.

The kayak’s inherent buoyancy will work to your advantage, but to be on the safe side, opt for a specialized self-bailing kayak with scupper holes – and use scupper plugs as needed.

Handling & Maneuverability May Vary

best inflatable kayaks - man paddles in orange inflatable in rapids

There’s a reason why professional paddlers still opt for a regular hardshell kayak – and a lot of it comes down to how they handle on the water:

They’re not hard to paddle per se, but they take some getting used to, simply because they’re lighter, have a wider beam, and, in short, handle differently.

That said, inflatable kayaks aren’t all made equal – and not all of them will perform the same way.

There will be a touch of sluggishness to how some inflatable kayaks act on the water. But others – especially those that feature aluminum ribs, metal framework and drop-stitch floors – will perform almost as well as hard-shell kayaks. 

Stability & Rigidity: Prepare To Be Blown Away

Lady In stand up fishing kayak

You’ll be surprised by how rigid and stable an inflatable kayak can be when it’s inflated properly. The focus should be on the word “properly.”

Do you know how you shouldn’t underinflate or over-inflate car tires?

Well, it’s the same with inflatable kayaks. You want to get the pressure just right, not too high – and certainly not too low. An under inflated kayak, will not hold its shape, sit low in the water and handle terribly.

That said, the kayak’s stability and rigidity also depend on the construction.

Manufacturers have found new ways to increase rigidity and incorporate stabilizing features in their inflatable kayaks – features such as: 

  • High-pressure drop-stitch floors
  • Aluminum frames
  • Inflatable sections that act as support beams

Pair that with a wider-than-average beam, and you’ll find that inflatable ‘yaks can be surprisingly stable on the water. That, along with several air-filled chambers, makes inflatable kayaks almost impossible to tip over – and, in turn, incredibly safe, as well. 

How Do You Get Back In An Inflatable Kayak?

As a result of the superior stability and steadiness, it takes quite a bit of effort to flip one over – but it still happens. Getting back into your inflatable kayak should be a piece of cake, though. 

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The inherent buoyancy of air-filled chambers will keep it afloat, so that’s one less thing to worry about – allowing you to focus on the following:

  • Remain calm and hold on to your paddle
  • Right your kayak by grabbing the bow or stern and turning it over
  • Place the paddle inside to free up your hands
  • Hold onto the side of the ‘yak and pull yourself up onto your belly
  • Roll onto the deck and swing your legs back in

What About Intended Use, Purpose & Water Conditions?

Senior male paddler is launching his inflatable kayak

By now, you should have very few – if any – concerns regarding the safety of inflatable kayaks. But what about limitations in terms of where and how you can use them? 

Well, you wouldn’t take a sports car off-roading, right?

In that sense, yes, inflatable kayaks may have some limitations in terms of water conditions you can use them in – but not as much as you’d expect

Ducky kayaks – specialized inflatable whitewater kayaks built to withstand tough conditions – are living proof of that.  In one of these white water kayaks, you have the ability to run more advanced classes of whitewater rapids – up to till class IV whitewater rapids.

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In case you had doubts about it, you can use inflatable kayaks as wide and stable stand-up fishing platforms, too.

My point is, you’ll find that inflatable ‘yaks can perform well in a range of water environments

Is It Safe To Use Inflatable Kayaks In The Ocean?

Theoretically speaking, a well-constructed, heavy-duty inflatable kayak should handle saltwater uses just fine.

But this comes with a disclaimer of sorts:

Inflatable kayaks tend to be more susceptible to being tossed around by strong currents, waves, and winds. Since these are a part of the sea kayaking experience, launching an inflatable kayak into open waters might not be the safest course of action.

If you’re serious about kayaking in open waters, I highly recommend that you bite the bullet and get a specialized kayak for the occasion – an ocean kayak, to be exact. 

Are Inflatable Kayaks Good For Beginners?

Yes, yes – and yes!

If you’re a total beginner with zero kayaking experience, an inflatable kayak will make for a great starting point. 

Think about it:

Inflatable kayaks are lightweight, inherently buoyant, stable, compact, portable – and relatively easy on the wallet, too. What’s not to love as a beginner kayaker? 

Can You Put A Dog In An Inflatable Kayak?

For the most part, yes – it’s perfectly safe to put your dog in an inflatable kayak.

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Whether you should take your dog for a ride in an inflatable kayak depends on more than the kayak’s construction. Most modern-day inflatables are tough enough to “survive” your dog’s paws and claws.

A tandem inflatable kayak is the perfect way to have your dog join you on a paddle. Your pup will be able to stretch out and sun themselves while still making room for all of their human’s gear.

Your dog’s health, training, swimming skills – and general comfort around water – should be the deciding factors here. 

Inflatable Kayaking Safety Tips: Dos & Don’ts

Graphic saying 5 Golden Rules Of Kayak Touring

Once you take your inflatable kayak out on the water for a few rounds, you’ll learn – and quickly, might I add – what you can and cannot do with it.

But to spare you from the frustrations of learning from your own mistakes, I added a few crucial inflatable kayak safety precautions

Do

  • DO inspect your kayak before every outing, paying particular attention to the seals, valves, bungee rigging, hardware, and fittings, as well as your PFD, paddle, and kayak seat
  • DO pack the foot pump and repair kit as part of your essential kayaking gear; punctures are a rare occurrence, but they still happen, even to the best inflatable kayaks – and you want to be prepared
  • DO carry a bilge pump because you’re likely to take on some water – and you should be able to take care of bailing manually
  • DO dry your kayak before storage; improper storage practices might turn your kayak into a moldy mess
  • DO wear a life jacket,not only because the law says so, but because a life jacket could very well save your life one day
  • DO tell someone about your plans – where you’re going and, if possible, when you expect to be back – or, better yet, file a float plan with a trusted individual

Don’t

  • DON’T drag your kayak; it’s much better to invest in a kayak cart than risk unnecessary damage or increase overall wear and tear
  • DON’T over or under-inflate – check the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) levels of each chamber – because proper inflation equals maximum performance

The Bottom Line: Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?

So, are inflatable kayaks safe?

Look, it’s a perfectly valid question. And if I’m to get a little bit philosophical, everything you do carries some risks – kayaking being no different, regardless of the type of kayak you choose.

We’re all guilty of comparing inflatable kayaks to cheap, flimsy pool toys – but it’s about time we stop doing that. Technology continues to improve, and modern inflatable kayaks are, in fact, rugged and reliable.

And, as I’ve hopefully shown in this post, surprisingly safe, too.

Again, I get where your concerns are coming from – but as long as you choose your inflatable kayak wisely, I think you’ll be impressed by how tough and safe they can be.