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Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe? (An Inside Look)

Are inflatable kayaks safe? In this post, we will take a look at inflatable kayaks and discuss many of the questions surrounding safety. If you are interested in an inflatable kayak and safety is a concern, please stay tuned.

People often have misconceptions when it comes to inflatable kayaks.  Yes, there are a lot of cheap blow ups at your local big box store.  Regardless of what people may think, inflatable kayaks are very safe. I can tell you that not all inflatable kayaks are created equal.  Inflatable kayak safety includes things like quality of materials and durability.

The materials used and how well constructed the boat is, play a factor in how safe the kayak is. Also, water conditions play a factor in safety. Mind you, we are not talking about taking a pool toy on a raging river.

We will get into all of this and more. If you have concerns about the safety of inflatable kayaks, let’s get right to it.

Are inflatable kayaks safe?

What are inflatable kayaks made of?

With the help of modern materials, inflatable kayaks can withstand a lot.

Kayaks are constructed with a combination of different materials that promote strength and performance. Most kayaks are generally made out of materials like PVC (Polyvinyl chloride), CSM/Hypalon®, Nitrylon, or polyurethane coated cloth [1].  These materials are robust, flexible, and work well for inflatable kayaks.

PVC is an economical material, so it is often used in entry-level kayaks.  The negative for PVC is that it is more susceptible to breaking down under UV rays.

Hypalon® was discontinued by DuPont in 2009 and was reformulated as CSM (Chlorosulfonated Polyethylene Rubber). You can read more about these different materials here and here.

Are inflatable kayaks durable?

Punctures are the first thing that comes to mind when talking about inflatable kayak durability.  Yes, punctures can happen. The heavy-duty outer shell allows most kayaks to bounce off rocks and tree branches without problems.

The materials used in kayaks are very durable and stand up well to different conditions, including water conditions, weather conditions, and obstacles.  With multi-layer construction and multiple air chambers, even if the kayak is punctured, you can safely get back to shore.

But you get what you pay for. If you buy a cheap inflatable kayak from a big box store, those are made for calm water, like enjoying a day on the lake or a quiet river.

If you want a kayak for whitewater or the ocean, you need to buy an inflatable kayak designed for that type of use.  Yes, inflatable kayaks are durable and, depending on the model, can stand up to dog claws, tree branches, rocks, etc.  Use the kayak for its intended purpose, and you will have a lot of fun.

If you take good care of your kayak by doing things like drying it out thoroughly before storing it and checking for any damage before using it, your kayak will remain sound and durable for many years.

Inflatable kayak safety

Some basic common sense can go a long way when it comes to safety with an inflatable kayak.  There are factors within your control that play a role in kayak safety. I have touched on some of these previously, but let’s take a more in-depth look.

Don’t put yourself in harm’s way.  If you have a cheap inflatable kayak designed for clam water, don’t go where you know trouble lurks.  A cheap inflatable on whitewater is not a good idea.  Don’t drag your $50 inflatable over sharp rocks on the way to the water; you are likely to puncture the boat.

Some of the places I go kayaking, the entry points are very rocky. Just getting in and out of the kayak can present some challenges to avoid puncturing the vessel.

Be prepared when you go kayaking. Make sure you have a repair kit and know how to use it. Be aware of your surroundings. Do the necessary maintenance on your inflatable kayak.  Simple steps can make your experience safe and enjoyable.

Are inflatable kayaks stable?

Many inflatable kayaks have a wide hull, which helps make them very stable. Some inflatables are more stable than a hard-shell kayak.  Inflatable kayaks are designed with high-quality materials, stitching, and valves to be inflated to high pressure.

The key is to make sure the kayak is inflated correctly. Follow the owner’s manual to inflate your kayak correctly. To answer the question, yes, inflatable kayaks are very stable. You can even stand up in some models.

Do inflatable kayaks puncture easily?

Remember earlier I said you get what you pay for.  You can’t expect a cheapo inflatable kayak to tackle obstacles like rocks and tree branches how a more expensive kayak will.  The quality of materials and design of the vessel play a role in how easily a kayak will puncture.

For normal use, on calm waters like lakes, you will probably be able to avoid many obstacles that would puncture an inflatable kayak.  A lot of kayaks can handle fishing hooks, even your dog’s claws without popping.  Heavy-duty outer shells will bounce right off rocks or tree branches most of the time.

Be sure the kayak is designed for whatever you think you will put it through and keep a repair kit in your boat, just in case.

How long do inflatable kayaks last?

Inflatable kayaks are built to last. With proper maintenance, inflatable kayaks can last for years.  The materials used to make kayaks can take a beating. With regular wear and tear, you will be able to enjoy using your kayak for years.

If you take care of your boat, storing it away from sharp objects, making sure it’s dry before you put it away, and properly inflating it, your kayak can last a long time. Some materials, like PVC, are susceptible to UV rays, so you don’t want to store your kayak in direct sunlight.

What happens if water gets in the kayak?

Trust me, water is going to get in your kayak, but most of the time, it’s not a big deal. Some higher-end inflatable kayaks are designed with self-bailing drains.  There are holes in seams that allow water to drain out.

Run of the mill inflatables have a drain plug.  You need to make sure the drain plug is closed, so you don’t take on water while you are kayaking.

Do inflatable kayaks track well?

Will an inflatable kayak go where you want it to go?  This can get a little dicey.  Even cheap inflatable kayaks come with a removable tracking fin that helps keep you going in the right direction.  A well-built inflatable kayak will track and maneuver very well.

If you are in windy conditions in a run of the mill inflatable, you may have a more difficult time keeping it on track. The tracking fins do help, though. Higher-end inflatable kayaks give you the option to use different sized fins for various conditions.

Inflatable kayaks vs. hard-shell kayaks

As I have mentioned many times in this article, you need to make sure you are using your kayak in the conditions it was designed for. When it comes to safety, both inflatable kayaks and hard-shell kayaks are safe when used correctly.

An inexpensive recreational hard-shell kayak is not suited for pounding on rocks in whitewater.  In a case like this, many inflatables would just bounce right off the rocks.

It’s not an easy task to get back in a sit-inside hard shell kayak if you tip over.  Whereas inflatable kayaks are very stable and are pretty easy to get back in.  An entry-level hard-shell kayak will probably track better than a cheapo inflatable from your local retail store.

When it comes to safety, using your kayak as it was designed is your best bet.  Know the limitations of your vessel and your paddling ability.

Inflatable kayak weight capacity

With an inflatable kayak, you will be limited to a weight capacity.  Make sure that you and your gear don’t exceed what your kayak can safely handle.  The last thing you need is to weigh down your inflatable kayak with too much gear.

Each kayak is different. Some kayaks can handle over 500 pounds, while others are rated for about 250 pounds.  This is something to keep in mind with an inflatable.

What activities can you do with an inflatable kayak?

Kayaking itself is a great way to get outdoors and experience nature. Many people use inflatable kayaks to go camping, but this requires enough cargo space on your boat. Other people, like me, enjoy fishing or just exploring.  My wife loves to paddle around aimlessly, LOL!

People love to take their dogs in their kayaks.  You can do a lot of things with an inflatable kayak, camping, fishing, or just exploring the great outdoors.

Are inflatable kayaks good for beginners?

Inflatable kayaks are great for beginners.  Many of the boats you can buy from a large retailer like Walmart or Amazon come with everything you need. These boats come with paddles, a pump, a repair kit, and a carry bag.

All you need to do is drive to the water, pump up your kayak, and be ready to go. You don’t need an expensive roof rack or trailer to get your kayak to the water.  Storing an inflatable kayak is very easy.  All of these reasons make inflatables great for beginners.

These ready to go, models, are a great way to introduce yourself, or your family to kayaking. If you decide you are ready for an upgrade, you can do that as well.  Overall for fishing, exploring, or just enjoying a day on the water, inflatable kayaks are excellent for beginners.

Can I safely take my dog in an inflatable kayak?

Absolutely!  Even entry-level models are durable and can handle dog claws. You would want to make sure that you don’t exceed the weight limit when it comes to you, your dog, and your gear.

Also, remember that not all dogs are going to be comfortable on a kayak. I have seen many people take their furry friends with them on an inflatable kayak.


Inflatable kayak safety - People paddling an inflatable kayak on calm waterPin

So, are inflatable kayaks safe?  Yes, they are very safe.  As we have discussed, to make the experience as safe as possible, here are a few quick tips:

  • Use the inflatable kayak as it is designed
  • Always keep a repair kit with you
  • Make sure the inflatable kayak is appropriately inflated
  • Wear a lifejacket
  • Don’t overload the kayak with too much gear
  • Maintain your inflatable kayak, so it will last a long time

That wraps up this post. I think you can see that inflatable kayaks are perfectly safe to use.  I hope you enjoy your next outing.  If you are in the market for an inflatable kayak, check out my post here.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I am happy to help.

Steve Morrow Founder of Paddle About
Steve is an avid kayaker and founder of Paddle About. When he is not on the water, Steve enjoys outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, and hiking with his family. Read more.