How to Choose an Inflatable Kayak

Here is a handy inflatable kayak buying guide to get you started:
1. The first thing you need to know about how to choose an inflatable kayak is that there are two designs: the Sit-in Kayak (SIK) and the Sit-on-Top Kayak (SOT).

  • A SIK is the traditional type where you sit inside a cockpit. Some models are self-bailing, with holes strategically placed on the raised floor to allow water to drain off, while other models are non-bailing (i.e., you have to scoop the water out yourself).
  • SOTs have a very shallow cockpit that has scuppers to bail the water out. A Sit-On-Top inflatable kayak is the preferred choice of many anglers who want the versatility of a rugged kayak to reach those far fishing spots and be able to stand up to cast and see out over the water. If you don’t intend to use a kayak for paddling around, but just want one to “get to the fish,” the SOT is the one to choose.

2. Boat styles include whitewater, sea touring, and recreational kayaks. Each type has different characteristics such as length, kick, rocker, and perhaps a removable skeg, which are all part of the hull design that affects the kayak’s speed and maneuverability. Most IKs are designed to perform better on one type of water so it is important to know what type of kayaking you will be doing most of the time before you go on to the next step in determining how to choose an inflatable kayak.
3. Going with a solo or tandem will determine the length of kayak that will work best for you. Taller guys or people who want to bring along their dog or extra gear will be more comfortable going with a roomy tandem kayak (which easily converts to riding solo). A tandem kayak can be up to 17 feet long with a wide beam for ultra stability and lots of room to pack gear. You may not want to buy only one kayak for two people, because you want to keep in mind “the fun factor”; it is a blast for everyone to have their own kayak! So don’t get a tandem model thinking you will always want to paddle with two people in the boat.
4. Kayaks can have either a flat bottom or a V-bottom. The latter will offer more speed on the water than a flat bottom kayak (a profile that is often mistaken for an inflatable canoe).
5. As far as fabric goes, there are IKs made of hypalon fabric, but most will be made of reinforced PVC material. This stuff is practically bombproof and not the same as the cheap un-reinforced vinyl that is used in pool toys and pool rafts. The PVC used on kayaks is high tech and has excellent resistance to abrasion and tearing.
6. Hull speed is a combination of all of the above — particularly length, hull profile, payload, beam width, and the presence of a flat or V-bottom. If you are going to be on flat water most of the time, do not choose an inflatable kayak that was designed for whitewater as it will respond like a slow barge out on open water. After you have paddled a kayak for miles and hours, and your arms are tired, you will wish you had paid more attention to the intended design and hull speed.

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