Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe? How Durable Are They?

Are inflatable kayaks safe and durable? Dive into our comprehensive guide where we dispel myths and provide tips for safe paddling adventures!

Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe

We may earn a commission from links, but we only recommend products we back. Why trust us?

We may earn a commission from links, but we only recommend products we back.

Why trust us?

While kayaking may appear safer than some of the more high-adrenaline outdoor activities, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some risks involved. So when it’s time to choose the right kayak for your adventure, it’s important to ask yourself what kayaks are safe.

The first choice you have is whether you want an inflatable or hard-shell kayak.

Hard-shell kayaks are more durable and sea-worthy, and an inflatable kayak can feel fragile and even dangerous comparatively. So it’s fair to ask the question, are inflatable kayaks safe? 

I generally consider well-made inflatable kayaks to be safe for a range of paddling conditions and activities.

However, there are many variables to consider with that answer, including what type of paddling the kayak is designed for, your paddling expertise, and how comfortable you are keeping up with your kayak’s maintenance. We’ll explore these questions and other important factors that affect an inflatable kayak’s safety.

How Durable Are Inflatable Kayaks?

Let’s start with the first question on most people’s minds. How durable are inflatable kayaks?

Not all inflatable kayaks are created equal, and I assure you there are some cheap and poorly made kayaks. 

A good rule of thumb is if the kayak seems too cheap, there’s probably a reason. Odds are it will perform poorly and will be plagued with leaks whether you scrape it on a sharp rock or not.

But if you’re willing to pay for something that hasn’t been thrown in the bargain bin, there are some really tough inflatable kayaks available. For example, companies like Sea Eagle and Advanced Elements specialize in drop-stitch inflatable kayaks and offer a variety of designs for different types of paddling.

These, and similar kayak brands, triple or quadruple stitch their kayak’s seams (which tend to be the weakest point of inflatable kayaks). This triple-stitched method ensures that these spots are as strong as possible.

The material used to manufacture them is usually PVC. But, Some kayaks use tarpaulin with PVC or something like Denier, a common outdoor material commonly used in backpacks and duffle bags. These materials are flexible and can also withstand most impacts. 

This leads us to another common question…

Do Inflatable Kayaks Puncture Easily?

Unfortunately, even high-quality inflatable kayaks can puncture if you treat them poorly, such as rough landings on rugged shores covered in sharp rocks. 

But inflatable kayak durability has improved substantially in the last couple of decades to the point where these kayaks can handle a lot of drops and rough collisions with no problems.

So, no, a decent-quality inflatable kayak won’t puncture easily.

However, you’ll always need to be more careful with an inflatable than a hard-shell kayak. Come into beaches gently, even if the conditions look fine, and avoid dragging your kayak long distances.

The odds of a single rock busting your kayak are slim, but decreasing the overall wear and tear whenever you can will increase your kayak’s shelf life.

Common Safety Concerns

three men preparing an inflatable kayak

Along with the questions about an inflatable kayak’s durability, some other precautions and common safety concerns often crop up.

We’ll examine the topics worth your consideration, such as how prone specific types of inflatable kayaks are to capsizing, proper maintenance practices, where you can and can’t use inflatable kayaks, and if it’s possible to sink an inflatable.

Do Inflatable Kayaks Flip Over Easily?

Any kayak is capable of capsizing. Inexperienced kayakers will always be more susceptible to flipping over regardless of the type of kayak. It takes time and practice to get comfortable with a kayak’s balance and not overcompensate for its natural rocking when you’re on the water. 

Inflatable kayaks are no more likely to capsize than a hard-shell design. Many inflatable fishing kayaks are even stable enough to stand up in.

Expedition or narrower sit-in kayaks may feel more tippy, and the chances of flipping on one of these are higher, particularly if you’re in rough or windy conditions.

If you want to avoid capsizing, the best advice is to keep your kayak in the water conditions the manufacturer recommends. For example, don’t take an inflatable whitewater kayak on a big ocean crossing, and keep your expedition kayak out of class IV rapids.

Can an Inflatable Kayak Sink?

Any kayak can swamp if it takes on enough water. However, kayaks usually have enough bulkheads and buoyancy to avoid sinking outright.

Still, a water-logged kayak will severely compromise its stability, and balancing will be so precarious you’ll likely keep falling in the water. 

The air chambers of an inflatable kayak do provide a lot of buoyancy, often more than a hard-shell kayak which doesn’t have as much air trapped.

So without puncturing one of the air chambers, it will be very challenging to outright sink an inflatable kayak.

But, again, swamping a kayak can make it unsafe and so unstable you can’t paddle it, so if your kayak has scuppers, make sure that they’re correctly set up for your activity and try to avoid situations where you’re taking on a lot of water if it can’t properly drain. 

Is it Safe to Use an Inflatable Kayak in the Ocean?

In many cases, yes. Even recreation-style kayaks that may not be the highest-performing models can be safely taken into protected bays and inlets.

However, no matter what sort of kayak you’re paddling, you should always be aware of the water and weather conditions and be attuned to any changes that could be dangerous. 

If you want to do more than play around in a protected little cove, several inflatable sea kayaks can handle the unpredictable nature of the ocean.

Inflatable Kayak Safety Precautions

2 mean packing inflatable kayaks into a van
  1. Even well-made inflatable kayaks require some maintenance over time. For example, seams will inevitably weaken no matter how many times they have been stitched when manufactured.

    General wear and tear can cause microholes to appear in the material. Luckily, many of these general maintenance issues can be solved with a simple kayak patch kit.

    Many inflatable kayak companies produce their own patch kits. Still, plenty of brand-name kits out there will work on any number of kayaks.

    Like your inflatable kayak, it’s better to spend a little more for a high-quality patch kit than grab the one that’s 50% off. You’ll likely save money going with more expensive but better materials in the long run.

    When inflating your kayak, listen for the sound of air escaping. If it’s a small leak, you can safely patch it and get right out on the water.

    If you think there’s a leak but aren’t sure where, you can rub a soap and water mixture on the hull. If air is escaping, the soap will bubble, and it’s a lot easier than putting your ear to the kayak and trying to hear where the leak is.

  2. While most kayak materials are marketed as UV resistant, prolonged exposure to the sun will inevitably reduce your kayak’s durability and make it more prone to punctures.

    Storing your kayak out of direct sunlight, preferably in a dry place, will extend its life and minimize the maintenance required.

    One of the most significant advantages of inflatable kayaks is that they take up very little storage space when deflated. Before putting your kayak away, make sure it’s completely dry. This will prevent mildew from getting a foothold.

  3. Obviously, it would be best if you avoided sharp objects whenever possible. If you are bringing a knife along for fishing or part of your camping kit, ensure it’s safely stored in a sheath or something similar.

  4. Check your kayak’s load capacity. It’s important to stay within this weight limit and remember that it includes your weight and the weight of all your gear.

    Overloading can damage the kayak’s material and decrease its stability, making it more prone to capsizing.

  5. Properly distributing your gear when loading it will also help your kayak’s performance and keep areas from getting damaged or weakening. Ensure equipment with sharp points or a lot of weight is kept from being pressed down too hard into the kayak and leaving indentations in the material.

The Verdict: Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?

With proper care and experience, inflatable kayaks are perfectly safe. Of course, you’ll need to be more cautious with an inflatable, and their overall performance struggles to match a hard-shell kayak. But you shouldn’t feel like you’re putting yourself at greater personal risk if you opt to go with an inflatable. 

Get acquainted with basic kayak maintenance, and watch out for those sharp rocks when you come in for a landing. If you follow the guidelines from this article, you should have a long and panic-free kayaking career.