Inflatable kayaks are useful bits of kit. They’re great for people that lack the storage space both at home and in their vehicles for a hardshell kayak. They are extremely convenient and can be packed in a rucksack, chucked in the boot of a small hatchback, and carried down to the water with ease.
Inflatable kayaks and canoes have come a long way in recent years and they’re no longer the easily punctured deathtraps that they once were. Some inflatables are almost as durable and hardwearing as their hardshell counterparts.
One thing is for sure, inflatable kayaks are convenient, fun, and accessible for anyone no matter their living conditions, transport situations, or budget…
…but, are they usable in the ocean? Are Inflatable kayaks durable enough to handle the powerful currents and rocky shores of the Irish coast?
In this article, we’ll be answering these questions. We’ll be looking at whether you can safely use inflatable kayaks in the sea and whether they’ll perform close to or as well as a traditional hardshell kayak. Enjoy!
What is an Inflatable Kayak?
An Inflatable kayak is essentially a soft-shelled dingy that has been formed into the shape of a kayak. These kayaks pack down extremely small and usually weigh less than 12 kilograms. This makes them extremely easy to store and transport, although you do have to take some time to pump them up with air once you’re beside the water.
Inflatable kayaks are often based on their hardshell cousins — with a bow, stern, and a seat in the centre of the vessel. They are almost always open-top and will feature two curved side walls that are filled with air.
Inflatable kayaks are often designed with different air chambers to prevent the kayak from losing air completely if part of the kayak gets punctured. A decent inflatable will feature a multi-layered PVC design and some kind of reinforcement on the base of the kayak to protect it from scrapes below the surface.
Modern inflatable kayaks are incredibly durable. They can cope with most situations that a hardshell can, but of course, there’s always the potential of a puncture — something that you need not worry about in a fibreglass kayak.
Inflatables perform brilliantly on the water too. They’re no longer the poor-tracking clumsy rafts of the past. Adaptations in design such as “tracking fins” and a raised bow have eliminated most of the tracking issues and nowadays it’s easy to keep an inflatable yak in a straight line.
They will never perform in the same way as a hardshell kayak due to their extremely buoyant nature. When paddling in an inflatable kayak you sit far higher above the water’s surface, whereas in a hardshell a certain percentage of the vessel sits below the water. This isn’t usually an issue, but something that you may have to get used to if switching from a fibreglass kayak to an inflatable.
Inflatable vs. Hardshell Kayaks: What’s Better?
Inflatable kayaks and hardshell kayaks both have their pros and cons. Inflatables are extremely versatile in terms of transportability. Hardshells on the other hand, are more versatile in terms of the environments you can use them in, but are more of a hassle to store and transport.
Durability-wise, inflatable kayaks have come a long way. However, without a doubt, hardshell kayaks are far more durable. You don't have to worry at all about damaging a hardshell kayak to a point of no return while you're out for a paddle.
Inflatable kayaks are definitely ideal if you live in a small apartment, have a small hatchback car, or have no car at all. They are extremely easy to transport and can be carried on your back and walked down to the water with ease. This style of vessel is excellent for people living in the city that struggle to get out in to nature. They can be carried on a train, bus, tram, or metro and down to the water for a paddle and once you’re home, they’ll tuck neatly away in a corner of a cupboard.
Hardshell kayaks are ideal if you live in a house and have good storage options and have a car that’s more suitable for transport. They’re perfect for the kayaker that desires the ultimate performance in a variety of different environments and the person that plans on kayaking regularly.
Harshells can be left secured at a local club or at a secure location by the water ready for your next kayaking adventure. They require no setup and, of course, don’t need to be inflated before use. This makes them great for people that want to get paddling after work for an hour or two. The only downside is transport and you will lose time loading and unloading the kayak to the roof of your car unless you have somewhere to store it close to your local water
Using an Inflatable Kayak in the Ocean
So, is it really possible to use an inflatable kayak in the sea?
In short, yes. It is definitely possible to use an inflatable kayak in the ocean but you won't have as good an experience as you would with a hardshell kayak. You'll also have to be far more cautious and on the ball when using an inflatable in saltwater conditions.
You should stick closer to the shoreline than you would in a hardshell kayak and be more mindful of underwater obstacles that could potentially damage your vessel. You should also refrain from beaching the kayak. Instead, you should dismount in knee-deep water and walk the kayak to the bank — this way you’ll avoid causing wear to the bottom of the vessel over time.
You’ll have to keep a closer eye on the conditions on the coast as well. You have to be mindful of the weather and sea conditions regardless of your vessel, but more so with an inflatable. This is because inflatables are more difficult to control in rougher conditions compared to their hardshell cousins.
You won’t need to worry too much about capsizing though…
Inflatable kayaks are incredibly buoyant. They’re also generally much wider than hardshells and have thick air-filled tubes on either side of you that makes them extremely stable. This does affect your control and tracking in rougher conditions but it makes capsizes less likely.
How To Choose a Kayak for Saltwater Use
Choosing a kayak for saltwater use can be difficult. If you're keen on kayaking along the coastlines regularly, we highly recommend purchasing a hardshell kayak fit for saltwater use such as the SkipJak Scorpion. You'll have to deal with the hassle of transport and finding somewhere to store it but you'll have a much better experience and will be able to explore far more with a vessel of this nature.
We do understand that this option isn't possible for everyone though. If you're here reading this article, it's likely that you're set on an inflatable kayak for ocean use. Perhaps you have storage issues or maybe your vehicle isn't big enough to safely transport a hardshell. Whatever your reason, when choosing an inflatable kayak for sea use, it's important you make the right decision.
What's the Best Inflatable Kayak for Saltwater?
The best inflatable kayak for saltwater use should have excellent tracking. It should also be highly robust and have some kind of reinforced PVC layer underneath to protect it from the rocks and sand around the rugged coastlines.
Now inflatable vessels are more popular, there are several different types on the market. You’ll find inflatable kayaks available that are designed specifically for saltwater use. These kayaks will have features that make them more stable and easier to control in the sea. They’re generally longer than inflatables for fresh water and they often have features that make paddling more efficient in large bodies of open water.
The Hydroforce Kayaks are a solid option for the person that wants an inflatable kayak for saltwater use, but there are plenty of other options available. Just be sure to do your research before purchasing an inflatable for saltwater use. Don’t go cheap either. You don’t have to spend heaps of cash on an inflatable, but you should find something with good build quality that’s constructed from high-quality, durable, and robust materials.
What's the Best Hardshell Kayak for Saltwater?
The best hardshell kayak for saltwater use should also have excellent tracking. Any hardshell kayak will perform better than an inflatable in both salt and freshwater because they'll sit lower in the water. This gives them far better tracking and more stability.
There are hardshell kayaks made specifically for saltwater use. They are far longer and much narrower than your typical freshwater kayak. This makes them cut through the water easier, making each paddle stroke more efficient. This is essential if you want to do any distance in a kayak on the sea.
You'll be competing with the tide, currents, and potential rough and windy conditions. These simple design features will allow you to combat the natural conditions you're likely to encounter on the sea and make your experience much more enjoyable.