TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Inflatable Kayaks

SEVYLOR SVX100Inflatable Kayaks - Basic Use & Care
Article & photos by Tom Holtey, except where noted.

It is always wise protocol to give yourself un-compromised time and space when inspecting and assembling your brand new kayak and its gear for the first time. Even if shipped ahead new to your trips destination, plan extra time at the launch site.

To start you must inflate the kayak; but even before you remove it from the box or bag take a look around on the ground to ensure that there are no hazards to your boat. Look for broken glass, shards of metal or even thorns. Your kayak is not that fragile, but taking the time to care for it will ensure a good long life. Photo provided by Sevylor


Resources0000More about Inflatables

Un-inflated KayakBravo 1 Foot PumpINFLATING YOUR KAYAK

Before pumping you may have to mount things like seats, footrests, skegs, rudders and such. Follow the manufactures instructions on assembling and inflating your boat. They may recommend a sequence of inflating one chamber first then another and so forth.

Most kayaks take about 3-5 minutes of inflating time, assuming a reasonable vigorous pace. Generally speaking you can plan for possibly 15 minutes total from car to water's edge. You may even want to photocopy and laminate excerpts from the owner's manual and keep these in the boat bag.

When pumping with the hand pump you can use the large muscles of your legs instead of just your back and arm muscles. Do a sort of knee bend type squat. Not only will this seem easier but may take less time. There is nothing wrong with a foot pump, but they are slower. Swap right and left feet to even out the work. The larger the pump the faster it fills. We carry the Bravo 1 Foot Pump in our shop which is an excellent choice for an easy-to-stow all-purpose pump.

Remember those Boston valves? (see Inflatable Parts & Accessories) They have two caps. The very first, or top, is the cap over the one-way valve. Remove that one, while leaving the Boston valve cap in place. Once you have filled that chamber take a moment to listen to the valve when the top cap is off. It may hiss a tiny bit and that is OK. If it is hissing a lot then you may have to inspect the rubber flap for bits of sand or stuff. Yes, the top cap will help reduce this leaking but the flap is what really does the work. Trouble hearing? Place a thumb, maybe your palm, over the filling hole. Hold it for a moment and release. If you notice a tiny release of air that is OK, but a good puff means the flap should be inspected. If all is well, screw on the cap.

Air Pressure GaugeKwik Check Guage at Tom's TopKayaker ShopHow do you know when the kayak is at full pressure? When selecting a pump see about an air gauge. A standard tire pressure gauge will not work.

Most low-pressure air gauges will screw into the top of a hand pump. Some can be used as, or adapted to, a handheld version. Some kayaks may have a strip of material on the side chamber that works like a "thermometer" in that it will slide up, or down to indicate proper inflation.

Next find out what air pressure is recommended for your kayak. This is often printed on the kayak next to the valve. Air pressure could be measured in BAR or PSI. Your air gage and kayak are probably marked with both units of measure.

No gauge? We carry the Kwik Check Gauge in our shop or you can judge good pressure by its feel. This is not very accurate or scientific, but you can pump the chamber up until it starts getting hard then tap/slap the chamber. The side chambers should almost make a drum or bell like sound when struck. It should be firm. Not as hard as a basketball, not as soft as an air bed.

If you have any doubts about whether the kayak is holding its air, fully inflate and let it sit in the shade for a while to see if it looses any air and at what rate. All kayaks will leak a bit, but should not leak fast enough to effect performance over a 3-4 hour paddle.


Now that you have your kayak fully inflated it is best to get it right into the water and go. If the sand or the parking lot is too hot for bare feet this is a good indication it is too hot for your kayak as well. So getting into your paddle clothes and packing lunch should already be done.

The reason for this is that a fully inflated kayak sitting on a hot sand beach, parking lot, car top or in direct sunlight on a sunny day, can over expand the air and cause damage to the internal structure of the kayak.

METZLER Inflatable Kayak hull perfect conditionMETZLER Inflatable Kayak with broken septum

Kayak hull perfect condition 000000000000Kayak with broken septums

No, it will not "pop", but what does happen is that the septums inside the kayak can tear. The septum is a divider that helps shape the kayak. Take the floor, or better yet a beach mattress, for example. It is one chamber, but looks like a lot of long skinny chambers. The septums are structures inside that hold the top of the chamber close to the bottom of the chamber. Without the septums it would blow up like a big sausage, and not a flat floor or mattress.

When the inflated kayak is in hot conditions the air inside of it expands. The septums are pulled to a breaking point and finally tear allowing for more room between the top and bottom of the chamber. If you let this happen you will hear a muffled boom, and when you take a look at your kayak you will see that two of those long skinny tube-like sections have become one.

If you are lucky it will happen in the very center creating a sort of keel, but it will be funny to sit on. This type of damage is almost impossible to fix. If you can find those who do this sort of work it will be rather expensive, so do not let it happen in the first place.

So, I repeat, as soon as you are fully inflated be prepared to launch into the cooler water. As soon as you land on the hot sand (for a stay longer than five minutes) let a bit of air out of all the chambers. This is why it is nice to have a foot pump to take along. You need not let out a lot of air; just enough to make it soft like an airbed. If you cannot let out air then take every step possible to keep the kayak cool in the shade or shallow water.

To let out air simply remove the Boston valve cap. That is the second cap with the one-way flap. A gentle turn leaving the threads engaged will allow air to hiss out. Twist back to tighten and you have taken the pressure off and can leave it on the hot sand. If you open it up fully the air will rush out all at once in a load burst. No worries, this is the fastest way to deflate and roll it up.

Although these inflatable craft are quite durable your kayak could be vulnerable to sharp objects like rocks, coral, or beach debris at some landing and launch sites.
Launch your kayak in shallow water about knee deep to prevent damage to the hull. When landing, get out of the kayak before it reaches the shore also in about knee-deep water.


SEVYLOR SVX 100When at the take out after a long days paddle you can feel free to roll up your boat and stow it in its case. Or you could take the time to clean and dry it right then. I am generally in a hurry to get to the "après paddle" pizza and beer joint, so I like to stow and go, and then when at home the following day I will do it right. Storing your kayak wet and dirty will not necessarily kill it, but it will shorten its life.

If you have been on salt water you will want to rinse the kayak with fresh water. Clean off any scum, sunscreen, algae and such with a rag and maybe some mild dish soap if needed. Look into the crevices along the side tubes and the floor for sand and muck. I find that having the side tubes, or maybe only the floor inflated, helpful during the rinsing and cleaning. Action Photos provided by Sevylor

Be very careful to make sure that the valves are closed during any rinsing or washing. Any water in the kayak will not come out and will cause internal mildew. Sun dry the kayak, or use an old bath towel to get the water off.

SEVYLOR SVX 200Rolling it up can be a tricky process. Pay special attention to how the kayak came packaged from the factory. You may want to duplicate this. Basically it will be a process of folding the kayaks sides in to the center and then a sort of fold and/or roll to get it to fit back into the bag. Some of the accessory chambers may have simple stems, but still have a tiny flap inside that makes letting the air out very slow. I have found that small coffee stir straws inserted into the stem will hold open the flap and allow for a more rapid deflation.

I have heard it said that you should fold & roll up your kayak differently each time to ensure you do not develop a crease or a wear spot. This make sense to me but I use the same method every time and it seams to work out OK. I am sure it is just a tiny bit different each time simply by chance.

Store your kayak in a cool dry place that is not prone to the extremes of temperature and humidity. Some airflow circulation is nice as your kayak will likely still be a bit "moist" after cleaning and drying.

One thing to be very careful about is animal activity. Rodents can ruin a kayak completely by chewing on it. If you have a mouse, rat or squirrel problem find a rodent-proof place or container to store your kayak.


HuiWaa Club Trip - Hawaii Kai to San SouciYou will likely encounter a leak in your inflatable kayaking career. No worries, this is par for the course. In most cases it will be a slow leaking, tiny pinprick of a scratch that will drive you mad trying to find it.

There are a couple ways of finding the leak. Listen with your ear very close all over the boat, while letting the sensitive skin of your face feel for the air movement. If the water is warm and you have a dive mask take your kayak on the water and look for air bubbles steaming from the hole. Photo by Athena Holtey

Most leaks are on the bottom where the kayak has struck something. Sometimes they are in the cockpit wear the rider has damaged it somehow.

You can fill a non-bailing kayak with water to look for air bubbles in the cockpit. One of the best ways to find the leak is a nice sponge bath with soapy water. The leaking pinhole will produce soap bubbles quite readily.

Once you have found the leak mark it with a pen or marker. Let the kayak dry fully, or at least the area that has the leak. The process of applying the patch is more or less the same for a variety of kayaks. Be sure that your patch kit is for your kayak. If it came with the kayak you are fine, but if you have created your own repair kit be sure that the materials are compatible.

Vinyl and PVC have a different type of glue than those kayaks made of hypalon or nitrolon. You can cut your patch to fit, but do not make it too small. Make sure that the patch has rounded corners or is circular. Pointy corners will peel up quite readily.

Often roughing up both surfaces with sand paper is required. Apply glue to both the patch and area around the hole. Apply a bit more glue around the hole so it will cover an area slightly larger than the patch. Allow both the patch and kayak to "dry" - about five minutes - then stick together. Once it is stuck there is no going back, so take your time and plan carefully.

A tear or rip presents a bit more trouble. For the most part this means taking the time to carefully plan. The glue bond will have to be very good. You will need a much larger patch because of the stress that it will be under. Dragging your kayak is a good way to get such a tear, although you could receive a rip from an underwater hazard as well.


UV light damage is a concern, but a soft shell is packable and will likely not need to be stored in the back yard. That said I would not recommend leaving your inflatable exposed to sunlight. A hard shell plastic can take this sort of sun exposure day in day out, but it will reduce the life expectancy of a soft shell. Normal use on the water will not damage your kayak. There are some liquid UV inhibitors that can be used, but I would shy away from them if possible, they can make the kayak slippery. Check with the maker before using a UV inhibitor. Photo provided by Innova

Will you be paddling an inflatable kayak this season? If storage and transportation are a problem you will be "going soft shell." If the bulk and weight of a hard shell are too much, a blowup is the way to go. Traveling to distant lands? Pack a kayak in your bags!

What ever your reason inflatable kayaks are often a good choice, particularly now that this category of paddle craft has reached an all time high of selection and quality.

© 2005 Tom Holtey

Feathercraft Pacific Action Sail

Feathercraft Java & Pacific Action Sail by Duncan Sayers

A field review of these folding sit-on-tops outfitted for sailing.

We now carry Innova Inflatable Kayaks at Tom's Top Kayaker Shop
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Books (right) on the subject are available at Amazon. Using the search box supports TopKayaker.net. Sorry we do not have reviews for these titles:
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-Inflatable Boats: Selection, Care, Repair, and Seamanship by Jim Trefethen
ISBN: 007065252X
-The Complete Inflatable Kayaker

(white water only) by Jeff Bennett
ISBN: 0070054282
-Guide to Inflatable Canoes & Kayaks
ISBN: 0890372098
-Inflatable Kayak Handbook
ISBN: 1555660789
-Inflatable Kayaking: The Complete Guide
ISBN: 0811728102
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