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How Long Do Inflatable Kayaks Last?

Nicola Burridge
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Inflatable kayaks can be excellent boats if you’re looking for a portable kayak that’s lightweight and easy to store.

But how long do inflatable kayaks last?

We have put together a quick guide to tell you about inflatable kayak durability, with some tips to keep yours lasting as long as possible.

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How Long Do Inflatable Kayaks Last?: Average Lifespan

The average lifespan of an inflatable kayak will usually be roughly between five and 10 years if it is looked after properly.

However, higher quality inflatable kayaks may last 20 years or more. At the other end of the scale, cheaper kayaks that are not properly cared for may only last a couple of years.

Factors Affecting The Durability Of Inflatable Kayaks

Types Of Materials

What your inflatable kayak is made of will generally determine how long it will (or should) last.

Inflatable kayaks can generally fit into one of three categories, based on the materials used in the construction.

Category one kayaks tend to be made out of vinyl, which is usually a thin, single-layer material. Kayaks in this category are generally designed for light use and casual recreational paddling.

Category two kayaks tend to be made using a thicker layer of vinyl material with a fabric coating for additional strength and durability. These kayaks are designed for frequent use and recreational paddling. They often have UV-protection and puncture-resistance.

Category three kayaks will usually be made out of thick PVC or a rubber material. This is the most durable category of inflatable kayaks and will often be the most expensive. But inflatable kayaks in this category will tend to last longer than kayaks in the other two categories because they are tougher to begin with.

Materials used in category three kayaks are generally similar to those used in the construction of inflatable dinghies or life rafts.

Kayaks that feature drop-stitch construction will generally be in category three. Drop-stitch kayaks will perform like hardshell kayaks, with the drop-stitch technology providing a rigid surface for added durability, strength, and performance on the water.

> How safe are inflatable kayaks?

Intended Use

Using an inflatable kayak for an activity other than its intended use could affect its lifespan. For example, if you use an inflatable kayak in rough waters or rocky rivers and the kayak is designed for calm, flatwater lakes, then this could affect its durability.

Similarly, if you drag an inflatable kayak along a gravel shoreline or over rocks, you could weaken the materials on the hull, causing a puncture.

UV Light

UV rays from the sun can be damaging to an inflatable kayak (as well as hardshell kayaks). The sun’s rays can weaken the materials on an inflatable kayak, which can make tears and punctures more likely.

It’s not just sunlight that can affect the durability of inflatable kayaks. The heat from the sun can also cause problems.

The hot sun can cause the pressure to increase inside the air chambers of your inflatable kayak. If the kayak is left outside in the heat, the increase in pressure can cause the boat to overinflate and potentially burst.

Improper Storage Conditions

Storing an inflatable kayak incorrectly can cause the materials to degrade and weaken over time.

If you store your kayak in damp conditions (and if the kayak is not completely dry when you put it away), you could end up with mold and mildew growing on the materials.

As well as causing a musty smell, horrible stains, and looking nasty, mold and mildew can damage an inflatable kayak. The structure of the fabric can become weak and susceptible to tears and other damage when you next take the kayak on the water.

You could end up with similar damage if you store the kayak outdoors or if you keep it fully inflated for a significant length of time. 

Maintenance And Care Tips To Extend The Life Of Inflatable Kayaks

Rinse And Clean Your Kayak Regularly

After each paddling session, you should always rinse your inflatable kayak in clean, fresh water. This can be even more important if you’ve been paddling in saltwater.

Rinsing your kayak thoroughly will help to make sure there is no dirt, silt, sand, or salt left on your kayak while it’s not in use. You can use a hose to do this.

Remember to rinse the valves too, as sand and silt can become stuck in the valves, which could cause the valves to leak air if they can’t close properly.

Every so often, you should also clean your inflatable kayak with mild soap and water. The more you use your kayak, the more often you will likely need to clean it. At the very least, you should clean it thoroughly before you pack it away for storage at the end of the season.

Video: How To Care For Your Inflatable Kayak

Dry Out Your Kayak Completely

This is one of the most important tips for anyone who owns an inflatable kayak.

Before you pack your inflatable kayak into its storage bag, it should be completely dry. This is to prevent mold and mildew from building up on the materials and causing damage to your boat.

If you plan to store your kayak for any length of time, you should wait several hours before you pack it away.

You can speed up the drying process by using dry towels or even a hairdryer (on a cool setting – you don’t want to melt it).

Let Air Out If Your Kayak Will Be Sitting In The Sun

If you plan to stop at a pretty beach for lunch during your paddling trip and the sun is beating down on your landing spot, you should let some of the air out of your kayak once you’ve landed.

Letting air out of the chambers will mean there is enough space inside the tubes when the hot air increases the pressure. This could help to prevent your kayak from overinflating and bursting if the air inside gets too hot (and the pressure gets too high).

Avoid Dragging Your Kayak Along The Ground

While it can be tempting to drag your kayak along the beach into the water, it’s probably not a good idea if you want to prolong the life of your inflatable kayak.

Constant abrasions on the hull will weaken the fabric, making it more likely that the fabric will tear or suffer a puncture. 

Inflatable kayaks are generally pretty lightweight, so they should be easy enough to lift to the water.

Use The Correct Inflation Pressure

Inflatable kayaks don’t all use a universal pressure setting. They are all different.

You should inflate your kayak to the recommended pressure setting stated for your particular kayak. This can help with performance as well as being recommended to prevent damage to the seams, valves, and other components.

It can be useful to use a pressure gauge when you inflate your kayak so that you can see the increase in pressure accurately. 

Kayaks with drop-stitch construction will usually require a higher pressure of inflation than those without.

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