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Guide To Inflatable Kayaking For Beginners

Nicola Burridge
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Looking for a fun and relaxing way to explore the country’s waterways? Inflatable kayaking might be just the thing for you!

Even if you’re a beginner, quality inflatable kayaks offer stability and ease of use.

But before you embark on your first adventure, check out our guide to inflatable kayaking for beginners.

We’ve got all the tips and tricks you need to ensure a successful trip on the water!

Guide To Inflatable Kayaking For Beginners - Pinterest ImagePin

21 Tips For Beginners Using Inflatable Kayaks

1: Plan Your Trip

Planning any trip can be important. But it can be more important when you add water to the mix. You should plan ahead so that you know your paddling route and your intended launch and exit sites. Make a kayak float plan.

You should also plan for any emergencies. This could mean researching exit points on a river trip or potential campsites. Remember to let someone on land know your planned route and when you should be expected to return home.

2: Check The Weather Forecast

Paddling in inclement weather can be dangerous, even for experienced paddlers. Check the local weather forecast for your planned route. You should check the forecast in advance but keep checking it in the days prior to your trip.

As you probably know, weather can be unpredictable and can change quickly. So it’s important to keep up to date with the forecast, even in the hours before you set off.

If you’re planning a kayak camping trip, remember to check the forecast regularly while you’re on your trip.

3: Don’t Kayak Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Inflatable Whitewater Kayak On Mountain RiverPin

If the water looks too rough, it can be best to avoid it. You should never paddle in waters that are above your skill level, unless you have an experienced paddler or guide with you.

Kayaking in rough waters can be dangerous if you lack sufficient skills. You may also find that your kayak is not suitable for those conditions, which can add to the dangers.

Similarly, you should avoid kayaking alone, especially in remote waters or the ocean.

4: Scout Rivers Before You Launch

If you plan to launch into a river, it can be a good idea to scout the river beforehand. Walking along the river can let you scope out potential hazards in the water and can give you an idea of potential take-out points along the route.

If the river is a well-paddled water trail, you may not need to scout the river first, especially if there are kayak outfitters along the trail. These slow-moving water trails will generally have fewer obstacles and hazards.

5: Remember A Patch Kit

Inflatable kayaks are durable little boats. But accidents can happen and so can punctures. A patch kit is a repair kit that usually comes included with your inflatable kayak. This allows you to repair a puncture easily, even while you’re on the go.

It’s best to pack the patch kit inside a dry bag to keep it safe and protected from the elements. The kit generally includes a patch of material to match your kayak, plus adhesive.

6: Know Your Inflatable kayak

You will probably already know the type of inflatable kayak you have. But it can be important to know whether the kayak is best suited to flatwater or if it can handle whitewater rapids.

Most inflatable kayaks should be able to handle mild rapids, even if they are designed for flatwater.

As a beginner, you will probably not be attempting to paddle down Class IV rapids (we don’t recommend it), but some kayaks are rated for big whitewater. However, these kayaks might not be the most efficient option for flatwater paddling due to the shape of their hulls.

7: Pack A Lunch

If you are heading out on a day trip, you will probably want to take some lunch and snacks. A soft-sided cooler can be useful for inflatable kayaks as this can help keep your food and beverages cold and dry on inflatable kayaks that don’t have sealed storage hatches.

If you plan to spend several days on an outdoor adventure, you will obviously need to pack more than just a lunch.

You should always pack more food and water than you think you’ll need for your trip. This is in case your adventure gets extended and you need food for an extra day or two.

8: Organize Transportation

One of the best things about inflatable kayaks is that they are easy to transport. But you should still think about how you plan to get your kayak from your home to the water.

If you plan to travel on public transportation, check the size limits on personal items to make sure your inflatable kayak fits within those limitations. Some inflatable kayaks are extremely compact and can fit in a backpack. But some are the size of a very large suitcase, which could be awkward if you’re on a packed city bus.

Similarly, if your kayaking adventure is a one-way river trip, remember to organize your transportation both to get to the launch site and for when you land at your destination.

> How to transport inflatable kayaks long distances

9: Don’t Forget Your Pump

It probably goes without saying that you’ll need a good pump to inflate your kayak. But the important thing is to remember to take it with you on your kayaking trip.

A manual pump can be a better option for wilderness adventures where you may not have access to electricity to use an electric pump. Hand pumps are also usually more compact and can fit in your kayak without taking up too much space. 

If you’re planning an overnight trip, you will generally need to deflate the kayak a little while you’re camping, to allow for pressure changes. And then you’ll need to inflate it again in the morning before you set off on the next leg of your journey. 

10: Remember Your Dry Bags

Dry bags can be a vital piece of equipment for paddling in an inflatable kayak. The lack of dry storage on board means your gear is exposed to the elements.

You may have small areas of covered storage space at the bow and stern of your kayak, but these spray covers won’t necessarily keep your gear dry.

This is where dry bags become useful. You can store all your gear inside several dry bags to keep your belongings safe and dry till you reach land.

Remember to keep any essentials that you might need on the water within easy reach of your seat.

11: Don’t Overload Your Inflatable Kayak

Inflatable kayaks tend to have a very high load capacity for their size. This means they can often hold a lot of gear. However, all kayaks will usually have a maximum load capacity and this should not be exceeded.

Overloading your inflatable kayak can cause it to capsize. It can also affect the performance of the kayak, as it will likely be sitting a lot lower in the water than it should. This could affect speed and tracking as well as your ability to control the kayak.

12: Inflate Your Kayak To The Correct Pressure

The correct pressure for inflatable kayaks will vary between brands and models. Your particular inflatable kayak should have a recommended pressure rating.

When you inflate your kayak, you should inflate it to the recommended pressure using a pressure gauge. Some kayak pumps come with a built-in gauge that allows you to see the increase in pressure as you’re inflating the boat.

High-pressure drop-stitch kayaks often need to be inflated using an electric pump first and a manual pump at the end. The manual pump allows you to reach a more accurate pressure.

13: Clean And Dry Your Kayak Before Storage

One of the worst mistakes you can make with an inflatable kayak is not letting it dry before you pack it away inside the storage bag. An inflatable kayak should be completely dry before you store it or you could end up with mold and mildew on the fabric.

As well as mold and mildew causing a foul smell, it can actually damage your kayak. Storing your kayak while it’s still damp can cause the materials to weaken, reducing the lifespan of your kayak. Mold and mildew can also stain the fabric.

After all of your paddling trips, you should rinse the kayak in clean water (ideally with a hose) to get rid of any sand and dirt. You should leave your kayak to dry outside for several hours before you store it.

14: Launch In A Calm Zone

When you’re a beginner, you’ll probably want your launch to be as easy as possible. This is why you should try to find a launch site where the water is calm. If you plan to launch your kayak into the ocean, a beach launch can be easy on a calm day when there are fewer waves.

A sheltered cove or inlet on a calm bay can be a good option. The same goes for river launches. Find a spot with shallow, slow-moving water so you can launch easily and get yourself situated comfortably before you hit the main stretch of water.

> Getting into and out of an inflatable kayak

15: Balance Your Load

Inflatable Kayaks With Dry Bags On The BeachPin

Knowing how to distribute weight in a kayak can be useful before you load your kayak up with camping gear or fishing equipment.

You don’t want to have anything too heavy at one side of the kayak as this can cause the kayak to become unbalanced. An unbalanced kayak is at risk of tipping over, especially if you’re paddling in waters with waves or rapids (or even wake from other boats).

As a general rule, you should keep heavier items closer to the center of the kayak. Lighter items can be stored at the bow and stern.

16: Bring Your Dog

Yes, you can bring your dog in an inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks can be ideal for paddling with your dog because they are tough, durable boats that can handle dogs’ paws and claws.

If the floor of your kayak doesn’t have non-slip padding, you might want to add some so that your dog isn’t sliding around on the deck. A kayak with a drop-stitch floor can sometimes offer more space and stability for your dog.

17: Go Fishing

Inflatable kayaks can make excellent fishing boats. They have the stability to handle various types of water and a high capacity to carry you plus all your gear.

Some inflatable kayaks that are designed specifically for fishing will have extra features, such as rod holders, tackle storage, and space for other accessories or electronics.

Drop-stitch kayaks will often have a standing platform for easier casting. Inflatable kayaks that don’t have a drop-stitch floor might not be suitable for standing, as the deck might not be rigid enough.

18: Swimming From An Inflatable Kayak

Inflatable sit-on-top kayaks can be easy to use if you want to jump off for a swim at any point during your adventures. Before you splash into the water, remember to secure your kayak paddle to the deck. You don’t want it to float away while you’re enjoying yourself.

You might want to use an anchor to keep your kayak from floating away too.

Climbing back onto your kayak after swimming shouldn’t be too difficult. Just remember to lift your body up and over your kayak as much as you can, using your feet to kick and propel yourself.

Video: How To Get Back Into An Inflatable Kayak From The Water

19: Don’t Drag Your Kayak On The Ground

This possibly goes without saying, but it’s best not to drag your inflatable kayak along the ground. Inflatable kayaks are lightweight by design, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to lift it up and carry it to the water’s edge.

Most inflatable kayaks have reinforced hulls to help protect the bottom from being scraped along the ground. But you could accidentally drag it over something sharp, like glass, which could put a hole in your boat.  

20: Wear A PFD

One of the most important pieces of information for any paddler is to always wear a PFD. In most states it’s a legal requirement to have a suitably-sized PFD in the kayak for each paddler and passenger.

But a PFD can only save your life if you are wearing it. If an accident does happen and your kayak capsizes, you will probably not have time to locate the PFD or put it on. So it’s best to stay safe and wear a suitable PFD before you launch your kayak.

Check out our guide to choosing a life jacket.

21: How To Paddle An Inflatable Kayak

This can be the same as paddling a hardshell kayak. Hold your paddle correctly. With both hands on the paddle shaft, lift the paddle on top of your head and your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle.

As you put one blade in the water, you should rotate your torso slightly in that direction. Pull back with the blade so that the blade is moving face first along the side of your kayak.

As you pull back, you can push forward with your other hand to make it easier.

Remove the blade when it’s in line with your seat and begin again on the other side with the other blade.

Make sure when your blade enters and leaves the water, the blade edge goes first. You don’t want to be slapping down a blade face first in the water.

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