Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?

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The first time I heard of an inflatable kayak, what came to mind was more of a pool toy than an actual watercraft. Surely they couldn’t stand up to actual kayaks … were they even safe enough to take out on the water?

A lot of people have similar concerns and assumptions. Inflatable kayaks don’t seem like real kayaks, so are they even safe to use? If you’re in that boat, too, don’t worry! In this article we’re going to break down all the ins and outs of inflatable kayaks and answer the question once and for all: Are inflatable kayaks safe?

Inflatable Kayaks: A Breakdown

Inflatable kayaks, despite what a lot of people think, are actually incredibly durable. These days they’re built to withstand tough conditions. You can take them on flat water, rivers, or even out on the ocean without fear of them popping and sinking. While they’re not suitable for every condition, in general, they’re incredibly well designed and are great kayaks for beginners to advanced paddlers. Sitting in an inflatable kayak will feel a little less stable than a traditional boat, but I think you’ll be surprised at how stable and supportive they do feel.

How Durable Are They?

Unlike simple pool toys, inflatable kayaks aren’t made with just one layer of thin material. Some inflatable kayaks, like this one, utilize aluminum parts to increase structure and stability. They’re encompassed by multiple layers of thick coated materials, like vinyl and polyester, that are tough and durable. These materials can take a beating. Whether you’re paddling through rocky waters or wearing street shoes while you’re standing to get in it, you shouldn’t worry about damaging it. I wouldn’t go dragging them through gravel, but under normal wear and tear these kayaks generally hold up very well. You’ll want to be protective of your inflatable kayak, but it’s not going to be anything like an inflatable raft or a balloon. They’re built to last.

What About Punctures?

Because of their durable build, punctures are rarely an actual issue in inflatable kayaks. Modern technology and materials have made for incredibly strong exteriors to these boats. You can brush up against rocks and tree branches without any serious repercussions. There are, of course, exceptions to this. If you try hard enough, you’ll certainly be able to puncture it. Seams can tear open causing air to leak out, or a sharp rock hit just the right way might poke a hole in your boat. Punctures can happen, and while they’re not very common, it’s a good idea to take that into consideration when paddling in an inflatable kayak. Be careful to store them away from sharp objects and use caution when transporting them. If you’re careful with it, your boat should survive without any punctures or ruptures at all. In the event that you get a small patch kit, most inflatable kayaks are easily repairable with it.

For a look at how to repair an inflatable kayak (and to see just how durable they are), check out this video:

A Look at Stability and Rigidity

Once your kayak is inflated, just how stable is it going to be? If you try to stand in it, will it fold up and collapse on you? The good news is the answer to that is no. You’d be amazed at how strong and rigid these kayaks can be once they’re fully inflated. Although that is the key: make sure your kayak is fully inflated. An under-inflated kayak will not be stable and you’ll have a hard time keeping it afloat.

Most inflatable kayaks use either small inflatable sections that act like rods or they actually include a metal framework in the boat. Both of these methods act as rigid stabilizers in the boat. They keep it straight and stable as you paddle. When inflated, the kayaks become incredibly rigid. Often they don’t feel much different than regular hard-hulled kayaks. 

If you plan on hitting some whitewater paddling make sure you have an inflatable that is suited for rapids.

Will They Sink?

One of the great things about inflatable kayaks is that they’re incredibly buoyant. If you’ve ever capsized in a regular hardshell kayak, you know that it can be a huge hassle to empty your boat of water and get back in. Inflatable kayaks have the benefit of being filled with air, making it easier to keep them afloat even if you capsize. Their lightweight nature makes it easier to dump out any water that might fill them, too.

Safety Precautions for Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks might be durable these days, but they’re not invincible. You’ll need to take precautions to stay safe on the water just like you would in any kayak. Inflatable kayaks are not built for harsh conditions or rough water. Use extreme caution if you’re paddling on a river with rapids and debris. You’ll want to stay away from any conditions that are likely to risk harm to you or your boat.

Something to keep in mind is that inflatable kayaks are very lightweight. This means they are easily susceptible to being swayed by currents and strong winds. Be careful not to paddle in harsh conditions. As a general rule, never kayak alone or without telling others where you are, and always wear a life jacket!


With tough materials, rigid structure, and comfortable seating, inflatable kayaks are just about as safe and easy to use as any other kayak. But you should always use caution when paddling, especially in one of these boats. Remember that even though problems like leaks and punctures are uncommon, they can still happen. Don’t expect your kayak to be damage-proof. If you use common sense and take care of your boat, you should have no trouble paddling an inflatable kayak with ease!

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4 thoughts on “Are Inflatable Kayaks Safe?”

  1. That’s good to know that inflatable kayaks are pretty durable. I would think that would be beneficial if you were using one to go over some rapids. I’ll have to consider getting one of those to train with since I would think they would be cheaper than a regular one.

  2. I’m considering buying an inflatable kayak but am a bit concerned that real kayak people will think I’m stupid. Do experienced kayakers think people who by inflatable kayaks are stupid? Will they judge me if they see me pumping up my kayak like it is some toy? Thanks!

    • Michael,

      No, people with hard-shell kayaks do not think people with inflatables are stupid. Honestly, they probably won’t think of you at all. Use what you want and can afford. Have fun 🙂

  3. I live in east tennessee and have swam in every lake in east Tennessee. I am a trout fisherman and again there are not many trout streams I have not fished. Google the streams and rivers and then give me an honest opinion. I live with the Hiwassee river in my back yard. The Nolichucky River in kin folks area I trout fish. I am seriously looking for a kayak and have thought about an inflatable. But remain unconvinced they are as durable as they are advertised. Both the Hiwassee and the Nolichucky can be cold and uncaring. But I also consider transporting a kayak. I ride a Goldwing with a tow trailer which makes an inflatable more alluring. But my safety is the most important thing here and not being able to control a kayak by paddle is important. Wind can catch any water craft. But I see an inflatable as being harder to paddle than a “hard” bottomed??? Thank you for your time and patience concerning this matter.


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