11 Inflatable Kayak Problems You May Run Into

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You imagine yourself paddling peacefully along the water and then pop! Your inflatable kayak sinks, you drown, GAME OVER! 

Let’s back it up a little bit here. Yes, there is always an inherent risk of inflatable kayak problems happening but you drastically reduce that risk by getting informed, going out there, and tackling conditions that are well within your skill level.

In this article, we will be going over 11 inflatable kayak problems that we as well as other paddlers experience when we go out. We will also outline a plan on how to avoid it so that your inflatable kayak can be a happy kayak.

The 11 inflatable Kayak Problems Are:

  1. Sharp Rocks and Pointy Sticks
  2. Sagging in the Middle
  3. Less Than Optimal On-Water Performance
  4. Setting Up and Taking Down
  5. Air Leaks
  6. Ongoing Maintenance
  7. Under-Estimating the Conditions
  8. The Age of the Inflatable Kayak
  9. Bulky Sidewalls
  10. Inflatable Kayaks Can Fill Up WIth Water Quite Easily
  11. The Kayak Expanding or Detracting in Extreme Temperatures
inflatable kayak problems big

Think this might happen to you? Read on and we will talk about each problem has a viable solution.

1. Sharp Rocks and Point Sticks

No matter how careful you are there is always the risk of your inflatable kayak getting punctured. Things such as rocks from the beach, submerged logs and other sharp and pointy objects from the environment can sometimes get in the way.

There are two ways to minimize this risk.

  1. Be very careful when you take your kayak out, avoid dragging it on the beach, be mindful of paddling in the shallows. This is sort of like your “well duh” option but being mindful of where you position your kayak can mean the difference between an annoying puncture or a great day of paddling
  2. You severely reduce this risk by getting a more expensive inflatable kayak. Well-made Inflatable kayaks that have a cover on them like the Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame run a bit higher on the budget side of things but will last much longer. For something that can last 15 + years getting a PVC kayak like the Sea Eagle 380x can be a great way to drastically limit those concerns.

2. Sagging In The Middle

An inflatable kayak that sags will have one of 2 problems

  1. The kayak is not well made, as a result, it performs like a dog in the water
  2. There may be a slow leak on one of the seams or a valve leak

Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done about 1. Other than buying another inflatable kayak that has better on-water performance. If this is an important aspect for you it’s best to skip the introductory stage and jump into something that has the on-water characteristics of your liking.

For Number 2 there are several ways to find out where the leak is coming from. We go more in-depth in this below. 

3. Less Than Optimal On-Water Performance

One of the things that I find people under research is how the kayak performs in the water. Oftentimes folks just buy the kayak only to realize after a few minutes that the kayak “wags” in the water. Making you put more effort into each paddling stroke.

inflatable kayak being paddled

If you want to find some kayaks that perform well in the water check out our inflatable kayaks guide.  

Troubles With Tracking

If you are new one of the most important things to do in the set-up of your kayak is to attach the skeg. Its an addition to your kayak greatly improves the on-water performance of the boat. Otherwise, you are just paddling a dinghy essentially. If the inflatable kayak does not come with a skeg that’s a big red flag. DON’T BUY IT.

Sea Eagle Razorlite
Sea Eagle Razorlite 393 RL

Other things that help with tracking are the boat’s hull shape and width. As you get into more expensive inflatable kayaks you get Hull shapes that are made for splitting the water. Inflatable kayaks like the Sea Eagle Razorlite 393 RL is a good example of this. 

Troubles With Speed

One of the things that you just can’t change is the speed of an inflatable kayak. If you are comparing your inflatable kayak to a friend’s hardshell, just stop. While inflatable kayaks have made leaps and bounds in their technology over the past 20 years they still lag a bit in speed compared to their hardshell cousins

If glide is something you can’t live without then you will have to go into the $1000 budget range for a well-designed inflatable kayak or choose a folding kayak.

Troubles with Wind 

The higher out of the water your inflatable kayak is the more it will act like a sail. This is doubled if your kayak is made of lightweight materials like vinyl. Simply put, the heavier your kayak is, the less it will be bullied by the wind. The same goes for a slimmer cockpit design.

It’s perfectly fine to get a budget inflatable kayak but you just have to be more careful about the times you go out. Take a look at your local weather forecast to ensure that it will be smooth sailing out there and stick close to the shoreline when paddling. 

4. Setting Up and Taking Down Can Be a Pain

On the whole inflatable kayaks take about 10 -15 minutes to set up. This of course depends on the kind of kayak you got and your pumping methods. 

I personally recommend getting an inflatable kayak pump that has a PSI gauge. This way you can be well within the limits of the manufacturer recommendations without any guesswork. I personally believe that electric pumps are the way to go. Less effort = More energy for paddling! 

The takedown ultimately depends on the kind of inflatable kayak you get. If you choose a kayak without any sort of cover on it then takedown is much easier. This is one of the downsides to having a kayak like Advanced Elements. Lots of people worry about the setup but the takedown is actually the biggest timewaste. Let me set this up for you below.

You have paddled for a few hours, saw some ducks and geese, even a river otter or two. You’re tired, it’s getting dark out, it’s time to go home. As you get back you deflate the kayak but the cover is still wet. How long does it take for this thing to dry? You ask. You’re frustrated and just want to go home. You pack it up quickly back into the bag and let it sit in the garage for a month.  When you take it back out the kayak smells moldy and is still wet in parts. YUCK!. 

This is not to say we dislike kayaks like Advanced Elements by any means. It’s more just something that you have to keep in mind when you buy one of these kayaks that have a cover on them. 

If you don’t want the added drying time then it’s best to get a cheaper vinyl kayak like Intex or go more expensive with a PVC kayak. 

5. Air Leaks

This is probably one of the biggest barriers people have when it comes to purchasing an inflatable kayak. Unfortunately, they can happen but there are ways to fix them. A lot of the time leaks come from small or large holes, seams, or valve stems. 

How you protect yourself from this is by regularly cleaning and rinsing and drying your inflatable kayak. This will drastically reduce mold and mildew which breaks down the material of the hull.

From time to time there are manufacturer’s defects though. Before purchasing take a look at the warranty and look up company customer service on third-party sites like the Better Business Bureau, their Facebook page, or reviews on Amazon.com. 

Inflatable Kayaks like Sea Eagle and NRS have 3-year manufacturer warranties while other cheaper kayaks like Intex have 90-day warranties. 

6. Ongoing Maintenance 

It’s true with hardshell kayaks you do not need as much ongoing maintenance. If you were to just use your inflatable kayak as is without doing proper care it will get moldy and kind of rank. I mean really, who wants to paddle in something that smells like a wet sock?  

Proper precautions like cleaning, rinsing, and drying needs to be taken when going out. For freshwater, you can get away with the odd time slacking off but in saltwater, it’s important to do this after each use. 

If you have a more expensive kayak made of PVC or Hypalon it’s best to “winterize” it by spraying 303 spray on it before storing it away. This helps keep the structure of the materials from eroding. 

Don’t know where to start with inflatable kayak cleaning? We have a complete cleaning guide with videos right over here. 

7. Under Estimating the Conditions

This factor is what you have the most control over, but you gotta know what to look for. Conditions such as heavy wind, currency, tides, and constant waves are BIG NO-NO’s to paddle when you are a beginner

Sea Eagle River

If you do decide to get a cheaper inflatable kayak (congrats you made the jump!) you will have to limit your paddling to certain conditions and waterways. Budget kayaks like Intex and Sevylor are best limited to small to medium lakes or ocean bays that are calm

If you are paddling in the ocean with one of these you have to be extra cautious. External factors such as tides and currents can carry you away from the shore. If you are in a hardshell or well-built inflatable this would not be as big of a deal. But if you are in a cheap kayak, the limited tracking coupled with the kayak’s wide width presents its own set of challenges paddling back

I’ve battled tides many times with my inflatable paddle board and had some friends stranded for an hour because their paddling skills were still at a beginner level.

Authors Note

8. Inflatable Kayak Age

I will just say this out of the gate. Unless you know what to look for it’s best not to purchase a used inflatable kayak. Especially if you are only saving like $40 to $60 on a budget model. While I believe people on a whole are honest there could be some things that come up when you use it. Things like slow leaks, glued seams coming apart, or valve stem leaks are more common as a budget kayak ages. Especially if the previous owners did not take good care of it. 

Below is a rough estimate we have for different types of kayaks.

Vinyl Kayaks: 2-5 Years if taken care of well.

Covered Kayaks: Usually last about 4-8 years

PVC Kayaks: 7-15 years

Hypalon Kayaks: 10 -20 years although its hard to find this material now since Dupont stopped making them

9. Bulky Side Walls Can Make it Difficult to Paddle

This is more of a minor inconvenience than anything else. But there have been past reports of people bleeding from scraping their hands against the side. Cheaper inflatable kayaks have bulky sidewalls which, if you are shorter, can make it a bit more difficult to get proper paddling strokes in. 

how it feels paddling a wide inflatable kayak

Unless you upgrade or look carefully at the dimensions before purchasing. This is something you will have to live with. 

10. Cheaper Inflatable Kayaks Without Drainage can Fill up with Water

When I say this I don’t mean it will fill up like a bathtub and you will sink to the bottom of the lake. It’s more if you are padding an hour you will get some droplets from the paddle to get into the kayak. Over time this can build up to make your bum wet! If you absolutely detest the water and want to sit higher up the Deus Aero 11 may be a good kayak to look at for this. 

11. Kayaking In Extreme Temperatures

I’m sure you are expecting me to preach “don’t paddle in extreme temperatures past your skill level blah blah blah”. Wrong! (Well technically yes you should follow that advice)

What I talk about, which a lot of advice on inflatable kayaks miss is extreme temperatures expanding and detracting to the boats PSI level. If you have an inflatable kayak that runs at about 2 psi, then in..

  • Extreme heat you should run the kayak at 1.5 PSI
  • In Cooler weather run it at 2.25 PSI.  

You may have to do some testing of your own to get the PSI exactly right for the weather you are in. This is just an estimate. This video goes on to explain this in a good amount of detail with Advanced Elements Kayaks.

So How Do You Solve These Inflatable Kayak Problems?

You can save yourself a lot of inflatable kayak heartache by doing 2 things.

  1. Get an Inflatable Kayak from a known manufacturer that will last a long time. Brands like Sea Eagle, Advanced Elements, and Aquaglade are a few that have a wide variety of makes and are known as the authorities in the space.
  2. If you don’t have room and inflatable kayaks don’t sound appealing to you then take a look at folding kayaks like Oru. These kayaks have hardshell features but fold up to the size of an oversized suitcase. 
  3. Educate yourself by taking a kayaking class. There you will be able to learn a lot of things to look for in conditions you plan on paddling in. Plus you get to paddle a kayak on top of that! Win-Win!

What Inflatable Kayaks Should I Look out for?

The most common problems with inflatable kayaks themselves come in the forms of air leaks, ongoing maintenance, set-up, and takedown. Some things you can do to decrease these problems is minding your environment and watching the conditions and educating yourself on what models face what kinds of problems.

Great unbiased places to look for unbiased inflatable kayak reviews are:

If you want the portable advantage with added durability then it’s best to upgrade to a more expensive inflatable kayak made of PVC or get a folding kayak. 

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Photo of author
Hey, there! My name is Derek and I have been around kayaks and canoes all my life. The last 5 years I recently turned my attention to inflatable kayaks and my world has been a lot more portable since! When I'm not kayaking I like to watch motorsports, play hockey and work on this site!

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