How Stable are Inflatable Kayaks?

Whether you are in the market for an inflatable kayak or you design and sell them, stability is of utmost concern. It is hard to find a higher priority than keeping you inside what holds you afloat, but that applies to any watercraft. It’s instinctual to have these concerns then.

So why inflatable kayaks specifically? For the inexperienced, this likely comes down to an inflatable kayak size, level, and materials compared to other watercraft. There is something about a watercraft being hardly wider than you, that is pretty much on the water surface and filled with air that gets people asking questions and doing some research on stability. Let’s first look at how an inflatable kayak compares to similar paddling watercraft in the likelihood of a person rocking their “boat” and entering the water by mistake.

How likely can a beginning paddler tip or fall out of a watercraft?

Canoe- most likely.  A combination of three factors makes this the case.

  1. A canoe rides high on the water.
  2. The bottom surface angle (V) is more vertical.
  3. There is more seating width to, as the paddler, be uncentered and off balance compared to in a kayak. So, side to side tilting is more sensitive and possible, making tipping easier to accomplish.

Hard shell kayak- more likely. A similar three factors comes up here.

  1. A hard shell kayak rides lower in the water.
  2. The bottom surface angle (V) is less vertical.
  3. There is less room for seating width, as the paddler, making it easier to stay centered and balanced.  Overall, there is less side to side tilting give, meaning it takes more effort to tip.
demonstrating the stability of a hardshell kayak while on a lake in the fall

Inflatable kayak- less likely. Like the hard shell, the inflatable kayak rides low in the water and has less seating wiggle room to be off center and balance. The deciding factor is in the bottom surface angle and material shape. An inflatable kayak has a less angled, just about flat, bottom surface made up of an air filled rougher shaped plastic material that takes even more effort to tilt side to side. This all makes tipping less likely for the paddler.

paddler demoing the stability of an inflatable kayak on a lake by leaning over

Inflatable boat- least likely. An inflatable boat is going to have that similar flattish bottom surface and rougher shaped material that the inflatable kayak has. The biggest factor though is the width to an inflatable boat. While the inside seating width to a canoe can be a liability to your stability, more width with the flat bottom surface to an inflatable boat is a perfect match for high end stability.

paddler demoing the stability of an inflatable boat by standing while out on a lake

How watercraft design impacts stability:

inflatable kayak stacked on top of an inflatable boat to demonstrate the difference in shape and size
While we don’t recommend paddling like this, this picture demonstrates how different the shapes of inflatable kayaks and boats are. This contributes to their different stabilities.

If stability was the only concern and priority there wouldn’t be much variety in paddling watercraft out there. We’d be left with no choice but inflatable boats or actual boats. While stability is important to people so is the efficiency of the watercraft in different waters, the amount of space they desire inside, and the less fun storing and transporting question. This is why we see differences in paddling watercraft design, and as a result differences in stability. Size, level, and materials are important elements that all together, as well as individually, can make a watercraft more or less stable.

Size- The width, length, and height of a watercraft.

Level- Closeness to the water surface and angle or level to the submerged portion.

Materials- Buoyancy and shape to a watercraft made of wood, plastics, fiberglass, etc.

Comparing stability of Sea Eagle inflatable kayak types:

Explorer- High stability. Second widest tube diameter, widest structure, and highest rapids class. Flat bottom provides wide base and eliminates typical kayak tilting. Designed for rough rapids.

PaddleSki- High stability. Widest tube diameter and widest structure. Pontoon-like structure provides wide base and eliminates typical kayak tilting. Designed for motor attachment.

Sport Kayaks- Moderate stability. Average tube diameter and narrow structure width, but second highest rapids class. Designed for use in a variety of waters at a cheaper cost.

inflated Sea Eagle 330 inflatable kayak on boat landing with both oars laying across

FastTrack- Moderate stability. Below average tube diameter, average structure width, and third highest rapids class. Designed for speed and flat waters, but capable of more.

RazorLite- Lower stability (not for beginners). Narrowest tube diameter and structure width and not suitable for rapids. Resembles more of a canoe (a very light one). Designed for speed and flat waters.

Sea Eagle Stability Rankings

Tube diameter

  1. PaddleSki (14″)
  2. Explorer (11.5″)
  3. Sport (10″)
  4. FastTrack (9.5″)
  5. RazorLite (4″)

Width

  1. PaddleSki (3′ 3″) (tie)
  2. Explorer (3′ 3″) (tie)
  3. FastTrack (3′)
  4. Sport (2′ 10″)
  5. RazorLite (2′ 4-6″)

Highest Rapids Class

  1. Explorer (IV)
  2. Sport (III)
  3. FastTrack (II)
  4. PaddleSki (not suitable)
  5. RazorLite (not suitable)

Here are some more stability tips for the inflatable kayak paddler on the water:

close up picture of the bow of the Sea Eagle 330 inflatable kayak
  1. Even air levels to all compartments, especially sides when pumping up.
  2. Balance weight of belongings in inflatable kayak.
  3. Enter your inflatable kayak by first sitting then getting your legs in, all with slow and measured movements. Exit with the opposite approach, legs out then body.
  4. Sit with your weight distribution balanced over the width-midline of the inflatable kayak.
  5. Use paddling technique and strokes that keeps your balance consistent, not overextending.
  6. Purchase and utilize kayak outriggers (or make your own) for added stability.

Situational stability tips

Lake or ocean waves: First start small and gain experience with waves. Some waves or waters may be too extreme for you and your inflatable kayak. Otherwise, face waves head on or directly away from, not angled or directly on your vessel’s side.

River current: First start with safer, slower moving creeks or rivers. Some rivers may be too extreme for your paddling expertise or your inflatable kayak itself with hazards and rapids. Otherwise, avoid areas with currents going both ways (eddies), try to go with the current and face its direction, and when moving laterally take an angled approach.

Tandem (2-person) inflatable kayak: Paddlers stay centered with balanced weight distribution. Back paddler should correct or counter any lean to the front paddler.

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