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Boat-in-a-box? It's an inflatable kayak.

Boat-in-a-box? It's an inflatable kayak Santa couldn't get a hard-shell kayak down the chimney. But an inflatable kayak would pose no problem. And that's only one of the advantages it offers.

Ranging from about 20 to 50 pounds, inflatable kayaks easily roll up and stow in a sack or a duffel bag. The least bulky fit snugly into a backpack. As you head out on a trip with water recreation in mind, you can pack a kayak along as easily as an extra bag, pump it up on shore, and paddle away.

Inflatables will let you bounce down a whitewater river, cruise a calm lakeshore, or tackle the sea and surf. They have less maneuverability and track less well than traditional kayaks, but are more stable, more forgiving, and require less skill than their hard-shell cousins. In fact, boating experts say no experience is required before you get into an inflatable kayak, even if you're about to head down some moderately difficult class 3 rapids.

Inflatable kayaks like those we describe here have at least three separate air chambers. Ones designed specifically for whitewater and ocean touring are made of tough materials and are as unlikely to puncture as inflatable river rafts. Less expensive, lightweight ones are less resilient and should be used only in flat water. Heed common-sense cautions: never kayak alone, always bring a patch kit and pump, wear a wetsuit when in cold waters.

Where to find inflatable kayaks

Twelve manufacturers and distributors offer about 30 different models of flatwater, whitewater, and ocean-going inflatable kayaks. For high-quality boats designed for extended use, see the list of sources earlier in this issue. Call them directly or contact river and ocean kayak supply stores (see Boat Dealers in the yellow pages) to find these brands in your area. Even if a boat needs to be special-ordered, most manufacturers can deliver in time for Christmas.

The kayaks range in price from $150 to $1,800. Plan on spending another $150 per person for essentials such as paddles, a pump, life vests, and, if you'll be in whitewater, helmets.

If you want a first-hand test before you invest, you can rent boats from some river supply stores. Also, come warm weather, many river and ocean touring companies offer inflatable kayak trips--an especially good way to give these boats a try.

Choosing the right boat for your needs

Before running out to buy a boat, consider its purpose; you'll want to select one suitable for a particular kind of recreation.

The least expensive, light-duty kayaks are intended for use on flat water. They suit the needs of many fishermen, families, and novice paddlers. Because they lack rigidity, they move slowly and are susceptible to wind and waves. But these are also the lightest and least bulky models, which may make them the best choice for backpackers and travelers.

Whitewater enthusiasts can choose from a wide range of sturdy, self-bailing inflatable boats. They're designed to react quickly to rapids and to be able to take on and let out water without getting swamped. One expert river runner told us inflatables let kayakers safely "get into the waves" without the tricky skills--such as Eskimo rolling--that hard-shell kayaks demand.

For ocean touring, several inflatables are equipped with rudders. These boats are also generally longer (up to 17 feet) and lower to the water to minimize wind resistance. Only the most rigid inflatables should be used for surf kayaking because wave force can fold the boats; note that many beaches don't permit surf kayaking.

Materials and construction

Less-expensive (under $400) boats are made of the least sturdy material--unreinforced PVC vinyl. More durable and rigid whitewater and ocean-going boats are made of tough nylon or polyester fabrics coated with PVC, urethane, or synthetic rubbers such as Hypalon, Neoprene, or EPDM. The higher the concentration of these materials in the fabric, the better a boat will resist sun, salt, and abrasion; check the manufacturer's specifications for fabric content.

PVC and urethane are lightweight but have seams that are difficult to repair. Synthetic rubbers, which weigh more, are highly puncture resistant and have strong seams that are easier to repair. One good gauge of the potential durability of a boat is the length of the warranty (typically 1 to 5 years).

Most boats come with one-way inflator valves (they don't expel air unless opened), built-in D rings (essential for strapping on gear and attaching lines), and one, two, or three seats.

Some boats come with spray skirts or spray decks; one offers a sail as an accessory. Two innovations this year are hybrid inflatable-fiberglass ocean boats and sectional closed-cell foam floors for whitewater boats; both offer more rigidity.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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