Basic inflatable kayak design is simple and straight forward. There are two long, cylindrical air chambers (tubes) joined by a floor and/or seat. All other inflatable kayak parts work off of these tubes.
Changes, tweaks, and adjustment to the parts of an inflatable kayak allow them to be designed for many different uses.
Before we get into the parts of an inflatable kayak, there is another choice to make in inflatable kayak construction.
Do you want your inflatable kayak to be made in one layer or do you want an outer shell and inner air bladder.
Click here for a detailed discussion of one layer inflatable kayaks vs. two layer inflatable kayaks.
1. Side Air Chambers
The Side Air Chambers (Tubes)
All inflatable kayaks that I know of have two or more side air tubes that run the length of the boat.
They are usually joined at the end by a “pocket” that holds the two ends together. In the cataraft type inflatable kayaks, the two tubes stay separated.
The side air chambers (tubes) hold most of the air that gives your inflatable kayak its buoyancy and allows it to float and carry you in water.
Larger diameter tubes give the boat more flotation and make it more stable, but make it less maneuverable.
Smaller diameter tubes give less flotation, but allow more maneuverability.
Shorter tubes are more maneuverable, but don’t track (hold a straight line in the water) as well and are less stable and have less flotation.
Longer tubes track better, are more stable, and have more flotation; but are more difficult to maneuver.
Short and small diameter tubes usually mean a sporty one person whitewater inflatable kayak.
Long and small diameter tubes usually mean an inflatable sea kayak or inflatable touring kayak.
Short and large diameter tubes usually mean a stable one person inflatable kayak.
Long and large diameter tubes usually mean a stable two person inflatable kayak.
More subtle changes can be made to the tubes to affect performance. These are discussed in the “Design” section below.
2. Inflatable Kayak Floors
3. Inflatable Kayak Seats
Inflatable kayak seats are another part of the boat that often gives trouble, but this is more of a nuisance than serious trouble. Most inflatable kayak seats can be adjusted, changed, or replaced without too much trouble.
There are three general types of inflatable kayak seats:
- Cheap inflated “pillow” seats – These are usually troublesome and many are just a slight step above junk.
- “Chair” Seats – These work good and are very adjustable. They are not inflatable, they makes care and maintenance easier.
- Thwart seats/Good quality “pillow” seats – This is the most popular seat for our river guides. They are not as adjustable as the “chair” seats. They are inflatable, but they are good quality.
If your inflatable kayak has cheap inflated “pillow” seats consider replacing it with a “chair” seat.
3. Cataraft Floors and Seats
Catarafts have a raised floor/seat that joins the two tubes. This is a simple, low maintenance solution that works great and causes few problems.
Catarafts are not for everyone and not for every use. But if a cataraft meets yours needs, then you virtually eliminate two of the biggest problem areas of an inflatable kayak: the floor and the seat.
4. Inflatable Kayak Material
Inflatable kayaks are usually made of a rubber type of material or a plastic/vinyl material. There are varying degrees of quality in both types.
Better quality inflatable kayaks use better quality material. We have boats made of both materials and don’t have a preference. The quality of the boat, the design, the price, and the manufacturer are what we use to decide what boats to purchase.
Note: Different repair materials are used for rubber type raft material than for plastic/vinyl raft material. If you are doing repairs, make sure you are using the proper solvent and the proper glue.
5. Inflatable Kayak Design
The basic design of inflatable kayaks is simple: two long tubes joined by a floor and/or seat.
Still, inflatable kayak designers can make a lot of design changes to make their boat work for specialized needs. The easiest and most basic changes are in tube length and diameter. See the discussion at the top of this page.
This is a good discussion on canoe design. Most of this applies to inflatable kayaks.
Recreational inflatable kayaks usually don’t stray far from the basic design. Sporty one person whitewater inflatable kayaks use design to make dramatic changes to the standard design. Inflatable sea kayaks make many design changes to make the boats perform better in open water conditions.
That covers the parts of an inflatable kayak. The floor is the most critical part. Seats can be problematic, but the fix is usually easy and/or inexpensive.
Buy an inflatable kayak that is designed for the water you plan to run, meets your needs, and meets your budget.