Inflatable Kayaks: Set Up and Inflation


Paddling / Saturday, August 8th, 2020

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Although inflatable kayaks offer the ultimate convenience in their storability and transportability, there are a few set up and inflation guidelines to follow when getting your boat ready for the water.

Inspect and Assemble Your Brand New Inflatable Kayak

It is important to inspect and assemble a new inflatable kayak. By getting familiar with your new gear, you’ll save time at the launch site.

Memorize the steps as you go through the process of laying out your kayak’s parts, inflation, assembly, deflation and disassembly. There will be a day when you forget your product manual and you’ll want to know how to get your kayak set up. The air pressure (pounds per square inch (PSI)) needed in each inflatable component is especially important to remember.

If your manufacturer has a PDF version of your manual online, consider downloading it to your phone so you’ll have a backup on your kayaking trip.

When Should You Inflate Your Kayak?

While most inflatable kayak owners inflate their kayaks at the put-in. Others inflate them beforehand and transport their kayak on a roof rack, in the bed of their truck, or on a trailer.

So why would someone have their kayak inflated before reaching the put-in? Some kayakers who take their inflatable kayak out often find it inconvenient to deflate it between trips.

If you kayak often, you might find deflating your kayak between trips inconvenient.

Inflatable kayaks can be stored softly inflated. This prevents the risk of overinflation due to temperature changes from the sun or other heat sources.

Related Content: Inflatable Kayaks: Disassembly, Deflation & Storage

Where to Lay Out Your Kayak for Inflation

Lay out your inflatable kayak on a level surface convenient to your put-in and free of hazards that may damage the boat. Avoid the path of cars, walkways, sharp rocks, metal, glass, fallen limbs, thorns, and other debris.

The surface on which you lay your kayak can affect its inflation level. Avoid inflating or leaving your kayak on hot asphalt, concrete, sand, or gravel. If it is too hot to stand on barefoot, the surface is too hot for your inflatable kayak.

If you have to inflate your kayak at an inconvenient distance from the water, consider purchasing a kayak cart. Kayak carts are simple to use wheel systems that fit under your kayak allowing you to roll your kayak from where you inflated it to the launch point. And they easily store away in your kayak for the trip from the water back to your vehicle. If you will be pulling your kayak over sand, kayak carts with sand wheels are much easier to use.

Arranging Your Kayak for Inflation and Assembly

  • Unpack and unroll your inflatable kayak so it lays flat on a level surface.
  • Unfold the sides of your kayak if they are folded toward the middle of the boat.
  • Lay out any seats that need to be inflated as well.
  • Locate all valves for inflation.
  • If you’re whitewater paddling, remove the caps from the self-bailing drains or screw the caps tightly for flatwater paddling.
  • Keep your pump and non-inflatable parts nearby for assembly. These may include:
    • Seats
    • Thwarts
    • Directional stabilizer
    • Skegs
    • Paddles

Inflatable Kayak Pumps

There are three inflatable kayak pumps recommended for blowing up your boat:

  • Bellows foot pump
  • Hand pump
  • Electric pump

Most inflatable kayaks come with an adequate pump and the attachments for its different valves, though pump upgrades are available that make inflation easier and faster.

Inflating Your Kayak

High-quality kayaks usually have there or more air chambers. The main three chambers are the floor and the sides.

The order of chamber inflation may vary so check your instructions before inflating. The floor may be inflated first or the sides may be partially inflated before the floor is inflated. Partial inflation provides the opportunity to properly position the floor under the side tubes.

If you have other inflatable components like the keel, spray skirts, seats, and thwarts, inflate them after blowing up the floor and sides.

Additional kayak parts like the seats, thwarts, and directional stabilizer or skegs are normally installed after inflation.

Inflation Level for Each Air Chamber

Proper inflation ensures maximum performance of your inflatable kayak.

It’s important to check your kayak manual for the PSI level of each chamber. There is no standard PSI for all kayaks not even within the same brand. Levels between 1.1 and 3.2 are quite common for the floor and sides.

When inflating your kayak, the pump provided may max out at the appropriate PSI or there may be an inflation monitor or air gauge to check.

How Long Does It Take to Inflate a Kayak?

Inflatable kayaks take about 3-9 minutes to inflate. The time varies between kayak models and the pump type. Electric pumps offer the fastest inflation. Hand and foot pumps are the slowest. No matter which pump you choose it’s not difficult and it doesn’t take long.

For example, the two-person Sea Eagle 330 inflatable kayak with an inflation pressure of 1.1 psi takes 6 minutes with the provided foot pump where the three-person Sea Eagle 420x Explorer with an inflation pressure of 3.2 psi takes 9 minutes to inflate.

If you’d like to know more about the three-person Sea Eagle 420x Explorer, check out the post on the Best Inflatable Kayaks and Canoes for Families.

Final Kayak Inflation and Assembly Checks

You’re almost ready to hit the water. Before heading out there are some final checks…

  • For tracking ability, check to make sure the floor of the kayak is seated properly.
  • For stability, make sure the side tubes are evenly inflated.
  • Make sure the valves are tightly closed.
  • Check that the self-bailing drain plugs have been removed for whitewater paddling or in place for flatwater paddling.
  • Double-check the placement of the seats to make sure they are positioned for adequate legroom.
  • Review the boating safety basics for kayakers.
  • Review your gear and make sure you have your paddle and PDF.
  • Evenly distribute your gear in the kayak for stability.

Now hit the water and have fun!