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peterchech 09-16-2013 09:34 AM

Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
Over the past three years I have tried various solutions to the dinghy-on-a-small-boat problem.

My Hunter 25 is too small to realistically store a hard dinghy on the foredeck.

The inflatable dinghies I have experience with are very heavy and take up a ton of space deflated, and even with the air floor they can be difficult to inflate/deflate on the deck of my small boat, esp without damaging them. And you have to lug around an outboard too, or buy one if you don't have one already. Towing is an option, but has its issues as well. Davits are possible, but problematic on smaller boats and blocked by the outboard on mine.

Many cruisers carry little plastic kayaks, which are tough, convenient and easier to store/handle than a dinghy. Flat sit-on-tops seem best suited for this use, upside down on the foredeck or some lash them to the stanchions. However again there is little space to store one on a small sailboat like mine.

I had seen inflatable kayaks for sale on the internet, and thought they might be a solution. But everywhere I read about problems with them. Apparently inflatable kayaks are a little clique in the kayaking world, and many people take serious trips on these things. And there are three different grades of quality. The first seems to be the pool-toy type, which are very cheap and probably useless for serious paddling. The next step up are the mid-range, double-pontoon types. They go for $400-$600, and are often fabric covered and very durable. They are low-psi (1.5-2 more or less) and wide, very stable but also not very stiff. Finally the up-scale kayaks have drop-stitch floors which allow for high PSI's (7-14 more or less) and a much stiffer boat which supposedly paddles quite well. They cost more though, a good quality tandem can be bought for about $1000.

I didn't know whether the second category, the mid-range low PSI types, could perform well enough for use as a tender. I read that they sometimes don't track well and can be very difficult to paddle, and that the wind kicks them around a lot. I was concerned an inflatable might not get me back to my boat against the wind. Yet the internet had conflicting information.

I found an Airhead Montana 2 person kayak on sale for $300, read the reviews and figured it was worth a try. It is one of the mid-range, low PSI pontoon-type kayaks. It is fabric-covered and sturdily built. Here's a pic from this weekend.

I just tested this boat and I am very happy with it. Surprisingly tracking was not bad, despite the reviews I had read about it online. You have to use proper deep paddle strokes as you would with any kayak or canoe, but I am not an experienced kayaker and I had no problem. With two aboard it actually tracks very well. It weighs about 35 pounds and is light and compact enough to carry over your shoulder with the shoulder strap. It inflates by hand pump in about 5-10 minutes. There was about 7-10 knots of wind and the kayak didn't get blown around by the wind at all, again it did much better than expected. Paddling against the wind was not a problem. It is not a fast kayak, but certainly fast enough to get from boat to shore and back with little difficulty.

Overall an affordable and simple solution to the dinghy on a small boat problem. And these things are light and compact enough to check as baggage on an airplane, an added benefit. Price is not bad either. The only downside I see is the clean-up. If you go to a beach and get sand all over it, you can roll it up and take it home. But you have to re-inflate it and hose it down later, then dry it out prior to long-term storage.

Another option that I would explore if I had the funds is an inflatable stand up paddleboard (SUP). Drop-stitch floors make it possible to have a real inflatable SUP, and I have seen videos of people surfing small waves on them. They are even smaller and lighter than an inflatable kayak, though only for one rider generally. Most have an optional seat, and can be paddled sitting down just like a sit-on-top kayak. A great option for warm weather I think.

Faster 09-16-2013 09:47 AM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
We use the 9 foot plastic hard kayaks.. but we have a 35 footer.

From what we've seen the soft kayaks leave a lot to be desired in the paddling area.. much of the energy of the paddler goes into flex, but I've seen 'stiffer' ones (Advanced Elements, eg) that look better. The new inflatable standup boards are amazingly rigid.

I think a quality inflatable kayak could work for you, esp at 25 feet, but try to get one of the better ones if you want to have some rewarding paddle explorations. We had a fit guest use an inflatable amongst a small fleet of hard kayaks, he was worn out at the end of a 2-3 mile paddle.

chucklesR 09-16-2013 10:03 AM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
If I was going with a smaller boat all over again I'd have to seriously look at a port-a-bote.
Light(er) and folded against the life lines.
The only other option I see is towing.

CrazyRu 09-16-2013 10:30 AM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
I use inflatable two sitter kayak and I tried porta-a-bote. Inflatable kayak wins hands down.
With inflatables you get what you paid for, however boats in mid price range will work OK.

LakeMi 09-16-2013 10:37 AM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
How is it getting on and off your boat on your mooring?

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Faster 09-16-2013 11:36 AM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender

Originally Posted by LakeMi (Post 1089190)
How is it getting on and off your boat on your mooring?

Use a stern ladder, works best. My wife gets out easiest by stepping on the first underwater ladder rung, reaching up and pulling herself out of the boat. Getting in is the reverse. That way you don't need to worry about unbalancing the kayak itself. However esp the short, fat cruising kayaks are quite stable and I can stand up and step out.

SVAuspicious 09-16-2013 12:47 PM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
Like most things a lot depends on your usage. If you want to explore waterways and do some gunkholing and take the occasional trip ashore a kayak is a reasonable solution on a small boat. If you are planning anchoring out or mooring on longer cruises you will find yourself limited in the trash you can haul ashore and the provisions and souvenirs you can carry to the boat. Could you still do it? Sure. Will it be something of a chore? Yep.

Donna_F 09-16-2013 01:27 PM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
We have a Sea Eagle inflatable kayak and love it. Stores in the locker and is easily inflated on deck of our 30 footer. We bought the upgraded seats and they double as helm seats.

AlaskaMC 09-16-2013 02:00 PM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
We have one that we use on our 25 foot boat and it works great. Very stable for getting in and out and hauls a bunch of stuff. If our boat was bigger we would likely go for another dink but for a boat our size it is perfect.

hellosailor 09-16-2013 02:10 PM

Re: Inflatable kayak as a small boat tender
Something new, the Oru Kayak. Pricey and currently on 4-month backorder, think of it as a PortaBoat shaped like a kayak.

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