One of the most important things to consider when buying a kayak is the floatation situation. You may be thinking: “Ok, Kayak Dave…what are you trying to get at here? You’re telling me that the fact that a kayak is a boat and therefore inherently floats is not enough??” What I’m trying to get at it is that kayaks float great when they are right-side up but this is not always true when you capsize and they fill with water. Follow these simple guidelines to ensure that your kayak remains on the surface:
I’ve seen a lot of kayaks in my day and some are safer than others with respect to the floatation situation. Most kayaks come with some sort of built in floatation devices to ensure that the kayak will remain on the surface even if filled with water to the gunnels. The floatation can be in the form of foam blocks, watertight compartments with bulkheads and hatches, or a mix of both. If the kayak does not come with either of these types of floatation then I highly recommend that you invest in a set of vinyl floatation bags to displace as much empty volume as possible.
A good floatation situation involves minimizing as much un-utilized volume within the kayak as possible. This will go a long way when you capsize because there will be less volume in the kayak to be occupied by water. Picture a kayak out on the pond without any floatation and fill it up to the cockpit coaming with water. It’s basically a bathtub in a bathtub at this point and will be neutrally buoyant at best. Getting back into this kayak will be nearly impossible as will trying to bail out much water. Now, picture a kayak with floatation taking up every bit of un-utilized volume (i.e. everything except the space that you take up when sitting in the cockpit). Now fill this kayak with water and compare it to the first kayak. You’ll notice that the kayak floats a lot higher and the pond water will not be lapping over the cockpit rim. This makes bailing out the kayak a lot faster and getting back into it a lot more manageable.
If you are serious about spending time on the ocean then I highly recommend that you only consider kayaks with at least two watertight compartments even if you don’t need the storage space. A lot of customers have discussed this with me and most argue that the hatches will not be useful to them for storage and they add cost. It is true that they add cost but one must consider the bulkheads, hatches and the volume that they contain as an insurance policy. I’d even go as far as to recommend a custom front bulkhead placed just beyond or in place of the foot pegs to minimize cockpit volume if such an option is available. It’s the best flotation situation out there.
Happy and Safe Paddling!