Blow Up Boats: Part II

Accessories, Safety & Special Uses
by Howard Carte, III

The rest of the inflatable information you need for safe boating

Accessories

A pump is basic. Step-on foot pumps work much better than arm types unless your arms are stronger than your legs. Pumps that can both inflate and help totally deflate inflatables so they pack flat are helpful. Coleman and other manufacturers make decent power pumps that work off the cigarette lighter in your car.

CAUTION: do not blow up inflatables with high pressure air from a service station hose. This will damage the tubes.

Foot pumps offer good performance and minimum effort.

PHOTO: ANNETTE LUCIDO

A small anchor -- buy two if you want to fish without swinging -- and six times as much anchor line as it takes to reach bottom where you usually boat is a start. Folding anchors such as the L.L Bean canoe anchor work well. Avoid designs with sharp flukes that might cut holes in your boat. Sack anchors and other potentially damaging gear to protect hull material. If you own a sportboat, you might want to add a bilge pump that runs off your motor's generator. I use a plastic bucket.

Boat storage bags are so snug you need very careful deflation and exact folding before you can replace your boat. Folding the boat on the same lines each time tends to weaken the material so it isn't a good idea. So it seems easier to get a new bag. Military surplus duffle bags suit most smaller boats and offer a good onboard stash for loose gear.

Your boat should come with a patch kit. Buy an additional kit as backup and consider a roll of duct or gaffers tape for field patches. You can also buy paint or plastic coating that you can apply over wear spots. Add a pressure gauge so you get the correct inflation pressure

Inflation

Inflation isn't difficult. Unfold the boat on a clear spot free from sharp objects. Note: do not step in or on your boat when it's on dry land. Attach your pump to one of the valves and inflate the boat to the suggested pressure. Repeat this process with the rest of your valves. Then put your boat into the water while you unload the rest of your gear. 

In most cases you will find the tubes sag below recommended pressures as ambient temperature air cools to water temperature. So pump your boat back to recommended pressure.

Do realize that, if you haul a properly inflated boat out of cold water onto warm sand and leave your boat in the sun, so the air inside expands, you can damage your inflatable by stretching it at best and blow out seams or valves at worst. So leave your boat in the water.

Storage

Loose storage works better than tightly folded storage, which tends to weaken boats along fold lines. A cool dry place out of the sun works best. Boats should be dried before they are stored, and brushed free of sand and grit. Try to avoid hot garages which cook plastics and damp basements which sometimes grow mold on boats.

Since inflatables use extremely low air pressure they almost never blow out. If you do get a leak, it is generally a slow one which offers plenty of time to get to shore. Blow-outs aren't a huge problem either, because all inflatables use a large number of compartments to insure adequate flotation.

Inflatables get you to the action -- here an 8+ pound brown trout. Life vests with pockets offer flotation and convenience.

PHOTO: LOUIS BIGNAMI

You will see lovely advertising photos of well set-up ladies waving as they perch on the tubes of sportboats or dinghies. This is not safe as you can fall into the prop. The only time you sit on the tube is when paddling a whitewater raft.

You see a lot of people without life vests or jackets using inflatables too. This is a poor idea in any craft and particularly dangerous in inflatables which tend to move faster downwind than you can swim should you fall overboard.

Bulky life jackets are awkward, but any vest or jacket worn is better than the best jacket used as a cushion. So try kayaker's soft vests. These are so light and flexible you hardly know you have one on. Such vests come in bright colors to suit boaters, camo for duckhunters and special models with leg straps that keep children in place.

Special Situations

White water suits inflatable kayaks, dinks without rigid floorboards and tough river rafts. Careful attention to water flows, substantial life jackets which support you even in heavy white water, and a throwing line to retrieve passengers that fall over the side are musts. Skill and good sense are even more important. Try first runs with guides or whitewater clubs where help is near at hand and then run rivers with two other boats so you can seek help if you need it. 

Fishermen who use inflatables should avoid gaffs! That seems a dumb reminder, but saw a striped bass fisherman gaff his boat on San Francisco Bay one year. A big net works better. Inflatables blow downwind fast so many fishermen power, row or paddle-troll into the wind, then cast the shoreline or drag a lure as the wind blows them to their starting point.

Anchored inflatables also yaw. So two anchors are better to keep the boat in place. Take special care with lures so they don't fall into the crack between the tubes and floor or floor boards. Do take advantage of the shallow draft of most inflatables to venture into coves and flats too thin for conventional craft.

Diver's Choice

Divers roll out and into inflatables easily so these handy craft are a common choice. Opt for heavy-duty models if you dive; you need additional capacity for tanks and such and extra hull material thickness to stand up to cylinders and regulators. Many divers pad the inside of their inflatables with foam to protect them from regulators and other gear.

Blow up Skiing

Water skiers should opt for sportboats with rigid lower hulls such as Avon Seariders. Second choice are inflatables with rigid hull inserts. Inflatable keels produce less wake. Flat "soft hulls" skate on turns and do not provide a decent wake for jumping. Forward steering is a must to reduce porpoising and slideslips. Floorboards help too.

Fastening skiers' tow lines can be a problem as off-center pulls make boat handling difficult. Tie a rope brindle between aft tie lines on the hull tubes and tie the toeline to a sliding pulley with a float to keep the towline away from the prop and the tow line can move freely between the hull attachment points, to cut skids in sharp turns.

Whatever your special interest, one thing seems clear, inflatables fill a special slot in the boater's world. Whether you bounce down a whitewater river, beach launch in the surf or simply get out on a nearby pond to cool off in the summer you can find an inflatable to suit. Then, given care and considered upkeep, you can enjoy such inflatables for many years without the storage, transport and launching problems common to conventional "hard shell" craft.