Are you guilty of inflatable craft neglect? Did you buy an inflatable kayak, canoe or SUP months ago? Has it been sat in your attic or garage ever since? Paddling an inflatable can be a great way to get on the water and connect with nature! And inflatables are born to be paddled. So dig it out, dust it off and let’s get you back on the water!
But! Just before you head off paddling an inflatable, let’s go over a few things to think about…
Things to check
Your inflatable might have spent most of its life in a bag in the darkness. So, before you get it out and use it, there’s a few things you might want to check.
Firstly, your craft is inflatable… which means it needs to retain air inside it. Check for any obvious cracks, punctures, broken valves or holes. Make these repairs before you get on the water. Most inflatables will come with a puncture repair kit, or you can get them from your local retailer or bike shop. Your craft needs to be watertight after all! To check whether there are any slow puncture, it’s a good idea to pump your craft up and leave it inflated overnight. If it doesn’t deflate, you’re good to go.
Secondly, check you’ve got the equipment you need. A boat or paddle board is obvious. You’ll also need a paddle and a pump. These will probably all be tucked in the same bag. If you’re on a paddleboard, make sure you have a leash too. Sometimes these are provided, sometimes not but they’re an important piece of kit which keep you attached to your board. Last but by no means least, a buoyancy aid (BA) should be purchased before you get on the water. Better safe than sorry!
Finally, most inland waterways in England and Wales require a licence to paddle. This licence fee actually goes towards maintenance and upkeep of the waterways. Think about it like paying a little fee towards the waterway you’re using and giving something back so that people after you can enjoy it just as much. Most waterways are covered with a British Canoeing membership. You can find more information about the licencing authority for the waterway you want to paddle on PaddlePoints.
Paddling an inflatable is great fun, you just need to remember to take a few precautions before you head out. If you’ve never paddled before consider heading to a local club or centre for at least a taster session. Take a look at their confidence builder courses like the Start and Discover award.
Inflatables are also quite light and often sit quite high off the water. This makes them perfect for weekend adventures and gentle paddling, but not so great for rapids, sea paddling, or places exposed to the elements. Keep your inflatable in their natural environment such as on canals, sheltered lakes and slow flow rivers.
As always when you go paddling, whether you’re in an inflatable or not, there are a few safety precautions you should take just to stay on the safe side. Wearing a BA when you paddle is a must, especially if you don’t wear an ankle leash on a SUP or are kayaking or canoeing. Always take a fully charged phone with you in a waterproof pouch and keep it on you for easy reach. Check the weather and wind before you head out. If it’s windy you might want to consider paddling another time. Why should the wind be a consideration? Well, inflatables are generally quite light, so the windier it is, the more difficult your craft becomes to power and steer. Think of your boat or board like a leaf in the wind and consider if the wind is too strong for your craft, experience and skill before you head out. Also think about which direction the wind is blowing. You don’t want to tire yourself out paddling into the wind on your return journey!
Last but by no means least on the safety side…
…Plan ahead, tell somewhere where you are going and when you’ll be back, take a dry pair of clothes to change into and know your limits. Paddling is always more fun with friends too. It’s safety in numbers but also double the laughs, so if you can, go out with a buddy or group.
Paddling is an incredible way to spend the day and taking a few extra precautions for the ‘what if’s’ can make all the difference!
Where to paddle
The Go Paddling website is packed FULL of places you can go paddling an inflatable. All the information you need is here in one place or another. Think about how you want to spend the day and plan your trip from there. Here’s a few ways you can find places to paddle:
- Paddle Trails – take all the planning out of going paddling. Search your postcode or nearest town and find places to paddle. The paddle trails include information on where to park, get in and out, things to see along the way and information about local places to eat, as well as a detailed description of the route.
- PaddlePoints – the latest edition to the Go Paddling suite of resources, PaddlePoints is the tool you need to plan your own adventure on the waterways. Type in your location and find local rivers and canals, places to park and get on the water, and information about any licences you need before you get on the water. It also contains information about what the canal or river is like in terms of suitability. Take note of the descriptions as some of the rivers on there are only suitable for experiences white water paddlers.
- Alternatively, if you want to build up your confidence before paddling an inflatable, check our local clubs or centres near you. They offer a wide variety of confidence building courses and awards.
Basic paddling techniques
If you’ve never been paddling before, we’d always advise you to at least do a little taster session at a centre near you or look into the confidence builder awards like Start and Discover. However, we know a lot of people don’t like to learn that way, so there are plenty of YouTube tutorials online for you to get the basics down before you head out for a paddle. We’ll let you into a little secret… getting going isn’t as difficult as it looks! Depending on the craft, you’ll use different techniques to propel yourself forward. Here’s a few things to think about before you set off:
If you’re paddling a kayak, hold the paddle with both hands, shoulder width apart. Sit up straight and look where you’re going, put your blades in the water and alternate which blade dips into the water. Use your blade to drive yourself forward, moving yourself through the water. You’ll soon get the hang of it! Paddle more on one side and you’ll go in that direction and vice versa. If you want to turn, paddle hard on one side and then paddle backwards on the other to complete the turn.
If you’re paddling in a canoe or on a stand up paddleboard, this will be slightly different because you only have one blade, not two. The same theories apply though. If you’re new on the water you might not have mastered a J stoke, so simply stick to paddling on one side at a time, swapping sides so you stay going in a straight line. Again, if you need to turn, paddle hard on one side and then backwards on the other.
After paddling an inflatable
Your inflatable is going to be wrapped back up and put in it’s bag most likely but before you put it away, make sure you wash and dry it. Not only does it help keep it clean and means it will stay in good condition for longer, it also helps stop the spread of invasive non-native species. What are these? Well, they’re plants or aquatic creatures that don’t belong in our waterways. The most likely thing you’ll come across are things like duckweed or floating pennywort which can totally clog up the waterways in a matter of days. It’s important that these things don’t spread into other waterways through your boat or wet kit, so remember to wash and dry your craft, paddle and clothes every time you put it away to help us stop the spread and keep the waterways open for all to enjoy.
Now you have all the information you need to #DustOffYourInflatable and get them back where they belong… on the water! Happy paddling!