Flotation, Safety & Yoga Balls

I wanted to start a thread specifically about what I have been doing with adding flotation to our two paddle boats an OT canoe and OT recreational kayak.

The large number of frequent posters here are very advanced paddlers with years of experience and abilities, proficient in fast white water, ocean and large water body boating and things like extended tripping over water. Their equipment matches their skills and is suitable for these tasks.

Then there are people like myself that are maybe long time boaters but new and casual paddle boat people. Or even total newcomers to the sport on small recreational budgets and maybe doing calm river floats or small lake fishing. People not in top shape just looking to relax on the water having some fun.

My experience on Lake Erie in large powerboats with a healthy respect for the water gave me pause when we first started watching what people were doing with some of these budget canoes and recreational kayaks. This type of boat is not about never overturning more about when you overturn. When I saw how hard it is to manage a swamped canoe/kayak back to shore and even then empty it and get going again, it became a question in my head do you save yourself and let the boat go? We as new paddle boaters want to take our personal safety serious and I doubt we will venture beyond our swimming distances of shore. We still hope to learn more about rescuing and what can be done out on the water and of course practice. In all cases without some positive flotation these little recreational boats could be dangerous toys if you go past your limits.

So what I was looking at doing first was give myself the ability as a solo safely get myself and my canoe to a place I can get it emptied and continue on. In her case if she is off doing a float with her girls I don’t want her being the one swamped and not be able to drag the boat out of the water. My hope is they will see the benefits of some cheap flotation and do the same.

So my suggestions here are not geared to the white water open ocean folks you folks know what you are doing and have pro equipment made for the task.

The rest are the ones thinking about beach balls, pool noodles, plastic milk bottles and such I want to suggest what I think is a step up in quality and reliability and a way that wont break the budget and is fairly simple for a DIY project.

For what it is worth here is what I have done to our 2 boats mine an OT Guide 147 Canoe and hers an OT Trip 10 Kayak. I will start with the canoe. I added 2 peanut yoga balls one to each end they blew up to be about 18” Dia x 3’ long $18 each and are held down tightly with cam straps laced between the thwart and the carry handle and wedged into the bow and stern and the thwart. They would work fine just the way they are as they are thicker than a truck inner tube but because I fish from the canoe I put the peanut balls in army surplus laundry bags $3 each and laced them shut for a little more protection from a hook and also the sun. It was like blowing up a football with the bladder inside the skin.

Her kayak comes with a sealed stern hatch and a 2” thick closed cell foam bulkhead behind the seat. So Old Town took a step in the right direction with flotation as the rest of their rec kayaks are open. In the front they put a small block of foam wedged down the center and held with one screw. That is better than nothing that most rec kayaks have in the bow but I felt it wasn’t enough so I took it out. I bought 2 balls for the front the first was a kids bouncy ball the ones you see it the store in the wire cage with an area to pull them out below. They are tough enough and only $2 and I stuck a 9” one into the nose, followed by a round yoga ball the smallest one I could find that is 15-17” Dia blown up under $10. I had it about half blown up and stuck it in under the deck and shoved it in till it was pushing on the first ball. As I blew it up it conformed to the hull shape and this kayak has a dash with cup holder that hangs down a few inches lower than the deck so the inflated ball is firmly trapped in the space well enough I didn’t feel it needed any lacing in. Every kayak is different and if it did need a cord or strap the ends of the adjustable foot rest rails would be the place to attach that. The ball comes about flush in her case where she has her foot stops and she said she may just use the ball as another foot hold. There is a drain plug in the bow nose and that is still there and any hull water will flow around the balls and out.

Pictures are worth a 1000 words so here they are.

Everyone’s personal safety is their own business. I’m happy with what I have now as an extra safety factor. Both boats didn’t come with. Everyone can make up their own mind based around risk and the type of usage as to how far they want to go.




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Good tips here. :slightly_smiling_face:

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good thread, preachin’ to the choir. The other song we need to sing is “wear your pfd”. A classic remake of “where is your pfd”.

Personally I like my party supply store blow up monkeys, crabs, palm trees and flamingos. Legs, arms, trunks, and claws are bendable and fill in tight spaces behind bulk heads and below decking. Works well in more enclosed ww boats- there ain’t no way a yoga ball is gonna fit in one of my boats.

I’ve actually seen the sporting goods store watercraft improving a bit- with built in small hatches, drainplugs, and sometimes even a piece of foam. Early models didn’t have that. My only rec kayak is one that I recovered (unpinned it) on a river. Still trying to give it away.

Maybe we could make rec boat wrestling into an event- like steer, bear or alligator wrestling. We could tip a rec boat in swift current and see if you come out of the river with your hands and feet intact. Of course you’d be on clock and have to drain the boat completely. We would have to get sponsors like PBR (paddle boats responsibly) and convince them that no boats are actually be harmed by the event, just the participants who have signed a stupidity waiver.

I’m sorry if all of this sounds harsh but a rec boat full of water, without flotation, in ww, is a dangerous thing.

Just a few short days ago I watched my latest contender: the inflatable Intex Challenger perform in ww. Perhaps perform is too strong a word. Lots of swimming insued and a dumpster was used at the end of the trip.

@MartinF Thanks for reading and bumping the 3 month old thread no one had commented on. I hope your friends find something useful in what you have learned and outfit their boat to be as safe as they can getting started and then use it well within its range it was designed for. What I may not of posted above with the rec-kayak is before I put the yoga ball in because of the shape of the bow I first put in a play ball about 9” the ones you see blown up in the big wire cage at walmart. Not the beach balls and pool toy stuff you see deflated in a package. I chose those two balls the yoga ball and the play ball because we have had both types of balls around and used for many years and they have never needed air added our yoga ball we use to roll our backs has been blown up and used for 15 years and has not lost air pressure. So a combination of toughness and staying pumped up is what I wanted for in a boat.

In my case with the kayak the ball was captivated and stayed where I wanted it. if that isn’t the case then it will need to be strapped in. One method I have seen is to use the foot rest rails as something to tie off to. If that doesn’t work D rings can be glued to the hull and lacing can attach to that.

Many people have also used pool noodles to add flotation. They cut them in lengths and pack them tightly into any unused cavities they can find. They work well if you have extra space in the cockpit where something inflatable isn’t practical.

@tdaniel I think you are correct the better rec-kayaks have over time done better with adding built in Floatation the budget rec-kayaks have not shown any change and are still single layer plastic tubs unfortunately the people buying them at places like walmart are not part of the choir I’m preaching to here at least not the people that post here but maybe some of the lurkers. They are also the people that buy the cheapest PFD so not to be hassled and they are the people that keep the PFD behind the seat. A lot of them also see paddling as a pastime that goes along with drinking and not paying any attention to the water around them. They are the ones you find their $200 boat pinned and left on the river.

I don’t like the blowup monkey and palm tree toys as flotation because they are thin and lose air with time. I suppose they will work, but I don’t want to be blowing them up every week and stuffing them again.

I don’t think I have ever suggested using a rec-kayak or even a canoe like mine with DIY flotation as a WW boat of any kind. I outfitted mine as I did to make them safer on calm water and more easily righted drained and reentered in the event of capsize. Really a rec-kayak is for the most part a canoe and canoes are all over flat water without any or little flotation. I have been asked about mine on the water and get replies from that’s smart to that’s overkill.

There are always going to be stupid people doing stupid things I got passed the other day on a busy entry ramp to our interstate highway by a guy on a ninja bike doing about 80mph riding on just his rear wheel. Passed me merged between two 18 wheelers and was out of sight in 5 seconds. Stupid people less skilled on lower budgets try and do WW in cheap rec boats. I don’t think we need to make it a sport though, and I also feel these boats when used properly have a place in water sports and when I can I try to educate anyone willing to learn. Couple weeks ago we were out on a dam and we saw a older woman in a rec-kayak quite a ways from shore and when we paddled by she said hi and asked a couple questions. She had just got the boat was her first time out she had on so many lose fitting bulky clothes. I told her being out alone she might want to stay a little closer to land and asked if she could swim back to land if she happened to flip over. She said she thought so and I suggested swimming with all the clothes would be hard. She had an ok PFD on and told her that was good. She said the wind had taken her out there. We helped her heading back in and then paddled with her for a while. She wasn’t being reckless and I couldn’t picture her in a sea kayak or something else. She just needed a little help and to get the idea it is as much fun closer to shore and to pay attention to the wind.

If you do most of your boating on WW the only rec-kayaks you will see is the population that shouldn’t be there.
:canoe:

As to where a yoga ball will fit. Yes they are round or peanut shape when inflated out in the open. If you put one inside a cube and blow it up it will be a cube. If you put it in a pyramid it will take that shape. I will caution people not to overfill them as there is so much internal area they can produce a lot of force. The idea is to just trap air and if there are some creases or folds caused by the confinement shape that won’t hurt anything.

Do be careful if you have screws sticking thru to pad them.

Don’t forget adding flotation will make you ride higher… which may not be a good thing stability/wind wise, but will provide a dryer ride in waves, etc assuming you don’t tip.

A method to bail affixed to the boat is important…modified plastic bottle, pump, etc…

Can you or someone else explain how adding flotation inside a hull will make a boat float higher. I am replacing air with air trapped inside a ball so I’m adding the weight of the ball and taking away the air that the ball material takes up.

In the case of my canoe it may help with wind as it’s filling an area of the boat that wind could act against maybe making it more streamline.

I always carry 3 types of bailing sponge, pump, scoop.

Only if it’s outside of the boat–or the boat is swamped, which is what you want it for. Actually, any added internal flotation adds weight and will make the boat ride lower, but not enough you’d notice.

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It would have to be outside the boat and in the water. Sponsons are outside the boat but above the water line and wont change the ride height same with pontoons that don’t touch the water.

actually I find the vinyl pool toys hold air better than my nrs air bags. The tube ends split out where it meets the valve and local kayak shop charges a small fortune for a new set and never carries replacement tubing or valves. The harmony bags were tougher but even those required a fair amount of aquaseal where the tube meets the bag.

The big draw back with the vinyl pool toys is that they are harder to inflate and deflate (rising temperatures, elevation changes make deflation sometimes necessary). Pool toys also require cramming to get them in place. I’ve pretty much given up on commercial airbags unless I was outfitting a canoe where fit and anchoring is important. Are vinyl pool toys as durable as a yoga ball? Probably not but they are lighter and will actually fit in my boats. Lighter is kinda a big deal when you start carrying or dragging your boat a lot.

As far as stupid people go, I’m definately one at times. I showed up for my instructor recert class without airbags. I had pulled them out to put in a student boat earlier in the week. I borrowed a set for the class I was taking because I knew it was important.

Some would say I still do a lot of suffering needlessly…but don’t fear the blow up monkey or the beach ball…he or she is your friend…and both have held my hot air just fine for many years now. My yoga ball is a giant “gray thing” and that’s a whole nother thread.

I’m guessing the flotation in my canoe is around or under 10lbs at the most and I understand that is massive if I was going to be toting it overhead thru the woods. With an OT Guide 147 as a solo canoe I would not be doing that with or without the flotation though. I took out the massive blow mold plastic seats and took out an equal amount of weight if not more and to my surprise that oak or ash center yoke was also very heavy, replacing wood with aluminum thwarts was a good thing.

In the rec-kayak the foam block didn’t weigh much and the 16” yoga ball was just a couple pounds.

In both boats I placed the balls so that the single fill hole is at an easy spot to get at and they come with a tool for pulling the plug. I use my garage air compressor to fill them and have a hand pump for on the road that came with them also. With 100PSI I could explode them along with the boat so I fill them with an air gun just blowing in the hole not in contact with the ball. Takes about 10 seconds to fill one. I first filled then in the spring when it was cold out and by summer they were too hard so I let some out. After finding the happy point I haven’t touched them. they don’t work any better being blown up super hard.

I only started this thread after searching a lot and finding lots on pool noodles and truck tubes and beach balls as DIY. Like I said most people IMO with canoes and rec-canoes wont be bothered by the weight penalty and will like the toughness and no air loss and also the price. I thought it worthwhile to show the yoga balls as a DIY option. :canoe:

Some canoes will float well when swamped, some are nuetral- hanging right at the waterline, and some will sink a bit below the waterline. In general, the older aluminum canoe manufacturers built in some flotation in the stems and those canoes floated better when swamped. In contrast my royalex madriver flashback required airbags or the boat would sink a little below the waterline if you swamped it. Even with airbags it was hard to paddle swamped.

I think the smart thing to do is purposefully swamp your boat in a controlled environment and see where you’re at with self rescue. Can you reenter the boat? In some cases I’ve seen flotation impede flipping the boat back over. Coolers and even throwbags can impede this as well. In general, ww kayaks are not made for reentry. Rather you are trying to make the boat easier to corral (plow, bump and chase, toss or tow) into an eddy.

time to bring the max video back

Any flotation below the waterline in or out of the boat adds buoyancy, which plays into how the bag etc is secured.

Ok , this might sound dumb , but I assume we are only talking about really cheap or really old entry level Kayaks where they do not have sealed bulkheads? I kinda of skipped the big box kayaks and went to the next level with sealed bulkheads front and rear.

In fact it is only the flotation volume below the water line that does anything. The rest of that volume/height of the boat is there to keep water from coming over and filling the volume that is doing the job. That’s why you can have scupper holes that let water out if the boat is sealed below the water line.

Air or float bags is the same.

in general sealed bulkheads replace the need for added flotation but the only way to know for sure is to purposefully swamp your boat and to see if you can reenter it and paddle it swamped. Sometimes hatches and bulkhead seals aren’t water tight. I used to carry a sponge in the hatch of my LLxp for a reason.

I think of air bags in terms of taking up space and displacing water. If the boat is crammed full of air there ain’t no room for the water to fill it up.

Correct. In my case and the one shown in the OP had a sealed compartment in the stern but only a foam block in the bow. I felt filling that fuller was an improvement.

Putting a flotation bag inside a sealed compartment will do nothing unless your bulkhead/hatch leaked.

Right… and it makes you ride higher. Unless the bags etc are secured very loosely and/or partially inflated.

If you have bags well inflated, and tightly strapped with just room for yourself, you will be riding higher. Which can be good or bad… just something to be aware of.

This is true once you take on water. In a dry boat there is no change.

If you take on water and the float bag isn’t secured to the bottom it will just float up and do nothing.

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Unless they are foam packed, I just assume the tanks leak. That’s been my experience with canoe tanks… I think they are silly, and over time actually start trapping sediment, moisture etc ie weight.

I just ordered a new canoe and had them delete the tanks. More space for bags.