Paddle Float foam or air

Quick question …looking at paddle floats online…

  1. Seattle sports…good quality or bad?

  2. Foam or air?

  3. $30.00 a fair price?


Different strokes for different folks
THe inflatable is easier to stow than the foam, but the foam can be deployed quicker.

In very cold water and air temps, it may be difficult to form a seal with your lips.

My personal preference where I paddle (Southern Calif, coldest water is in the 50’s and in the summer it is in the 60’s) is to use a double chambered inflatable.

The best one in my humble opinion is the Gaia one. Easy to inflate or deflate with push/pull valves.

got one
I got a inflatable one by Seattle sports, 2 in flatable chambers, was about the price youre talking about. as good as new after a season. i practiced with it a bit, works as good as any.

Number 2 answer
Air if you are in warm waters.

Foam if you are in frigid waters. (every second counts).



learn its uses and abuses
For folks with fighting middle age bulk, for those who are not necessarily jocks and muscle on muscle, for those with high rear decks and wider boats take due caution that traditional leg up torso to rear slide in the feet and turn over into cockpit MAY NOT WORK, especially as Jack says in cold water, wind, and waves over 2 feet.

Paddle floats can turn into a mirage of safety as one gets really tired getting back in or may NOT be able to get back in in these conditions, regardless of foam or inflatable.

Learn alternate methods of using the floats, and alternate methods of getting back in boat besides rear deck re-entry. This can be lifew and death.

Big mistake is we take a class in calm conditions, relaxed rested and warm and feel OK it works. Try it some day when really tired, cold, and in waves. Hmmmm? Make it near shore with wind blowing to shore and partners near.

Foam paddle floats tend to absorb water and loose their flotation.

I’d like to know what brand absorbs water as I’ve never had it happen but my current one is only 5 years old.

In warm water you don’t really even need to get back in the boat, you can rest for hours beside it. In cold water you need to get back in the boat quick. Walk waist deep into 40 degree water and dunk your head, then try to inflate a float bag. If you can do it quickly then you’ll be fine with an inflatable one.

Mine hasn’t gotten soggy
My big old red foam Northwater foam float, which I only retired this season for my own use since I finally rolled up a couple of times in a real unplanned flip, has never taken on water. That float has been in the water multiple times a week during the seasons and in pools thru the winter for at least four years now. It’s been used to learn a roll, practice and demos self-rescues, sit on in damp sand, help learn sculling and balance braces and makes a very nice seat in wet sand.

That said, it is big. But I am thinking that even though I have converted to carry an inflatable for most of my paddling now, I’ll still probably use big red for winter paddling when we are on water in the 30’s.

air or foam flotation
Original paddle float was a plastic gallon milk jug! Foam does not deflate when punctured. Air bladder is useless when punctured…can wear thin with prolonged storage on back deck, abrasion, etc…go with foam!

Why store an inflatable on deck at all?
You only need one when out of the boat - so the cockpit (between hangers and hull or clipped behind seat) is a much more logical place to stow a rolled up inflatable. Almost no puncture hazards, not UV exposure, no chance of loss.

Just can’t compare as if they are used the same way. They are not - and those differences make the inflatables a better choice for some of us.

If I were in AK or MN - as a guide responsible for others anywhere with cold water - like you - I’d probably carry foam too.

I had one down here in S Florida. A very nice Northwater. I bought it after reading logical arguments like yours about speed to deploy, punctures, etc. It was a big pain. Bulky, and offered limited flotation. I ended up selling it to someone in AK!

I have only actually used a float to recover from a capsize on a paddle once in 4 years - when I was new to sea kayaks, still getting my balance, and had no other recovery skills. Now it is a back-up device quite a few options down the recovery list. So for me an inflatable is much more logical choice (and it has many other uses).

Some other things people need to factor in: That foam float should be secured very well - more than simply slipping it under the bungees. It’s of no use if it washes/blows away. Rear decks see wind and wave that my inflatable is not subject to in the cockpit. A foam float has to be stowed securely enough to not come loose and create other problems. At the very least also clipped on somehow so it can’t get away. That precaution can mean more time to get it out and ready for use after a capsize.

It must also be located so you can have control of your kayak and paddle and still have hand(s) free to get it and attach it. Can you reach and unclip it with a leg in the cockpit, or do everything with one hand while the other hold a deck line or coaming?

You also have to re-stow it after recovery. How many people can really re-secure the foam float to the rear deck from the cockpit in conditions that just capsized them? This post recovery stowing problem happens with either type, but being able to deflate to a much smaller size can give you some other stowing options.

If stowing is not an option for either, the usual recommendation is a short tether, and dragging it along. This has the advantage of it being somewhat ready for the next capsize - but loose gear attached with lines and clips means more to potentially go wrong…

First, Seattle Sports seems to be as good as any of the others. Other considerations, some of which have been covered in other posts:

  1. Foam is easy to deploy (good for really cold water) and can be used for other things such as a seat on the beach; however, it is a pain to store, particularly if you like to have your deck kept empty. Inflatables are easier to store but harder to deploy.

  2. If you go with inflatable, make sure it has two chambers in case one side loses air. Even with only one side inflated, you can still make it work.

  3. Regardless of which type you use, learn not to have to use it. The best form of self rescue is the roll, so learn it and love it. If that isn’t in your skill set yet, then try other self-rescues such as the cowboy rentry, etc. The paddle float rescue is a great way to teach someone their first unassisted rescue, but it really should be relegated to the back up of back up rescues since there are many others that are more efficient and quicker to execute, particularly in cold water.

It’s not that simple
I paddle cold water and have no use for foam floats. The last thing I need is a big hunk of foam on my deck where it does nothing but get in the way. Double-chambered inflatable floats are a better way to go, IMO.

If “every second counts”, learning to roll and/or re-enter and roll is a much better way to go than ANY paddle float.

Mini mae/may west pfd with modified
straps. Fits behind the seat, can always put it on or hand it off if need be. Non kapok era.