Paddle Float-Inflatable or Foam??

Have recently moved up to a sea kayak from a rec kayak and figure it’s time to think a little bit about the things I should add for “safety” for lack of a better word.

Will be buying a bilge pump and a paddle float. Have pretty much decided which bilge pump to buy from reading other posts from the archives, but haven’t found much about paddle floats, so I have a couple of questions.

(1) Which is “better” for a paddle float, inflatable or closed cell foam?

(2) Is a double float better than a single paddle float, or is it just a matter of preference?

Thanks for any help and suggestions.

Foam is better for cold water where you don’t want to spend time inflating. Inflatable is pretty much better in every other way except that it’s possible that an inflatable could be punctured. Which is why a double inflatable is pretty much a must in my book.

I Like foam
If conditions are such that I have to wet exit, I don’t want to have to fiddle with an inflatable. I have found that my foam gizmo, from NRS I think, has plenty of buoyancy for reentry and I’m a pretty big guy. That said, try both and pick the one you’re most comfortable with.


I bought…
The cheapest inflatable, used it once to see how it worked. It has lived behind my backrest unused for many years…

I keep a paddle float for others
It is tucked inside the right side support for the seat of my QCC 700. A foam version has many problems. It is bulky and hard to store. It does not work any better than the inflatable version. And inflating a paddle float is no problem, even in conditions. Using it is another matter. Paddle float self rescues are an illusion. They should disappear from teaching rescues. The only use for paddle floats that seems reasonable to me is if someone gets sea sick or is physically disabled (shoulder injury) and needs to be towed. Then floats on both ends of the paddle to stabilize the kayak during towing is good.

paddle float
Double bladder inflatable by far. It stays on the paddle better, usually doesn’t need tied on, offers double the floatation of the single bladder and far more than the foam.

I bought a foam one years back, don’t know for sure where it is, never use it.

I’m assuming those that like the foam one have never tried using it. If you buy one and don’t try it you might as well leave it in the store.

Bill H.

I started with a foam float
Contrary to an above post, I did use it at least in practice and liked how it worked. I went with that to start because our higher risk paddling was in relatively cool waters off of Maine, so I got that figuring I would take one factor (having to inflate something) out of the equation.

When I seem to have sussed out a roll on at least one side fairly reliably, I switched to an inflatable.

Upside of a foam float is very easy to clip on and use, and you can also rip if off the deck and put your hand into the blade pocket to learn the body position for sculling. Down side is that it is big, on your deck and probably would be a pain in a tow situation.

my thoughts
I’ve used both a lot. Pros and cons.

I actually really like my single chamber inflatable paddle float from SealLine. It’s easy to inflate and unlike some of the double chamber ones i’ve used, it doesn’t fill up with water because one whole side is mesh. The closure system is a simple side release buckle that is foolproof. It holds as much air as a double so obviously has as much flotation. It takes less time to inflate because you don’t have to mess around with two valves. The valve is bombproof so i have no worries about leakage. Both float leakage problems i’ve had (NRS and harmony) were from the valve stems tearing away from the bladder, not from punctures.

I also like my North Water SeaTec foam float. It’s indestructible. On multi day trips it comes in handy as a seat or kneeling pad, but obviously it’s bulky on the deck and i like a clean deck. I’m a big guy over 200 lbs so i’ve noticed that the foam has less floatation than the inflatable.

Don’t agonize over this decision. These things are cheap. Buy one at your local paddling shop and talk to an expert there.

Inflateable in mild temp waters and
foam for cold water.

It is a no brainer.

If you are in the north east, north west, or Alaska get foam.



Both Work Well
As stated in previous entries, both work well in a given situation. Winter I go with foam; summer with the blow up.

The latter has a couple of side benefits on long hauls:

a. Slightly inflate for an air cushion backrest.

b. Negates having to pack a pillow.

c. Slightly inflate and put on 'yak floor under your knees to reduce leg fatigue.

Any day on the water is a great day!

Paddle Float
As you gain self-rescue skills, you will probably find that the paddle float rescue takes a backseat to rolling, re-enter and roll, or even rodeo. When this happens you may want to go with the space-saving inflatable (dual-chamber for redundancy), although the others do bring up a good point about foam for cold water.

If you go with inflatable, make sure you inspect your unused-rolled-up-behind-the-seat float from time to time. Last year I took mine out for the first time in a long time, and found that both plastic tubes had degraded and broken, rendering the float useless.

go inflatable all conditions possibly

– Last Updated: Jun-24-09 11:12 AM EST –

Used to live in NC and know Hickory water in spring is COLD COLD COLD.

Don't use the regular paddle float onto the deck method. It really tires you out, and in wind and waves you go over again and now really tired. This is less true for young muscular and thin paddlers, but even those folks get cold tired low on food and exhausted by repeated knockdowns in cold water. Larger paddlers, women (lower C of G and Busts plus PFDs) and older paddlers find paddle float reentry less than good especially repeat events.

This is especially true for kayaks with higher rear decks and non flat rear decks.
Best best use of inflatable is bomber wet reentry with the inflatable float. Foam is not big enough for most folks to be 100% successful with. If you are go ahead use foam float. But there are now inflatable floats that are NOT hard to inflate in cold water and cold lips and hands.

Wet reentry takes a few practice sessions to get over sensation of head in water for a few seconds but it is totally reliable and uses far less energy for when you get knocked over repeatedly.

Most folks don't fall in in calm water and don't realize the regular paddle float technique requires agility and coordination and energy in conditions. The wet reentry requires no timing, little energy and very little focus, just what is needed when you get rattled and knocked over.

I found I was able to fully submerge my foam float during a paddlefloat reentry, so I switched to an inflatable. Also, the foam float was a pain to carry on the deck of a smaller kayak.

If worried about cold water, an inflatable can be inflated and carried on deck just like a foam float. But you can’t deflate a foam float and tuck it behind the seat when the water is warm.

Other use
D. Inflate in your day hatch to keep gear, water bottles, etc. from moving around when you’re playing in the surf & rough water.

E. As a “tote bag” to lug a handful of small items to and from your kayak when loading/unloading.

  • Tom

Paddle floats
1. I agree with jackl and NC-Cal. The foam float has an advantage in cold water. Otherwise I like the compact inflatable floats. Regardless of which one you have, and more importantly, you need to periodically practice using them.

2. I prefer the 2 chamber floats v the single chamber ones. The double chamber floats I’m familiar with seem to be heavier duty versus the single chamber floats. Plus with a 2 chamber float you can use it with just one chamber inflated, so there is some safety redundancy in the double chambers.

Paddle on.

up-a-creek’s disintegrated paddle float
Hey Up-a-creek, by any chance was your inflatable paddle float an NRS with clear tubes? I got one of those and the tubes almost immediately shattered and fell apart. About that time, NRS did a recall of those paddle floats. The replacements have black inflation tubes (not clear), if I recall. The replacement was free – as it should have been! My replacement is still working about a year or so later.

Just a thought!

Ginger in NC

I think so
Hi Ginger,

Yes, I believe you are right. The tubes were clear plastic, at any rate, and I got a free replacement with black plastic tubes. I used it just last weekend and it’s still good.

The clear tubes first cracked and then broke off completely. A number of us who bought the clear-tube version around the same time had the exact same problem. I didn’t realize there had been a recall.

another vote for the two chamber
Another vote for the two chamber inflatable. I’ve also used it during rolling practice just to give me some orientation. It also allows me to do a “slow motion roll” so I can focus on the whole hip, torso, head action for the roll. As you get better, you let some of the air out, until it no longer holds you up, but still gives you more bite in the water than just the paddle. Just something that has worked for me when playing around.

recalled NRS paddle floats
Yes, up-a-creek, if I remember right those paddle floats are/were made in China. Must have had a really bad batch of plastic to make those tubes.

When I went to the local paddle shop to talk to them (I had bought my float down at coast, not at home), they said just take a new one from them and they’d send my float back to NRS. Well, the one they had hanging on their rack had clear plastic tubes and the exact same problem. Took a while for those defective floats to get taken out of circulation.


Gotta agree with Dr-Disco
paddle float rescues are pretty much an illusion. sure we can practice doing them but how many have tried them in conditions bad enough to have actually knocked you over? Only if you paddle alone would they be required anyway. I can see some value using one on a re-entry and roll in really bad conditions.