Paddle float preference

I’m getting into the sport and I’m going to start working on rescues. Any advice on picking a paddle float…inflatable, closed cell foam, counter balance (North Water contraption), etc…?

I like an extra large foam float. the inflatables just take too much maitenance and too long to blow up while you are sitting in the cold water.

Mixed Thoughts
I originally thought that a mini-cell float would make much more sense for the reasons Frank pointed out. I made one that mounts with bungies on the rear deck and doubles as a foundation for a spare paddle.

After paddling for a while I found that the only time that I use a paddle float is when practicing a self rescue which is not often. So, I bought an inflatable and it is stored beside of my seat between the hull and the seat frame.

Both work and can be a valuble tool so I always have one while paddling.


maintenance is not an issue for blowups. I have had mine for over 5 years and they are still perfectly functional. I like that you can stow them behind the seat and it’s out of the way. I don’t like to have stuff on my deck which you have to do with a big foam float.

For sure, foam floats are faster to use and makes a difference when in cold water. But I’ll take an “elitist” position and say someone who relies on a paddle float shouldn’t be out in conditions in cold water season. If you venture out, without a roll, then have partners who you know and can work an assisted rescue quickly (always more so than a self rescue).


We have blow up…
and I like the fact that they just lie flat on the rear deck.

Have had them for about twelve years, and the only time I use them is my once a year session of self rescue practice.

They are faded from their once brillent yellow to a butter ncolor now, but still work good.

If I lived and paddled up north in the winter I would have the solid ones that don’t take the extra half minute to deploy.

We have paddled Alaska on four different trips and should have had them up there, but didn’t.



not sure it is elitist at all

– Last Updated: May-26-06 8:10 AM EST –

more like common sense. I see nothing elitist in your comments.

My preferences are for the inflatable double sided ones but I use them for practicing not only paddle float rentries but also as skin on frame dewatering tools and when snapped together as a sling (they become sponsons sort of) that stabilizes a boat for re-entry. there is also a procedure to slide the paddle float over the stern of a really low volume skin on frame to keep it bouyant for re-entry.
In other words, I find the inflatable ones much more versatile...they even work as a great camp pillow, or to carry water from a stream.

Now for cold water conditions maybe there is an argument for a foam one as speed to set up and get back in the boat is more critical.

Foam but

– Last Updated: May-26-06 10:25 AM EST –

Foam is faster, by miles, and less fussy to work with in cold water if you really need the thing. Also makes a nice seat on damp ground. I have had a big red NorthWater foam float as my constant companion for the last few years. That said, the thing is big and doesn't always fit easily on the boat. I had to order my Explorer LV with a couple of extra RDF's on the rear deck to be able to store it. And it is noticeable for things like layback rolls or when you slide up on the back deck from a balance brace, though I got used to it and no issue.

It's also a good training tool 'cause it's easier to just grab and use than an inflatable would be. I got my balance brace, and started my scull in shallow water with that on the end of my hand so that I could just focus on the lower body part. In sum, I'd highly recommend it for someone starting out.

That all said, now that I finally have made a couple of combat rolls, no nose plugs or goggles or any of the usual protective stuff and usually seem to have a roll on both sides, solid sculling and other off balance stuff (tho' still getting relaxed with the GP - some days we aren't such a good pair), I got an inflatable paddle float clipped behind my seat. Point is, I finally feel like I've gotten to where the paddle float will be a more remotent need and the extra time to fuss with an inflatable is within my safety margin.

My best recommendation is still foam. I should get some foam and carve out one shaped to my deck, stick some velcro around it to hold the paddle and have that as my primary. Which I will do when I am not feeling so lazy.


– Last Updated: May-26-06 8:24 AM EST –

I have not carried a paddle float with me in over three years. This includes winter paddling in an SOF. I figure if I come out, I will die. So, I don't come out. These days, in surf, I have to have extraordinary bad circumstances to get me to bail and swim. I don't paddle in anything that rough (break zone) with my SOF, so I don't see coming out more than a very remote possibility. I am willing to live/die by that. :)


If you get an inflatable,
get one with push/pull valves instead of the screw type. That way you can work it with only one hand.

foam as a rolling aid
Another possible use of a foam paddle float is an emergency rolling aid. If your float is easily reachable, you can grab it when upside down and hand roll up if a regular roll fails. A paddle float assisted hand roll is something a novice can learn pretty easy. I used to keep a foam float for this reason and it worked great. That said, I got tired of the bulking thing on the deck and quit carrying it.

My $0.02
I have a Gaia inflatable. It has push-pull valves, and as mentioned before is very easy to operate. High quality, but premium price.


foam versus blowup
Just a caution on the foam models, in practicing a paddle rescue with feathered paddles, the support they provide may not be sufficient if you are a big person. I have personally seen situations where the float is fully submerged and the kayak rolls over. The rescue technique was also a problem (far too much reliance on the paddle shaft and not enough weight on the kayak itself) but a blow-up appears to have more buoyancy. I wrote Northwater and asked about the rating of their float, the response was they didn’t have one. I have both but typically use the foam one for the reasons noted.


foam / blow up
Foam really is nice for all of the reasons stated, but man are they bulky (probably more so than they need to be). They are just too much of a pain to carry I think, unless you could come up with a good jury rig.

I tried using velcro to secure it inside my cockpit where a knee tube would go, but the velcro did not stick.

I guess it depends on how likely you will use it. I have never had to use a paddle float a single time other than practice so I now carry the inflatable. If I thought I might need to use it, and conditions were cold or windy (dealing with an inflatable would be more of a hassle in high winds which is when you probably would need it anyway) then I might go with the foam.


it’s a learning tool
If you buy it and don’t use it you won’t get the maximum benefit. For cold water a minicell/foam one makes sense,but so does learning how to do a re-entry + roll. For ease of storage an inflatable one makes sense.

If you buy it and haven’t practiced with it a dozen times it really doesn’t matter what kind you get. Ditto the other posters comments about foam ones not haveing a lot of flotation.

I’d recommend getting a foam one and learning a re-entry and roll then using an inflatable for backup once you learn how to roll.

I’ve seen inflatable ones not survive a season of instruction where different people use the same one a few dozen times. Paniced paddlers pull the inflation hose/valve off, shove paddle right through a worn out float, etc.

When you get one and have used it a dozen times try self-rescues without any pump or float.

Blow Up
As earlier posters have stated they are easier to stow and take up less deck space. Personally I keep mine under the rear deck bungees with the bilge pump (need one means you usually need the other).

I use mine religiously at least 3 times a year (self-rescue practice in each of my 'yaks). Other times I use it in cases of “tired legs” and inflate one side of the float and shove it under my knees. Ah, the relief during a long paddle.

When I get into really rough water I always inflate one side of the float JIC (just in case),


Dressing For
Much more important than your paddle float is dressing for full emersion. If you’re properly dressed either float will be find. You’re going to experience cold water. It doesn’t matter what level of experience you have if you dump in cold water. The cold can sap your strength so fast that doing a rolling or climbing back into your kayak may be impossible. First learn how to dress for conditions before even practicing re-entries or rolls.

Dual chamber inflatable floats…
…are the way to go, IMO. You typically only need to inflate one side for adequates support, which makes them faster to deploy than single chamber floats. They’re MUCH easier to fully deflate than a single chamber float. If one chamber gets punctured, the other will still work.

I understand why people like foam floats, but they’re WAY too bulky, don’t fit easily into the cockpit and being an advocate of clean decks, I would never carry anything like that on-deck where it would be nothing but a nuisance.

BTW, my favorite way of carrying an inflatable paddle float is to attach a couple of loops of bungee on the back of the backband, then stick the rolled up float in them. It’s completely out of my way, but I can access it instantly from either side of the boat, should I need to.

That said, other than when teaching others how to do paddle float rescues, I never use one. I only carry it in case someone else needs it or there is a need for an emergency backband, an application which a paddle float works well for.

is the way I carry my paddle float too… only I use small nylon straps with fastex buckles. the same ones that you would use for on a backpack for attaching things on the outside. I have a paddle float in every boat so that each boat can just be ready to load without adding one. The float is out of the way on the back of the backband and readily availiable and dedicated to it’s assigned boat.I too believe fully in a clean deck. I , like Brian , carry mine more for others…can’t even imagine using the thing for any actual recovery situation. rolling is much better as is a scoop rescue. but I still carry them. someone might need it someday otherwise I don’t even know it’s there when I paddle.

Best Wishes


static brace
I used mina a couple fo weeks ago on either end of the gp to find that sweet spot in the OI for a static brace…still having trouble finding it but I will…


your able to…might try takeing the seat out so you can spin farther sideways …might help…but with a Keyhole cockpit, like the OI has, it might put your knees in a weird position to still catch the braces.

Best Wishes