Hi. I’m shopping for an inflatable kayak. My only experience has been a hard body sit-in on a creek. I’m staying at the shore now and will be kayaking on the bay. I’m looking for the pro’s and con’s of both types. TIA!
Inflatables are mostly open anyway; some have a zip-on cover that makes them look like a sit-inside. I wouldn’t bother with one of those models unless the cover was needed for protection in cold weather. The covers don’t provide the structural support needed for bracing knees against, and I don’t believe they can be properly sealed with a skirt.
Two of the main upsides of SOTs are that they’re self-bailing and that self-rescue is very easy.
Some inflatables are self-bailing, but most aren’t.
What are your reasons for wanting an inflatable? You may find that your needs can be met better with a hard-shell boat of either SOT or SINK type. Plus, inflatables are all wide, which makes them slower.
Inflatables, except for a few of the higher end longer models with drop-stitch floors, are not good boats for coastal conditions, including bays, in fact they can be downright dangerous. On the coast, even on mild days, you have offshore winds, currents and waves. And if you are talking about sea coast (rather than Great Lakes) there are also tides to contend with. Short wide inflatables get blown around and you can easily find yourself far from shore and unable to paddle back in. They are OK for small lakes and fairly narrow rivers. But if you intend to do open water paddling in the ocean you need something more appropriate.
NO way to recommend models to you not knowing your size metrics (height and weight) and budget and the actual shoreline you are looking to go out in. Factors like water temperature and beach conditions (sandy or rocky) also figure in, Cheap inflatables are particularly dangerous in coastal waters – the Coast Guard and harbor patrols ban them in many areas.
It is also likely that what you rented was not a sea or touring kayak. Small recreational style kayaks that most rental companies offer for creek paddling are not safe for coastal paddling either. They lack safety and performance features.
In warm southern waters, sit on top kayaks are often preferred – again, only higher end ones at least 12’ long and with high pressure floors are safe in the ocean. One example would be the Kokopeli Moki which is $700 (and has a skeg to help tracking in wind and currents).
There actually are some inflatable and folding sit-inside kayaks that are OK for the ocean but they are costly. An Advanced Elements Airfusion runs about $1100 not including accessories. A Pakboat Puffin Saco folding kayak is around the same at $1085. That one can be used as an open sit on top type or with a deck as a sit inside (costs extra for the deck).
It sounds like you would be helped by reading some of the featured articles on this site about the types of kayaks and how to select what style you need. And I would not venture out into ocean conditions without having a class or two in paddling and safety. Find a reputable kayaking outfitter (not a big box sports store) – some place that offers classes and sells sea kayaks.