Tandem Inflatables for $400 to $500?

Help! After quite a few lovely days paddling on other canoes and kayaks I want to get my own kayak to paddle around the D.C. area (Potomac, Atantic shoreline, and relatively mild rivers such as sections of the the Shenandoah. I have a few problems though.

The first problem is that I have to get a tandem boat. I have three kids and am not permitted any activities that do not involve at least one of them. Plus, they are approaching the teen years and I think paddling together will be a good bonding and self-confidence building activity.

The second problem is that I don’t have the room to store a 13-15 foot hard shell tandem boat. It would also be difficult for me to move around until my paddling partners get a bit bigger. Therefore I’m considering an inflatable.

The final problem is money. With 3 kids, the $$$'s are always tight. I can probably afford to spend about $400 to $550 for a tandem boat. The only ones that seem to be in that range are the Sevylor SVX 2000 River K2, the Advanced Elements Airframe or the Aire Tomcat II. Of course there are the Sterns boats, but my impression is they are much less quality.

Does anybody have any suggestions or guidance on these boats or others? Do I really need to spend $800 on a Helios for my first boat?


Desperately seeking floatation in Northern Virginia

I have both the SVX200 and the Tomcat
tandems. The SVX is a somewhat sportier as it has a little more rocker and is narrower. However, in my mind, it’s not the boat the AIRE is. AIRE has better service…period. Summit valves Vs Boston valves. I don’t see much difference between the knock-off Summits compared to the original HR valves. The bostons are crap but actually work. Just make sure you carry some spares. The big difference is dryness in the ride. The extra 2 inches in the Tomcat floor height has will pretty much keep you out of the water. Neither are particularly fast self-bailers. The SVX does have stoppers where-as it’s back to duct tape for the AIRE. When I got the AIRE it used a thwart-type seat but I understand it’s now the cheeta version. Can’t speak on that difference but neither were very comfortable. SVX’s can be had new on eBay for ~$400 with the Tomcats probably 30-50 bucks more. Both are actually decent boats. I don’t use them on flat water unless no other option as they do not shine there. Downriver - they work well. Keep in mine they are solo+gear, or essentially tandem and a daypack. I have a couple trip reports with several photos of both boats loaded at www.paddleon.net

I appreciate the info. The Tomcat sounds better given my situation. I’m fine with a tandem that holds very little gear. Until my kids are older I won’t be doing any expeditions.

I know the Tomcat won’t shine on the flat either, but I think it will work well as a starter boat. If I love kayaking as much as I think I will, I’ll have to build a backyard storage barn for my fleet in a couple of years.

Now where to buy? Right now I can only find the Tomcat for about $550 to $600, but it must be available somewhere else for less. If I pay that much, I might as well get an Innova Helios for $649.

I got mine on sale from NRS for
$440 + shipping. Bought it after september so got to use their boater bucks special (essentially a 10% rebate check paid out in Jan for purchases from sept-dec). I thought $400 was a great deal.

$429 currently. http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=15266&item=3690976919&rd=1&ssPageName=WDVW

Okay. I know I revealing my stupidity, but what is NRS?

Have the Helios and the SVX 200
and I agree with most of what the others have said. Would probably have purchased the Tomcat instead of the SVX 200 had it been available at the time. Innova makes other “tandems” besides the Helios, the Sunny, for instance, which should still be available for less than $800.

NRS is Northwest River Supply, a superb catalog and online vendor of paddling equipment. Their website is nrsweb.com

go to http://www.theboatpeople.com/ website. call them and talk to Lee. very knowledgeable.

I have an Innova Solar II.(just like the Sunny) Great tandem or solo. stable, tracks great with skeg. turns well. very comfortable. easy to get in and out of. inflates in couple minutes. sets up very easy. stores easy. have it in my trunk all the time. ready to go at a moments notice. paddles fast enough for me. very tough fabric. $619 online.

Being on the water is what its all about. no matter what you’re in.

Agree here. His web site is
probably the most honest, down-to-earth paddling spot on the web. If you don’t want to call, at least read his FAQ. He has a good section comparing the SVX & Tomcat, and then why other boats are better than them. But as you noticed, they can easily be twice the cost.

great photos and commentary
Great photos and commentary. everyone should look at these at www.paddleon.net


I’ve decided to up my purchase price and get either a Helios or a Sunny. I’ve found the best prices to be:

Helios 380EX, delivered $712 from LL Bean (but in green only)

Helios 340EX, delivered for $699

Sunny delivered for $695

I also found a Helios 380 EX demo that has “only been in the water about 8 times and has never run rocks” for $585.

By next week, I’ll have made my choice.

Thanks all.

And yes, www.theboatpeople.com has the best info on inflatables anywhere.

Something to keep in mind…
The Helios 380 is designed with a fixed center thwart, which divides it into two cockpits. I am 6’2" with a 32 inch inseam and find that the rear cockpit is manageable, but a little short, placing my feet under the thwart. Also, the design forces you to paddle from the rear when solo. The Sunny, like the Tomcat, is an open boat which allows you to sit center when solo, which is preferable IMHO. You do not mention your size or preference, but this is something to consider.

That said, the Helios is a tough little boat that tracks well and handles a reasonable load. It is fast for an inflatable, tracks well, but is also easy to turn. Suspect the Sunny is the same. The price on the used Helios is not bad and it most likely is in good shape. I have run mine in shallow rocky rivers with very litte wear and tear. Only minor scuffing.

Good luck with your choice and happy paddling.


I bought one!
Well, I bought a boat!

I got a Helios demo that had been used a two-day paddling expo for $538. It had a little sand in it, but was otherwise perfect.

Now I ready to kayak the Great Falls of the Potomac. One question though–Do you think I’ll need a paddle?

Thanks to all for the advice.