What is flotation?
Flotation is a category of products and technical solutions that keep your kayak or boat floating in case an accident happened, such as capsize, a punctured hull wall, etc.
What flotation solutions and products have in common is their ability to trap air and attach it to the hull, and by that keep the hull afloat so it could be more easily recovered.
This is to say that typically, flotation provides means for recovery, and it usually adds neither to the boat or kayak’s stability nor to its load capacity.
Why is flotation necessary?
The US Coast Guard (USCG) mandates incorporating flotation In boats bigger than kayaks. Although flotation is not mandatory in kayaks, we think it is necessary as means to preserve our clients’ investment in their W kayak. Many other kayak manufacturers, including those who offer sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks outfit them with some flotation, because they know that SOT kayaks are sinkable.
Types of flotation
Integrated flotation. Some kayaks feature built-in flotation. For example, inflatable kayaks that feature air chambers serving as hull walls, and kayaks that feature urethane foam cast in their hull tips and secured by hardware. For years, Wavewalk kayaks used to feature such flotation cast in their hull tips, until we decided to switch to something better.
Added floatation. Other kayaks are equipped with added foam blocks or noodles stuffed into their hulls. Typically, the material used for this purpose is Polyethylene foam, and these elements are sometimes attached to the hull with hardware. Many sit-in and SOT kayaks come with such flotation, and many anglers who use such kayaks for fishing add more floatation to them, since they don’t trust the factory supplied floatation to suffice in case of an accident.
Detachable flotation. Typically, detachable floatation consists of inflatable bladders stuffed into the kayak’s hull tips, and attached to the hull by straps. Currently, Wavewalk’s kayaks are the only ones that feature detachable flotation modules made from Polyethylene foam. These modules can be attached to the kayak’s sides or between its hulls, under the saddle, where they’re still above the surface.
Inflatable bladders vs. Polyethylene foam
Inflatable bladders are lightweight, sealed plastic bags, and as such they’re effective as internal floatation for kayaks. But since anglers carry on board their kayaks sharp objects such as fishhooks and knives, they don’t like the idea of having inflatable plastic bags inside the boat, and most of them would scoff at the idea of having such objects attached to the deck or to the sides of their kayak, where they would be exposed to various sharp objects that could puncture them.
In contrast, polyethylene foam modules are tolerant to sharp objects, and they can keep serving their intended purpose even after having come many times in close contact with fishhooks and knife blades. As far as maintenance is concerned, unlike inflatable bladders, Polyethylene foam modules require neither checking for pressure nor being re-inflated.
Side flotation vs. internal flotation
The W kayak is the only one offering its users to attach flotation on its sides. This in itself is not a complete novelty, as some high-end fishing and hunting canoes have been featuring static (non-detachable) side flotation for decades. The advantage of attaching the flotation modules on the kayak’s side is that doing so can prevent to kayak from flipping in case on an accident. The downside of having flotation modules on the kayaks side are that they can be in the paddle’s way when the passengers are paddling, and fishhooks can get caught in them. Some W kayakers feel that foam noodles attached to their kayak’s sides are unsightly, so they attach their flotation modules between the kayak’s hulls, under the saddle but above waterline, where they’re almost entirely hidden from sight.
Internal flotation is hidden from sight, which is an aesthetic advantage for those who care about such things, and about paddling comfort and problems with fishhooks etc. But having bulky blocks of foam or inflatable bags stuffed inside your kayak’s hull tips takes away from the storage space it offers, and that could mean less stuff that you can carry on board.
Polyethylene foam vs. Urethane foam
Urethane foam can be cast into a cavity in a boat’s hull, or in a kayak’s hull tips, but casting it is not easy, and once the cast foam is in its place it can be easily displaced, and become moldy if moisture finds its way between the foam and the hull’s wall. Furthermore, urethane foam can deteriorate over time, so that eventually it may require replacement.
Polyethylene foam cannot be cast at will, but it is more durable and therefore more reliable as kayak flotation.
Flotation for motorized kayaks
Outfitting a W kayak with a motor mount and outboard motor can increase its weight by more than 50%, and all this added weight is located in one place, which increases the likelihood of an accident, especially at high speed. This means that adding flotation is much needed, which is why Wavewalk recommends using large-size Polyethylene foam noodles instead of standard ones, and offers two models that come with XL flotation modules.
Flotation in Moving water
Paddling and fishing in moving water such as fast streams or the ocean increases the probability of accidents, and therefore the need for flotation. Wavewalk offers all its kayak models with detachable flotation modules, and clients can order extra flotation. Alternatively, inexpensive hollow Polyethylene foam noodles are easy to find in department stores, and outfitting them with a bungee cord and a pair of hooks isn’t hard.
Flotation in shallow water
Some W kayakers and anglers who fish in very shallow water feel their W kayak is so stable that they would never capsize it, and even if they did, they would have no problem recovering it even if it’s not outfitted with flotation. We think these clients should be more prudent since accidents have a tendency to happen in conditions that aren’t predictable, and stuff happens is the rule out there, on the water. We understand that a pair of flotation modules attached under the kayak’s saddle adds a little weight to it, but we think it’s worth it.