Sailing in an inflatable kayak: the Stearns IK 116/140.

Our summer sport is kayaking. In Germany we bought a couple of inflatable kayaks from the brand Stearns, type IK 116 (right) and IK 140 (left):

IK 140 / Airik II IK 116 / Airik I

In the Netherlands these boats are so much more expensive, that we gained a pump, paddle and helmet for each kayak we bought there. And still the total price was lower than the dutch price. And Kajakwelt ship Free of Charge within Western Europe.

We bought the boats via Internet (the medium you are browsing right now) at the german company Kajakwelt.

In 2004, the price difference was in excess of €120 per boat when buying in Germany. Jan Arts, the owner of Kajakwelt, s used to export across Europe. So take a look around there and send him an E-mail. I can recommend Kajakwelt to all.

Yes, I had to prepay. No, I was not conned. Not all merchants have the typical dutch attitude of giving service until the goods are paid for.
And why are Kajakwelt so cheap? Easy: they buy in quantities. When I ordered my IK 116, they still had 20 of them in stock. I.e., they must order (probably) in multiples of 40 or 50. So they get discounts at Stearns and Kajakwelt relay (part of) this discount to the customer.
These discounts of course are bigger than a John Doe can get when he places an order for one or two boats each year.
Anyway: Kajakwelt is a lot cheaper than local suppliers and I see no reason not to buy with them.

Long live the free trade within the EU!

I translated the Stearns manual into dutch. Click on the link in the navigator.

Differences between the IK 116 and IK 140.

There are but few differences between the two models. In fact only the overall length and the carrying capacity differ. I summed them up in the table below.

IK 116 IK 140
Name Airik 1 Airik 2
Length 116 inch 140 inch
Carrying capacity 130 kg 220 kg
Leg room 50 inch Plenty!
Seat No Front rider
Weight 15,5 kg 21 kg

Choosing between IK 116 and IK 140.

The IK 116 is the ideal kayak for 'normal' people. With 'normal' I refer to build and coccasion of the passengers.

If you're smaller than 6 feet, an IK 116 will be more than enough for a comfortable seating position. But if you're over 6'4" your legs MIGHT be slightly too long for the leg room of the Airik 1. Especially with a closed spray protector. I myself measure 6'7" and with neoprene socks I have some difficulties stretching my legs. But on bare feet, it is endurable.
Below is an easy method for determining if you need an Airik I or II. This method is just a rule of thumb and hence without any warranty. If your leg room is between 4' and 4'2" I recommend to fit before choosing.

Another reason for choosing an IK 140 is luggage space. If you need to take along gear (think of a pump, some food, drinks and possibly some dry clothes or a towel) then it is advisable to get an IK 140.
But by far the best reason for getting an IK 140 is if you, plain simple, want to ride with a passenger. Do take into account the maximum load of the boat, because it may capsize if it takes in too much water.

Is an IK 116 big enough for me?

To answer this question we need to know hoe much space you need... I made this simple method:

You just found the distance you need to sit with stretched legs.

If this distance is smaller than 4', an Airik 1 (IK 116) is big enough.

Kids and kayaks.

Ask a 10 year old if she is strong enough to paddle for herself, many hours in a row. The answer will be universal: YES DAD! And daddy takes it for granted, of course. Even if he should have known better.
Marjanne has more stamina than her classmates. Riding her bike for 50 km on end is a piece of cake for her. But 3 hours of paddling still is another story. So we decided she will (at least for the time being) be convicted to ride together with an adult. And so we needed an IK 140.

The kid of course takes the front seat so that she can be watched at all times and can paddle as long as she likes. The adult needs to take care of the lions share of the propulsion and needs to adopt himself to the paddling rythm of the offspring. Which is not always easy.
My knowledge is just limited and I have only experience with a 10 year old. And hence I can only say: a 10 year old is too small and weak to paddle hours on end in a private kayak. I have no knowledge yet of later ages so I cannot tell when they are strong enough. And only strength of course is not enough. They also need to be able to keep the concentration for the full trip. Going downstream will be easy, as long as there are no weirs and low bridges. But for upstream, and paddling away from eddies, you need instant powersurges. And a youth just cannot handle that.

As I see things now, children under 12 years of age are too small and not not powerfull enough to ride alone on longer trips in moving water. And they have this urge to play, which is not always possible on a river. You have to be on your guard all the time if you go down stream. And you need sudden power surges when going upstream.

So a 2 parents/1 child family are best suited with an Airik I and an Airik II. With that, they can get along as long as the child is not able to sustain long periods of full power.
An Airik II is never wasted. If the lass gets big enough for her own Airik I, then one of the adults can easily handle the Airik II on his own. And an 'empty' Airik II is an ideal cargo boat. Which enables longer trips.

Safety on the water.

"Yes, but I have my swimming certificates!" is what they tell you if you start waving with a PFD (Personal Floatation Device). And now I'm not talking about the kids... :o) No, no, the parents have their way as well. Give me ONE good reason for wearing a PFD on a slow flowing dutch river of 1.5 meter "deep". Or even wear a helmet?

You simply always wear a PFD. It's a tool, for the remote chance that you get into the water and loose consciousness. If this happens on land (fainting), there's not much to worry about. You get up and continue with your life.
On the water, things are different. If you get into a face-down drift, you have a fair chance of drowning. Even in 1.5 meters of water. No matter how many swimming diploma's you've got. Admitted, the chance that this happens to you is very small, but if it does occur while not wearing a PFD, the consequences are lethal. I.e.: you die.
Below are some reasons for wearing a PFD and a helmet:

Thirty euro's can make the difference between a nice life or a tragic death. A helmet shouldn't cost much more. So for 60 euro you can do EVERYTHING to minimize the risks.

PFD and helmet in a kayak are comparable to safetybelts and airbags in a car. If you don't need them, people might call you a 'pussy' for having them installed. But in the first ever accident these tools will make the distinction between dying young or getting old as hell!

Tools of the trade.

A bit misleading title: tools. But I want to cover the things you need to get afloat with an Airik. Please find them below:

Article Details
Pump We have several pumps, a few of which are dedicated to the Indy (short for Metzeler Indiana) plus a new one.
For the Airiks we use the original Stearns bellows pump.
This pump is compact and light. The hose is screwed to the pump and it has CAPACITY: every stroke propells 5 liters of air into the boat. Within 10 minutes all three airchambers are filled to cpacity.
Paddles There are many paddles. We have two kinds, both made by Stearns. Both kinds can be broken down in four parts and have adjustable blades for 'feathered' or 'straight' blade positions.
The paddle above is a normal paddle. It has flat blades that can be fixed in two positions (in-line or straight and staggered or feathered). The tube of the paddle is filled with foam to make it remain afloat.
The paddle can be broken down in 4 pieces for easy transport. The lower paddle is a 'performance' paddle. The blades can be set in three different positions and they are hydrodynamically shaped. This allows for a more efficient way to transfer your muscle power to the water. These paddles can also be broken down in 4 pieces.
The 'Performance' paddles cost a bit more but you get a lot in return. The tube is ovally shaped to fit your hands, the paddle is longer (240 cm instead of 210 cm) and ligther.
Helmet There are many kinds and sizes. First determine the circumference of your head (right above your eyes) before choosing one. In The Netherlands, the cheapest helmet is good enough. In whitewater you need a decent brand.
PFD A PFD is a floatation device. It gives a little bit more buoyancy. You buy a PFD on the basis of your body weight. A typical PFD will generate 50 Newtons of extra boyancy. Or, in plain english: it will drop your body weight by five kilograms while maintaining its volume.
A PFD is something ADDITIONAL which allows you to swim. It will not always turn you face-up.
Life jacket A life jacket is also a kind of PFD. The most important differences with a 'normal' PFD are:
  • A life jacket only has boyancy in the front pockets.
  • A life jacket has a big collar with floatation cushions inside.
This causes the wearer of the suit to turned face-up when he gets into the water. The big collar will keep your breathing orifices well above the surface.
Repair kit For short trips this is a bit useless. If you need to fix a leak, the boat must be clean and dry. And after fixing the leak, the glue needs to cure for upto 12 hours...
In the repair kit is also the spare valve. Always carry at least one spare valve. If you ruin one of the regular valves, replace it in the field and try to fix it at home.
Carrying bag The Airiks come in nice and strong carrying bags. The bag has a strong zipper and handles which enable quick and easy transport.
Keep these bags and also: don't forget them when going on the water. If you return to the shore some hours later, the bags might be gone.
Lubricate the zippers each year by rubbing a piece of candle across the closed zipper. Stearic acid is an excellent dry lubricant.
DRINK! Make sure you've got some bottles of water or lemonade stashed in your boats. You might be ON the water, but not all rivers have water that can be drunk by humans.
Be careful with soda (lemonade) and other sugar-rich drinks. They are good enough for testrides and very short trips, but not for longer ones. They will cure dehydration, but not your thirst...

Prevent dehydration. It can ruin your holidays. I know what I'm talking about. In 1992 we paddled from Borculo to Eibergen in 35 degrees Centigrade with the Indy. The next day I had a fever and shivers in the full sun. Due to dehydration.
After 8 hours of paddling don't be surprised to have lost 5 liters of water (and essential salts!), especially on hot days. So: drink a lot, especially when you're back on the shore. But: no alcohol.

Page created July 2004,

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