Inflatable Canoe

I highly recommend the Aire Traveler canoe and have entered my reasons, including some of the negatives below. No canoe is perfect for all uses. My primary purpose is as a wildlife viewing platform. This requires comfort, stability, and quiet paddling. For these features and for it’s ability to get into very shallow water, I would recommend this boat over any hard shell canoe. In fact, I would never buy a hard shell again.

It’s pricey, of course, and a tad slower than a hard-shell (I think), but is more comfortable, more stable (initial and secondary), and quieter than any hard shell I’ve ever paddled.

It’s a bit wider than a hard shell and is essentially a long narrow raft. It is so stable that if our Chota mukluks get dirty getting into the boat, we can both dangle our feet in the water on the same side to rinse them off before getting fully into the boat.

My wife and I with 25 pound of camera gear, lunch, and other assorted stuff, totaling over 300 pounds plus the weight of the boat can usually float in about 3 or 4 inches of water if the bottom is soft and mucky. A hard sand bottom might require another inch or two.

We usually have no trouble dragging it over beaver dams without even unloading it. In fact, if there’s enough water flowing over the dam, we can usually shoot the dam on the way down, and have never done any significant damage to it.

With the electric pump for inflation and deflation, we take about 20 minutes to get into the water and about an hour to get out. The hand pump will increase the time to get into the water by about 5 minutes and leave you a bit more tired. The time to pack up will likely be unaffected since most of the air is pressed out while wiping down the boat. This is the most significant part of the tear down process. Since you will likely want to avoid transporting invasive species, getting the boat clean, even in the cracks, takes some time.

Before you can get to the cleaning though, you’ll need to let it drain. Due to a necessary part of the design of the center pontoon, water gets between the outer shell and the inner air pocket. The canoe must be put on an angle tip to tail (leaning on the hood works) to let the water drain.

Once it drains, cleaning and deflating are concurrent activities. Open the valves and start wiping, which also pushes the air out. Then there’s just a little left to pump out with either pump on reverse. Then fold it into the raft bag and put back in the trunk.

Other than that though, it is a great wildlife viewing (or presumably fishing) platform. We carry two anchors in case we see someone worth watching (i.e. non-human). Oh, and you can stretch out with your legs over a nice soft pontoon.

Once in the water, it really is better than any hard shell we’ve ever paddled. If the paddle hits the side, it’s a quiet dull thud. The boat has less directional stability, so you’ll need a more gentle J stroke. Wind also turns the boat quite a bit, but that’s true of any canoe. Waves, even white caps, are much less of a problem in a raft such as this long narrow raft.

Do the full research, but I wouldn’t buy a hard shell again.

Here are a couple of modifications you may want to consider:

1) Buy better pipe insulation to go around the whole seat and cover with a white cloth tape.
2) If you want anchors, you can attach the rope cleats by drilling and bolting through the vertical seat supports.

One more advantage, with the boat in your trunk you don’t get that loud whooshing sound of your gas-mileage eroding that you get with a boat on your roof. And, for anyone with limited space, this fits in around two thirds to three quarters of our 1992 camry’s trunk with all associated gear, of which we have a lot.

Today, my wife and I spent some more wonderful hours in the canoe and saw more great wildlife. While we were stopped for lunch, I took this photo of it in the water, though water too shallow even for this wonderful boat. We got out and pulled it to this docking point.

The important points to note in this photo are the modifications to the seat, the amount of room when loaded with a significant amount of day gear, and the camera in the middle of the boat. The last is only slightly unrealistic. normally, it would be on our picnic blanket with a piece of the blanket over it to protect the camera from heat and the odd water droplet.

However, we do keep the camera pretty much like this, just loose, in the middle of the boat through most of our paddling. Only if it rains, or winds kick up white caps above a foot high do we bother to pack it away. This should demonstrate our level of trust for this boat. We left the camera like this while dragging over 3 beaver dams today. As usual, the camera sat like this even while we were both dangling our feet over the same side of the boat to wash our boots. Try that in a hardshell.

Our canoe at our lunch break

Here’s a bit of a zoom on the camera in case you can’t see it above. It’s not that sharp on this part of the image, but should be obvious that this is a camera I care about a lot, as far as inanimate objects go.

Canoe with Camera

3 Responses to Inflatable Canoe

  1. BubbaRay says:

    Hey, Scott. Thanks for the canoe info! I’ve bookmarked this site and will try to visit as often as I can. See ya’ here and at DU too. Send me a note if you’d like.

    As an astronomer, I’m familiar with the anthropic principle. But the “misanthropic principle?” 🙂

  2. Misanthropic Scott says:

    I should also mention that I have had excellent experience with the warranty on this boat. We had a very slow leak on one valve and the sliders on the zippers needed to be replaced. We were able to drive it to a repair place in Pennsylvania (thus avoiding $70 shipping one way) and get it repaired without hassle. This year, we scratched the bottom a bit, nothing major, on a rock with mussels attached that we couldn’t see below the murky surface at low tide. This was completely our fault. I contacted the repair place, drove it there, and had it fixed. They melted the outer skin slightly applied a roller, thus resealing it to protect the material underneath that had not been damaged. I did not even have to contact Aire for approval. We just drove out there, got it fixed while we waited, and drove home.

    The warranty on this boat is amazing. For 10 years, they’ll fix almost anything that happens to it. The only expense would be shipping (both ways when it’s pilot error), and cases of gross negligence on your part. Scrapes like this are not gross negligence. There was no charge. Having a fully inflated boat blow off the top of one’s car at highway speeds is gross negligence, a story we heard from our repair-person. They were able to fix that, but not for free.

    BTW, please note again that even these minor scrapes required actively sitting on a rock covered with mussels and jearking the boat around back and forth until we freed ourselves from it. Dragging over beaver dams and sitting on normal submerged rocks has never caused any significant damage. Sometimes we can see a mark from a beaver dam or rock, but never any hint of a cut of the material. This boat has really impressed us. So has the warranty.

  3. Update. Since I happen to be looking at this post again, I figured I’d add that the boat is still in great shape. The only significant damage in the 9 years we’ve had it has been that one occurrence with the mussel covered rock. We’re still able to get the boat maintained for free until the middle of next year.

    Unfortunately, the one change that they made to the boat the year after we bought it (I think) was to make it even more rugged … and heavy. The current model is 70 lbs. I hope that they will recreate the 2002 model at 56 lbs (that we bought in 2003) before we need to replace the boat. For a while though, I think we will just pay for maintenance ourselves after the warranty runs out. The $2,000+ price tag of a new boat would cover a lot of years of maintenance, especially since we can drive to the repair place. We’ll probably also learn to do some of the simple regular maintenance ourselves, like valve replacements.

    We also recently found a new tip for drying the boat adequately about 10 minutes faster than before. While holding the boat as near vertical as possible or leaning it on a tree or other object, deflate the center pontoon. This allows the water to run out much faster. There’s no need to actively pump out the air at this point, just open the valve.

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