…in a 25-knot headwind, the Innova was faster (by ½ a knot) than the rigid sea kayaks in the race…

In the 1997 San Juan Challenge an Innova Helios (as the only inflatable entry) was one of only 17 kayaks out of a field of 41 to finish this 40-mile race. With winds of 25-29 knots, gusting to 45 knots, nine rigid sea kayaks capsized and needed to be pulled from the water by chase boats when they could not self-rescue in the rough conditions.

The Innova Helios II won its section, averaging 3 knots. In a 25-knot headwind, it was faster (by ½ a knot) than the rigid sea kayaks in the race. In calm water, it was slower (by ½ a knot) than those same boats.

Some inflatables, like the Innova Safari, are unique in their ability to handle a wide variety of water conditions. Use your Safari in whitewater, surf, and when touring.

How Do Innova Kayaks Compare With Stearns IK-116?

The Innova models are considerably different than the Stearns in both performance and material. We have three single models roughly the same size as the Stearns IK-116. Our Safari, Helios I, and Solar would be the models I would match against the Stearns.

The Innova models are longer at the waterline and have a deeper hull shape. The Innovas are also stiffer, with an inflation pressure of 3 psi, versus the 2 psi of the Stearns. This makes the Innovas easier to paddle and faster in the water than the Stearns. The other factor is that the paddling ergonomics are generally better in the Innovas, because the paddler sits higher than they do in the IK-116. This allows a more efficient paddling stroke, so you don’t tire as easily in the Innovas. Innova boats also are quicker to inflate and more compact when folded. They also come in a convenient drybag/backpack that is small enough to be legal carryon luggage.

The Stearns IK-116 uses an unreinforced PVC bladder wrapped by a zip-on nylon cover. The Innova boats use a heavy-duty polyester cloth covered in rubber, with vulcanized air-holding seams. Our construction is more typical of high end whitewater rafts and commercial duty Zodiacs. The bladder construction is cheaper to build, but it limits the air pressure in the tubes which makes the boat stiff. A lower pressure tube has to be bigger in diameter, and this widens the Stearns’ designs which contributes to the ergonomic issues. Furthermore, the Innova construction allows the boat to dry much faster than the bladder types which retain water under their covers.

Lastly, the Innova models are greener because they are PVC-free. PolyVinyl Chlorides (PVC’s) give off dioxins in their manufacture, lifespan, and disposal. Dioxins are associated with a number of environmental and health issues.

Reentry: Can I get back into the Innova boats if I fall out?

A great advantage to the open-deck Innova boats is the ease of reentry. You can use this advantage for snorkeling or swimming. When you want to get back in, just roll the boat upside down to dump whatever water has collected, turn it rightside up, and grab the side of the cockpit and flutter kick and scramble aboard like you would climb out of a swimming pool.

How do the boats handle in the wind?

Many of the Innova boats are low-profile in design and present minimal area to the wind. For example, the Helios has been raced in 30-knot winds and 4-foot seas, and it actually performs better than some rigid kayaks in these windy, rough conditions when loaded and trimmed properly. If you are paddling a Helios solo in a crosswind, the bow will tend to weathercock away from the wind. You can reduce this weathercocking by using a rudder and/or putting 20-25 pounds of gear in the forward cockpit.

Are rudders available?

A rudder is included with the Seaker models. An optional rudder is available for the Helios models. The rudder is useful when paddling the Helios as a double when heavily loaded while touring on open water. The rudder keeps the boat tracking straight so that all paddle strokes can go toward thrust, not steering. The rudder also helps in crosswinds when more lightly loaded. When paddling the boat as a single, or when descending swift rivers, the rudder is not needed. Some experienced paddlers eschew the rudder in all conditions, but we generally recommend it for touring doubles. The Safari, Solar, and Sunny come with removable tracking fins.

What is the best paddle to use?

Except for the Vagabond and Orinoco canoes, use a 2-bladed kayak paddle (~230 cm length) for most flat water. If you are shorter than 5’5″ you might consider a paddle length of 220 cm. Narrower hulls, like that on the Safari, make it easier to paddle with a shorter paddle.

A 4-piece paddle is handier to pack than a 2-piece paddle. If using the boat in shallow streams or fast rivers requiring maneuvering, pick a shorter paddle with a strong blade to fend off rock dings. Innova carries several models of easy-to-pack AquaBound 4-part paddles.

Scale of River Difficulty

The difficulty of a river is classified on a international scale of I to VI, with Class VI indicating an unrunnable stretch of river.

The difficulty of a river may vary significantly with fluctuations in water level. For example, a river that is normally Class II, may increase in difficulty to Class III+ in times of high water. The ratings usually listed refer to the rivers’ difficulties at normal, summer levels.

Take care: Don’t judge a river by it’s put-in pool and take-out, know what’s downstream. Know the rating class for the river you’re traveling on.

Class I: EASY
Waves are small; passages clear. No serious obstacles.

Rapids of moderate difficulty with passages clear.

Waves are numerous, high, irregular; rocks; eddies; rapids with passages clear though narrow, requiring expertise in maneuvering.

Long rapids; waves powerful and irregular; dangerous rocks, boiling eddies; powerful and precise maneuvering required.

Long and violent rapids following each other almost without interruption; riverbed extremely obstructed; big drops; violent current; very steep gradient

What water conditions can the boats handle?

Sunny: rated for up to Class I river conditions

Helios: rated for Class II river conditions

Safari: rated for up to Class III river conditions

Vagabond: rated for up to Class III river conditions

Traveller: rated for up to Class IV river conditions

Orinoco: rated for up to Class IV river conditions

K1/K2: rated for up to Class IV river conditions

For a complete description of water condition ratings, please see International Scale of river difficulty.