Self bailing Kayaks vs Bucket Boats

Self bailer vs bucket boat

A self bailer sans paddler

We have seen many discussions and comments lately about the differences between self bailing kayaks vs bucket boats. Many people have wondered; what is the real difference between the two? What are some advantages and disadvantages of each kind?

If you’re looking to buy your first kayak, these are important features to consider. To help out, let’s examine them both to help you make the right choice.

What is a Self-Bailing Kayak?

It all comes down to the flooring of the kayak. In a self-bailing kayak or boat, the floor has several well-positioned holes to allow any water inside the kayak to drain back out.

Because of this feature, the kayak  is considered to be “self-bailing” as opposed to you having to manually bail out the water.

Self bailers have a wide floor with an inflatable chamber underneath. This chamber is usually about 4 to 5 inches deep and allows the Kayak’s flooring to float a little above the water.

The deck height and slope of the flooring allows the water that is splashing inside to reach the drainage holes. These are situated above the water’s surface and run down through the air chamber, back into the water.

A nice shot of the self-bailing NRS Outlaw 2.

This has proven a really effective method to bailing out water from a kayak, particularly when heading down rapids.

There are some disadvantages that must be taken into consideration before you decide that this type of Inflatable is perfect for you! Let’s take a look:

Advantages of Self Bailing Kayaks

  • Avoid sinking
    Everybody knows that too much water inside a boat will sink you and that isn’t good for you or the boat.
  • Saves time & effort
    Easier because the water drains by itself. You do not have to use a bucket, pump, or small container to remove the water manually.
  • Improved Handling / Stability
    Water inside your kayak might not sink you but the increased weight (and therefore the lower you sit in the water) will cause a loss of handling. The kayak will become harder to control and it will be harder to turn away from rocks, banks and sweepers.
  • Improved Comfort
    It’s no fun paddling for a long time with your feet and butt constantly submerged in cold water. A good self-bailer will drain water quickly so this doesn’t happen.
  • Keep Your Gear Dry
    A self-bailer helps keep any gear you take along dry. When that “gear” is a change of clothes, you’ll really appreciate this feature!

Disadvantages of Self Bailing Kayaks

  • Best for Rivers
    You need a minimum speed to “self bail”, if you’re not moving fast enough water will actually flow in through the drainage holes. The answer is to seal the holes when on lakes or go with something like the Innova Safari, which can do both.
  • Cost
    Expect to pay a couple of hundred dollars extra for a self-bailing kayak.

What Is A Bucket Boat?

Again, it comes down to the flooring. A bucket boat (a.k.a “Standard boat”) has a floor that completely attaches to the side chambers, and there are no drainage holes at all.

self bailing kayak vs bucket boat

No, not this bucket boat!

They call these “Bucket Boats” because you have to use a bucket, yourself, to remove any water that is splashed into the boat. Removing water yourself will involve effort and will take you away from you intended activity for periods of time.

There are advantages and disadvantages with a bucket boat.



Advantages of a Bucket Boat

  • Cost Less
    They cost much less than a self-bailer.
  • Quicker To Inflate
    Bucket boats have less inflatable chambers to inflate and deflate, so save time to inflate.
  • Perfect for Lakes / Recreation
    Bucket boats are perfect as recreation kayaks and taking things at your own pace.

Disadvantages of a Bucket Boat

  • Need to purchase a pump
    A water-safe pump will pump the water out of the kayak. Alternatively, you can scoop the water out manually with a bucket or a small container of sorts.
  • Heavier & Less Maneuverable
    If you do not manually remove the water quickly enough, your kayak will sink lower in the water. This can cause you to get stuck on rocks more frequently.Maneuverability between obstacles will be harder and affected with more acculminated water.
  • Not suitable for Class III Rapids
    Quite a few kayakers will still take a bucket boat out on class I / II rapids but anything beyond that and you’re going to need a self-bailer.
  • Not Fun!
    If you do take a bucket boat out on the river or get caught in heavy rain you’ll need to spend a lot of time bailing out your kayak. This means you won’t have 100% focus on paddling or enjoying the scenery.

Having discussed the advantages and disadvantages of both, we can now look at which type of boat would suit you best.

Consider Your Activity

What are you planning on doing with your kayak? If you are just going to be fishing on the lake or a spot of recreational kayaking, do you really need an interior drainage system? The answer is ‘No”!

If your activities do not involve water always splashing into your boat, then you do not need a bailer at all! It might be helpful to have a pump or small bucket with you just in case, for example if it rains, but it is not a necessity.

What About Rapids?

There are different kinds of rapids rated on difficulty. With Class I rapids, you won’t need to be doing much bailing. Even with a lot of Class II rapids, manually bailing every once in a while can be o.k.

With Class III or higher rapids, you will be bailing a lot! Having a self-bailing kayak would be a necessity.

What you need to decide is how often are you going to be doing Class III or higher rapids? If it is a lot of the time or all of the time, you will benefit from a self-bailer. If only sometimes, you could always hire a self bailer or go with some like the Innova Safari.

Consider Your Budget

A self-bailer will hit up your wallet from anywhere between $300 to $1600. That is considering that the $300 one is with cheaper materials while the $1600 one is constructed extremely well! You can get something like the Aire Lynx II for the middle of this price range.

As for a bucket boat, the costs go from about $170 to $700. These price differences are indigent upon the size, the quality of production and the features.

The Final Decision: Which one to buy?

I consider this a personal decision based on what you want out of your new kayak. Take a good look at all differences, the costs, the advantages, and the disadvantages of both types of boat. Take into careful consideration each type, while keeping in mind the activates you’ll want to enjoy.

I know many people prefer to use a self-bailer as it’s better to have it than not. For example, you can take a self bailing kayak lake fishing one weekend as long as you plug up the drains. Then take it white water rafting the next weekend.  Variety is the spice of life 🙂

Whatever choice you make, stay safe and happy paddling!

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