Friday, March 19, 2010

12V Electric Pumps for Inflatable Kayaks

The one inconvenient thing about inflatable kayaks is the inflation of the kayak.  Since I bought my kayaks last summer, I have bought multiple electric air pumps to help ease the trouble.  Each inflatable kayak came with its own foot pump, but since I have 6 inflatable kayaks, it would be impossible to pump them all up manually, even though I tried.

Please note that none of the kayaks come with any suggestions on which electric pump I should buy. In fact, Sea Eagle customer service reps even told me that they do not recommend using any electric pump. Using one would void the warranty, yikes! 

There are several kinds of 12 volt car electric pumps out there. 
  • The standard automotive pump  - really high pressure but low volume, mainly used to pump up car tires. The 40 - 50 PSI put out by this kind of pump is too much and you risk blowing the seams of your kayak.
  • High volume pump - pressure is low but put out a lot of air volume, very safe for inflatable kayaks but takes relatively long to fill the chambers and cannot completely fill it
  • High pressure, high volume pump - able to fill the chambers without topping off; ideal for inflatable kayaks

Here is the chronological description of my adventure with kayak electric air pumps:

Automotive 12 Volt Tire Pump

I started with a standard 12 volt electric pump for car tires. However, I soon found out that even though they can generate lots of pressure, they are notoriously slow.  The one I had would take 10 minutes just to pump up a medium size pool float!  It would take a long time to pump up a kayak.

Coghlan's 12V High Volume Electric Pump

I then bought a Coghlan's high volume 12V electric pump.

While it does pump out good volume of air, unfortunately, due to the limited power going through the 12V socket (cigarette lighter), this pump does not fully inflate the kayaks.  I had to finish each one of the kayak using a foot pump. As you can imagine, there is a lot of inserting this nozzle, that nozzle, stepping up and down on the pump, etc, and by the time I am done, I would have worked up a good sweat and back ache. Because the 12V socket is usually in the center of the car, I had to buy several 12V cord extensions such as this one, which are almost as expensive as the pump.

With the Sea Eagle 330, this is as far as I have gone with electric pumps. Since the maximum pressure that the Coghlan's 12V pump put out is not enough to fully inflate the kayak, I figure it would be safe to use on the Sea Eagle 330 without blowing the seams.

Kwik Tek Airhead High Pressure High Volume 12V Electric Air Pump - Bingo!

I did some more web search for high pressure, high volume 12 volt pumps and found the Kwik Tek Airhead.  I hesitated initially because the pump needs to be connected directly to the car battery, instead of through the 12V socket. After failing the previous pumps, I had no choice but to finally decide to try the Kwik Tek Airhead. 

The Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure high volume air pump connects directly to the car battery with a set of alligator clips which means I had to open the hood each time.  As it turned out, it wasn't so bad, and in fact was easier.  The battery being in the front of the car allows me to use just the cord that came with the pump.  The extra power that came through the cord directly allowed the motor to be much stronger.

I bought the first Airhead pump online and it came with one section of the hose bent at a 45 degree angle.  I tried to straighten it but could not.  This particular pump did not have enough pressure to pump up my kayaks to my satisfaction. I was guessing that the 45 degree bend may have been blocking the airflow, so I returned it and bought another one of the same.  The second one did not have the bend, and it worked great, able to pump up my kayaks quickly and effortlessly.  The lesson: Kwik Tek have some quality control issues. Make sure you don't get stuck with one that has a bend to the hose!

My Pathfinder kayaks needed 2.2 PSI of pressure for the side chambers and 1.5 PSI for the floor.  I found that the Kwik Tek Airhead pumps out just about 2 PSI, not enough pressure to make the walls super hard like they are supposed to be.  However, it's hardly noticeable and I don't believe it affects the performance of the kayak in any way. If I wanted, I could top it off with my foot pump, but most of the time, I just go out with the walls slightly soft.

So, this is where I am right now. Whenever I inflate the kayaks, I open the hood of the car, turn on the engine, and press the On button of the Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure, high volume pump and let it run for a minute or two, then the chamber is filled.  I am happy with the solution now as I can get the kayak ready in a few minutes without a lot of back pain and sweat. I hope you readers take my lessons learned. If your kayak needs high pressure (less than 2.2 PSI), and go straight to the Kwik Tek Airhead high pressure, high volume pump. It will save you a lot of time and frustration.

Kevin T


  1. Hey! I am currently looking for something slightly more powerful, capable of reaching a higher psi than that KwikTek, and I was wondering if you've discovered any in the months since this post. I'm looking for something that runs from the 12v battery as well. Ideally it would be relatively quiet, well-built, not get too hot and somewhat small for under $50? That might be asking a lot, I know, but a guy can dream. Thanks in advance!

  2. Hi Conner,

    Sorry for the delayed reply. My email notification setting was incorrect.

    Yes, I have seen a stronger pump. Search for "electric kayak pump" (without the quotes) in eBay. You will find one with higher PSI, up to 10 PSI according to the description. The video certain shows quick inflation and high PSI. I have not used it so I don't know how well it works but the specs look good.

    Good luck!


  3. A higher PSI is a plus, but I think you don't really need to have it. A Kwiktek is already a nice choice. I bought mine at eBay too. By the way, I love kayaking as well.

  4. Thanks for sharing your experiences Kevin. I'm in the market for an electric pump for our kayaks so you have been a great help.
    Happy paddling

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