Most inflatable kayaks are like canoes and have no deck. A few like the Gumotex Framura and Swing, or the Grabner Explorer and Decathlon X500 and some Advanced Elements have fixed decks. Others have zip-back or removable decks.
Left and right, a yellow Incept K40 with a zip back deck, the one time I used it like that. And later, when I bought my Seawave (above left and below) I got the optional fully removable deck thinking it might be handy. I tried it once, took some pictures, never used it again and eventually sold it. Other optional deck IKers have said the same: nice to have the option but never actually use it. Both these boats needed fibreglass or alloy spars to support the deck and keep it convex. It all just adds to more stuff and set-up time. But whatever you read here, as much as anything, choosing an IK with a deck is more about personal preference than function.
For me, one of the big attractions of an open IK is it’s so much easier to hop in and out – even from deep water you can easily crawl back abroad which makes it safer. It’s easier to pack or unload the boat (left), as well as dry, clean or work on it. Any touring luggage will surely be in dry bags anyway and better touring IKs have plenty of lashing points. Best of all there’s no need to faff about with spray skirts and cags to match, and I find it’s so much more agreeable to paddle in the open air and not feel hemmed in. If it’s cold or inclement, I wear a drysuit.
If you come from hardshell or folding kayaks you might think a deck’s a good idea, but length-for-length hardshells are heavier, less stable and less buoyant than IKs. All that means they slice through waves better and sit much lower in the water so need to allow water to wash over the decks. Also, with a hardshell, knee blocks on the underside of the front deck are crucial in the way the paddler interacts with their boat, creating a solid connection for bracing or pivoting against the swell. For better or worse, raft-like IKs are wider and less tippy. Using thigh braces and a solid footrest (above left) is about as close as it gets to improving that ‘sat on a log’ IK feeling; you can’t realistically brace your knees under an IK’s fabric deck.
IKs sit higher in the water than a hardshell and swamping only occurs in rough seas or white water, especially in less stiff, low-pressure boats, as I found with my Sunny in Western Australia (left). Rough seas aren’t really suited to IKs, at least not alone, and full-on white-water IKs like the Gumotex Safari, Hyside Padillac (right) or the NRS MaverIK have self-bailing floors so what comes over the sides drains away. But even an unbailing IK will still float when full of water (as I also found in WA), so a bailing pump (right) or more simply, a sawn-off plastic bottle scoop (left) are handy things to carry if out at sea for a while.
The ability to roll is an important skill if using a hardshell in rough water, but you’ll need taut thigh straps and quite a hip flick to roll a typically wider IK, with or without a deck. In an IK, if you capsize you just fall out then flip the boat back over if necessary and crawl back on. With a fixed deck IK that becomes much more awkward (below), just as it is in a hardshell without help, as we found one wet weekend. Solo, a paddle float is essential. Without one I couldn’t do it – and that was practising in nice calm conditions (below). In dire straits I’d have unzipped the K40’s deck to get back in.
About the only thing I do miss with a deck is somewhere handy to mount nav aids, cameras and other useful stuff in front of you. I get round that with a pfd with pockets and Peli box or a waterproof packbag between my knees.