Hybrid (DS Floor) Inflatable Kayaks
Sea Eagle Fast Track 465 preview
Aquaglide is a US brand producing over a dozen Chinese-made IKs as well as iSUP boards and even floating waterparks. It’s been around for a few years, but their high-spec Chelan range, particularly the spacious 155 (formerly Chelan HB Tandem XL) has now been designated an IK of Interest.
Like the similar Sea Eagle FastTrack 465, or bladdered Kokopelli Moki, UK Chelan prices are unapologetically high: from £970 up to £1130 for the 4.6-m 155. In the range’s three models, the numbers loosely relate to their length in feet; the actual stats are in the table below. These figures are copied off the internet, so accuracy cannot be guaranteed and anyway, sources vary.
All Chelans feature a 6psi removable DS floor with conventional 3psi tubeless PVC side tubes – what’s becoming known as a hybrid IK. Hybrids are usually more stable than the slimmer, boxy Full Dropstitch (FDS) IKs, because the round side tubes make them wider, but higher pressures add rigidity which can compensate for reduced performance. It’s a shame there are no pressure release valves, but they’re easily added in the sides if you paddle in hot climates. The relatively low 6psi in the floor – and the fact that’s it’s fully in the water – makes it less vulnerable to passive heating and ruptured panels.
With 10-inch tubes and at a yard or 91.5cm wide, the 155 has a Length Width Factor of 5.03. By comparison, the similar Sea Eagle 465 is 5.1. Both are pretty low (more square) compared to the table here, but for many other reasons, an IK with a higher rating (ie: long and thin) may not necessarily be more efficient. I find most IKs over-wide, but nervous beginners may feel differently.
Chelan side tubes have no bladders (same Sea Eagles and all rubber IKs) which helps explain the high price, and they’re all made of Duratex PVC which they’ve managed to print on to give a sleek, distinctive look to the 2021 models.
As you can read in the Comments, it took a while to clarify, but all Aquaglides featuring drop stitch floors are removable. This includes the Blackfoot, Chelan, Chinook and Navarro ranges. Actual new owner Dave Klein (see Comments and video below) assured me his new 155’s floor was removable. It’s odd that it’s not mentioned in the blurb, shown in the imagery or even explained in the pdf manual under cleaning and maintenance. This is an important and beneficial feature as it eases cleaning and speeds up drying.
The 7 so-called ‘closable floor drains‘ are also odd, when the one at the back will do. If they’re just to drain the boat once on land, are seven – or indeed any – really needed? Especially as we now know the floor comes out easily. Just flip the boat over and let it drip dry. Many FDS IKs come with these multiple stern floor drains to help shed water and, more importantly, the grit, from inaccessible side cavities between the floor and sides (left). But the floor comes out on a Chelan so it’s not such an issue.
The suspicion is that they might be a self-bailing feature and, although again, you won’t see it in the bullet-point blurb, the manual does say:
This product can be used in self-bailing mode. In this case, all cockpit drains should remain open. Some water will enter boat in self-bailing mode but will not accumulate.
Or to quote the video below
… [open drains] allow the boat to be paddled in rough water, surf or white water
In other words, the Chelans could be called optionally self-bailing which sounds like the best of both worlds. As mentioned, the blurb wisely steers clear of bragging about this, too much because, chances are for most people it won’t work so well. A boat is either designed to be self bailing – in which case it simply has bailing holes below an extra thick floor like the ROBfin I tried or AG’s Mackenzie range – or it isn’t. The heavier the load (or the smaller and less buoyant the model) the more the boat will fill up with water which will slow it down and become annoying as the water swills about. (On much slimmer hardshell sea kayaks this in-hull sloshing can lead to critical instability). The optional-bailing element may explain the unusually thick seat bases to ensure you’re not sitting in water.
The now improved, or higher-spec seats were a complaint on earlier models for their lack of back support – it’s a common issue with all IKs. They’re now positioned on velcro floor bands, like the Kokopelli Moki we tried. This is the quickest way to adjust seat positions for a level trim. There are small pockets along the seatbase’s front edge and on the backrest, and they’re braced off the sidetube tops. As mentioned, at five inches the bases are unusually fat. But you don’t have to inflate them fully, even if a taller seatbase makes paddling more comfortable; the 36-inch width Chelan has stability to spare.
Footrests use the same velcro bands to get the positioning just right. Not a bad way of doing it, providing that tube isn’t too squidgy.
One of the best things on the Chelans is the attention to detail: handles at each end plus the sides, loads and loads of attachment points along the floor and side tubes, as well as Molle webbing which is becoming a thing on all sorts of outdoor gear now, and the usual deck bungies. Plus there’s an accessory mount floor plate for fishing gear or a GPS. I could do with one of those and it’s one of the side benefits of flat and firm DS floors. There’s even a
beer can cup holder. I suppose it was only a matter of time before an IK got those.
They sure have made a meal of the skeg fitting which uses a tiny and easily lost screw bolt and backing nut (left and right) which reminds me of the rubbish old Gumotex alloy skeg. Why complicate things like this when there are so many easy-to-use, no-loose-parts slide-in skegs around (as on the Moki).
Up front there is a shallow keel strake to protect the floor from wear and help with tracking. A better way of doing it than Sea Eagle’s bulky DS keel. You do wonder if the 155 might be as hard to turn as the Moki was.
The whole boat all folds down into a huge, 170-litre back pack. The 155 may not be that heavy at 19kg, but like many PVC boats, it sure has a lot of bulk.
Some more thoughts on the Chelan 155 having been out in it quite a few times now, with one, two and three people in it:
Single handed it’s easy though with less weight it zigzags a little more but still tracks well. I sat just a little to the stern of middle and if I sat a little further forward I suspect it would help trim and tracking. Easy enough to carry using the side handles when inflated for a few yards down to the water.
Really good with two people – gets up to speed easily and “seems” a little faster than the Sea Eagle Fastrack 385 we were kayaking with, but still to be tested.
Yesterday my wife and I were on the canal with a 10 year old in the middle, sitting on the inflatable saddle type seat. He found it most comfortable and enjoyable sitting with his back against the forward seat, facing backwards. He is a little scared of anything slightly unblanaced but found the stability of the Chelan reassuring and had no issues with it. With a little careful adjustment (and there’s lots you can do in the Chelan) we could adjust the seat positions to ensure everyone had enough space. Our 10 year old is quite tall and I am tall too, but wouldn’t want to take anyone taller in the middle. I suspect I’ll be using it mostly with him in the front seat and maybe buying a single seat Chelan too.
Inflation takes about 10 minutes if I go at it with a stirrup pump. 3 psi in the side tubes and 6 psi in the floor. Feels very rigid at that.
The seats are fantastic! So comfortable with supportive backs. I’ve tried them fully and partially inflated and I think I prefer being slightly lower down with them just slight less than full. They’re actually the wrong size and shape to easily fit into the backpack but with a bit of squeezing it works.
It folds up and fits into the large backpack easily. The downside being it is very hard to get something of that size and weight up from ground level onto your back, without help, or starting from a higher position – such as a car boot (trunk). I found myself manhandling it for a few yards rather than putting it on my back. I think I’ll see if I can attach some wheels to it as that will make it easier to use.
The floor is removable which makes cleaning and drying much easier. I’ve hosed it down a few times, let it dry outside and then done a final drying with a towel. Easy once you work out how but took a few attempts to find the best way. Certainly need to partially inflate it again at home to dry properly.
So yes – very happy with my purchase. Took advice from my more experienced IK friend who said don’t go anywhere near the cheaper end of the market (from his experience). It is a really nice kayak, glides and tracks well, nice and stable and is quite fast too. Looks very classy and clearly good quality. How long it will last time will tell but I suspect we’re going to use it a lot.
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OK here’s the side-by-side comparison between the Aquaglide Chelan 155 and a Sea Eagle FT 385. I’ve been out a few times with a friend – let’s call him Mr SeaEagle – who is a much more experienced inflatable kayaker than me, with two Sea Eagle 385’s, he loves them that much. Some of this relates to his comments too. Both are fantastic kayaks and we would both be happy with either.
1. Length/space – obviously the Chelan is much longer and for 2+1 people it is easily the most spacious and comfortable. Mr SeaEagle has on occasion taken 3 people in his but it is cramped.
2. Speed – not much in it but the Chelan’s longer waterline helps here. Both move well and easily, single or double handed. If my inexperienced paddling technique were better I suspect the Chelan would be even better.
Winner: Chelan – but not by much
3. Glide – again not much in it but the Chelan wins this one again. Impressively it seemed to continue to glide into a head wind.
Winner: Chelan – again not by much
4. Tracking / directional stability and manoeuverability – a hands down win for the Sea Eagle. Into the wind, both kayaks perform admirably well – and ignore all those snobbish comments from hard-shell hard-nut kayakers! We powered through a decent headwind and chop without difficulty and they still glided through when we stopped paddling. But with the wind side-on, the SeaEagle was noticeably superior. It’s inflatable keel and hull shape really outclassed the Chelan with its flat bottom plus skeg. Turning into the wind again was far easier for Sea Eagle and I had to work hard with the Chelan, also possibly because of the larger side tubes. It’s nor hard to manoeuver the Chelan but the Sea Eagle clearly has it here.
Winner: Sea Eagle!
5. Storage and attachments – the Chelan has so many – and I’ll never use most of them, but they’re there if I need them. I know there’s a longer Sea Eagle available but just the range of the options the Chelan has is excellent. If I was going camping for several days I would definitely want to be in the Chelan.
6. Setup and put away – the Chelan is longer, higher with bigger side tubes so takes more inflation. Mr Sea Eagle has done it far more often than I so is clearly better at it but I think the Sea Eagle would still be faster. But we were within a couple of minutes of each other so no biggie.
Winner: Sea Eagle
7. Two other areas where the Chelan comes out well: the seats and the storage bag. Mr SeaEagle has the older inflatable high backed seats which may have been replaced now, but the Chelan’s are magnificent and he likes them too. I will happily sit in them all day and still be comfortable and well-supported.
Mr Sea Eagle was impressed with the backpack storage and is now thinking of getting one for his kayaks instead of the basic “wrap around” he has. Yes – it takes a bit of effort to get it on your back from the ground but once there it is much easier to walk any distance with it.
I suspect the Sea Eagle has set the standard for sometime and it probably still does in many respects. In stronger winds I think the Sea Eagle would be the better. But it certainly has competition from the Chelan which is a newer model. Mr SeaEagle says he would still buy the same if he was buying again. I would be happy with either and both have their wins.
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Hi Mark, thanks for your and Mr SeaEagle’d thoughts. good to know the SE inflatable keel works in a side wind. I assumed they made tracking good and the cost of maneuvrability, but I guess not.
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I just bought one of these a couple of weeks ago and can confirm it is beautifully made and a really good quality piece of kit. Looks good too. I am in the UK. Friend who is a more experienced IK’er with a Sea Eagle fast track really likes it and is impressed by it.
The dropstitch floor is removable and rock solid. Feels very rigid. It glides really well too – feels very sleek for an inflatable. Probably moves a little faster than the Sea Eagle but hard to tell.
Skeg fitting is no problem at all.
Haven’t kayaked with the drains open so can’t say whether it will self-bail or not.
Really pleased with it and happy to answer questions if anyone has any.
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Good to hear Mark. Post updates or links when you get on the water. A comparison with an SE Fast Track will be interesting.
Here’s the email exchange about the floor (see #3 below):
Shafer M (Aquaglide)
Mar 1, 2021, 11:00 MST
1. The cockpit width is 17″.
2. You could use the seat without inflating the bottom cushion, the seat being inflatable allows it to be adjusted to your liking.
3. It can be removed yes!
Feb 26, 2021, 11:45 MST
Message: Hi there, I’m considering buying a tandem kayak, and am looking at the Sea Eagle FastTrack 385 and the new 2021 Aquaglide Chelan 155. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions about the Chelan 155 for me:
1) I see the overall width of the kayak is listed at 36″; can you tell me what the interior width of the cockpit is?
2) Can the seats be used without the bottom cushion of the seats being inflated?
3) Can the drop-stitch floor be removed for cleaning/emptying the boat of water?
Thanks. I take it the floor simply lifts out once the straps are undone, as if it was an iSUP board placed in there (like the Moki).
It does not go into an annoying sleeve, as some DS floor panels do?
lol….to be honest, I’m not sure Aquaglide have their stories straight–on the DS floor and other things. I’m sitting here with the kayak laid out in my basement, and I have the DS floor in my hand out of the kayak (I’d send you a photo if I could). In fact, if you look at the photos, you can see two straps that are used to hold the floor down so that it doesn’t “come out” during use. Trust me, I also had emailed AG to ask if the floor was removable prior to buying it (because I’d read on your site and elsewhere how hard it is to dry kayaks, and I wanted to make sure we could take the floor out), and they assured me it was. The fact someone’s told you it isn’t tells me that someone’s not got their story straight at AG.
Another case in point on how they don’t have their stories straight–in their YouTube sales video for the Chelan 155, they say it handles a flat water, rivers, “and whitewater”. But when I emailed AG to ask about whitewater, the lady who emailed me back very clearly stated that the 155 is not rated for, nor intended for, whitewater.
It’ll be a while before we can get out on the water with it here on the prairies in Canada (winter is slowly relinquishing its grip), but I’ll try to remember to come back and post a review once we do. Cheers!
Thanks for the clarification, Dave. In two preview pictures above (taken from the video) you can see a lateral strap you mention going across the floor (over the footrest velcro) which looked to me like a crude way of holding a separate floor in place. And a review years ago on airkayaks of an older Chelan model did mention something like: ‘make sure the floor is lined up’.
And – you can’t say I’m not thorough! – a Google search for ‘chelan floor bladder’ came up with the details linked below, but the gearshedsportscom link is a dead end.
All this was what made me unsure whether the floor was fixed and why I contacted AG who replied as they did.
If it’s not all packed up, you can email a photo to
ikandpak å inflatablekayaksandpackrafts. com
As for whitewater, the only thing that hampers a 155 is its length (ie: hard to turn easily and quickly) which would be the same with any long kayak. Plus some water comes in over the sides. Up to the Grade 2 WW I typically enjoy, that’s rarely an issue and – we’re told by some at AG – is what the 155’s 7 drains are for. If the floor is removable this makes most of them all the more redundant for proper drying.
I can’t see one in the video, but there is usually what I call a printed, stuck-on Certification Label specifying pressures, max payloads, the HIN (visible at 2:59) and sometimes, a WW rating. There is one in the manual but I see no WW rating.
Thanks again for the info; I have amended the preview.
Bring on the prarie thaw!
Chelan floor bladder search image
Ah, I see–thanks for the clarification. Yeah, the bladder images you linked to are associated with the *previous* year’s model (which I believe was called the Chelan “HB”–the 2021 version is called the “DS”). It’s confusing because this 2021 version is a redesign, and in that link, it looks to me like the first three images are of the old version (the “HB”), and the other two are of the current year version–I think…?
As for the WW, that email exchange I sent to you precipitated a further email exchange regarding the Chelan and WW. I’m only looking to use the Chelan in up to Class 1 WW, so I asked the lady (somewhat incredulously, given the very mild international definition of Class 1 WW) whether AG was really saying that the Chelan was not rated even for that. In their reply, AG made it clear that the only AG kayak that is rated for ANY type of WW is the Mackenzie.
In answer to your separate question–yes, once the lateral straps are undone, there is no sleeve; the floor just lifts right out. I’ll try to take a video later today and send it to the email address you provided.
Thanks again, we’re getting to the drop-stitch bottom of it.
Wrt WW classification; the Mackenzie does appear to be a purpose-built self-bailer with (probably an extra thick floor and) non-closable floor drains and a kicked-up bow. If some water splashes inside your Chelan you’ll only have yourself to blame!
Thanks in advance for video.
Hi, thanks for posting this. We just bought our Chelan 155 a couple days ago (we’re in Canada). Haven’t had a chance to use it yet, but just wanted to comment on a couple of things in your review:
> Some Aquaglides have a removable DS floor panel which eases cleaning and speeds up drying, but on the Chelan’s is glued to the outer hull skin.
On our Chelan 155, the DS floor is removable. Is this a UK vs. Canada thing?
> They sure have made a dog’s dinner of the skeg fitting which uses a fiddly and easily lost little screw that reminds me of the old Gumotex alloy skeg. Why they would do this when there are so many slide-in skegs around (as on the Moki) is a mystery.
My (admittedly amateur) understanding is that it uses a universal type of “US” skeg fitting used in surfboards, SUPs, etc. They claim this is done so that if the skeg is lost or broken, a replacement can be easily sourced and fitted on.
As it happens I emailed AG yesterday to confirm the floor was fixed, as I had seen it described as a ‘bladder’ in some places. (Elsewhere I see tubeless side tubes being called ‘bladders’ which confuses things).
They replied quickly: ‘The Chelan 155 has a high-pressure drop stitch floor that is not removable, unlike the new Chinooks.’
I am pretty sure it will be the same 155 sold everywhere. I actually think a removable DS floor is better for easy cleaning and drying.
Yes, I saw their claim the skeg is a ‘universal fit’ but I’ve never seen that type on an IK.
Much more common are the slide-in and side peg ones, easily bought on ebay.
I’m sure it’s as effective on the water, it’s just that fiddly loose screw doesn’t stand a chance of being found if dropped on a pebbly beach with cold hands.
I hope you’ll be enjoying your nice new boat soon. Send us an actual users review sometime.
I would be particularly interested to know how it works with the drains open.