Boat Toys

By Michael Vatalaro

Here are four new activities to try from your boat. Get on the water and under it, and make your summer more fun.

Sleigh Ride To Fish Town

Want to get close to the fish and get a little exercise while you're at it? Launch your fishing kayak from the mother ship the next time you anchor out, and enjoy fishing in a stripped down and, some would say, more relaxing form. Though dedicated fishing yaks have storage for lots of tackle, most kayak anglers tote just one or two rods, and while you can mount a fishfinder in a kayak, simple sight fishing holds a greater appeal for many kayak fishermen. After all, kayaks excel at getting into skinny water where a fishfinder is of little value.

Photo of a kayaker paddling alone on the waterAlways carry a handheld VHF and life jacket aboard your kayak, no matter how shallow the water, or how far you intend to venture from your mother ship.

Sit-on-tops rule the fishing kayak scene, but here are a few other things to look for in a fishing yak: a dry storage space with a big hatchin easy reach; an area behind the seat that's large enough to hold a milk crate or bucket for tackle; mounting points for your GPS, rod holders, or fishfinder if you want one; and a relatively wide beam for its length, giving you stability to cast safely.

Stand Up And Paddle

Depending on where you boat, you may have already seen someone go cruising through your anchorage on what looks like an oversized surfboard, a tall paddle in their hands. Stand-up paddleboards (SUPs in industry parlance) come in a variety of shapes and sizes depending on their intended use. For boaters, one of the best kinds to consider are inflatable SUPs.

Photo of a stand-up paddleboard

"Inflatable boards are amazing for boats," says Kathy Summers, owner of Stand Up Paddle DC and a certified SUP instructor. Inflatable SUPs roll up to the size of a large duffel, so you don't have to have an 11- or 12-foot board taking up space on your boat. "It takes about 15 minutes to pump up by hand," says Summers. "An electric pump cuts that to about four minutes. You can get three-piece paddles to roll up in the board to make storage and travel even easier."

Not all inflatable SUPs are created equal. "Look carefully at the pounds-per-square-inch air-pressure rating (in psi) on the valves, before you buy,"; advises Summers — the higher the better. Unlike your dinghy, which only inflates to a few psi, a high-quality inflatable SUP will have valves rated to as much as 17-20 psi. You'll pay more for a high-psi board, but it will pay off by remaining more rigid, making it easier to paddle and balance, with a lesser tendency to "banana." Her last tip? "Buy a paddle that floats!"

Photo of the 12-knot SeaBob underwater scooter from See-Doo

Go Scooting

Always dreamed of a secret underwater lair à la James Bond "Thunderball" but never had the undersea scooter to pull off the act? Well, your time has come. Highly maneuverable and neutrally buoyant scooters have made it possible to enjoy free diving in a whole new way. Given that many of us can't afford to drop "five figures" on a super-sleek, 12-knot SeaBob (but check out their videos at the website below), the new RS line of scooters from Sea-Doo can fill in nicely. Powered by lithium-ion batteries that keep you going for up to 90 minutes, the 21-pound RS1 has automatic-buoyancy control, making it easy to stay where you want in the water column, an important safety consideration if you don't have tanks strapped to your back. Three speed settings topping out at nearly 4 knots, comfortable handles, and rugged construction make the RS1 the one you want. And at $1,449, it's cheaper than buying that underwater cave.

Photo of two men scuba diving using Brownie's A compressor

Into The Blue

If you are fortunate enough to boat in a region with good water clarity, you owe it to yourself to take a look at the world under your boat. Start with a simple "look bucket" ( Then, sooner or later, you're going to want to go snorkeling or take a SCUBA course and venture down there yourself. An alternative, though, is to employ surface-supplied (hookah) dive systems like those made by The Air Line or Brownie's. A compressor on the surface sends air down a flexible hose to a scuba-style second-stage regulator, which is tethered to you. Add a weight belt, mask, and flippers, and you can dive to 60 or more feet, depending on the size of the compressor and the number of divers it's supporting. For true freedom, the compressor can ride in a float, which will tag along behind you on the surface. Robert Carmichael, CEO of Brownie's, also tows an inflatable SUP behind the compressor float, so he can paddle back at the end of a long dive. 

— Published: June/July 2012

Stowing the Toys

Think carefully about how and where you keep your toys aboard. You'll want to be able to have fun with them quickly and easily, but they must be secured well.

While nylon lines with well-tied knots will almost always work, don't overlook storage devices frequently sold where you buy your toys. For example, windsurfer racks, attached to stanchions, hold boards in place off the deck and come with protective supports and straps with hooks to keep the board in place. Readymade Velcro ties can be strong and easy to undo. With Velcro ties and any other straps, watch for deterioration from UV and replace when needed. Covers from material such as Sunbrella can add years to UV sensitive materials.

Photo of velcro ties keeping kayaks in place on a boat

Stow toys where they won't interfere with walking or even running along the deck. During docking and anchoring this may be crucial. Tripping can ruin the operation and seriously injure you. Also, avoid stowing in places that will interfere with jobs necessary to run the boat, such as anchor retrieval, seeing ahead (including close in to the bow), rigging dock lines, and launching a tender. Never stow toys such as kayaks, boards, or small dinghies over hatches. Absolutely nothing should interfere with a quick emergency escape from any hatch.

Plan for wind and consider aerodynamics. Recently when hit by a tornado, our two kayaks, tied down with nylon rope, rounded bottoms up, came through unscathed. But we lost a wind surfing boom, costing more than $500, because it was enclosed in a bag which, although tied down and within a storage rack, was easily picked up vertically.

Never overlook the possibility of boarding seas. When it happens, the force of solid water can damage or wipe away most toys on deck, sometimes causing them to damage the boat itself. It's usually better to store large items well aft of the bow.



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