Sunday, January 16, 2011

Will It Float?

Years ago, or maybe just last Friday, there was a segment 'Will It Float?' on David Letterman show. They would toss all kinds of things into a tank of water and guess whether the objects would float. Some said it was not very funny, silly and pointless. Others opined it was fascinating, educational and taught scientific principles of answering questions through empirical research through an accessible comedy medium.

Kayaks, especially the sea kayaks, float--we know that, right? It's the ultimate sea-going vessel that, in capable hands, can challenge seas that threaten big strong supertankers. Just to confirm this, I've flooded the cockpits of multiple kayaks and once I even filled the entire bow chamber separated from the cockpit by a bulkhead. The horizontal machine that is a kayak turned into a vertical bobber fit to catch whales, yet, the kayak stayed afloat. I've filled my bulkheadless folding kayak with water and it floats thanks to structural sponsons.

But is a fiberglass kayak really just an 'unsinkable' Titanic in disguise? I already knew that it is no nimble sea creature with a cockpit even half-full of water but will it stay above if all compartments are filled? In other words, will it float?

Here's the answer.

No tricks, no weights just water in all four chambers. If this happens to you in deep water, the kayak will go to the bottom and you will remain without a ride home.

That being said, it took quite a bit of pushing, spinning, shaking and wiggling to force the air completely out of the kayak. This particular model--Valley Avocet--has upturned nose and tail which, as it turns out, trap just enough air to keep the boat on the surface. I wonder if that's an intentional design feature. I needed to push the bow and then the stern down deep under the water in sequence to get those last air bubbles out. Only then the kayak sank. So that may take care of an accidental loss of hatch covers.

Another likely scenario is hull breach. If a kayak is floating upside-down with air leaking through the bottom of the hull in all chambers, in theory, it will eventually sink. A typical kayaker would have something in dry bags in the hatches. Given how little fiber and resin differ in weight from water it seems to me that even a single dry bag would keep the kayak on the surface even if completely submerged.

None of these assurances should comfort a paddler, however. Yes, sinking the kayak is very unlikely but a water logged beast completely submerged under the waves is entirely useless as means of travelling or surviving on the water. I was just looking for something to do at a pool session other than work on the hand rolls.

So there goes our own little round of "Will It Float?"

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