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Submitted: 05-07-2007 by jimriceva

I spent quite a bit of time in my Innova Helios 380 in the past two weeks. I was on vacation in New Smyrna Beach, FL, and paddled it around Callalisa Creek and in northern parts of the Mosquito Lagoon. This review is based on that, plus performance around home in small lakes and in the Potomac River near Washington, DC.

I bought this kayak used in August 2006. I was looking for a used Innova Sunny or Solar II, and this one came up first, at a good price, so I got it.

The real reason for the Helios - or any inflatable kayak - is to have a kayak that can be stored in a small space, or transported in a small space. I live in a condo in Alexandria, VA. We don't have any common storage space here, so what I have has to fit in the closets here. The Helios can fold down to a size of a carryon bag for an airline travel. I use a bigger bag, a 30x14x14 rolling boat bag from Bass Pro, which holds the kayak, 4-piece paddle, pump, my PFD, the dog's PFD, and fishfinder. It's still checkable if you travel by air, and it holds everything I need together in one place.

One of the biggest concerns mentioned on yakfishing boards about inflatables is how they do when there are hooks around or sharp objects (oyster shells, for example) in the water. Hooks weren't a problem. Just like on plastic, they slid right over the rubber outer coating of the yak. If you get a hook hung on one of the main tubes or the floor, and jerked up, you might have a problem. If you pay attention to where your hooks are, you won't have a problem.

Another hazard mentioned is oyster bars. Sometimes, if you don't know the waters well, they can be unavoidable. I scraped over a few of them. The only damage I suffered was two short cuts through the nitrylon rubber outer coating. The polyester reinforcing fabric was not damaged, nor was the internal rubber coating which holds in the air. The nicks in the outer rubber occurred at the lowest place on the yak, right under my seat. Otherwise, the Helios rode up and over them. If you hit nails or something pointy, you would have more problems, but shells seem to be less of a hazard. I have a urethane adhesive called Aqua Seal that I'll be using to paint over these nicks.

Speed is a factor for some people. In my experience, it was faster than an Ocean Kayak Malibu II paddled solo, and faster than a 10' sit inside boat I rented once. I've read that the Helios is faster than a Cobra Fish 'n Dive. It isn't going to set speed records being paddled solo, but most of us put in as close as we can to where we want to fish, then use the kayak to go the last mile to the fishing ground.

Paddling solo is the only way I've used my Helios. This leads to the bow being high out of the water and tracking to be awful. As ballast I've found that three gallon jugs of water fit perfectly in the area under the bow dodger, and can be bought anywhere for less than $1 per jug. This gives you 24 lbs of weight there, which keeps the bow in the water and makes this a decent tracking boat.

An issue that comes up frequently is finding kayaks for big guys. I'm 6'1" and weigh 270. This kayak handles that easily. With the front ballasted as described above, the back with me sitting in it is just a little lower than the front. There is a slight bend in the tubes where I sit even when fully inflated. Max weight capacity is around 400 lbs. Stability is good; it would be better if I were a little lighter and didn't have the distortionary effects of my weight on the boat.

Wind affected the Helios less than I expected. When under way, it tracks adequately and wind is not as much of an issue. At rest it does tend to blow around a bit, and could use an anchor or other method of staking out. Current affected the Helios much more than I expected. In the ICW near Riverbreeze Park in Oak Hill, it took several strokes of the paddle just to get to the point where I was staying in one place against the current, and several more to get forward motion against the current.

If this were a plastic boat, it would be adequate, but nothing special. The special part comes when it's time to put it away and it goes in the back of my hall closet. For an inflatable, it's very tough, quick, and stable. It's perfect for apartment dwellers, condo owners, and travelers who can't expect to find a kayak rental at the end of their journey.

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