I’ve owned and used inflatable paddle floats from several companies over the decades. The North Water is the first significantly different design to come to market in a long time.

Let’s start with the included storage bag. So simple, and fulfilling such obvious needs that you wonder why no one did it before. It addresses two major challenges with inflatable floats: security of storage and protection from UV (cracking and delamination from overexposure to sunlight is what eventually kills many inflatable floats).

The storage bag lets the float take up significantly less space on your front deck, allowing better “deck management” as instructors call it. It also clips into your lines, and so is far more secure than a naked paddle float loosely stuffed under your deck bungee cords. Having the float in a bag means it will take a few seconds longer to deploy than an unbagged unit. But that’s a trade-off I’m happy to make in return for the greater certainty it will be there when I need it, and not be swept away by the same waves that bowl me over and make me need the float in the first place.

Having the float tightly rolled and in a bag does mean that if the whole unit has been submerged, you’ll want to dry out both the float and the storage bag interior (especially in warm weather) to prevent mildew, which is another leading cause of death for inflatable floats. Again, in my mind, that minor additional maintenance is a fair trade for the extended life and added UV protection.

Cutting corners in manufacturing is not ordinarily a good thing and not something North Water typically does. But in the case of this float, they have cut corners, and for many good reasons! Compared to the typical “inflatable pillow” rectangle of many floats, the long oval of the North Water fits both Euro blades and Greenland paddles more snugly. It also allows the uninflated float to roll into a snugger burrito, for easier sliding into the storage bag. That oval shape, plus the thoughtfully included handles, allow the North Water to double as a lifeguard-type rescue can, so you can channel your inner David Hasselhoff or Pamela Anderson, as the case may be.

I’ve found that the more hydrodynamic shape also glides more easily across the surface of the water than a rectangular float when using it as a “training wheel” for sweeps and rolls.

The longer, narrower shape will also allow the inflated float to fit further up towards the end of a kayak when stuffed into a flooded bow or stern compartment as improvised buoyancy. (This is a very common test scenario in kayak training. Having also done this for real with a paddling partner’s kayak in the large swells of Clayoquot Sound/Tla-o-qui-aht, I can attest that the more water you can displace from the very tip of a flooded compartment, the more maneuverable the kayak will be, and the more secure the paddler in the leaky boat will feel.)

The storage bag is designed to double as a waist pack/belt and has a loop for attaching a lanyard to the float itself. I often carry snorkeling gear on my kayak outings, so being able to use the float as either a “diver down” surface marker or on my waist as a ready-to-inflate swim float will be very handy. Especially on longer trips, I love it when a piece of equipment serves more than one purpose.

All in all, another well thought-out and well-made piece of kit from North Water that I look forward to using for years to come.

Note: I have no affiliation with North Water beyond being a very satisfied user of many of their products, and having received a pro discount on my purchase of this paddle float and other accessories.

Philip Torrens philiptorrens.com