When I think of canoes, I think of the traditional wood-canvas Prospectors straight out of a Tom Thomson painting. Of kayaks, I imagine handcrafted composite hulls built on Greenlandic lines in an Old World workshop. So, I had to park my prejudices to review the Sea Eagle 370, an inflatable PVC two-seater that retails starting at $349 USD. I also had to deflect several derisive remarks from snooty companions referencing mail-order catalogs.
About Sea Eagle
The catalog business is, in fact, where Sea Eagle proudly got its start way back in 1968, supplying retailers like L.L. Bean and Sears & Roebuck with a $99 inflatable called the Pyrawa closely resembling today’s 370. Sea Eagles went on to cruise the length of the Mississippi and float expeditions worldwide, including the first descent of China’s upper Yangtze River. By 2015 the Long Island-based family business estimated it had sold more than 250,000 boats, which by numbers alone should trump anyone else’s definition of a proper kayak.
Sea Eagle 370
Length: 12 ft 6 in
Width: 34 in
Weight: 32 lbs
Packed size: 31 x 19 x 8 in
Capacity: 650 lbs
Price: $399 USD (Pro Package)
Set up in less than 10 minutes
Comparison is not only the thief of joy, as Theodore Roosevelt said. It is also the downfall of the snob because my suspicion of the Sea Eagle’s pedigree caused me to stick it in a corner of my garage until test day and completely forget to look up the set up instructions or the instructional video. And then one sunny afternoon found me on a riverbank surrounded by loose valves, plastic bags, an expanse of vinyl and sections of paddle feeling like a complete novice fool.
Fortunately, the Sea Eagle is very forgiving. The included foot pump plugs into each of the five screw-in one-way valves—three for the main hull chambers and one for each inflatable spray decks—one at a time, starting with the floor. The Sea Eagle 370 inflation pressure of 1.1 psi is easily achieved with the foot pump and measured on the tubes using the included visual ruler. My improvisational approach ate up several times more than the manufacturer’s claimed eight-minute inflation time. Still, I was rather chuffed with how intuitive the Sea Eagle turned out to be.
Immediately, the inflated craft spoke to my 10- and 12-year-old kids with the marine-architectural vernacular of an oversized pool toy. Or maybe I should say jumpy castle because the two siblings, whose minds had not been preprogrammed by any notions of paddlecraft hierarchy, immediately jumped into it and initiated a game of rocking back and forth, trying to pitch each other out onto the grass.
“Can we keep it,” they asked, in a voice reserved to beg for puppies or ice cream, “Pleaaaase?” It was all I could do to get them out so I could paddle and discover how much more the Sea Eagle 370 is than just an inflatable kids toy.
I headed out solo, with just one of the two seats installed in the middle position, into some spirited spring class I and II whitewater. The Sea Eagle felt stable, dry, nimble and responsive, tracking well when ferried back and forth across the river thanks to the two molded plastic skegs and the shape of the I-beam floor tubes that run the length of the river hull to form chines.
Yet the Sea Eagle 370 also turned quickly into eddys and even responded to being put on edge like a hard chine sea kayak. In straight-ahead paddling, the side pontoons almost sit above the water, making a narrower waterline for good speed, and only really engage in waves, under a heavy load, or when tilted into the water to help carve a turn. The Sea Eagle 370 tracks and turns much like a narrower rigid-hull sea kayak of the same length.
Remarkably stable and durable
After scraping and bouncing over a few rocks and being dragged upriver for a bit, the K80 PVC hull showed no signs of wear. Sea Eagle rates the Sea Eagle 370 for whitewater up to class III. The lack of self-bailing valves might be a problem in bigger water, but since the single stern drain plug sits mostly above the waterline, it could function as a self-bailer in the right conditions.
A few days later my family headed to the beach. Out of a suburban garage quiver of carbon fiber paddleboards, a Kevlar canoe and one fancy British sea kayak (with a total value equaling the GDP of a small island nation), I’ll give you one guess as to which craft made the cut. You could almost hear the heathen cry of the Sea Eagle, like the voice of Buzz Lightyear to the highfalutin toys that got left behind: So long, suckahs!
My second inflation attempt came in close to 15 minutes. With the optional electric DC pump plugged into my van, I might have achieved the suggested eight. At the beach, the Sea Eagle became a play platform. Although much more susceptible to wind, the Sea Eagle beats any other kayak for sheer unsinkability. My attempts to wash the sand out by filling the hull with water completely failed because there was nothing I could do to submerge it. Even after turning it upside down, I’d flip it back over to find nary a drop in the cockpit—a safety bonus in any potential capsize. What water does splash in disappears below the beams in the floor, leaving the paddlers high and dry.
The Sea Eagle 370 deflated quickly and was easy to fold and stow in the included carrying bag, which is big enough to fit all the accessories, including pump and paddles. The Pro package is priced at $399, which is excellent value and includes all accessories. While pricier than some other inflatable brands like Intex, Sea Eagle offers greater carrying capacity and a venerable history as a specialty watercraft manufacturer, all backed by an included three-year or optional six-year warranty.
For rugged touring adventures in a Sea Eagle inflatable, consider the more robust Explorer series. The Sea Eagle Explorer 380x is the same size as the Sea Eagle 370 but has an additional 100 pounds of capacity, a removable high-pressure drop stitch floor, self-bailing valves, and a 1000 Denier reinforced hull rated for a motor mount and whitewater up to class IV. But at a very affordable price point, with a generous bundle of accessories and features suitable for most recreational uses, the Sea Eagle 370—or its shorter sibling, the Sea Eagle 330—is a perfect introduction to the world of inflatable kayaks.
This article was first published in Paddling Magazine Issue 64. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions here, or download the Paddling Magazine app and browse the digital archives here.
With a lightweight design and efficient hull shape, the Sea Eagle 370 is easy to handle for paddlers of all abilities. | Photo: Colin Field