Inflatable SUP Review: BOTE Rackham Aero 12’4”

Paddling Buyer’s Guide

BOTE describes their redesigned Rackham Aero 12’4” as an even more versatile and capable evolution of their go-to inflatable board for adventurous paddlers. Great news for fans of the original Rackham Aero 12’4”, among them anglers, families, dog owners and expedition paddlers who prized its 400-pound carrying capacity and superb stability.

Stand, sit, pedal or paddle the redesigned BOTE Rackham Aero 12’4”

BOTE Rackham Aero 12’4” Specs
Length: 12’4”
Width: 38”
Height: 6”
Weight: 50 lbs
Capacity: 400 lbs
MSRP: $1,549 USD

How did BOTE boost the capability of their highest capacity, most heavy-duty inflatable paddleboard? The longtime paddleboard manufacturer borrowed from their emerging line of inflatable kayaks and added two significant upgrades to the Rackham Aero 12’4”: the addition of APEX Pedal Drive compatibility and the inclusion of a removable Aero SUP Paddle Seat. The result is an inflatable standup paddleboard that can transform into a sit-down, paddle- or pedal-driven watercraft in just a couple of minutes.

In other words, it’s perfect for paddlers seeking the stand-or-sit versatility of a hybrid SUP-kayak, along with the portability of an inflatable and the hands-free efficiency of a pedal drive. Whew, that’s a lot of options.

Design and outfitting

Our demo Rackham Aero 12’4” arrived by courier on a sunny spring morning in what I can best describe as a formidably large and heavy box. Inside, the board came neatly stowed away in its rolling travel bag. Once I manage to heft it free of its cardboard embrace, comfortable handles and sturdy wheels make it easy to roll the bag across smooth terrain. Lifting and transporting over uneven ground is another story. At nearly 80 pounds and with no shoulder straps, the fully loaded bag is not something you’ll be slinging across your back for a jaunt to the beach.

The BOTE Rackham Aero 12'4" inflatable SUP packed in its travel bag with pump
Everything packs up neat and tidy in BOTE’s sturdy rolling bag for hassle-free transport or airline travel. | Photo: Virginia Marshall

For anglers and other users accustomed to hauling around hard-shell pedal drive kayaks, transporting the Rackham Aero 12’4” is a breeze. Out of the bag and ready to paddle, our demo board tips the scales at 50 pounds. Add the seven-pound seat and 20-pound pedal drive, and the Rackham still feels nimble on the water compared to the average fishing pedal craft.

BOTE sells all of its inflatable boards in ready-to-ride packages, which is especially great for new paddlers. Inside the bag, you’ll find the Rackham Aero 12’4”, three-piece adjustable SUP paddle, Aero paddle seat, center fin, removable pedal port, repair kit and dual-action hand pump. Depending on which of the four available Rackham color schemes you choose, you’ll receive matching accessories for a snazzy, coordinating look. What else do you need? Just a matchy-matchy life jacket, of course.

BOTE has the accessories game dialed in. A quick glance at the topside of the Rackham Aero 12’4” reveals a constellation of accessory and gear mounts for easy add-ons and custom deck layouts. A paddle sheath, stakeout pole sheath and a pair of slide-in Aero Rac receivers ship with the board. Anglers can invest in one (or more) of BOTE’s nifty, easy-to-install racks—the standing height Tackle Rac or Power Rac, codeveloped with Yak-Power, or the low-profile Bucket Rac, which holds a five-gallon bucket and has four vertical rod holders.

Of course, if you buy the Bucket Rac, why not pick up one of BOTE’s matching KULA five-gallon bucket coolers? The padded lid makes a comfortable seat, and the cooler doubles as a baitwell or equipment storage, keeps ice for days, and is incredibly tough. In fact, the KULA is certified alligator-proof, which could come in handy if you paddle in BOTE’s home state of Florida.

Rackham Aero setup

Back to the Rackham Aero 12’4” paddleboard. First, the set up. Using the supplied hand pump, it took me just seven minutes to inflate the dual chambers to the recommended inflation pressure of 10 to 15 psi. One valve inflates the nose and rails, while the second valve inflates the floor. The result is a high-capacity, rigid-feeling board with a recessed deck for a lower center of gravity. This is an important design feature, given the Rackham’s generous rails and seven-inch thickness. Recessing the standing and sitting area keeps it supremely stable without compromising the board’s expedition-ready capacity.

Partway through inflation, the see-through pedal port is nested in the corresponding hole just ahead of the paddler. If you’re using BOTE’s APEX Pedal Drive (sold separately for an additional $899), this porthole becomes the interface between the pedal mechanism and the propeller.

Regrettably, I didn’t have the opportunity to test-drive the Rackham Aero 12’4” with the APEX PD installed. Having seen it in action, however, I was impressed by the ease with which the user can switch between paddling and pedaling. In shallow water or approaching shore, the whole mechanism can be pivoted out of the water and tucked on the deck under the forward bungees. The propeller features a 10:1 gear ratio for smooth and efficient pedaling, and intuitive forward and reverse. Steering is accomplished via a spring-loaded, kick-up rudder installed on the board’s tail and operated by a simple hand control that can be mounted on either side of the seat.

Given the added expense and complexity, not every Rackham Aero 12’4” owner will invest in the APEX Pedal Drive. Or at least, not straight away. The obvious target market is dedicated anglers who want to keep their hands free for fishing and cover ground more quickly with less effort. But recreational and fitness users will also enjoy the versatility and full-body workout a pedal drive adds to the paddling experience.

woman stands and paddles the Bote Rackham Aero 12'4" inflatable SUP
The Rackham Aero 12’4” features a puncture-resistant, military-grade PVC skin and composite drop stitch construction, plus three fins aid tracking and directional control. | Feature photo: Virginia Marshall

On-water performance

Paddling my local waters, I start first on my feet. At 38 inches wide, the Rackham Aero 12’4” is a rock-solid platform for standing, moving around and even sharing the wide-open deck with a large-breed, four-legged friend. The board also tracks well, aided by the removable center fin and two built-in side fins.

Converting to kayaking mode is a simple matter of clipping the Aero seat’s four webbing straps to the corresponding loops on the Rackham’s deck. Voila! Now I’m ensconced in the comfort of an inflatable throne, resting my dogs and dipping a double blade.

BOTE’s Rackham Aero is a do-it-all inflatable

If you are a purist paddleboarder, or you’re looking for a lightweight inflatable to haul into remote waters, the Rackham Aero 12’4” is probably not the board for you. Minimalist, this board is not. Instead, it’s an adaptable, feature-rich, fish-all-day heavy hitter with stand, sit or pedal functionality. Or, as one fan put it, “It’s a workhorse without the work.

Where to buy BOTE Rackham Aero 12’4”

BOTE Rackham 12'4" Aero

Rackham Aero 12'4"

Introducing the reimagined Rackham Aero, now compatible with the APEX Pedal Drive. This all-new combination evolves the Rackham Aero into the ultimate upset of the paddle sports world. Revolutionary adaptability so intuitive that it settles the battle between boards and kayaks. Everything you want out of a paddle board with everything you need out of a kayak, working in harmony to reshape the way you enjoy the water.

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Cover of Paddling Magazine Issue 67This article was first published in the Summer 2022 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

The Rackham Aero 12’4” features a puncture-resistant, military-grade PVC skin and composite drop stitch construction, plus  Three fins aid tracking and directional control. | Feature photo: Virginia Marshall


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