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Original Issue

New inflatable toys and equipment will provide fun on the water this summer

Until some Nosy Parker of a scientist comes up with proof to the contrary, air is still lighter than water—and a whole industry continues to thrive on this bit of elementary physics. It all started with the inner tube, and the end is not yet in sight. Inflatable objects range from water toys that resemble a zooful of colorful animals to station wagon mattresses to small boats for hunters and fishermen. Because they can be deflated when not in use, they take up very little storage space, whether in an automobile or a closet. They are lightweight, and if properly cared for will wear better and last longer than foam-composition equipment or toys.

Most good inflatables now stress safety features such as dual air chambers that are completely independent of each other and which inflate and seal separately. If a stopper should pop off accidentally or a puncture occur in one air chamber, the other air chamber will support the float until safety is reached or repairs can be made. Many seams are double laminated. Valves on some of the better equipment are designed so that they allow air to enter freely but keep it from escaping. Caps are generally added to each valve as an extra precaution.

The composition of most inflatables, whether boats, mattresses or toys, is either vinyl plastic or rubberized fabric. Inexpensive vinyl inflatables are sometimes made of reused vinyl which docs not hold up well under wear. A good virgin vinyl generally runs from 12 to 14 gauge (weight and thickness). Manufacturers, however, are not required to mark the gauge of vinyl. The best way to tell the difference between vinyls is to feel and compare the thickness and weight; an inexpensive, reused vinyl is generally much thinner and lighter.

Rubberized fabric is durable and more difficult to puncture than vinyl. It is made of heavy-duty cotton duck or nylon that has been impregnated with liquid rubber. This seals the fabric, making it watertight. Mattresses and tubes made of rubberized fabric do not stick together from the inside when deflated as old rubber inner tubes do when they are stored away-for the winter. The fabric is treated and powdered on the inside to prevent sticking.

Parents and nonswimmers should keep in mind that many inflatables, as well as other floating devices, are not life preservers, unless they are specifically labeled as such. Most floating objects are primarily for fun and comfort.

A wide assortment of pumps and inflators to take the work out of blowing up inflatable equipment is available this season. There are hand pumps, foot pumps, built-in pumps, replaceable CO2 cartridges and even an inflator that plugs into an auto dashboard. These windsavers range in price from 70¢ to $13.

The three inflators sketched above are from the Hirsch-Weis Canvas Company in Portland, Ore. The accordion-pleated, cone-shaped pump on top ($5) operates by hand or foot. Manufactured in Germany, it is made of red rubber and utilizes a coil spring for fast, easy operation. The tip will fit metal valves, and it comes with an adapter to fit rubber valves. The center pump is called an all-purpose Sports-Lung ($1.35). It is a hand-operated bellows. It is metal-reinforced on both sides, and the bellows is made of rubberized blue cloth. The rubber hose will fit any air mattress. The bottom inflator is called a Lectro-Flate air pump ($13). It eliminates all the work of hand, foot or mouth inflation because it plugs into the lighter socket on an auto dashboard. It will inflate anything, from inflatable cushions and decoys to station wagon mattresses, backyard swimming pools and boats. It comes with a rubber adapter hose for metal valves and operates on 12 volts.

The Voit Rubber Company has a hand-operated Inflato-Bag Air Pump (70¢) which is made of heavy plastic and is designed to trap a large volume of air through light hand pressure. Air moves through an attached tube that fits onto all oversize valves. Voit also makes a Lung Pump ($2) of heavy-gauge vinyl that measures about 12 inches by 6 inches and is almost flat. It operates with coil-spring action for fast inflation by foot or hand. Compressed CO2 gas cylinders or cartridges are also available for rapid inflation. They can be obtained from the Gokey Company, St. Paul (four for $1.20, postpaid).

The large Voit two-man utility boat ($50) is designed for hunters, fishermen, skin divers and vacationers. It is 8½ feet long, 4½ feet wide and 20 inches deep and is made of blue double-gauge extra-heavy-duty laminated vinyl. Three separate air chambers plus a concealed inner tube give it maximum safety; either of the two main chambers is supposed to keep two adults and a 30-pound motor afloat. Each air chamber has a one-way valve that lets air in but prevents it from escaping. To deflate, a small tool is inserted into the valve and is locked there until all the air has been removed. The boat comes equipped with a sea anchor, tow rope, tie-on ropes for oars, repair kit with extra deflating tools and a heavy-duty bag-type inflator. Diagrams for installing seat and motor attachments also come with the boat. Thousands of these little boats are owned by hunters and fishermen because of their usefulness and because of the ease with which they can be transported and stored. Skin divers who carry a lot of heavy gear should put an inflatable mattress in the boat to protect the craft from sharp spears and equipment.

The Neptune Kayak ($150) is a two-seater sports boat made by Metzler of West Germany for Healthways, Los Angeles. It is 6 feet long and has five air chambers. Bright red in color, it is made of extra-heavy-duty rubberized canvas. Best of all, it will fold up into a shoulder carrying bag.

Voit has copied the adult utility boat for youngsters (right, $6) and added a feature that should give extra interest and enjoyment. A transparent viewing port in the bottom of the boat provides a clear underwater view. The boat is 52 inches long, 27 inches wide and 10 inches deep and has two separate air chambers with double laminated seams. There is a water chamber in the bottom of the boat that helps keep the craft upright while boarding. F.A.O. Schwarz has an inflatable boat ($25), made in Austria of heavy-gauge vinyl, that looks like a comfortable bathtub. It is 70 inches long, 36 inches wide and 14 inches deep and has five separate air chambers, one on each of the four sides and another on the bottom. The inflatable bottom is to insure comfort as well as balance in the water.

Air mattresses have been designed this season for a wide variety of uses. Some have grommets attached to them so that two mattresses can be snapped together to make a wall-to-wall sleeping area in a station wagon. Other mattresses are made in new longer lengths to fit inside sleeping bags. The most comfortable air mattresses (all are guaranteed never to have lumps) are the ones constructed with tufts or squared quilting. These will not roll, and provide a uniform and comfortable sleeping surface. Most have built-in air pumps.

F.A.O. Schwarz carries an elegant all-purpose air mattress ($35), made in Austria, that can be used as a sunning mattress, sleeping cot, chair or chaise longue. Made of red plaid rubberized fabric, it is 75 inches long by 24 inches wide. Each of the three sections inflates separately. The metal alloy frame is jointed and can be set and locked at four different angles. The legs fold for flat packing.

L. L. Bean (Freeport, Me.) makes an excellent air mattress ($21.85) for camp, station wagon or beach. It is constructed of heavy rubberized cotton, with special tufted construction that gives it uniform thickness throughout. Equipped with a brass rotating lock-type valve, it is 75 by 25 inches and can be used in a sleeping bag.

A double-width (72 by 47 inches) station-wagon mattress of laminated vinyl ($6), which can also be used in the water, is made by Holiday, New York City. It features two pillows that inflate individually and two separate valves for the body of the mattress. Holiday also has a surfrider mattress ($4), with a clear-plastic viewing window built in. Made of heavy-duty vinyl for surfing, it is 72 inches long by 30 inches wide and has three separate air valves for inflating.

A good safety raft for pools and lakes is Healthways' 51-by-54-inch canvas-and-latex rubber raft ($30). It has six air chambers (one on each of the four sides and two in the middle of the raft). Ropes pass through grommets on all four sides of the raft for added safety.

The most imaginative swimming toys for children this season are inflatable turtles, crabs, inchworms and walruses. The turtle ($5 at F.A.O. Schwarz) is made of heavy-gauge vinyl and is 21 inches long. Its flat back provides a comfortable water ride for children while its head conceals a squeaker. It floats on three separate air chambers, and the flippers can be filled with water for added stability.

Alvimar puts out the realistic-looking crab ($2). Made of vinyl, it is 22 inches in diameter and has a split tail that helps to hold a youngster securely. Alvimar also makes a colorful six-panel beach ball ($1) with a painted face and googly eyes that move. It is 20 inches in diameter.

The suave-looking inch worm is 50 inches long and has three buoyant air chambers (below, $2). Children can float on it or ride it like a horse. The fat, shiny, 30-inch walrus ($2.50) comes complete with inflatable tusks and rolling eyes. Both worm and walrus are made by Ideal Toys, New York City. Ideal puts out a paddle tennis game ($1) consisting of two inflated 17-inch rackets that make a walloping sound when they connect with a tennis-size inflated ball; the game also comes with a standard-size polyethylene shuttlecock. Another good water game is the Air-O-Ball pool and beach game (General Sportcraft, New York City, $3). Two inflatable vinyl balls, mounted on 5-inch wooden handles, are used to bat a 9-inch inflated ball back and forth.

The Gokey Company has revived the old inner tube for swimming pool play. Called the Safety-Play tube, it is made of Butyl rubber in standard tire sizes and is available in bright red or yellow ($4.25). The big difference between it and a real inner tube is the valve, which is recessed so that the metal stem will not scratch children using the tube.

There are a number of life preservers available that are inflated almost instantly by compressed CO2 gas cartridges. Voit carries a neon-red vest-style skin diver's life preserver with adjustable straps ($20) that can be inflated by either cartridge or mouth. It is made of heavy-duty neoprene-coated nylon and is supposed to hold the face out of the water when it inflates.

A yoke-shaped inflatable vest that utilizes a Mae West design (without bulk or padding, however) comes from the Gokey Company ($11). It can be worn over or under clothing without hampering movement, which makes it ideal for fishermen and hunters. The vest is also excellent for water skiers since it inflates instantly when an emergency knob is pulled. It comes in one size for both adults and children.