Watersports are gaining in popularity. Whether it’s floating down a river, cruising across the lake, fishing in shallow waters, or enjoying splashing through the swell in coastal waters, the inflatable boat is one of the best entry-level boats for people new to water-going vessels.
The inflatable boat has one of the widest range of uses of any recreational boat. They can range from a few feet in length to over 30-feet. Some are only suitable for oars, while others can fit trolling motors for fishing or outboards for high-performance use on the water.
From lifeboats to launch vehicles for yachts, or a fun starter boat for the kids, inflatables are affordable, lightweight, and easy to transport. They come with many configurations for seating, driver setups, pontoon materials, hull designs, and more.
This post unpacks everything you need to know about inflatable boats.
- What Is an Inflatable Boat?
- Hull Types in Inflatable Boats
- Inflatable Boat Materials
- Benefits of Inflatable Boats
- Disadvantages of Inflatable Boats
- Top Inflatable Boats Brands and Models
- Wrapping Up
What Is an Inflatable Boat?
Inflatable boats come in so many models and designs. We categorized them into the following for this article.
Inflatable Boats for Recreation
The inflatable raft is the most common type of inflatable boat available. These rafts are often unpowered models if they are under 12-feet in length. They typically require oars to push them through the water, and they are suitable for use on lakes and estuaries where the water is calm. They aren’t a good choice for coastal use as they may sweep you out to sea with only the oars to battle the current.
Some of the larger models above ten feet in length may include features like multiple air chambers, safety valves, grab ropes, and rod holders. Most models have inflatable keels, and they present a puncture risk, so don’t use them on large deep bodies of water as they may offer a drowning hazard if a submerged rock or log punctures the boat.
Inflatable Boats for Fishing
Fishing inflatables typically have designs that are over 12-feet, with inflatable pontoons made from durable, puncture-resistant materials like Hypalon. Some models have solid plastic keels and a rear wall in the aft, allowing for mounting a small outboard or trolling motor.
These models are great choices for fishing, with stronger construction on the frame, featuring metal crossbars for support. Some models have solid floors, allowing for the mounting of center console driver stations. You also get a cuddy under the console steering and electronics for storage.
These boats may also come with casting decks or storage in the bow. The driver console may or may not include a seat, but they are incredibly easy to drive and maneuver. These boats also make a good choice for dive boats for short excursions, allowing you to carry several passengers seated on either of the pontoons.
These boats also make suitable launch vehicles for larger motor yachts that need an onboard vessel to get to shore.
Inflatable Boats for Water Sports
These inflatables feature solid floors, fixed keels, and plenty of passenger capacity. They are very similar to the fishing inflatable but somewhat longer. You get more passenger capacity, and there is a wall at the boat’s aft for attaching an outboard or trolling motor.
These models may also include t-towers for wakeboarding and skiing and storage space in the bow or under the driver console to keep your gear in place in choppy ocean waters on the way to the dive or fishing site.
Inflatable Boats with Keels
Larger inflatable models like fishing and dive boats will include solid plastic keels. They won’t puncture if they hit a rock or submerged log, and they provide better stability for inshore fishing and dive trips. The keel planes over the water, allowing for higher speeds and more maneuverability from the boat.
Hull Types in Inflatable Boats
The inflatable comes with several hull designs, depending on the size and purpose of the boat.
The flat hull is for smaller boats and rafts that don’t have keels. Typically, they feature design and construction with CSM or PVC materials. These boats don’t have a performance design, and they are only suitable for recreational use in shallow water, not in the open ocean or inshore.
The V-hull on inflatables helps provide the boat with more stability at speed. They are the ideal upgrade to inshore boats, giving you a puncture-resistant keel with more glide on the water for faster speeds and excellent handling.
These hulls are the best choice for offshore fishing and dive boats. They typically feature on the most expensive models, offering you superior stability at speed and excellent maneuverability on open water.
Inflatable Boat Materials
Inflatables typically feature one of two materials in their design.
This synthetic rubber is UV-resistant and tough, with more puncture resistance than PVC models. Hypalon provides excellent abrasion resistance, and it’s a lightweight material allowing for a durable, rugged construction that’s suitable for the high-performance range of inflatables.
Polyvinyl chloride polymers are more affordable than Hypalon, but you don’t get the same weather and abrasion resistance against wear and tear. The material also punctures easily, making it unsuitable for use out on the ocean. These materials feature on the smaller dinghies and recreational inflatables.
Floors Types on Inflatable Boats
Inflatable boats come with solid or inflatable flooring, depending on the model. Floors on inflatables allow for easy standing without upsetting the balance of the boat. Here are the different flooring options for inflatable boats.
Roll up floor
These floors are the most common types found on inflatables. They could feature design and construction with wood or aluminum slats, and they usually feature in inflatables without keels.
You don’t get the same stability and durability as other flooring systems, but they are affordable, and they do the job of stabilizing the boat for fishing.
The hard floor is the choice for offshore use. These floors give you exceptional stability, adding to the structural integrity of the boat. Hard floors are ideal for dive boats and those vessels wanting to go offshore.
The air floor is common on small recreational dinghies used for fun on lakes, rivers, and estuaries. However, they present a puncture hazard, and they don’t have the same durability and stability as roll-up or solid floors. Standing up to cast on the boat will put it off balance.
Benefits of Inflatable Boats
Speed and Handling
Inflatables come in a wide range of performance options. The smaller rafts are terrible to navigate, especially in rougher conditions. Since they rely on oars or trolling motors, they don’t move very fast.
The larger inflatables featuring keels, hard or roll-up floors, and larger pontoons allow for the attachment of outboard motors. The lightweight design of the watercraft means that you get plenty of speed and performance with smaller engine capacities, saving you fuel.
Inflatables with hulls also offer excellent stability and turning capability, allowing the boat to cut through the water at higher speeds.
The inflatable boat is one of the most affordable options. You can pick up small recreational models for a few hundred dollars. The larger inflatables with keels and flooring are more expensive. You can expect to pay anything from $5,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on the size of the vessel, customizations, and motor options.
Inflatables are easy to trailer after a day on the water. Most dealers will include a trailer with your purchase if you’re buying one of the larger models with flooring, keels, and motors.
Fishing and Watersports Capabilities
The larger inflatable models with outboard motors and hard floors are ideal for fishing and watersports. They give you plenty of power and speed, and the engines leave big wakes for skiing or wakeboarding.
Smaller inflatables may rely on trolling motors for fishing out on lakes or estuaries. The larger boats feature outboard motors up to 150-HP, allowing for speed and maneuverability.
Multiple Sizing Options
Inflatables come in the widest selection of lengths and widths. There are hundreds of models available to suit any watercraft requirements. Typically, inflatables range from 5-feet to 22-feet in length.
Center Console Designs
Most of the larger inflatable models come with a center console driver design. The console contains all the driver instruments and electronics like GPS and fish finders. The center console setup positions the driver close to the boat’s center, providing tighter turns and a 360-degree view of the water when dropping off divers or skiing.
Disadvantages of Inflatable Boats
While the inflatable boat is a great choice for any form of fun on the water, it comes with a few drawbacks you need to consider before making your purchase.
Limited Standing Room
The smaller inflatables are not suitable for standing. Since they have inflatable keels, the boat will sag under your weight as you stand, throwing the boat off balance, resulting in a capsize. Even the larger models may have limited standing room on the vessel, and there is rarely any seating other than a captain’s chair. The passengers have to sit on the pontoons and hold onto guy ropes to prevent them from falling from the boat at higher speeds.
Limited Storage Space
The inflatable has minimal storage space. The larger models may have some bow storage or a cuddy in the center console, but that’s all you have available for your gear. They aren’t the best choice for stowing fishing gear.
The inflatable is a day boat designed for short trips. They don’t have any accommodations as you find in cabin cruisers or cuddy cabin boats. Some may have Bimini shades and tow bars for limited protection from the sun.
Top Inflatable Boats Brands and Models
There are so many inflatable models to consider. Match the boat with your needs for recreational use, fishing, diving, or watersports. Some of the more popular models available include the following boats.
The Scout 430 inflatable offers you an affordable boat with PVC construction and an inflatable hull. This model deflates for easy storage and transport in a carry bag. You get polyester support for excellent abrasion and puncture resistance, with glued and reinforced seams for durability.
This boat can carry up to four people, and it comes with oars for propelling the boat along in calm coastal waters.
Zodiac Pro 500
If you’re looking for a dive boat or fishing vessel, the Zodiac Pro 500 is a great choice. This adaptable RIB boat features sturdy construction with a V-shaped plastic hull, tow rings, a motor mounting board in the aft, and a 12-gallon fuel tank under the seat.
There’s a fiberglass center console driver configuration with a padded bench seat to reduce driver and passenger fatigue on the water. You also get a foot pump, oars, pressure gauge, and a repair kit included, with enough capacity to carry up to nine persons.
You get an antislip floor and mounted passenger fastenings for safety at high speeds. This boat is the ideal choice for affordable fishing or dive boat.
Saturn Inflatable 14′
This model from Saturn includes design and construction with Dtex PVC materials for durability and sun resistance. It’s resistant to punctures, abrasion, and wear and tear, giving you a reliable, dependable boat for all water conditions.
The inner frame of the boat supports the inflatable design, providing stability through its marine-grade aluminum sectional flooring system that makes it suitable to stand and cast from the deck when fishing. You get a plastic hull for better control and speed on open water and compatibility with any type of water sports activity.
The US Coast Guard uses this model for a rescue boat, so it’s a good indicator of design quality and performance.
The inflatable is a great choice for recreational or professional use. There’s a boat for absolutely any activity you can imagine, from floating down a river to fishing offshore. With a selection of motors, center console setups, hull configurations, and materials, there is an inflatable model to suit your activities out on the water.
They make for one of the most affordable recreational boats, with price tags starting at a few hundred dollars. Even professional models with large decks and outboard motors are reasonably priced compared to other fiberglass boats.