Many people don’t realize that many soft inflatable boats (SIBs) can be equipped with an outboard motor. But why would anybody want a motorized propulsion system, when you have oars?
There are loads of practical and recreational reasons:
- Gliding on the water in a boat with a motor feels great!
- Getting from A to B is quicker than using oars.
- Traveling longer distances.
- Dinghies used as tenders for larger boats may need to be seaworthy.
- Fishing boats need a motor, since they are packed and heavy.
- And most importantly, sometimes you would rather relax than row.
In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of soft inflatable boats that can be equipped with an outboard motor, what you need to know about motors and my recommendations on boat-motor pairings.
Inflatable rafts with motor mount capabilities
Inflatable rafts are mostly recreational water crafts you would use in lakes. They are popular since they are affordable ($40 – $200) and easy to set up.
Some inflatable rafts can be equipped with a motor, by installing a motor mount kit.
With inflatable raft motor mounts, you are looking for 2 things:
- ease of assembly and disassembly
Here are the inflatable rafts I would recommend for motorized use.
Intex rafts with motor mount
The Intex motor mount is made of strong synthetic material, I haven’t heard of any breaking. It can hold up to a 3 HP outboard motor.
They are very easy to install and disassemble. Intex boats have 2 loops on the rear top and 2 on the rear side. You just slide the aluminum mount tubes into them and lock in place.
The Intex motor mount kit is sold separately of the boats, but it is pretty cheap, here it is on Amazon.
As I mentioned, Intex manufactures several inflatable rafts that can be fitted with a motor. These rafts vary in size, durability and of course price.
- Challenger 3
- Seahawk 2, 3, 4 and Seahawk II
- Excursion 3, 4, 5 (read my experience with the Excursion 5 here)
- Mariner 3, 4 (I have a Mariner 4 and love it, here are my thoughts on it)
Sea Eagle SE9 with motor mount
This inflatable boat is in a class of its own really. It’s large, can carry a whopping 1200 pounds, and it’s reinforced inflatable floor is so stable that you can even stand up on it.
No other inflatable raft can tout these things.
The SE9 is equipped with a motor mount, so you can easily hook up a trolling motor.
There are several other extras you can get for this raft, including a canopy for sunny days.
All this comes at a considerably higher price tag though.
Airhead Angler Bay with motor mount
Airhead makes an inflatable fishing raft called Angler Bay, which can also be mounted with a motor of up to 3 HP. This boat comes in 3, 4 and 6 person versions.
The Airhead boat and motor mount kit is a bit more expensive than Intex’s similar offering.
An issue I’ve seen on the Airhead transom/motor mount is wood cracking. They say the wood is marine grade hardwood, so it should hold up well. But I think plastic would have been a much better choice.
Sevylor Fish Hunter 360 with attachable motor
Sevylor also makes a fishing inflatable raft, which can be equipped with a trolling motor.
The advantage of this boat is that it is very wide, so you can fit a lot of equipment or people into it. It is a 6 person boat officially.
This boat does not need a separate motor mount kit if you use Sevylor’s 12v electric trolling motor, as it can be attached right onto the boat. This is a very nice feature. The downside though is that the Sevylor motor generates only 18 lbs of thrust, which is very weak.
I don’t have any personal experience with this boat, but you can read other people’s opinion on the link above.
Inflatable raft trolling motor recommendations
I wrote a detailed article on trolling motors and battery pairings which you might want to read. If you’re short on time, here is a summary.
There are 2 types of motors you can put on an inflatable boat:
- electric trolling motor
- gasoline powered outboard motor
Most inflatable rafts are rated for an electric trolling motor, or a max 3 HP outboard motor (gasoline motor).
Putting anything stronger and heavier on these rafts will strain the PVC material that the tubes are made out of, as well as the glue of the motor mount.
We’ll talk about petrol powered outboard motors later in the sports boat section of the article, let’s have a look at electric trolling motors now.
Other than the Sevylor Fish Hunter which has its own brand of trolling motor, you can basically place any electric trolling motor on these rafts, such as the one I have:
Newport Vessels trolling motor
I have had the 55lbs thrust on my Intex Mariner for about 3 years now, and it’s been smooth sailing. No problems at all, which is reflected by all the positive reviews on Amazon.
They make it in several versions, based on thrust:
- 36 lb thrust
- 46 lb thrust
- 55 lb thrust
- 62 lb thrust
- 86 lb thrust
Besides its reliability, I love how quiet it is, and that it is very easy to lift out of the water.
I reach speeds of around 5 MPH with it, which is ok for an inflatable boat with an electric motor.
I also have a friend that has a Goplus 86 LBS thrust trolling motor, he is satisfied with it as well.
Both the Newport and Goplus are saltwater friendly. If you are only going to use your raft on fresh water, you could also go with a Minn Kota trolling motor.
Remember that you’ll also need a battery and a battery power center, here is an article on how to choose one.
For these, I recommend MinnKota power center (because it has circuit breakers and a 12-volt plug) and the Mighty Max battery (because it’s served me well).
Here is an expanded article I wrote on electric motors for inflatable boats.
Inflatable dinghies with motors
Inflatable dinghies and sports boats were designed for motorized use, since they have a transom, which is the rigid piece of the boat connecting the 2 side tubes.
Notice the extra trapezoid in the middle of the transom? That is called an in-pad (or transom pad, or motor pad). It serves the dual purpose of protecting the transom and reducing motor vibration. Most quality dinghies will have a transom pad, but in case yours does not, make sure you install an after-market one. They cost $10 – $40 on Amazon.
The most popular, and more importantly, the most reliable inflatable dinghies you would use motorized are:
Newport Vessels makes very high quality inflatable dinghies, all of which can be fitted with an outboard motor. They have several models with various sizes and floor types.
I bought an 8 foot Dana model about 7 years ago, and love it. It is super durable, haven’t had any problems with the valves or setting it up. The material is very strong, supposedly because they build these using triple layered PVC like whitewater kayaks.
It can plane easily and is very maneuverable thanks to the inflatable keel. It has a 4 piece aluminum floorboard which takes some getting used to, but not an issue after the 3rd-4th time you put it together.
It can be fitted with any outboard motor, they recommend up to 10 HP models. But I use a 15 HP motor. “More power” 🙂
Inflatable Sport Boats
The generic brand name “Inflatable Sport Boats” doesn’t do this brand justice in my opinion.
They manufacture very high-quality inflatable dinghies, perhaps best in class. This shows on the price sticker though.
As with the Newport Vessels boats, these can be fitted with an outboard motor of up to 10 HP.
I’ve heard good things about this boat, but I would still prefer the Newport.
Cheap inflatable sports boats
You’ll find inflatable dinghies for $300 – $400 as well. I wouldn’t buy those, since cheap inflatables are manufactured using, well, cheaper materials and methods.
Regardless, I’ve heard good things about the Goplus dinghy (around $400 on Amazon last I checked). They have a 2 and 4 person version, and it costs about half of what a Newport does.
Inflatable sport boat motor recommendations
You could place any electric trolling motor onto an inflatable dinghy… but why would you?
The dinghies listed above are seaworthy, they can reach speeds of 20-25 MPH using petrol driven outboard motors.
What kind of outboard motor is best for inflatable dinghies?
The sky is the limit, but a more powerful engine will cost 3x that of what you paid for the boat.
- Firstly, you have the ~3 HP motors. The advantage of these is that they are lightweight and usually quieter.
- Based on my experience, a ~6 HP motor is plenty to propel the smaller dinghies.
- You’ll need a stronger ~10 HP motor for the larger dinghies that will be carrying many people or supplies.
Naturally, the more powerful the motor, the more it will cost.
The holy grail of outboard motors for SIBSs are:
- The 9.9 HP group of motors, led by the Tohatsu 9.8. Other brands in this group are the Mercury 9.9, Yamaha 9.9, Suzuki DT9.9, Honda 9.9.
- The 15 HP group of motors, made by Mercury, Yamaha, Tohatsu, Suzuki.
Regardless of which brand of you get, make sure to follow the maintenance procedures outlined in the instruction manual. Not caring for an outboard motor properly will cause it to jam up very quickly.
If you are interested in learning more about petrol motors, check out this article I just wrote.