In today’s inflatable boat market, there are numerous models and types of SIBs. New ones are introduced regularly as well. They may have the same construction material or composition, but manufacturers continue to claim features and upgrades that make their boats appealing.
In this sea of marketing ploys, it is hard to make a choice.
This is the reason why I have prepared an article on the best inflatable boats for every need. Pouring all my knowledge and experience into this article, you get a chance to read reviews of the best inflatable boats and, of course, things you have to consider before buying one, as there is no 1 size fits all.
Best inflatable boats of 2023 – Rafts + Dinghies
This list of the most popular SIBs will be divided into 2 parts:
- Inflatable rafts – entry-level, yet quality inflatable boats
- Inflatable dinghies – sea-worthy, professional boats
Here is a summary of all of the boats on my list:
Sea Eagle SE9
This inflatable raft is made of the highest quality, is rated for Class III rapids, is so sturdy you can stand up, and has a 3-year warranty. It is pricier than a Mariner though.
132" x 55"
Intex Mariner 4
This durable inflatable boat is made of thick PVC, has a keel for maneuverability, and a roll-up floor. Mount a motor, and enjoy the waters.
129″ x 57″
Intex Excursion 5
This raft is a good all-around pick. It is cheap, and has nice features. It isn't as high in quality as the boats above, but still makes for good value.
144″ x 66″
Intex Seahawk 4
This is the lowest price entry-level inflatable boat you can get, which is still decent. You can get a couple of seasons of family fun out of it.
138″ x 57″
|5.||Airhead Angler Bay 6|
This boat is aimed at budget-fishermen, but it makes for a good family boat as well. It is roomy and has nice features, but lacks a few things that the Intex Excursion has at its price point.
140″ x 66″
Sea Eagle Sports Runabout
The SR (Sport Runabout) line of Sea Eagle boats are the best inflatable boats in the dinghy category. These sea-worthy boats are top quality and innovative.
126-168″ x 65-72″
This company makes inflatable dinghies of various sizes. They are of good quality and are offered at a good price. Sea Eagle is somewhat better, but Newport is cheaper if you're on a budget.
91-150" x 60-66"
|8.||Inflatable Sports Boats|
This company makes inflatable dinghies that are a bit better than Newport Vessels, but not as good as Sea Eagle. The pricing reflects this as well. They look great though.
105-128" x 60-68"
|9.||Bris 1.2mm PVC 12.5 ft|
This extra rugged dinghy is not only beautiful, it is made of especially thick material. It is only available with a hard floor though, which makes it very heavy.
150" x 66"
Now let’s have a look at each boat in more detail, starting with the rafts, and followed by the dinghies.
Sea Eagle SE9
The highest quality inflatable raft in 2023
Brand: Sea Eagle
Max passengers: 4
Weight capacity: 1200 lbs (544 kg)
Size: 132″ x 55.2″ (335 x 142 cm)
Weight: 35 lbs (16 kg)
TheSea Eagle SE9 is one of the most popular inflatable rafts made by Sea Eagle.
It is made out of extra thick K80 PVC, and is even rated for Class III rapids. It just bounces off of rocks, which makes it great for river expeditions without worries.
It is large enough for 4 people and has a capacity of 1200 lbs. That is a lot for a boat of this size, more than 300 lbs more than the Mariner 4 (which is roughly the same size).
The SE9 has a semi-hard floor which is stable enough to stand in. No other inflatable raft is this stable, not even the Mariner 4. The stable floor is very comfortable, and even makes the boat suitable as-is for fishing.
The downside is that the Sea Eagle is more expensive, costing about $100 more than the Mariner.
The SE9 is made up of 4 chambers, which makes it virtually unsinkable. These are the main chamber, the backup chamber, the motor mount chamber, and the air floor. Even if a tube punctures, the air in the rest of the tubes will keep you above water.
The boat comes with everything you need to get out on the water, including a pump, oars, carrying bag, and a patch kit.
It has 4 welded oar handles, two on each side. These can be used to carry the boat, and to install a bimini top to protect you against the sun.
You can also buy a separate motor mount, in case you want to attach an electric trolling motor or an outboard.
Check out this review of the SE9:
The Sea Eagle SE9 is a versatile inflatable raft. The portability, rugged construction, and 3-year warranty of this boat certainly help it stand out.
It has all the necessary features which you might look for in an inflatable raft for fishing, river trips, family fun, and even Class III rapids. The sum of its features and quality make the SE9 unparalleled as an inflatable raft.
Intex Mariner 4
The best inflatable boat in the “raft” category
Max passengers: 4
Weight capacity: 880 lbs (400 kg)
Size: 129″ x 57″ x 19″ (328 x 145 x 48 cm)
Weight: 77 lbs (35 kg)
The Mariner 4 is an inflatable raft that sizes up to 10.75 ft in length and weighs around 77 lbs. It has a weight capacity of 880 lbs, which enables it to carry a maximum of 4 people, but I would say either 3 adults or 2 adults + 2 kids would fit comfortably.
It is made up of 3 layers: 1 polyester layer and 2 thick PVC layers.
The sides and the bottom of the boat are encased with a layer of wrap guard that offers added protection in case the boat bumps into or runs over stones or sharp objects in the water.
These features protect the raft against punctures, abrasions, and UV rays.
The best feature of the Mariner 4 is its hard-plastic flooring. This offers more stability compared to other boats that have a standard inflatable flooring. It is also far more affordable than other rafts with solid flooring: it costs two or three times less!
The boat also has an inflatable keel for better maneuverability, which is important in case you put a trolling motor on the raft. It is the only raft I know of that features an inflatable keel.
The Mariner 4 has five separate air chambers: 4 in the main body and 1 in the keel. Even with the separate chambers, the Mariner 4 is easily inflated and deflated, especially with the high output manual air pump included upon purchase; it can inflate each chamber in a few minutes.
The inflatable raft also comes with 3 inflatable and detachable seats that fit snuggly in the boat, so you don’t have to worry about it moving. You can also opt to detach the seats to make room for more gear and equipment.
It’s also perfect for fishing because of its built-in fishing rod holders on each side.
The Mariner 4 also offers an easy paddling experience with its 360-degree swivel oar handles and 54-inch oars. It also possesses motor mount fittings should you choose to pair it up with a trolling or outboard motor.
For a more thorough discussion of its features, here is a quick review of the Intex Mariner 4:
Intex Mariner 4 opinion
The Mariner 4 is a unique SIB in many ways. It is the only one that comes with a hard floor to make it more stable, as well as an inflatable keel to improve maneuverability. If you’re looking for a top-notch boat that can handle pretty much anything, you’ve found it.
Intex Excursion 5
Great value entry-level SIB for the entire family
Max passengers: 5
Weight capacity: 1320 lbs (600 kg)
Size: 144″ x 66″ (366 x 168 cm)
Weight: 53 lbs (24 kg)
The Excursion 5 is the largest and most comfortable raft manufactured by Intex.
It is constructed with extremely durable 30-gauge PVC, making it puncture-resistant.
It is spacious and has a humungous load capacity. It has a length of 12 ½ ft and a weight of 53 lbs. It is a spacious 5-person raft that has a weight capacity of 1,320 lbs.
In fact, many budget-minded fisherman get the Excursion 5 as the base raft, build a hard floor for it, slap on a motor, and the boat becomes a fully capable fishing boat.
The Excursion 5 is made up of 3 inflatable chambers: 2 in its main body and 1 in the floor.
It also features inflatable seats with backrests; these are detachable seats that can be clipped on inside the raft. These seats are actually very comfortable when compared to the seats of other inflatable rafts.
It also features 4 welded oar handles and fishing rod holders, two on each side.
It also has a motor mount fitting should you choose to use a motor to power up your raft. You need to buy Intex’s motor mount separately, but the fitting is on the boat.
The set also includes two 54-inch paddles and a high output air pump, so basically everything you need to get on the water.
The only drawback is that there is no quick air release valve on the floor. This means you have to squeeze the air out of the floor tubes, which makes deflation a bit slower. However, if you buy a good air pump with the deflation feature, you can use it to suck the air out.
For a more detailed review of Intex Excursion 5, watch this video:
Intex Excursion 5 opinion
This boat is a comfortable SIB for a weekend getaway on the lake. It has plenty of room for families looking for a relaxing time, as well as hobby fisherman. The Excursion 5 has several modding possibilities, like attaching a motor, a canopy, or even building a hard floor.
Intex Seahawk 4
Budget-friendly inflatable boating
Max passengers: 4
Weight capacity: 1050 lbs (475 kg)
Size: 138″ x 57″ (350 x 145 cm)
Weight: 47 lbs (21 kg)
Like the Excursion 5, the Seahawk 4 is made of 30-gauge thick and durable PVC vinyl material. It has a length of 11 ½ ft, and a weight of 47 lbs. It is a large boat, yet it is very light.
It is a 4-person raft that has a capacity to carry up to 1050 lbs of weight onboard.
The Seahawk 4 has three chambers: two in the main hull and one in the floor, which can be inflated in 5 to 6 minutes using the high output air pump included in the package.
It also has unattached inflatable seats that can be placed anywhere in the inner hull. The seats are made out of PVC as well, but are not of the same construction material as the raft.
The distinctive feature of the Seahawk 4 is its yellow rash guards located near the oar locks. This gives it added protection against paddling friction that can usually wear out the surface of most inflatable rafts.
The raft also features 4 welded oar locks and 2 fishing rod holders
The boat comes with two 48-inch paddles. They are perfect for rowing on a calm lake, but not long enough to get good speed or control in wind.
As most Intex rafts, the Seahawk has a motor mount fitting that you can use to attach a motor mount and a trolling motor.
The low price means that compromises had to be made though. One negative of the boat is the included oars I already mentioned. Another is the fact that it does not come with a carry bag, so you will probably want to get something to move it around in and store it. Also, the boat is not as rigid as other more expensive inflatable rafts.
Here is a quick review of the Intex Seahawk 4:
Intex Seahawk 4 opinion
The Seahawk 4 is one of Intex’s most affordable inflatable rafts. It is aimed at recreational boaters, mostly families. It is comfortable for 2 adults and 2 kids. If you are looking for an entry-level inflatable boat for quiet days at the lake, the Seahawk 4 should be on your radar.
Airhead Angler Bay 6
A good fishing/family inflatable raft
Max passengers: 6
Weight capacity: 900 lbs (410 kg)
Size: 140″ L x 66.5″ W x 43″ H (356 x 169 x cm)
Weight: 28 lbs (12 kg)
The Angler Bay is manufactured by Airhead in China. It is constructed from 32 gauge PVC with electronically welded seams.
It is available in 3 different sizes: there’s a 3-person, 4-person, and a 6-person boat. All 3 sizes differ in dimensions but offer the same features and accessories. The Angler Bay 6 is a rather large boat, but at the same time, it is very light. This is why it is a suitable candidate for family recreational boating, as well as for fishing.
These rafts have built-in features that make for a great fishing adventure. They have 2 fishing rod holders located near the end of the boat.
They also have 2 cup holders, so you don’t have to worry where to keep your drink without it spilling. This is a unique feature you will not find on other rafts, and it’s a neat one for sure.
These SIBs also feature 4 swiveling oar-locks to make paddling easier, as well as side-mounted oar holders.
These rafts also have transom mount fixtures, where you can attach a motor mount kit. Airhead sells their own, or you can DIY one of you’re up for the challenge.
Airhead uses patented speed safety valves that enable the boat to inflate and deflate quickly.
Lastly, these rafts have inflatable seats that fit snuggly in the inner hull of the boat; you don’t have to worry about it slipping or moving.
This is a good boat, but I do have some complaints. For starters, the package does not include oars or an air pump. You have to get those separately. Second, it is not really for 6 people as stated by the company. I would say 2 adults and 3 kids fit fine, but the 6th person would need to sit in someone’s lap…
Airhead Angler Bay opinion
Airhead’s Angler Bay is a lightweight and portable, yet strong inflatable boat. It will inflate or deflate in a matter of minutes. It is great for lakes and low paced streams and comes with enough capacity to carry your family (about 5 people), or 2-3 people plus fishing gear.
From here, I’ll go through the best inflatable sport boats, also called dinghies & tenders.
Sea Eagle Sport Runabout
The best inflatable dinghy in 2023
Brand: Sea Eagle
Max passengers: 5-7
Weight capacity: 1200-2000 lbs (544-907 kg)
Size: Check table below
Weight: 93-170 lbs (42-77 kg)
I really think the Sea Eagle SR is the best SIB you can buy. It is a serious, sea-worthy boat with many unique features, that set it apart from other boats.
The Sea Eagle Sport Runabout (SR) line of inflatable dinghies is made up of SIB of 3 sizes.
You can get them with plastic floors, but I prefer the high pressure drop-stitched inflatable floors. The hard-floors are heavier as well, about 2.5x the weight of the drop-stitched floors.
|126" (87")||140" (102")||156" (117")|
|66" (33")||66" (32")||72" (32")|
|Weight w/air floor||93 lbs||117 lbs||129 lbs|
|Weight w/hard floor||124 lbs||151 lbs||170 lbs|
|Load capacity||1200 lbs||1600 lbs||2000 lbs|
|Max engine HP||10 HP||25 HP||40 HP|
|Max speed||18 MPH||23 MPH||30 MPH|
You might be asking yourself, “Are air floors better than hard floors?”
The long answer is in this article on inflatable boat floor types.
The quick answer is that it depends on what you need. Air floors are firm, you can stand on them just like a hard floor. They are lighter as well, and easier to set up than hard floors.
They have 2 negatives as compared to hard floors:
- When out on the ocean, the extra weight and firmness of a hard floor comes in handy.
- Fisherman are better off with hard floors. They might want to drill a swivel chair into the hard floor, which is not possible with air floors. Also, hooks and knives won’t damage a hard floor.
The Sea Eagle SR is the lightest in its class, which makes it ultra-portable. You can easily launch it off a beach since it is easy to carry and not as heavy as you would expect.
It has 5(!!!) air chambers (port, starboard, bow, keel, drop stitched floor), which make it safe out on the water. The material is 1100 Decitex reinforced PVC, which is basically puncture proof. You couldn’t poke it with a knife.
This boat is also NMMA certified, so you know it was designed and made with the highest quality standards.
Using the SR with an outboard motor is a thrill. The rounded tubes get the boat on plane faster, and the unique keel makes steering precise regardless of what speed you are at.
The largest 14′ SR can be paired with a 40 HP motor to achieve blazing speed. You need the hard-floor for a motor of that size though.
Sea Eagle 12.6SR Opinion
The 12.6SR comes with a fairly large cockpit, good lugging space, and myriad options and features that render it both work and recreation-friendly. It is exceptionally light-weight, so if you’re looking for a 6-person boat for the family that is exceptionally safe, you may have found it.
Newport Vessels inflatable dinghies
Good value hard and air floor dinghies
Brand: Newport Vessels
Max passengers: 2 – 6
Weight capacity: 850-1600 lbs
Size: Check table below
Weight: 70-165 lbs
Newport Vessels is a company based out of Newport Beach, California.
They make 2 lines of inflatable sport boats, which vary based on size and floor type. You can get their boats with hard floors, or high PSD air floors as well.
Besides these 2 aspects, the boats are the same.
The Newport Vessels Inflatable Aluminum Floor Boats are constructed with 1,100 deniers of Korean PVC, which is the same construction material used in professional whitewater rafts. An additional layer of polyester is used to reinforce flexibility in these dinghies to ensure easy folding and storing.
Newport inflatable boats have 4 chambers: 3 in the main hull and 1 in the keel. They also have aluminum framed Marine Wood floorings, offering great stability even in rough, choppy conditions.
All chambers have a Halkey-Roberts valve, for quick inflation-deflation.
Newport Vessel boats are best used with a motor. The smallest boat, Dana, can be paired with a 9.8 HP motor, while the largest one, Catalina, can be paired up to a maximum of a 20 HP motor. With the right motor, these inflatable dinghies can go as fast as 20 mph.
These boats come in various sizes, giving you flexible options in choosing what suits your needs the most.
Let’s have a look at the hard floor models first.
Newport Vessels aluminum-wood floor boats
|106" (59")||114" (77")||127" (91")||142" (106")||150" (112")|
|60" (24")||60" (24")||63" (27")||66" (30")||66" (30")|
|Weight||107 lbs||116 lbs||132 lbs||160 lbs||165 lbs|
|Load capacity||1067 lbs||1124 lbs||1248 lbs||1519 lbs||1603 lbs|
|Max engine HP||9.8 HP||9.8 HP||15 HP||20 HP||20 HP|
|Max speed||20 MPH||20 MPH||20 MPH||20 MPH||20 MPH|
Now let’s have a look at the air floor models.
Newport Vessels Drop-Stitch Air Floor Boats
|91" (57")||111" (77")||123" (86")|
|52" (23")||60" (24")||60" (24")|
|Weight||70 lbs||93 lbs||99 lbs|
|Load capacity||850 lbs||1067 lbs||1124 lbs|
|Max engine HP||4 HP||9.8 HP||9.8 HP|
|Max speed||10 MPH||20 MPH||20 MPH|
The air floor boats of Newport Vessels boats are identical to the hard floor boats in terms of manufacturing and quality.
The main difference is the air floor, which reduces the weight and heftiness of the boats. With that said, unless you plan on boating in choppy conditions all the time, or you need a fishing boat, I would recommend the air floor models.
These inflatable boats come with 5 chambers: 3 in the main hull, 1 in the keel, and the air floor. Even though they have one more chamber compared to Newport Vessels aluminum floor models, they set up faster. Aluminum floor boats will take at least 15 minutes to set up, but these boats only take about 10 minutes.
They also have the same accessory inclusions as the aluminum floor boats.
As for motors, the smallest model (Carmel) maxes at a 4 HP motor. The Seascape, on the other hand, can be paired up with a motor with the maximum power of 10 HP. Lastly, Santa Cruz can accommodate a motor with power up to 15 HP.
Newport Vessels inflatable dinghy opinion
Newport Vessels makes good quality, rugged inflatable boats that can be used as a tender, for fishing, or just for fun. Getting it on plane with over 400 lbs was hard, but that is my only complaint. It is PVC, so don’t store it in the sun. Otherwise, it will give you years of service.
Inflatable Sports Boats
Premium inflatable dinghies with a 3-year warranty
Brand: Inflatable Sports Boats
Max passengers: 4 – 5
Weight capacity: 1070-1268 lbs
Size: Check table below
Weight: 60-80 lbs
Don’t let the generic brand name of this company fool you. Inflatable Sports Boats makes premium dinghies, there is no question about it. The pricetag shows what you get for your money.
Just like Newport Vessels, Inflatable Sports Boats makes hard floor and high PSI air floor boats. Albeit not in as many variations as NV.
|Floor||Hard (4 piece)||Hard (4 piece)||Hard (5 piece)||Air||Air|
|Weight||60 lbs||70 lbs||80 lbs||60 lbs||70 lbs|
|Load capacity||1070 lbs||1158 lbs||1268 lbs||1070 lbs||1158 lbs|
|Max engine HP||9.8 HP||15 HP||15 HP||9.8 HP||15 HP|
|Max speed||15 MPH||15 MPH||15 MPH||15 MPH||15 MPH|
|Price||Check here||Check here||Check here||Check here||Check here|
The fabric exterior of these boats is constructed from 1,100 deniers of 9 mm thick high grade reinforced PVC. These boats have protective features against UV rays, oil stains, punctures, and abrasions. They also have welded seams that are guaranteed to withstand wear and tear over time, eliminating problems with adhesive breakdowns and the like.
They also have extended rear pontoons and transom areas to support larger motors with ease.
The aluminum models have 3 chambers: 2 in the main hull and 1 in the keel. The flooring is a 24 mm thick easy-slide aluminum flooring.
The tubes are 16 inches in diameter, which are easily inflated and deflated.
The entire package also includes two 6-pound oars, one 6-pound aluminum bench seat, a storage bag, a foot pump, and a repair kit. There is only 1 seat in the package, despite their marketing material displaying 2. You have to buy the 2nd seat separately if you need it.
As mentioned earlier, the company makes air floor models of the boat as well.
The drop stitched air floor models are built identically to the hard floor ones, with the exception of the floor of course. The inflatable flooring is a drop stitch high-pressure air deck floor constructed from thick PVC. The flooring is designed to hold 8 PSI, providing a stable boat floor.
The air floor boats have four chambers: 2 in the main hull, 1 in the keel, and 1 in the floor.
The package also includes a set of 6-pound oars, a 6-pound aluminum bench seat, a storage bag, a foot pump, and a repair kit.
BRIS 1.2mm PVC 12.5 ft
Extra tough PVC dinghy for professional boaters
Max passengers: 6
Weight capacity: 1,675 lbs (760 kg)
Size: 150″ x 66″ (381 x 168 cm)
Weight: 180 lbs (82kg)
The BRIS Inflatable Boat is manufactured from 2,000 deniers of 1.2 mm thick heavy-duty PVC fabric. This is considerably thicker and more durable than the standard 1100 PVC used by Newport Vessels and Inflatable Sports Boats.
Additional layers of fabric are also added at the bottom of its tubes to protect it from punctures and sand abrasions.
It has 3 inflatable chambers: 2 in the main hull and 1 in the keel. The chambers in the main hull are tubes with diameters of 18.1 inches. It also features a one-way drain valve with plug.
The best feature of this inflatable dinghy is its protective features. Aside from double-layered bottom fabrics, it also has a V-keel with rub-strake protection. The entire boat is resistant to UV rays, punctures, abrasions, and even oil stains.
The package includes a set of aluminum oars that perfectly fit its built-in oar-locks.
It can be paired up with a motor with a maximum power of 25 HP. By the way, the 15-foot version of this boat can be fitted with a 40 HP motor.
Like NV and ISB, this also has aluminum-framed marine wood flooring, which provides reliable stability during water activities.
Other accessories included upon purchase of this boat are 2 aluminum seats, a foot pump, a storage bag, and a repair kit.
This boat is a monster! It has great reviews from other Amazon customers as well, have a look.
BRIS BSA380 12.5 ft Inflatable Boat Opinion
The BRIS BSA380 is a rugged inflatable boat with a unique look. It features class-leading thick PVC fabric, a sturdy aluminum floor and transom, and loads of included accessories. The boat can support 6 people and is very safe out on the water, even the ocean when paired with a max 25 HP engine.
That concludes the inflatable boat review section, now let’s move on to how to choose the perfect boat for your needs.
How to choose the right inflatable boat
Choosing the right inflatable boat in the market can be very challenging.
While it is true that the higher you go in price, the better the boat’s quality will be, but purchasing an expensive boat doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting what you need.
To make the most out of your money, let’s talk about the basic questions that you have to ask yourself before deciding on what to get.
What type of boating will I do?
Nowadays, there are inflatable tenders, dinghies, kayaks, and rafts that are each designed for a specific use.
This is where the problem starts.
It is important to consider the activities you are planning to do with your boat in order to choose features and specifications that will suit your needs.
If you plan on spending a few days per year at the local lake with your family, getting an entry-level inflatable raft, is enough.
The rafts on this page are tough and will serve your family well for years to come. They have enough capacity to handle families and a cooler, they have oar holders, and most even have simple motor mounting capabilities for electric trolling motors.
River boating is becoming a popular past time for families that like the outdoors.
There are a few things you need to pay attention to if you plan on going on boat trips down-river:
- Capacity, as you will be taking a lot of things
- Tough boat fabric, as you will bang against rocks, and pull the boat in-out of water often.
You don’t really need a motor for river boating, as the flow of the river is your engine.
If you plan on going fishing on a lake, you will need more space in your boat, and larger weight capacity because of your gear.
It is also a good idea to get a boat with a motor, since rowing a fully loaded boat while trying to catch dinner is a real challenge. Here is a post on great inflatable boats for fishing.
Inflatable boats aimed at fishermen also have integrated rod holders, which is a must unless you want to hold your fishing rods in your hands all day long.
Entry-level inflatable fishing boats do not have a hard floor, but you can build one yourself with a bit of handyman skill. A hard-floor is a very nice thing to have when you go fishing, it makes moving around the boat easier, and moving things around the floor much more convenient.
You can even build a swivel chair onto your hard floor. Call it your fishing throne, if you will 🙂
Here is a detailed guide on building a hard floor for your inflatable boat.
Dinghy for quickly getting from A to B quickly
If you need to move around the water a lot out of necessity, or just for fun, you definitely need a higher quality inflatable sports boat.
These boats have hard floors, an inflatable keel, and motor mounting capabilities, so they are stable and fast on the water.
If you plan on boating out on the sea/ocean, you should get a hard-floor dinghy, not an air floor one. The extra weight of the hard floor keeps the boat stable on choppy waters.
I wouldn’t take smaller dinghies out on the ocean, as the risk of turning over on choppy waters is higher, but the bigger ones are definitely seaworthy. The 12.5 foot Newport Vessels Catalina is a good example of this.
If you plan on using an inflatable boat as a tender for a larger boat, you probably need something seaworthy, onto which you can mount a motor for going out to shore.
Smaller dinghies, like the high-pressure air floor lineup of Newport Vessels boats, are great for this purpose.
Whitewater rafting requires specialized inflatable boats built to withstand sharp rocks, waves.
Other than the Intex Mariner, which can handle class II-III rapids, the boats on this page are not suited for whitewater rafting.
How often will I boat?
Another question you have to ask yourself is how often you will use your boat; this is because you will have to look at the construction material of the boat you will buy.
Frequent usage of your inflatable boat can easily wear it out, so you will have to look for boats manufactured from sturdy materials; this refers to the fabric and adhesives used in assembling the boat.
The size of a boat and capacity rating is an important consideration. You need to consider:
- How many people will be in the boat at a given time.
- How much gear you will have in the boat.
Choose a boat that can handle the weight you plan on putting into it.
Fabric: PVC or Hypalon
All inflatable boats are made out of either PVC or Hypalon. Here is a detailed article on the characteristics of each, but I’ve summarized it for you below.
Hypalon is the more durable of the two. It is a synthetic rubber owned by DuPont, that:
- does not deteriorate over time
- is highly resistant to UV rays, abrasions, chemical spillages, and mechanical abuse
- can withstand extreme temperature regardless if it’s too hot or too cold
However, the downside of using Hypalon is that it is more expensive and requires intensive labor because there’s no other way to put it together except cold gluing by hand. Boats made out of this material generally cost 2x more than PVC boats.
Dupont does not make Hypalon anymore, identical synthetic rubbers are sold under new trademarks (Nitrilion,Orca).
PVC, on the other hand, is compatible with any adhesive. Unfortunately, glue in PVC have issues with breaking down when exposed to high temperature because of their heat reactivating property. PVC also deteriorates over time and only has a maximum life span of 8 to 10 years. It is also very sensitive to heat and will get worn out when exposed to the Sun’s UV rays for too long.
Luckily, PVC boats have come a long way with the help of technology.
Instead of glues, most PVC constructed inflatable boats in today’s market are now welded. Manufacturers have also been finding ways around deterioration by adding layers from other materials like polyester.
You can also coat a PVC boat with 303 UV protector every so often, which helps in protecting it against the harmful effects of UV rays.
In the fight between PVC and Hypalon, you have to consider two things: your budget and your location.
Hypalon inflatable boats can be really expensive, but they may prove to be worth every penny. It’s a good choice if you live in a tropical climate and will be using your inflatable boat frequently.
PVC boats are cheaper, but can still do the job as well. However, using PVC boats in tropical areas is risky. The weather conditions in these areas can accelerate the deterioration of the fabric, so make sure you keep it out of the sun (or covered) when not in use, and apply 303 UV protector.
Adhesives: Glue or Welding
Glue is the most widely used method of bonding in the inflatable boat industry. This is because it works well on both Hypalon and PVC fabrics. Unfortunately, some glued seams are prone to leaks over time.
The higher quality boats have hand welded, overlapped seams that will hold well.
Heat welding is a relatively new method of bonding, but it only works on PVC fabric. It offers a more effective bond compared to glue since the 2 pieces of PVC are basically melted together.
The downside is that the edge of the welded seam may crack if folded often.
Glues have been a trusted way of bonding rubber, but welded seams are relatively longer lasting than glued ones. If you are choosing a PVC boat, choose one that underwent welding, especially if you are going to use your inflatable boat often and not deflate it.
Where will I use my boat?
One of the most important things to consider when buying an inflatable boat is considering where you will be using it.
Some boats are not designed to be exposed to saltwater.
Some boats cannot withstand harsh waves and rough currents as well.
This is why you have to examine the composition and design of the boat to make sure it is suited for where you will be using it.
For starters, most beginner inflatable rafts (like the ones listed at the beginning of this article) have flat hulls. These boats will perform well in lakes, but not in the open sea. Flat hulls are designed for activities done in calm waters. It is not recommended to be used in rough waters because it does not have the ability to cut through waves.
Boats with roll-up floors are not recommended to be used for activities in the sea either, because they offer insufficient stability for the boat.
Inflatable dinghies in the list above are all seaworthy and qualified to venture onto the sea. These boats are built with V-hulls and air or hard floorings. The V-hull can smoothly cut through waves and the said type of floorings offer great stability even during rough rides.
Do I need a motor and a keel?
Adding a trolling motor or a gasoline outboard is a great upgrade to any serious inflatable boat.
Motors can be mounted on to almost all types of boats. However, inflatable boats without an inflatable keel are only advised to be powered by a motor with low HP or an electric trolling motor. This is because these types of boats are not built for speed or to cut smoothly through the water.
If you want to go fast, you have to purchase a dinghy with a keel and a hard transom.
These kinds of boats can go as fast as 15 to 20 mph, sometimes even faster depending on the boat and motor used.
However, do not forget to check the compatibility of your chosen boat with the motor. Most boats have a maximum speed rating and anything more than that could overwhelm the seams or the fabric of the particular boat.
Here is a great article on inflatable boats with motors by the way.
What kind of flooring do I need?
There are three types of flooring in the inflatable boat industry: roll-up floors, hard floors, and air floors.
This type of flooring is lightweight and portable. It is often used in inflatable rafts that are only used for recreational activities.
Hard floorings are usually made with aluminum and marine plywood. This type of flooring offers great stability in water, but adds to the total weight of the inflatable boat. It also takes an extra few minutes to setup properly.
Dropstitch air floors are slowly gaining popularity. These are not the old air tubes found in toy inflatable rafts.
These are high-pressure air floors, that become so rigid that you can stand on them, just as you would a hard floor.
To learn more about the advantages/disadvantages of each floor type, read my article on inflatable boat floors.
How will I transport my boat?
Traditional rafts and boats are usually difficult to pack and transport, unlike inflatable ones. One of the benefits of owning an inflatable boat is its portability.
You can transport your inflatable boat in two ways:
- Deflated and packed.
- Inflated on the roof or on a trailer.
Deflated boats can be stored in its carry bag to be stashed inside your car, while inflated ones can be transported by using trailers, pick up truck beds, or even as cargo on your car’s roof. You won’t have to worry about damaging your car either, for inflatable boats are lightweight even when inflated. Just remember to take your cooler out of the boat 😉
Where will I store my boat?
You can store your inflatable boat inflated or deflated. However, it is more ideal to store it away deflated and packed in the storage bag to save space in your room/house.
Should you choose to store it inflated, you can do so. Be cautious enough to put it in a room with enough space and an area away from sharp objects that can puncture the boat. And never leave it outside in the sun.