Why Use an Inflatable Boat?
1. Portability is the number one reason many anglers prefer inflatable rafts and boats. Unlike traditional boats and kayaks, which often require you to use a truck or trailer to get them to the water, most inflatable boats will fit in the back seat or trunk of your car, once deflated.
Several models even come with backpack straps to make it easy for you to carry them from your car to the water.
2. Many also appreciate the fact that you can store an inflatable boat much easier than you can a hard-shelled kayak or boat. This is especially important for those living in apartments or other cramped quarters.
You’d probably need to rent a storage space for a 9-foot kayak, but you can fit a 9-foot inflatable boat in a closet, once it is deflated.
3. They are lighter than hard-shelled boats. This makes it much easier to move the boat around, which is especially important for anglers who tend to fish alone.
Many people even find it necessary to engineer complicated lifts to help get their hard-shelled boat onto and off of their car or truck, but this is not necessary with an inflatable boat, and most are light enough that you can move them by yourself.
4. Finally, they are often (though not always) less expensive than their traditional counterparts are. This allows those of limited means to acquire a boat of their own, and it also lets you spend more money on rods, reels, fish finders and other fishing equipment.
Benefits To Anglers
There are a variety of benefits inflatable fishing boats provide anglers.
1. Since inflatable boats are often less expensive than traditional boats, you won’t need to save your nickels and dimes for as long as you would to purchase a hard-shelled boat.
This means you can start using a boat earlier, thereby allowing you to fish more often.
2. You can use an inflatable boat in many places where traditional boats won’t work. Consider, for example, how difficult it would be to haul a hard-shelled kayak down through a narrow forest trail to reach a secluded river.
By contrast, it would be relatively simple to carry a deflated raft down to the water, before inflating it at the shoreline.
3. Anglers who like to fish with friends may also find that they offer better accommodations for groups than comparable hard-shelled crafts do.
Many inflatable boats are a bit optimistic about the number of people who will comfortably fit on their boats, but it is still easier to find an inflatable raft that will comfortable carry multiple anglers than a hard-shelled craft that offers the same at a similar price point.
5 Basic Types
Like traditional boats, inflatable fishing boats come in several different styles and configurations. While each style can provide you with the ability to escape the shoreline and access more fish, you’ll always want to select the best style for your needs and desires.
Accordingly, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the five basic styles in which inflatable fishing boats are manufactured. Only by doing so will you have a good chance of being satisfied by your choice.
Rafts superficially resemble dinghies and kayaks, but they have a few important differences – primarily their shape and configuration. Rafts feature a circular air-filled “tube” that surrounds the floor (and seats, if present) of the raft.
They typically feature flat, open designs and can have several different types of floors.
Inflatable rafts are one of the most popular styles of inflatable boats, and they are available at a wide variety of price points and in varying qualities.
The cheapest versions are essentially toys, designed for kids to paddle around in a pool or small pond, and are virtually guaranteed to become punctured if used for fishing.
At the other end of the spectrum, high-quality inflatable rafts may cost thousands of dollars and be nearly as durable as a traditional boat.
Dinghies are quite similar to rafts. The biggest difference comes down to their shape. Whereas a raft features a tube that encircles the boat, dinghies feature u-shaped air bladders, which fail to connect at the rear of the boat.
This makes the boats more stable and easier to control, but they can also accommodate a motor much more easily than a raft can (however, a few rafts do feature mounting systems that will hold a motor).
Dinghies usually, but not always, feature more stable floors and seats than rafts do, and they are much more seaworthy than rafts.
Nevertheless, most models are still quite compact and easy to transport or store, making them the ideal choice for anglers who like the raft style, yet want to be better equipped for piloting around the water.
Made like traditional kayaks, inflatable kayaks are long, narrow and relatively fast for human-powered crafts. Because of their design, few kayaks are compatible with motors, although there are a few exceptions. Instead, you’ll need to paddle to reach your destination.
Nevertheless, kayaks are relatively easy to control, and they are one of the best types of inflatable boats for those who need to travel long distances while fishing.
Kayaks come in two basic styles: sit-on-top and sit-inside. Each style has its own strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll have to decide which style is best for your situation.
Sit-inside crafts allow you to carry more gear than sit-on-top kayaks do, but they may fill with water, and they don’t allow you to fish in several different positions, as you can with a sit-on-top kayak. Accordingly, most anglers prefer sit-on-top models for fishing.
Regardless of which style you select, you’ll also need to choose between stability and speed, when picking out a specific model.
Generally speaking, longer, narrower kayaks are much faster than shorter, wider models are, yet shorter and wider crafts are much more stable.
Inflatable pontoon boats are very popular among serious anglers, and they are perhaps the best option for most individuals. Pontoon boats come in both framed and frameless varieties, and many can be used with a motor.
Depending on the type of pontoon boat you select, you can either obtain a boat that performs like a dinghy or you can get one that performs more like a traditional boat.
Some of the most stable pontoon boats will allow you to stand comfortably while you fish, which can be a serious consideration for anglers who aren’t comfortable fishing from a seated position.
However, few pontoon boats track well, and it can be difficult to keep them in place very easily. Storage space is also a challenge for many pontoon boats, so they aren’t ideal for anglers that like to bring a ton of gear out on the water.
Float tubes are typically the smallest types of inflatable boats, and they are often the most affordable too. Essentially an upgraded innertube, a float tube cradles you while your legs dangle in the water below.
Too small for a motor and rarely suitable for oars, most float tubes are powered by the angler’s feet, which kick through the water to propel the craft and maintain position (fins are commonly worn on the feet to help increase speed and control of the craft).
Float tubes are best suited for anglers who do not mind getting wet while fishing and prioritize portability above almost every other consideration.
Because they are small, you can maneuver a float tube into relatively small spaces and they provide great stealth during use, but they are difficult to control and steer with precision.
They are not a good choice for anglers who spend a lot of time in very cold water, or those who do not like to fish from a seated position.
Important Factors to Consider
Once you’ve decided on the basic style you’d like, you must move on and consider a number of other variables to ensure you get a boat that meets your needs. Some of the most important considerations include the following:
- Do you want a boat with a frame or would you prefer a frameless model?
If you are looking for a pontoon-style inflatable boat, you’ll notice that you can purchase a craft that has a metal frame or a frameless model.
Historically, most inflatable pontoon boats featured an aluminum or steel frame, but most modern anglers are opting for the frameless variety whenever possible.
Frameless models are typically lighter, easier to assemble and, because they don’t include heavy metal poles and usually have larger bladders, frameless pontoon boats usually have higher weight capacities than those with frames.
You’ll usually pay a little bit more money for a frameless boat, but the benefits generally outweigh the small premium you’ll pay for the privilege of piloting a lighter, more portable boat.
- What type of construction material do you want your craft to have?
There are two basic choices when it comes to inflatable raft materials (lesser quality rafts may be made of vinyl, but these should be avoided in most cases).
Most rafts are made from PVC, although some higher-end inflatable rafts are made from Hypalon – a proprietary material made by the DuPont company.
While Hypalon is certainly more durable than PVC (especially with regard to ultraviolet light resistance), PVC is typically sufficient for most anglers.
- What type of floor would you like for your boat?
Depending on the type of inflatable craft you select, you’ll usually have your choice of three different floor styles. Air decks are typically the least expensive option, and they are also the lightest and most buoyant of the three basic options.
However, it can be very difficult to stand on an air-filled deck. Solid decks are the most stable of the three types, as they feature a solid, relatively inflexible bottom on which you can often stand comfortably.
However, solid-decked boats are much heavier than those with air decks, and they do not usually collapse as completely, making them harder to transport and store.
Boats with slatted bottoms offer an intermediate option, as the slats come apart, thereby making it easier to collapse the boat when it is necessary to transport the craft.
- How portable is the boat?
If you will need to carry your boat long distances to the water or you live several stories above ground level, you’ll definitely want a boat that is easy to carry.
This primarily means looking for inflatable boats that are light in weight, but you’ll also want to look for boats that feature carrying handles, backpack straps and other accessories that make it easier to haul around the boat.
- How easy is it to store the boat?
If you don’t have a lot of storage space, you’ll want to be sure to select a boat that collapses down into a very small amount of space. This pretty much rules out solid-decked rafts, but you can find acceptable options in most of the other categories.
Different models within each style collapse more completely than others, so be sure to review the manufacturer’s information regarding the size of the collapsed boat before making your choice.
- What types of places do you like to fish?
If your fishing rarely takes you farther than the local farm pond or small reservoir, you can use any type of inflatable craft you like. However, if you intend to fish in large bodies of water, strong rivers or the ocean, you’ll need to be very selective when choosing a boat.
You’ll generally want to avoid float tubes when fishing waters of significant size, nor do you want to use float tubes or rafts in places with strong currents.
There aren’t many good inflatable crafts that are safe to use in the ocean, but some solid-decked dinghies are seaworthy enough to putter around inshore waters.
Leading Inflatable Boat Brands
As in most product categories, different inflatable boat manufacturers often exhibit a series of tendencies and approaches, which characterize the various models offered.
Understanding these tendencies can help you make the best choice for your needs, so familiarize yourself with three of the leading manufacturers below.
Sevylor produces a wide variety of inflatable fishing crafts, including rafts, kayaks and dinghy-style boats, as well as recreational floats and children’s toys.
Most of their fishing boats are at the entry- or mid-level price range, and they provide quite a bit of value for your dollar.
Several of their inflatable boats – such as the Coleman Colorado 2-Person Fishing Kayak – come with rod holders and they are ready for a motor to be installed.
Additionally, most of the nicer models made by Sevylor are constructed from very durable materials. In fact, the Coleman Colorado 2 (and a few other models) are guaranteed not to puncture or leak.
To find these types of features and characteristics at such a low price point is very appealing, although most of the models appropriate for fishing do not include pumps, paddles and other extras some other manufacturers include.
Most anglers who’ve tried Sevylor inflatable boats (especially those at the higher end of the price spectrum) were quite pleased with the performance of the boats, and recommended them highly to other anglers.
While they aren’t the ideal choices for anglers seeking bottom-basement prices, they will certainly prove worthy options for those interested in mid-tier inflatable kayaks, rafts and dinghies.
Intex is a manufacturer that produces a variety of extremely affordable inflatable rafts and kayaks.
But there low prices shouldn’t cause you to ignore them in favor of other brands; many of their offerings area actually quite effective and some of the models have fishing rod holders, motor mounts, PVC-based construction and other features you’d expect to see in inflatable boats costing much more money (in fact, as you may have noted, we rated the Intex Excursion 5 as one of the best rafts for the money above).
Nevertheless, Intex inflatable rafts aren’t the ideal choice for anglers who want a high-end raft. Instead, they are a great option for those interested in trying an inflatable fishing vessel, without spending a ton of money.
They may also be a good option for anglers who have a traditional, hard-hulled boat, yet want an inflatable model for spur-of-the-moment fishing trips or for fishing in very small waters.
The best two models in the entire series are the Excursion 5 and the Realtree Camo Seahawk.
Either should help you access fish you’ve never been able to reach before, and although they are unlikely to last as long as many other rafts, at this price point, you won’t have trouble replacing them.
Classic Accessories is a mid-tier manufacturer, who makes boats that will appeal to almost all anglers interested in a high-quality boat, which is still available at a reasonable price.
Classic Accessories primarily manufactures pontoon-style boats and float tubes, all of which are made from high-end materials and feature plenty of helpful accessories for anglers.
For example, most of the Classic Accessories pontoon boats feature more storage spaces than comparable models do, and several feature swiveling seats and other creature comforts, which will allow you to have more fun while you fish.
Another nice thing about Classic Accessories’ pontoon boats is that they come in a variety of option packages.
For example, you can opt for models with mesh storage platforms or basket-style storage platforms, and they come in 8-, 9- and 10-foot-long models to suit anglers of different sizes and with varying amounts of storage space.
Additionally, the oars and oar locks that are featured in these pontoon boats typically receive very positive reviews from anglers, which is rare for models at similar price points.
If you want something better than an entry-level inflatable boat, yet you are not interested in paying four-digit prices for an inflatable craft, you should give Classic Accessories serious consideration.
Do you have an inflatable boat that has satisfied your needs and kept you happy while fishing? Or, perhaps you’ve unfortunately purchased a boat that did not live up to your expectations.
We’d love to hear about your experiences with both ends of the spectrum below.
Tell us the model you selected, how it has worked out for you and what some of your favorite and least-favorite things about the boat have been.