Why an inflatable boat is ideal for a day of fun on the water
The inflatable boat is a well-known phenomenon, you see many families or even fishermen floating around in a dinghy on the sea or on a lake, mostly for recreation. There are large differences in price and quality between these inflatable boats, a cheap thin rubber boat is a lot cheaper, but will also break faster than a high quality boat.
What should you pay attention to when you buy an inflatable boat and what does it depend on? In this guide I will try to help you find the right inflatable boat for you, so that you don’t end up with a model that is too expensive, but also with a cheap boat that doesn’t meet your requirements at all.
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Why is the inflatable boat so popular?
The explosion in popularity of these boats and inflatable kayaks / canoes is due to various factors. As with inflatable SUP boards, the inflatable element offers some great advantages, such as easy transport (quite tricky with a fixed boat) and high carrying capacity.
Of course, they are also a lot cheaper to buy, although I don’t mean that you should buy a cheap plastic boat and go out on the water with it! This also depends on the type of boat you choose and its accessories (e.g. an engine), which can increase the price quite a bit.
Two of the most important factors of the boat are the ease of use and the amount of space you have available on the boat. A classic dinghy offers a nice balance between price, durability, payload, weight and performance and is also easy to transport and store.
These factors make these boats a very convenient vessel that anyone can use, no matter what your lifestyle, storage space or budget. If you maintain your inflatable boat well (quite similar to SUP board maintenance) the boat can last up to 10 years or even longer. So why not take an inflatable when you’re reading all this?
Although inflatable boats are very versatile, there are many different types of inflatable boats to meet specific needs of people and applications. Your boat can be used as anything from a recreational boat to a fishing boat, or perhaps as a side boat for your big yacht (I don’t think I’m ever going to get one :-().
As with SUP boards, the market is constantly growing and developing, making it difficult to keep up with new technologies and products. In this article I focus mainly on beginners who want to buy a rubber boat, as the real professionals know what they want and probably don’t need my help ;-).
In this article I will discuss the different types of inflatable boats, the different constructions, the positive and negative points of these models and which type of inflatable boat is suitable for which type of person. In addition, I will discuss the different materials of which an inflatable boat can be made, after all, a dinghy is not the only option on the market.
After reading this whole guide, I hope you can make your own choice of the best dinghy or boat for you. I will give you some advice and personal preferences in this area, but in the end you will have to decide for yourself which boat you want to buy.
Different types of inflatable boat
Let’s start with the most easy subdivision of the boats, namely the differences in the bottom of the boat. Here you have three types: soft bottom, hard bottom and inflatable bottom.
Soft Bottom Inflatable Boat
A rubber boat with a soft bottom is perhaps the best known, because it is the cheapest one and many people have had one. It is easy to roll up and put away, but offers less buoyancy than a fixed or inflatable bottom.
These soils are mainly designed to keep production costs low and are less durable and sturdy because they are more susceptible to damage. These floors are chosen because of their low price and portability.
Boats with a soft bottom are not suitable for longer trips. The most simple and inexpensive inflatable boats available on the market, but also the most fragile and least durable inflatable boat. My tip: pick an inflatable bottom, which has more carrying capacity and is less likely to break.
This type of inflatable is also hard to find due to its low durability, only real cheap stunt stores will offer this type of cheap boat, but most brands have switched to an inflatable bottom. Especially in children’s boats you can still see a soft bottom.
Hard Bottom Inflatable Boat
An inflatable boat with a hard bottom is very popular and offers a much higher durability. Although the portability of these boats is lower, you get a lot of positive performance in return.
The hard floor provides stability thanks to the lower center of gravity, provides keel support and improves hull shape, resulting in the best stability at higher speeds under rubber boats. This allows the boat to handle rough water, large waves, other boats racing along and high speeds in a stable manner.
Because they are so stable, these rubber boats are often combined with a motor on the back, to reach extra high speeds and sail long distances. For beginners the less budget friendly choice, but if you want to do it right at the same time, this is certainly an option to think about.
Naturally, the higher durability and quality also mean a higher price. These inflatable boats are still easy to assemble and deflate, but require a little more time and effort; a user familiar with the dinghy can usually do this alone in about 10-15 minutes or less, depending on the pump and ease of installation on the floor.
The hard floors provide excellent structural support for the boat, they act as the backbone of the boat and must be installed in the boat before the keel and hull are fully inflated..
These extra steps can add an extra 5 minutes for a total assembly time compared to soft bottoms or inflatable bottoms. For a total assembly time of about 10-15 minutes, the benefits more than outweigh the extra time needed for assembly.
With hard floors you’ll be able to reach higher speeds, you’ll have more stability and you’ll be able to cope better with large waves. An important consideration when making a purchase decision is the increase in weight associated with a hard floor. A boat with a hard floor will weigh about 15-25% more than a comparable soft or inflatable floor.
The exact weight increase depends on the total size of the boat, the type of floor material used and the total number of floor pieces. Aluminum offers some weight saving, but can be dented and damaged more easily, wood will be heavier, but offers the best durability.
To be clear: these bottoms usually consist of plates or sections, so they are still relatively easy to transport. Not as easy as a soft or inflatable bottom that you just slide into your backpack, but certainly easy to carry in the trunk or backseat of the car.
Inflatable Bottom Inflatable Boat
As with Stand Up Paddle boards, boats with an inflatable bottom have become more popular due to the increase in drop stitch technology. Previously, inflatable bottoms were sensitive to damage and leaks, but with the development of this new technology it is certainly different nowadays.
A drop stitch floor offers a user-friendly combination of quality, durability and portability for your boat. Like soft bottoms, they are easy to roll, carry and store, but offer a lot more stability and security.
They are also a lot lighter than an inflatable boat with a hard bottom, but nowadays they offer almost the same strength. However, make sure you actually buy an inflatable bottom boat made of drop stitch material, there are still cheap models on the market with a fragile inflatable bottom made of single layer PVC.
An inflatable bottom is almost as sturdy and versatile as an inflatable boat with a hard bottom and can be used for the same activities. As said before, it does have a drop-stitch bottom and not a simple inflatable bottom. They can usually be inflated between 8 and 12 PSI, which makes them rock hard.
Because of this a boat with an inflatable bottom also offers very good performance in the water and gets good directional stability due to the upright inflatable keel. They are also very easy to roll up, carry and store. These inflatable boats can therefore even be taken on an airplane if you want to go crazy on vacation.
However, compared to hard bottoms, the lower weight is also a disadvantage: the center of gravity is higher and therefore the boat may feel less stable at higher speeds. So for the really rough water and wild adventures I would still recommend a harder bottom for the extra stability.
Which bow or keel for your inflatable boat?
Now that we have looked at the different types of bottoms for an inflatable boat, we continue with the bow or keel of the dinghy. Not so difficult, there are only two different options: a raised bow or a flat bow.
Raised Bow Inflatable Boat
An inflatable boat with an elevated bow increases the performance and versatility of an inflatable boat and therefore has absolute value. An inflatable boat without a keel is not suitable for reaching higher speeds and is therefore only suitable for floating around.
You’ll cut through the water easier with a raised bow, bounce less over the surface and make it a lot easier to make turns if you want to go in a different direction. For longer journeys you want to make as fast as possible, a raised bow on your dinghy is an absolute necessity.
So do you want to reach higher speeds and tour faster with less effort? Then definitely look for a dinghy with an elevated bow, it’s definitely worth it.
Flat Bow Inflatable Boat
Are you less concerned about performance in speed and do you want to paddle around or float around? Then an inflatable boat with a flat bow is fine. It’s also a little easier to store and inflate your boat.
So you save time on inflating and deflating the inflatable boat, in addition, the purchase price of this type of inflatable boat is also lower. Now you don’t have to spend extra time deflating and inflating the extra room in front of the elevated bow, so you can get out of the water faster and go home faster afterwards.
Because sailing on wild waves is a bit more difficult without a raised bow, I would recommend this type of inflatable boat especially for flatter waters, such as lakes, streams and quiet rivers. Weren’t you planning on defying the waves anyway? Then a more economical inflatable boat with a flat bow is a good choice.
The properties of your inflatable boat
Now that we know which bottom and bow we want, we can continue looking at the different properties of an inflatable boat and what is important for the user. So, which properties should you look at?
Most of the inflatable boats can be customized to your exact needs and there are many accessories that you can use to customize your boat, but there are also a lot of inflatable boats that already come with accessories.
If you use the inflatable boat to relax, you might want an extra seat. If you are going fishing, a rod holder is a welcome addition. You could look for built-in paddle rings or cup holders in your inflatable boat.
So there are many possibilities. Take a good look at which accessories are included (paddles / pump included for example?) and can the paddles be put through a ring to paddle, so you can’t drop them in the water? Check these extras and decide which one you need to paddle comfortably.
Durability of the Inflatable Boat
Of course you want a durable inflatable boat, to enjoy your investment as long as possible without having to buy another inflatable boat. You want the most durable material, after all it is an inflatable boat so you always run the risk of a leak. However, this risk is greatly reduced by good, thick and sturdy material.
Drop-stitch PVC is a very strong material and certainly worth paying attention to, single layer PVC does not offer the same quality and durability. The better the material, the more expensive your inflatable boat will be, but also the longer the boat will last. Invest a little more so you don’t have to buy a new one or have the boat repaired quickly.
Ease of use of the Inflatable Boat
When you get to the water, you want to be able to get into the water as soon as possible. If you also want to be able to go alone, look for an inflatable boat that can be set up by one person and that can be inflated easily and quickly. With most inflatable boats you don’t need more than a pump to get to the water.
Comfort of your Inflatable Boat
Even if you are looking for an inflatable boat, you can still expect the same comfort as an ordinary kayak or canoe would give you. There should be enough legroom to be comfortable, and the seat should support your back. You need to sit in a relaxed position in the inflatable boat in order to paddle peacefully.
Price of an Inflatable Boat
The price determines a large part of your choice, unfortunately many people buy a cheap and poor quality inflatable boat. is a large part of your choice. You want an inflatable boat with all the extras and features, but you also want the boat to be affordable.
Start with a budget you have in mind and then see what you can buy for that amount. You may have to make some compromises, but the more features, comfort, durability and ease of use you can find for your budget, the better.
Stability of the Inflatable Boat
Safety and stability are important in every boat. The same goes for an inflatable boat, but fortunately modern technology has made inflatable boats extremely safe and stable. The most important thing to worry about is the PSI of the boat.
If you don’t inflate it to the right PSI, the boat can be soft and unstable. Make sure you use a pump with a pressure gauge so you can check the PSI while you inflate it. As mentioned before this is between 8 and 12 PSI for a good inflatable boat.
Capacity of the Inflatable Boat
Of course you want to know how much weight the inflatable boat can carry or how many people it can carry. This is an important factor to pay attention to. Inflatable boats can’t carry as much weight as regular boats, but with the high quality materials used today, they can carry a lot more weight than you think.
The key to choosing an inflatable boat is to not only consider your own weight. You also have to take into account the weight of the cargo you want to take with you. If you use inflatable fishing boats with engines, you have to take into account that you add a lot of extra weight.
The same applies if you want to go camping or use an inflatable boat for ocean fishing. Add your weight to the total weight of your cargo and then add about 20% to get the capacity you need to aim for.
Tip: Always balance the weight well on both sides of the boat to keep the vessel in balance.
Paddles and Pump with an Inflatable Boat
Two things you need to use your inflatable boat are a pump and paddles. Many inflatable boats come with both in the package, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that your choice should depends on this.
Just like with paddle board accessoires you have to pay attention to getting good quality accessories included in the package, for instance a double action pump and a fiberglass or even a carbon paddle. They are a lot lighter and make paddling on the water a lot easier. Don’t bother purchasing a pump without a pressure meter on it at all.
So take a good look at the quality of the supplied accessories, if you have to buy them separately you should also calculate this in your budget.
Which Type of Inflatable Boat should you pick?
The short answer is as always: it depends on your personal needs. Inflatable boats have existed for a long time, of course, but nowadays inflatable boats are little inferior to hard boats by developing better and better material.
When we think of inflatable boats, we often think of the small single boats of a cheap store that lose air quickly or leak easily. With advances in technology, there are many options for those who want to buy a rubber boat.
The first thing to determine is how many people are going to use the boat. How many should the dinghy be able to carry at the same time? If you are going to go on your own you will of course need a completely different kind of inflatable boat than if you want to go out on the water with the whole family.
In addition, it is important to determine what you are going to use the inflatable boat for. If you are a fanatic angler you will for example look for a boat with rod holders and where a cool box fits easily.
If you want to move fast, take a look at the options where an engine can be mounted. Of course you’ll end up in a completely different price range, but if you want to use this often it’s definitely worth looking at.
The choice for an inflatable boat always starts with yourself. If you know where and with whom you want to use the inflatable boat you are already a long way with your choice.
Frequently Asked Questions about Inflatable Boats
How do you fix an inflatable boat?
Cut it as round as possible, so you don’t get any corners that come loose quickly. Lightly sand the surface around the leak, so the glue will adhere more easily. Then use water resistant PVC glue to seal the leak and push out any air bubbles. Wait 24 hours before inflating the dinghy again to test it.
How fast can you inflate an inflatable boat?
On average it will take around 10 minutes to blow up a dinghy completely.
Conclusion Inflatable Boat
There are many different inflatable boats on the market, from cheap garbage from the dollar store to great quality dinghies with a very powerful engine that allows you to pop over the water. In general I assume that people are in between, you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars, but you also do not want junk that is already leaking after just one use.
In between and below I have already given some tips for boats that I think are suitable to use without any problems. Now that you’ve been able to read which specifications and designs you should pay attention to, you should be able to decide for yourself which dinghy is most suitable for you. Hopefully by now you have already figured out how many people you want to cruise with, for what purpose and where you want to do that 😉
Keep a close eye on your budget and find the best possible package for that money, that best meets your wishes and personal requirements for an inflatable boat. Having fun on an inflatable boat doesn’t have to cost too much, but make sure you go for quality. This way you stay safe on the water and you can enjoy your beautiful inflatable boat for years to come!
Do you already have an inflatable boat or are you planning to buy one? For which model or type do you have a preference? Let me know in the comments, I am curious about all captains here!