Ranking The Best Inflatable Boats
Intex Excursion 5-person
Sea Eagle PF7K Packfish Inflatable Fishing Boat
Bris 12ft Inflatable Fish Hunter Boat
One of the best and cheapest ways to get out on the water is to invest in an inflatable boat. The word “inflatable” might not inspire much confidence, but modern inflatable boats are far more advanced than the little blow-up pool toys that you remember from your childhood. They’re tough, durable, rugged vessels that can handle brutal conditions and take serious punishment.
These boats come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, with varying levels of equipment, with very different customers in mind. They range from inexpensive oar-operated paddle rafts for a leisurely boating experience aimed at entry-level boaters, to more advanced ocean-ready dinghies that can accommodate powerful outboard motors. Some are designed for determined fishermen with trolling motor attachments and rod holders, while others are tailored towards thrill-seeking white-water enthusiasts, featuring added protection and nimble handling.
With so many different types available, and at such polarizing price points, separating the good from the bad is no mean feat. Luckily, we’ve put together a list of our favorites, along with a handy buying guide to make your shopping experience as hassle-free as possible. Here’s all you need to know about inflatable boats.
Intex Excursion 5-person
This Intex inflatable boat is a high-capacity, versatile, and inexpensive raft option for those looking for a budget-friendly rig that performs well under a variety of conditions. Though advertised as a 5-person boat, we think 4 is a more reasonable request. Like you’d expect from a boat in this price range, it has some limitations, but for the price paid, you get a serious boat.
The Excursion is manufactured from a tough, heavy-duty puncture resistant vinyl material, built on top of an I-beam floor, for added rigidity. The boat features three separate air chambers, with a safety auxiliary chamber. Boston valves, full perimeter grab lines, and four oar holders complete the boat.
In addition to the inflatable hull, the Excursion also boasts inflatable seats with backrests to keep passengers comfortable, handy fishing rod holders for dedicated anglers, and sturdy grab handles for easy transportation. In addition, it also has special mounts, should you want to install a motor.
Each Intex Excursion boat ships with a pair of deluxe, 54 inch aluminum oars, a Hi-Output manual hand pump, a gear pouch, a transport carry bag, and of course, a puncture repair kit. Since it’s an all-inclusive package, it makes this one of the best inflatable boat options for those shopping on a budget.
If taken care of carefully, there’s no reason why this cheap little runner won’t last you for many, many years. Some enthusiasts have even upgraded this boat with wooden floors and mounted seating!
- Passenger Capacity: 5 (more like 4 in reality)
- Weight Capacity: 1,320 lbs
- Boat Weight: 53 lbs
- Maximum Dimensions: 12’ x 5’ 6”
Sea Eagle PF7K Packfish Inflatable Fishing Boat
The Sea Eagle PF7K can only be described as the ultimate inflatable fishing boat for solo anglers. It’s small, lightweight, and compact but comes with all of the essentials for a comfortable and relaxed fishing trip.
Sea Eagle’s PF7K Packfish is made out of some seriously tough materials. The main hull is constructed from 30mm Polykrylar fabric, and joined together with high-frequency welds for rugged durability. Two air bladders keep the boat afloat, with a main chamber and upper safety chamber for added protection. It’s easy to stow, can be worn on your back, and it can be inflated to 1.2 psi in less than 5 minutes.
It’s specially designed for fishing, and has a number of exciting fishing-specific features included. Apart from the obvious molded oarlocks and soft carry handles, the Packfish boasts two built-in rod holders, four tracking strips for added stability, multiple pockets and storage areas for you tackle, two 36 inch fish rulers for quick and easy measurements, and a comfortable inflatable seat for long days out on the water.
Each Sea Eagle PF7K Packfish ships with a 2-part oar set and an inflation pump. If you’re looking for more stability, you can opt of the Pro package, which includes wooden floorboards. It’s also rated for a 1 horsepower trolling motor, though the boat doesn’t come with any mounts to accommodate one.
If you’re looking for a small, practical, and fishing-focused 1-person inflatable boat with all the bells and whistles, you’ll have a hard time beating this one, especially when you look at the price tag.
- Passenger Capacity: 1
- Weight Capacity: 300 lbs
- Boat Weight: 21 lbs
- Maximum Dimensions: 7’ x 3’ 3”
Bris 12ft Inflatable Fish Hunter Boat
Now that we’re looking at the more expensive end of the spectrum, we can look at some more serious, heavy-duty vessels. This is the Bris Fish Hunter, a high-performance fishing boat that’s designed for unparalleled durability, maximum practicality, and most importantly: premium safety. This is a professional grade boat rather than a little blow-up for the occasional float.
Manufactured from premium materials, this Bris boat is constructed from 1.2mm 2,000 Dtex PVC, with added polyester support sections. The underside of the tubes features double layers of fabric for extra protection against abrasion and punctures. It’s held together with heat welded seams that offer serious strength and durability, whilst resisting the effects of saltwater, freshwater, and humidity.
This inflatable boat is built with three separate air chambers that support a deep V-keel with rubber strake protection, and aluminum floor panels. At the rear, there’s a marine plywood transom for the attachment of a gas motor or electric trolling motor, with power outputs up to 25 horsepower.
Other features include a one-way drain valve and plug, built-in oarlocks, tie-down stainless steel D-rings, transom D-rings, tow rings, and two sturdy aluminum bench seats for added comfort.
Every boat ships with two aluminum oars, a carrying bag, a foot pump, and a puncture repair kit. All of Bris’s products feature a 30 day money-back guarantee, with a 3 year manufacturer’s warranty.
- Passenger Capacity: 6 adults
- Weight Capacity: 1,675 lbs
- Boat Weight: 180 lbs
- Maximum Dimensions: 12’ 5”x 5’ 5”
Bestway Hydro-Force Mirovia Pro Inflatable Boat
The Bestway Hydro Force Mirovia Pro isn’t just a blow-up boat for larking around on the lake in. It’s a professional boat that offers serious performance, comfort, luxury, and fun. It’s more expensive than many others on this list, but it’s actually a small price for the amount of boat that you get.
Designed to accommodate 5 passengers (4 adults, and 1 child), the Mirovia Pro is the perfect boat for a number of activities, from casual fishing trips to rugged coastal exploration. It’s tough, hard-wearing, and if properly looked after, it will last for years.
The Mirovia Pro is manufactured from a tough high-strength and high-density PVC material, that’s tear and rip resistant, protects against the harmful effects of UV rays, with added terylene support. It has 3 separate air chambers, with a high-pressure inflatable keel. It also features aluminum alloy floorboards, and a plywood transom. The transom can accommodate an outboard or trolling motor, rated up to 10 horsepower.
Apart from the metal motor mount, the Mirovia Pro also boasts, omni-directional oar locks, a steel tow ring, a drain-valve, safety grab ropes, quick inflation and deflation air valves, and sturdy carrying handles.
Bestway has a number of vessels in their Hydro Force range, but the Mirovia is the most fun and practical in our opinion. If you buy the Mirovia Pro, each boat ships with a pair of 64 inch collapsible oars, a 33 foot long tow rope, a pressure gauge, a hand pump, a carry bag, and of course, a puncture repair kit.
- Passenger Capacity: 4 adults, 1 child
- Weight Capacity: 1,411 lbs
- Boat Weight: 113 lbs
- Maximum Dimensions: 10’ 8”x 5’ 3”
Intex Mariner 4-Person Inflatable Dinghy
Next, we have another product from Intex. This one is a more expensive model, but with a significant improvement in the overall design and engineering to compensate for increase in price. The Mariner 4 is a smart 4-person inflatable boat that’s the perfect choice for casual and seasoned boaters and fishermen alike.
The Mariner 4 is constructed from a very strong, heavy-gauge, heavy-duty PVC. In fact, it’s made from three layers of PVC! Two thick outer layers, laminated over an inner layer polyester mesh. This strong layer is UV resistant, and highly resistant to impact and abrasion. For extra protection, it also features a strong keel rock-guard, and an extruded plastic flooring for added rigidity and stability.
Four Boston valves control the inflation and deflation of four internal air chambers, with three added inflation cushions for additional passenger comfort. Other nice touches include a sturdy perimeter Nylon grab line, welded rotation oar locks, fishing rod holder, a gear pouch and battery pouch, plus strong grab handles for easy out-of-water transportation.
What’s more, this reasonably priced over-achiever also boasts a U.S Coast Guard ID, a repair patch kit, two 54 inch aluminum paddles, and a high-output pump for speedy inflation. The Mariner 4 can also accommodate a small trolling motor, thanks to the included motor mounts.
This relatively rigid-hulled inflatable boat is a great choice for amateurs and pros alike, and it won’t break the bank either.
- Passenger Capacity: 4
- Weight Capacity: 880 lbs
- Boat Weight: 77 lbs
- Maximum Dimensions: 10’ 9” x 4’ 9”
Saturn SD330 11ft Inflatable Boat
Saturn is a widely-respected manufacturer of inflatable boats, and the brand’s SD330 model is one of their best-sellers. It’s a premium model that can accommodate up to 5 passengers, is compatible with short shaft motors up to 15 horsepower, and can be used as a yacht tender, pleasure boat, and emergency life saving raft all in one package.
The SD330 is constructed from an advanced Korean-made 1100 Denier PVC fabric with reinforced polyester layers for increased tear, puncture, and abrasion resistance. It’s built around three separate air chambers, with a special drop stitch floor that can handle 9 psi of pressure, making for sturdy rigid floor. This floor keeps the boat lightweight and boot performance, and makes it easier to assemble and deflate too.
The V-keel is equipped rub strake protection, and double-layered fabric, to help protect against the effects of sharp rocks, abrasive sand, and the effects of saltwater. There’s a one-way drain valve too, to help keep excess water from accumulating on board.
Other cool features include advanced safety valves that protect your boat from over-inflation, anchoring stainless steel D-rings, towing rings, soft carry handles, a splash guard, a perimeter grab rope, and an epoxy coated marine-grade wood transom.
Each SD330 comes complete with two aluminum rowing oars, a carry bag, a single-action hand pump, and a carry bag. Extended warranties of up to three years can also be purchased, for those who really want the best coverage.
This is a great choice for beginners and pros alike—and while it has a steep price tag, it really is worth the money. If you take your boating seriously, this is an excellent option.
- Passenger Capacity: 5 adults
- Weight Capacity: 1,210 lbs
- Boat Weight: 99 lbs
- Maximum Dimensions: 11’ x 5’ 2”
Sevylor Colossus 4-Person Inflatable Boat
Sevylor is a brand name that you can trust. They’re inflatable boat specialists, with a proven track record for delivering high quality inflatable kayaks, paddleboards, and dinghies. The brand’s Colossus line of inflatables are excellent quality for the small price pay. They come in a variety of sizes, but we’ve found that the 4-person Colossus was the most practical size.
Sevylor’s 4-person Colossus boat is constructed from a rugged and heavy-duty 23 gauge PVC material, that comprises of three separate air chambers that promise to keep the boat afloat in the unlikely event of a puncture. The advanced air tight system, with double lock valves, guarantee no air leaks can happen. There’s an inflated floor for added stability and comfort too.
Other thoughtful features include molded oar locks, a perimeter grab line, sturdy grab handles, and four oars. In honesty, the oars aren’t great and you’ll thank yourself for investing in some better ones, but many boats out there ship without any oars included, so having some, regardless of the quality, is always a nice bonus.
Though it’s designed to hold 4 people, 4 is probably a stretch. It’s possible, but with 4 adults you may compromise the strength of the seams and may cause the boat to tear. Still, if you’re under 4 people, you can have tremendous fun with this dinghy. It’s durable and robust enough to tackle mild rapids and fast moving water, though we recommend calm lakes and lazy rivers for the best experience.
Despite being a cheap model, it’s certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (the NMMA), and it offers excellent value for money. What’s more, it even has a 90 day warranty too. It doesn’t ship with a pump though, so keep that in mind if you decide to make a purchase.
- Passenger Capacity: 4 (2 adults, 2 children)
- Weight Capacity: 840 lbs
- Boat Weight: 17.3 lbs
- Maximum Dimensions: 9’ x 4’ 6”
Zoom 230 by Zodiac
Zodiac is a popular boat manufacturer, and a serious name in the marine industry. The vast majority of their products are larger, full-sized boats with solid bodies, but they also manufacturer a smaller line of inflatable vessels and tenders. The Zoom line is a sub-brand of the company, specializing in smaller inflatable boats. The Zoom 230 is a great choice for anyone looking for a hassle-free boating experience.
Designed for easy transportation, the Zoom 230 can easily be packed down into your trunk, or attached to the roof of your car when fully assembled. Though it’s most commonly used as a tender, this nimble and stable boat can be used for leisurely trips on the lake, or for exploring coastal bays.
This small inflatable craft is manufactured from a 1100 Decitex (1000 Denier) PVC material. So far, it’s similar to many other products on the market, however, there are some significant differences. For example, the Zoom 230 comes equipped with a slatted hull, which increases rigidity and overall stability, making for a safer, confidence-inspiring ride.
Standard equipment for the Zodiac Zoom 230 includes aluminum oars, a wooden bench seat, a foot pump, a puncture repair kit, an owner’s manual, and a carry bag for easy stowage and transportation. It’s also compatible with outboards and trolling motors, for power outputs up to 4 horsepower.
Each Zodiac Zoom inflatable comes with a 2 year guarantee.
- Passenger Capacity: 3
- Weight Capacity: 595 lbs
- Boat Weight: 57 lbs
- Maximum Dimensions: 7’ 7” x 4’ 5”
An Inflatable Boat Buying Guide
As you can see from our suggestions above, inflatable boats come in a variety of shapes and sizes, kitted out for a wide range of purposes, and are marketed to very different groups of customers. This makes buying one a little more complicated than hitting the buy button on the first dinghy-shaped air-bladder that you see with the cheapest price tag.
With that in mind, we’ve got a handy buying guide for you, which should give you an idea of what questions you should ask yourself before investing in a boat, and what features you should be looking out for when you’re searching.
Why Buy An Inflatable Boat?
First things first: why buy one? What advantages does a blow-up boat have over a conventional solid-body vessel? Why do people buy them? Here are the three most important reasons why people buy inflatable boats.
Inflatable boats are collapsible in nature, and can be deflated, rolled up, and packed down into small carrying case. Since they can be reduced down to a compact size, it makes them an ideal choice for those who want to take their boat with them wherever they go, without the need of a trailer or a roof rack. Since they can be taken from A to B with absolutely no hassle, they can be used on lakes, rivers, and on the ocean.
Full size boats can’t collapse down into a small package and put in your garage, so you need somewhere to store them. Not everyone has access to a boat-sized storage shed, or has the space to park their boat and trailer on a driveway. With an inflatable boat, there’s no need for intricate storage solutions, or worse: extortionate permanent mooring costs.
Arguably, the most important reason people choose to buy an inflatable is simple economics. Full-bodied boats are far more expensive than their simpler, inflatable cousins. An inflatable boat is essentially a glorified balloon, with a simple design, made from relatively inexpensive materials. Since they’re much cheaper than regular boats, beginners and budget-conscious boaters often prefer these vessels, since they don’t require such huge investment.
Naturally, there are other reasons why inflatable boats are such a hit, but these three are easily most popular. But what type should you buy?
Types Of Inflatable Boats
There are a variety of inflatables out there, designed for very different purposes. They can be used for leisure, white water sport, fishing, and purely for ferrying passengers. Here are the most popular types of boats available:
Raft-style inflatable boats are oval in shape with an air-filled bladder that follow the perimeter of the boat. Generally, they’re flat in design, supporting an inflatable floor. They’re popular for white water rafting, since the flat bottom and wide shape boosts stability, whilst allowing space for more occupants, and more rowing power. They can be used for a variety of purposes though.
Dinghies are some of the most popular types of inflatable boats. They’re instantly recognizable thanks to their U-shaped design. They boast a U-shaped air bladder that often connects to a solid transom at the back. They’re perfect for ocean applications, since they’re very robust, and the solid transom allows for the easy addition of a motor. Boats like these are ideal fishing vessels, perfect for ferrying passengers, and useful in emergencies too.
Inflatable kayaks are air-filled equivalents of the solid-hulled kayaks. They’re great for navigating rivers and coastal bays, and some can be used for white water too. Most of the time they require paddle-power, though some can accommodate a trolling motor. We’ve covered inflatable kayaks in more detail here.
Pontoon boats are made from inflatable pontoons, often with a fishing chair suspended between the two pontoons. These inflatables are almost exclusively designed for anglers, packed with handy fishing accessories and practicalities—some can even accommodate a trolling motor. We’ve covered the best pontoon boats before. Float tubes are similar to pontoon boats, but they’re more like pocket-sized single-bladdered dinghies that you can sit in, with your legs dangling in the water.
No matter what style appeals to you, or what you plan to do with your future boat, it’s important to pay attention to the materials used in the craft’s construction. Especially since you’ll be using it on the water!
Generally, most inflatable watercraft are made from PVC, Hypalon, or in some cases, Nitrylon.
PVC is lightweight, strong, durable, and cheap. It’s a material that is waterproof, can handle high air pressure, fold without tearing, and can easily be bonded using plastic welding methods. When combined with other materials, it can be puncture and abrasion-proof too.
Hypalon is tougher than PVC, but less practical and more expensive. While it’s incredibly abrasion-resistant, it’s not very flexible. Generally, this material is used with PVC as a reinforcing element. It’s particularly good at resisting the effects of UV rays, salt water, and general oxidization.
Nitrylon is another popular material. It’s a synthetic fabric that’s generally more eco-friendly than PVC, but not by much. It’s a combination of man made and natural rubbers that coat a 1200D fabric for unparalleled abrasion and puncture resistance. It’s quite heavy though, so it’s seldom used as the primary construction material, and more like a reinforcement.
Pay attention to the other materials used to, such as any metal components or wooden sections. All metals used should be rust-resistant and able to withstand marine applications. Similarly, any wood used, for the transom or floorboard areas, needs to have a marine-quality coating that will prevent rot.
When it comes to choosing an inflatable boat, you need to pay attention to the size. They can be quite large, and depending on your needs, bigger isn’t necessarily better. For example, a larger raft will require more hands to paddle it. A larger dinghy may require a larger (and more expensive) motor to power it. And of course, the larger a boat is, the harder it is to assemble, deflate, and store.
Larger boats are harder to setup and take-down, so many owners decide to leave them fully inflated at all times, which then makes transportation and storage a problem. No problem if you have an inflatable boat trailer, but if you have no plans to buy a trailer, then perhaps it’s a wiser idea to purchase a smaller water craft instead.
Similar to the boat size, it’s important to keep a look out for the boat’s overall weight capacity and how many passengers it can accommodate. If you’re looking for a little boat for solo adventuring, buying a large 5-person craft won’t be a wise idea. Larger boats require more hands to steer and paddle it. If you’re planning on only going out on the water with company, then make sure you find one that’s appropriate for your group size.
Many boats oversell their capacity. A 5-person inflatable boat may only have room for two adults and three small children, so keep that in mind.
If you’re planning on taking your boat on fishing trips, or want to install a motor, take into account the weight of your equipment and gear, and check that the boat you’re looking at can handle them, as well as well as your own weight and any passengers you plan on bringing along.
Since inflatable boats are designed to be practical, easy to pack down and store, lightweight, and compact, the overall portability and transportation of your boat should be one of its most attractive features. However, there’s more to the overall portability of a boat than its packing dimensions. Almost all of them will pack small and fit into the trunk of a car, but you should take note of a boat’s assembled weight before investing in it.
Can you lift it alone when its fully inflated? Does it have enough grab handles to make it manageable? This is something many people overlook. If you can’t lift your boat up, you’ll have difficulty getting it in and out of the water. Take note of the inflated weight before buying!
When searching for a boat, see what additional features are thrown in. While you’d think that an inflatable boat would obviously be sold with paddles, or a pump, and perhaps even a puncture repair kit as standard equipment, that is not always the case. Look out for those items, or at least factor them in as additional expenses before you hit the buy button.
Other features to look out for could be motor mounts for boaters who want to add a motor into the mix, rod holders for fishermen, storage areas for drinks and snacks, and splash guards to protect your passengers from spray.
While they’re almost never included, make sure you set aside some of your budget to invest in personal flotation devices, and other safety equipment such as whistles, torches, and a lifebuoy.
Lastly, there’s the price. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for. While there are bargains to be had, when it comes to buying a boat it’s better to spend some real money. Anything that’s sold for under $100 is going to be a toy, or something designed for incredibly low stress environments. These aren’t the kind of things you should be relying on when traveling over fast moving or deep water.
That doesn’t mean that you have to break the bank though. Most of the expensive gear is designed for specific purposes intended to be used by professionals. For a couple of hundred dollars, you can get something tough, hard-wearing, practical, and fun. It all depends on what your expectations are, of course.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need a boat license for an inflatable boat?
Generally speaking, if your boat is equipped with a motor that can propel it to speeds over 10 knots, then you will need an operator’s license. If not, then you won’t need a license. However, rules vary from state to state, so it’s worth checking with your local authorities for further clarification.
Do I have to register an inflatable boat?
Registration of an inflatable boat is dependent on your local state laws. Some states require inflatable watercraft to be registered and bear a registration number. If you need to register your vessel, you will be required to fill out a registration form, and provide the boat’s invoice, manufacturer’s statement of origin, a bill of sale, and provide details of the boat’s propulsion system for full registration.
In Summary: What Is The Best Inflatable Boat?
Since there is a huge range of inflatable boats out there, coming in diverse shapes and sizes, and designed and engineered for a wide range of different purposes, there’s no single model that’s better than the rest. Similarly, no two customers are the same, and a boat that’s the right fit for one customer won’t be the right tool for another. However, if we had to whittle down our favorites to three distinct models, a best of the best, then it would be these three:
Our standout choice for budget-boaters would have to be the Intex Excursion. It’s cheap but effective, and comes with a surprising number of features that you wouldn’t expect from such a budget-focused product. It’s tough and durable, with clever valves, and a well-engineered design. Plus, it ships with everything you need for instant boating fun, including oars, a pump, a carry bag, and a puncture repair kit. It’s cheap, but highly effective.
If you’re shopping with deeper pockets and you’re looking for a premium inflatable boat that’s versatile in nature and won’t let you down, then our number one choice would be the Bris 12ft Inflatable Fish Hunter Boat. This is a serious vessel that can be used day in, day out, in a wide range of conditions. It’s made from top shelf materials and components, and is designed for professional use. It’s pricey, but it’s incredibly capable. Plus, it has a three-year warranty.
Finally, if we had to choose one inflatable boat as our overall favorite, one that offers premium performance at a reasonable price, with all the bells and whistles, then we’d choose the Sea Eagle PF7K Packfish. It’s a one-person boat that’s designed for serious fishing. It has plenty of high-quality components, handy fishing accessories, and a comfortable and capable ride experience. What’s more, it packs down and can easily be carried on your back. It’s our number one choice.