Inflatable boats. I can’t speak highly enough of them. Having an inflatable boat adds a huge amount of fun to any trip to a river, lake or beach and is amazing whether you’re on your own, going as a couple, out with friends or as a family. The technology behind inflatables has improved greatly in recent years and it means that the best models of inflatable boat on the market are incredibly sturdy. Fears of punctures can be minimized by choosing the best and ensuring that your boat is properly maintained. Of course, you can still go for the cheap option, but there are a lot of boats out there which can only last a few trips and are likely to be punctured and rendered pretty useless if you hit a rock or even just snag the boat on something. We’re not going to be focusing on the ‘cheap and cheerful’ models here and are only wanting to discuss the best inflatable boats whether you’re taking them out for a chill out on the water or you want to use them for fishing.
What Are You Looking For? What Makes a Good Inflatable Boat?
There are of course certain criteria for what quantifies something being quality. Before you purchase one of the models we are going to recommend in our many boat reviews below, you should establish what exactly you are looking for.
- How many people will be using the boat at a time? Do you need space for four people to go out on your boat or will you be able to make do with something smaller?
- How hard-wearing it needs to be. What sort of conditions do you plan to take the boat out in, and how sturdy does it need to be to avoid getting damaged?
- Do I need a boat that can be rowed or does it need a motor to be attached?
- How often will the inflatable be deflated and put away for storage? How far do you need to take it and does it need to regularly go in your car, SUV or truck on your trips to the coast or to the nearest lake or river?
- Do I need to use it for fishing? Is there somewhere to put my equipment and does the boat lend itself to the hobby?
So, as you can see there are many different options out there, and already just from looking at those you may have some idea of exactly what you want to get from your boat. The way they are made and how easy they are to inflate and get out on the water are crucial!
Seaming is a very big deal in the world of inflatable boats. Each of the models we’re going to look at will have seams in different places on the boat designed to keep it airtight. Some seams are what we call ‘butted’ and some are ‘overlapped’. They will likely be glued together. Butted seams are generally regarded as the ones on the higher end of the market, both in cost and quality, they’re harder to make but also harder to break.
A double taped, well-made seam is what you need, whether you’re looking for fishing use or just a dinghy to take out for a bit of fun. If you’ve got a boat made of good materials but the seam isn’t put together right, you’ll quickly be in trouble.
Many of these boats will have quite a rigid hull. This is designed to make the structure more sturdy and to make it simple to inflate as only certain areas (the tubes) are being inflated, not the whole boat. The more rigidity it has can make it a bit more difficult to transport as it doesn’t deflate to such a small size, but it is often worth it for ease of use and of course for quality.
Prices of Inflatable Boats
This is a really important, but also really varied area. The price. Inflatable boats don’t really have one set price, and the fact that they are made out of so many different materials and made in such different ways, designed to be used just for a few days or to last decades, the price can vary a huge amount. At the cheap end of the market, you can buy something to fit the basic boating and fun needs for under $50. If you’re looking for something with a more professional edge and you’re wanting to use it for fishing or on a regular basis, you may want to spend a little more. These models can even go up to just under $1000, or even more if you go to the very elite end of the market. Our boat reviews below will explore some options all across the board.
Inflatable Boat Reviews
On to the recommendations and the best models we think are worth considering on the market today. We haven’t mentioned kayaks in this particular article as we have a whole section looking at our recommended kayaks. The brand names below are ones you will likely recognize, and there are some exceptional boats which made the cut, and some decent ones that aren’t mentioned here too as we look for the creme de la creme.
Intex Mariner 4 Inflatable 4 Person Boat
Intex are one of the most prolific brands of manufacturers of inflatables, and one of the best known brands out there in this space. Their Mariner 4 four person boat is one we’ve picked out as worth considering.
This is far from the cheapest boat Intex offer, but in terms of the wider market, this is pretty good value. This is extremely well built and designed for four people, with a capacity for the weight of around 880 lbs sitting on top with no issues, great for a family!
This is an excellent boat for fishing and even comes ready with two holders for fishing rods and plenty of space for the rest of your fishing equipment.
The oar locks and holders make it very easy to row, but this is also designed with capacity for a motor if that is how you want to do things.
This is advertised as a ‘kit’ so it has everything you need to get started including a very easy to use pump and a patching kit should you get any unfortunate cuts or punctures in your boat. The fact of the matter is that this is a very hard-wearing and tough model. It is lined all the way around the outside in order to protect the material should you hit any rocks or scrape the boat on anything else. This model combines the durability we all want with the ease-of-use you expect from something inflatable. You truly can just throw it in the back of an SUV or truck and take it on your trips. Suitable for the whole family, this has an unbelievably high rate of five star reviews on Amazon and other online retailers. Most of the reviews of the Intex Mariner 4 speak so highly about it, and this one is no different as this model comes with our top recommendation.
Intex Explorer 200 and Explorer 300 Review
The cheap end of the market! For those of us just wanting something for a quick mess around and not wanting to spend a lot of money, Intex also offer some real value with their Explorer 200 and 300 models. I’m putting both of them in the same review, as they’re very similar apart from their size, which differs purely based on whether two or three people are going to be using it. the Explorer 200 is suitable for two people, the 300 is suitable for three, but you should also think about how spacious you want it to be and if you’re going to be taking a picnic or fishing gear out on the inflatable boat.
Realistically, this is designed for pools, rivers and lakes, but could be taken out for a quick paddle elsewhere. It is great for kids, and while it is something of a ‘no frills’ model, it offers a few decent features:
- The floor is inflatable and it provides a lot of comfort as well as staying firm for sitting on.
- Comes with oar locks and a grab rope holder so you can be dragged around and towed.
- Has a repair patch if you have any mishaps
- Weight capacity 210 lb for the 200, 410 lb for the 300, which also comes with 48 inch oars and a pump which makes inflating easy.
If I’m being honest, the Intex Explorer 300 is far superior, even if you do just want two people to go out on it. 210 lb is fine for kids but isn’t a lot of weight capacity for adults if you plan to use this yourself. The quality oars and pump which come with the explorer 300 are worth the extra cash, and the price difference isn’t too much. These are truly cheap inflatable boats when compared to the others on the market, but that doesn’t automatically make them bad, and for many of us they will do a decent job. They’re not going to offer the features of a $500 boat, but they’re good fun.
A few top tips we found from other consumer reviews are that you should always ensure you thoroughly pump it up, when it feels fully pumped, keep going for another 30 seconds just to ensure it is as rigid as can be. Another tip is that if you’re sat on the back it can start to tip a bit, but if you’re taking a fishing box or ice box out with you, you can put this in the front in order to balance it out a bit.
Intex truly offer something for everyone, regardless of budget, and for a fun model which you don’t expect to last too many years, the 200 and 300 models of the Explorer are worth a look.
Newport Vessels Dana Inflatable Dinghy Boat
This really is a beast. If the previous models were the ‘low end’ of the market, this is the high end. Once on the water, it doesn’t look or feel inflatable at all, but the Newport Vessels Dana is a real space saver. It works best, in our opinion, with a motor attached, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it without as this is down to personal preference.
The price may be off-putting, but it is an impressive Dinghy boat and can be used on the sea, lakes and rivers with very few problems and make your trips out on it feel luxurious. Great for the serious fisherman or hobby rafter.
This is designed for both 15 inch and 20 inch shaft outboards, but is recommended to be used with 15″, it also has the capacity to handle both 2 stroke or 4 stroke motors. The paperwork you need to register it is included with it and the boats are such high quality the manufacturer is willing to give a two year warranty on the Dana.
One of the real USPs of the product is the hard floor, which gives more control when you’re steering as well as a nicer feel when you’re riding the boat. The PVC which is used to make this is high tech, and the risk of punctures is kept to a minimum. A quick look at people reviewing this product elsewhere online or on the consumer reviews on online retailers, will show you everything you need to know about how sturdy and rigid this is.
I have described it as expensive, but truth be told, you can buy inflatable boats which are almost twice the size and not get as many great features, and certainly not such a smooth, easy-to-control ride when you’re on the boat. Hook up a motor and get on your way.
Best Inflatable Fishing Boats
Many of the people who are looking for an inflatable boat are doing so because they want to take it fishing. The truth is, most of the models of inflatable boats are designed with fisherman in mind. While some are better than others, a search for inflatable fishing boats won’t return much that is specific to fishing, instead, the models we’ve mentioned, and many others, have been built with fishing in mind.
You need to think carefully when you’re buying a boat. There are a few choices to make, for instance, do you want something that is super speedy, or are you looking for something that is sturdy and provides a smooth ride. To be honest, I think it is likely that looking for a fishing boat you’re going to want something with a motor in order to keep your hands as free as possible. You want plenty of space to store your fishing gear, and some even come with fishing rod holders which is definitely helpful!
Recommended Model: Bestway Trophy Runner 2 Person
Just from a quick look at this boat you can tell it has fisherman in mind. The camo design is a cool addition, and it looks and feels both comfortable and sturdy. It has rod holders and plenty of space for your fishing equipment. Though designed for two people the weight capacity is over 600 lbs meaning you’re probably got some space to play with to bring everything you could need out on the water.
To be honest, the fact that Intex offer so much in this space, and have such a huge amount of high quality boats and other inflatables, I could’ve reviewed a few more models in this article, and it is likely that you will find many more Intex inflatable boat reviews in the future here on The Water Sporter. The models we’ve mentioned above all have a huge amount of five star reviews and it is very unlikely that should you buy them you’re going to be disappointed.
The benefits of an inflatable boat have always been there. They’re portable, which is great for holidaymakers and people who go on trips regularly, especially those which center around water sports. As the technology driving the boats has improved and the materials used to make them have become a lot tougher, the benefits are even more. They’re great for kids and adults, fishermen and hobbyists, and if you plan to use it regularly, investing in a good quality boat can prove a long term investment.
Inflatable boats are available for up to four, possibly six or maybe even eight people if you’re wanting something to be reliable. We’re going to be looking at other models here on the site such as towable tubes, tow boats and kayaks which are other options, but for something you can attach a motor to, or of course, row yourself along a river or lake, these are great options.
Of course, with all water sports, you need to be cautious and wear a lifejacket. Especially if you’re going into any sort of deep water. Stick to the rules and regulations in your local area and above all, stay safe and respect the water.