How to Choose the Best Inflatable Boat - A Buyer's Guide

How to Choose the Best Inflatable Boat? – A Buyer’s Guide

With the surge in water-based recreational activities, inflatable boats have become extremely popular. These boats are some of the most popular ones and are commonly used as lifeboats or for recreational purposes. 

It is interesting to note that though the updated modern model of a lifeboat has been recently developed, small inflatable boats have been around for a long time. Ancient carvings depict animal skins being filled with air to transport a man across a small water body. This is the earliest depiction of an inflatable boat which was inflated using the mouth. 

Today, inflatable boats are a cost-friendly and convenient option as compared to other boats as they are flexible and lightweight made of synthetic rubber or plastic. 

While inflatable boats are quite versatile, people opt for different types of inflatable boats for different purposes, based on a variety of factors. 

Let’s take a look at a few factors that influence the buyer to choose a particular type of inflatable boat.

How to Choose an Inflatable Boat Based on Use?

There are 5 types of inflatable boats to choose from based on their use or application. These are:

  • Boats Used for Recreation – Inflatable Raft

The most common and widely used type of inflatable boats, the inflatable raft is used everywhere as a lifeboat and a mode of transport over small water bodies, in addition to being used for recreational purposes. 

The simple structure of inflatable rafts makes them difficult to withstand currents of the sea. Hence, they are used on small water bodies. Inflatable rafts are available in a wide range of qualities which are reflected in their prices. 

The bigger these rafts, more the features. Some of these include safety valves, multiple air chambers, fishing rod holders, grab ropes and inflatable keels.

  • Boats Used for Fishing – Inflatable Pontoon Boat

Commonly known as Catamarans, these pontoon boats are designed and used for fishing. They include two large air tubes tied together by a curved air bladder or metal frame. The seat can be of two types, inflatable or a real boat seat with metal frames is situated in the centre of the boat in order to provide a high vantage point. 

The pontoons have a high weight capacity and they are also very easy to maneuver since the two inflatable tubes cut through water easily.  

There are also larger inflatable pontoon boats that carry up to 2 to 4 people but they are much bigger and therefore have to be hauled through trailers.

  • Multipurpose Boats – Inflatable Kayak

The most popular type of inflatable boats-kayaks is used for several purposes. Different types of kayaks have been developed in accordance with different purposes including lake recreation, fishing kayaks, and river voyages.

Inflatable kayaks appeal to most people because they are portable, safe, easy to use and durable.

  • Boats Used for Water Sports – Inflatable Dinghy

Also known as an Inflatable Sports Boat, the inflatable dinghy is of high quality and mostly used as a tender for larger boats. These boats come with different types of floorings and can also be used on the sea to certain extents. 

Modern-day inflatable dinghies are rugged, durable, versatile, lightweight and compact enough for one person to handle. They also have a mounted outboard motor.

  • Boats Used for Patrolling and Surveillance – Rigid Inflatable Boat

RIBs are rigid-hulled inflatable boats. They are an amalgamation of the traditional boat and an inflatable boat. These boats provided excellent buoyancy due to the inflatable tubes, are easily manoeuvrable and seaworthy due to the rigid hull. 

These boats cannot be folded or taken apart due to the rigid hull. However, Rigid Inflatable Boats are also virtually unsinkable.

To choose an inflatable boat, one must know more than just its uses. It is important to classify boats according to their designs, as it determines the speed and the strength of a boat. Here are a few steps on how to choose an inflatable boat based on its design.

How to Choose an Inflatable Boat Based on Design?

There are two ways to determine and choose between inflatable boats on the basis of their design. They are boats with keels and boats without keels. A keel is a lengthwise metal structure on the base of the boat which supports its framework and increases its stability. 

Let us take a look at both the types of boats:

  • Boats with keels

Having a keel increases the performance, versatility, and the value of an inflatable boat. A keel makes it easy for the boat to get on a plane, perform better on the water by easily cutting through the water, and ensures compactness. Boats with keels can be used to travel on the open ocean due to their enhanced performance. They include inflatable tenders and RIBs.

  • Boats Without Keels

The absence of a keel comes with its own benefits. Boats without keels are more compact, easily portable and are simple to inflate as well as store. The cost of the boat, in addition to the time it takes to inflate and deflate the boat is considerably reduced. It makes these boats easier to use in the process of going from land to water. 

The greatest benefit of these boats is the quick setup, but there are a few setbacks too.  These boats are difficult to board on a plane, which limits the user’s range and speed. However, these inflatables are great to be used on small water bodies with flat water and short trips.

In addition to the design, it is necessary to know about the hull of the ship. The hull is a watertight enclosure that keeps the boat safe from flooding and water damage. Choosing the right type of hull determines the efficiency of the boat.

How to Choose an Inflatable Boat Based on The Right Type of Hull?

Inflatable boats have a range of hull shapes available, ranging from flat hulls, V hulls, to Deep-V Hulls.  Each of these hulls is designed with a different purpose, function, and utility in mind; as described below. 

  • Flat Hull

These are hulls that don’t have a keel. They are made with PVC or CSM. Their performance is underwhelming since, without a keel, the hulls lack stability. They are hard to maneuver and direct. They lack the ability to port through planes and reach high speeds.

They are generally used for travelling short distances, or short fishing trips on lower speeds. 

  • V Hull

V-hulled inflatable boats are made out of PVC or CSM and have an inflatable keel. They have a high-pressure air or hardwood floor to make it easier for the keel to cut through the water. 

These boats are able to get on planes at high speeds, as compared to the flat hull. They are exceptionally stable but a little costly as compared to those without a hull. These types of hulls are mainly used as tenders by fishermen, divers, wildlife enthusiasts, and others.

  • Deep-V Hull

This type of hull is mostly found on RIBs and is very expensive. They can extend into the water further as compared the V Hull. They also provide enhanced stability, control and speed on waves. However, due to the hull design, these boats sail higher on water and can tilt and rock with the wind, lowering their stability.

How to Choose an Inflatable Boat Based on The Right Type of Fabric?

The fabric used to make an inflatable boat plays a huge role in determining the quality and durability of the boat. Here are a few very reliable types of fabric used in making inflatable boats: 

  • PVC

Polyvinyl chloride is a synthetic plastic polymer which is less expensive than Hypalon. Boats made from PVC are affordable, lightweight and portable. PVC boats are also available in a wide range of colours. Repairing boats of this fabric deems extremely easy. 

As PVC is a type of plastic, it seams can be thermo-bonded or glued. However, PVC does not provide resistance to abrasion. It is also not very resistant to the effects of extreme temperatures, chemicals and ultraviolet rays. PVC boats have a short life cycle as they deteriorate very quickly.

  • Hypalon

Hypalon is a synthetic rubber used as a coating for polyester and nylon fabrics. It provides resistance to abrasion as well as other mechanical wear and tear. Boats made of Hypalon are also resistant to extreme temperatures and ultraviolet rays and do not harden even after being kept in the sun for long intervals. They are lightweight, easily portable, and can also be folded after their use as they have resilient structure. 

Hypalon boats offer chemical resistance and can be easily repaired by applying a patch. The material is quite durable and does not get brittle over time. However, Hypalon is the most expensive coated material, which makes the boats made from this material costly. The fabric has a porous finish and gets easily soiled. Though it does not harden when left out in the sun, its colour can fade.

Lastly, choosing the correct floor type for your inflatable boats can go a long way. 

How to Choose an Inflatable Boat Based on Floor Type?

Different floor types can give you various options for compactness, mobility and storage ease for the boat. Here are a few types of flooring options available for inflatable boats:

  • Roll up floor

This is the most basic floor made of aluminium or wood slats, often seen in inflatable boats without keels. These boats come in a variety of length, size, quality and material. They are less expensive than boats with different floorings as they are not rigid or durable. 

Boats with such flooring are compact and convenient. They are known for portability and ease of set up. These boats are mostly used for short trips and operate at a very slow speed.

  • Hard Floor

Inflatable boats with hard flooring are the most popular choice of users due to their increased performance as compared to the roll-up floor boats. The hard floor provides stability to the boat and creates a better hull shape resulting in increased speed of the boat. 

Boats with this type of floors can handle rough currents and big waves. But owing to the stability and enhanced performance created by the hard flooring, these boats are costly and come with higher quality material. They are simple to assemble and deflate.

  • Air Floor

Boats with this type of flooring have seen increasing popularity in recent times. They are versatile in application but are susceptible to punctures. Since the entire flooring is filled with air, these boats are lightweight and have increased speed. 

Air floor inflatables provide high performance on the water and have increased directional stability. They are not ideal to be used on rough waters due to their lightweight.

  • Self-bailing Floors

Regular boats have a non-bailing feature as their flooring is made with sealed tubes. This means that if the water is splashed inside a boat during an activity, it stays inside unless scooped out manually. 

However, in boats with self-bailing floors, the sides of the floors have carefully placed holes through which water can exit the boat. These boats can prove to be extremely helpful in activities like white-water rafting, where a lot of water enters the boat.

In addition to these parameters, it is necessary to know about the surroundings and about the water bodies where these inflatable boats are going to be used. It is also advisable to carry the tools needed for repair of these boats. 

These boats require maintenance from time to time. When these boats are not in use, they must be stored properly to ensure good shape and minimal tearing and damage to the boat during storage. 


Inflatable boats are affordable and user-friendly. Due to their convenience, their usage has seen a significant increase all over the world. Be its military applications, industrial purposes or recreational activities, they are always a go-to option. 

A plethora of inflatable boats, created by quality boat manufacturers in India are available with different types of flooring with different and versatile designs.  With the help of the guidelines given above, one can easily choose the inflatable boat of suitable requirements. 

What are your thoughts? Based on your own experiences, let us know about more such ways in which one can choose the best inflatable boat, in the comment section below!

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