Best Inflatable Boat

You don’t necessarily need to invest in an expensive boat to get out on the water. Inflatable boats offer a cost-effective and versatile way to enjoy the nautical lifestyle. Here, we’re going to cover the basics of buying an inflatable boat and discuss our picks for the best inflatable boat options on the market.

Why Should I Buy an Inflatable Boat?

An inflatable boat is a handy tool for any outdoor enthusiast to have. When not in use, it can be stored much more easily than a solid dinghy or a larger vessel. Whenever it’s needed, the boat is easy to inflate, set up, and use at a moment’s notice.

The best inflatable boat options also tend to be much more friendly on the wallet than other options. They’re a fraction of the cost of a kayak, dinghy, or speedboat while offering all the freedom of traveling out on the water. Some can even handle a lightweight motor. What’s more, thanks to their light weight, they have a low running cost.

While there are plenty of reasons to buy an inflatable boat, however, it’s important to remember that they still have their drawbacks. Boat owners need to know that they can be bulky and difficult to store, even for those that are able to roll or fold. It’s also important to protect inflatable boats from damage, including weather, wear and tear, and even household pests.

What Should I Look for in an Inflatable Boat?

There are endless options available when it comes to inflatable boats, whether you’re looking as a casual enthusiast or a serious boat owner. We’re going to go over what you should look for to find the best inflatable boat to suit your lifestyle.

Material

Most inflatable boats are constructed from two different materials. PVC plastic is one of the most common options, especially in low and mid-range boats. Not only is it affordable to produce, but it’s also thin and lightweight. This makes it easy to fold and store for the seasonal owner.

In addition to being lightweight, PVC is also surprisingly strong. Some plastic blends include threads embedded in the material to improve durability and resilience. In general, tighter weaves offer more protection.

Unfortunately, while PVC makes an ideal choice for most, it doesn’t hold up well to wear and tear or exposure. The material degrades quickly under exposure to sunlight, moisture, heat, and poor weather. For those who need a stronger inflatable boat, Hypalon may be a better choice.

Hypalon is a thick, weighty, and robust fabric similar to canvas. It doesn’t store nearly as well as PVC, and it tends to be much more expensive. For those who store their boat outdoors or use it frequently, though, the durability of Hypalon might be worth the added cost.

Style

There are several different inflatable boat designs to choose from that differ mainly in the construction of their floor. We’re going to go over the pros and cons of some of the most common styles of inflatable boats.

Roll-Up Boats

As the name suggests, you’re able to roll these boats up when you want to store them. Their floor is built-in, usually including encased wooden slats. Instead of separating the floor from the boat like with other styles, you can simply compact it into a tight roll.

Sports Boats

This type of inflatable boat is designed to withstand rough use and heavy wear and tear. It has a rigid, removable floor, usually made of a material such as plywood, plastic, or metal. The bottom of the boat is usually stretched into a V instead of flat, allowing it to cut through the water more easily than other inflatable boats.

High-Pressure Inflatable Floor Boats

Also called an air floor boat, these models are both high-performing and lighter weight than other styles. Instead of having a solid floor, the bottom of the boat is inflated to a high pressure to provide a solid yet yielding platform.

Rigid Inflatable Boats

Rigid inflatable boats, also known as RIBs, are the closest that you can get to a solid boat in the world of inflatables. The design includes a rigid fiberglass hull along with topside inflatable tubes for buoyancy and stability. While RIBs offer superior performance, they’re also often more expensive and harder to store than other styles.

Our Choices for Best Inflatable Boat

It isn’t always easy to find the best inflatable boat to suit your needs, but fortunately, we’re here to help. We’re going to go over some of our top picks for the best inflatable boat in terms of price points, durability, reliability, and more.

Best Inflatable Boat Under $50

Intex Explorer 100

This small inflatable boat offers all of the essentials without any extra bells and whistles, making it easy to store and transport. It’s bright orange color, and the U.S. Coast Guard ID helps it to stand out and be recognized in an emergency scenario.

The overall design of the boat also takes safety into consideration. There’s a grab rope attached to the bow of the vessel, welded oar locks, and two air chambers for added buoyancy and stability.

What We Liked

  • Compact for easy storage
  • Light enough to carry solo
  • Bright, easily visible color
  • Welded oar locks and a grab rope attached
  • Two air chambers for stability and safety

What We Didn’t Like

  • Material is easily punctured
  • Relatively weak seams
  • Does not include any accessories

Intex Challenger 2 Inflatable Boat Set

This inflatable boat is constructed of heavy-duty PVC plastic, making it resistant to pricks and punctures during use. An inflatable I-beam along the floor adds extra rigidity to help the boat handle both calm and choppy water. The boat's seams don't hold up well to heavy wear and tear, however. 

The boat is easy to inflate using two quick-fill Boston valves and the high-output hand pump included in the set. The design also includes welded oarlocks, oar holders, a grab handle, and a grab line. Three inner air chambers help to create a safer, more buoyant ride.

What We Liked

  • Includes oars and a high-output hand pump
  • Made of puncture-resistant PVC
  • Easy to inflate and deflate
  • A grab handle and grab line for easy carrying
  • Three inner air chambers for safety

What We Didn’t Like

  • Prone to slow air leaks
  • Oars may be difficult to use
  • Doesn’t hold up to heavy wear and tear

Best Inflatable Boat Under $150

Intex Excursion 5 Inflatable Boat Set

This boat has a rugged design made to withstand rougher conditions than the average inflatable vessel. It’s made of PVC that’s resistant to stress and punctures, though the seams may be susceptible to wear. Three interior and one exterior air chamber give the boat plenty of stability.

The boat is easy to inflate and deflate using two Boston valves on the main hull chambers, while an all-around grab line allows for easy transport. The boat design also boasts oarlocks for the set’s aluminum oars, along with a motor mount fitting for those who prefer faster travel.

What We Liked

  • Made of thick PVC material
  • Four air chambers for added buoyancy
  • Easy to inflate, deflate, and transport
  • Motor mount fitting
  • Includes oars and a manual hand pump

What We Didn’t Like

  • May leak at the valves
  • Seams are prone to separating
  • Difficult to maneuver in the water

Intex Seahawk 4 Inflatable Boat Set

This inflatable boat offers a comfortable ride on calm waters such as pools or lakes and is large enough to seat occupants with space to spare. The boat is made of fairly lightweight PVC, which makes it easy to store. However, users need to be wary of tears or punctures.

Two air chambers and an inner hull chamber help to keep the boat afloat and occupants safe. There are multiple comfort features, including inflatable cushions, two fishing rod holders, and a gear pouch. The kit also comes with oars and a manual inflation pump.

What We Liked

  • Easy to fold and store
  • Spacious design
  • Three inner air chambers for safety
  • Comfort and luxury features
  • Comes with oars and a manual pump

What We Didn’t Like

  • Lightweight material is susceptible to punctures
  • May leak along seams
  • Difficult to set up with one person

Best Inflatable Boat Overall

Newport Vessels Dana Inflatable

This inflatable sports boat is built for performance. It’s built in the style of a RIB, with oversized 18-inch inflatable tubes made of high-quality PVC and a hull made of wood and aluminum. The seams are hot-air welded for added strength, though the glue used is prone to quick degradation. 

Around the boat, sturdy handles allow for easy carrying. You can also tow the Newport Dana using built-in steel bow D-rings. There are also topside D-rings, a transom mount, a grab rope, and a self-bailing drain plug for safety.

What We Liked

  • High-performance sports design
  • Made of high-quality PVC
  • Oversized inflatable tubes for extra stability
  • Easy to tow and transport
  • Self-bailing drain plug for safety

What We Didn’t Like

  • Weak seam glue
  • Difficult to assemble
  • Prone to leaks around the transom

Intex Mariner 3 Inflatable Boat Set 

This heavy-duty boat is designed to last even with heavy use. It has a triple reinforced construction to protect it from rips and tears, with two layers of PVC and an inner layer of polyester mesh. A rigid, slatted floor offers support from below, though it can be difficult to install.

The Mariner’s design includes a rub stake for improved tracking and rotational oarlocks for easy maneuvering as well as a motor mount. The boat also includes inflatable thwart seats, fishing rod holders, a gear pouch, and a safe battery pouch for added comfort.

What We Liked

  • Triple reinforced design
  • Rigid floor
  • Rub stake for improved tracking
  • Rotational oarlocks
  • Added comfort features

What We Didn’t Like

  • Valves are prone to leaking
  • Weak oars
  • The floor is difficult to install

In Conclusion

No matter what you’re looking for in an inflatable boat, it’s important to make sure that you find one that fits both your budget and your lifestyle. There are a variety of materials and styles of inflatable boats to choose from that can help you to get out on the water.

Our top picks for the best inflatable boat available on the market are the Newport Vessels Dana Inflatable and the Intex Mariner 3 Inflatable Boat Set. Both are sturdier than most high-pressure inflatables, with rigid elements for added support. Both are made of quality materials and versatile enough to either motor or row.