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The Only Inflatable Boat Guide That You Will Need

Inflatable Boat Guide

How to Choose an Inflatable Boat

It may interest you to know that inflatable boats are the bestselling boats aside from big yachts. In fact, they are so popular that people even use them when going for fishing trips in lakes, and in addition, they are very portable. However, the problem is, inflated boats can be a mixed blessing at most – their best aspect is their buoyancy in water, portability, their combination of the freedom of compact powerboats with the ease of marine multi-tools, and their running costs, which you can compare to those of a pet gerbil. The worst part about them is that they are lumpy, heavy, smelly, and space-occupying things that just sit all day in your garage storage. In this straightforward inflatable boat guide I will tell you what you should be looking for, for your particular needs and try to answer all of your questions.

You can easily become irritated at the space these things occupy, and you can even want to get rid of them – this is completely understandable. However, remember that they make great tools, as long as you choose them wisely. There are plenty of drawbacks, for example trying to figure out where you can stow the boat, getting somewhere to store its fuel tank (which smells bad, by the way), or finding enough space to carry the boat when it is fully puffed up with air. Another concern is the weight bulkiness – and truth be told, inflatable boats can be heavy and more difficult than you think. You also expect the elements to bully your boat once you are in the water, especially when the wind is strong.

Despite these downsides, there are plenty of valid reasons to love the inflatable. In fact, when you look at it critically, you will realize that the issues have less to do with the boat itself, and more to do with the owner’s poor buying decisions. I have put together a review article about the best inflatable boats. These boat will have everything that you want in them but I still recommend reading this article in its entirety before making a purchase.

With everything to consider, it can be a very important question of how to choose an inflatable boat. When choosing this important item, consider the following factors to help you in your choice.

Hypalon versus PVC

All the inflatable boats you will get are composed of two materials – either from Hypalon or from PVC. The main tradeoff, in this case, is the durability versus the price.

PVC boats are very popular because of their lightweight nature and easy portability. You can fold them easily after use, and the recent development in polymer manufacture have resulted in strong quality modern PVC. Some PVC boats come with intricately woven threads, and the manufacturer uses denier to measure these threads. Higher rating means the threads are stronger but do not just look at this aspect – pay attention to the nature of the weave.

Tightly woven threads, such as 6×6 per cm, as opposed to 3×3 per cm, prove to be more resilient in their structure. The drawback to PVC boats is their vulnerability to extended sunlight, humidity, and heat. Hypalon boats, in contrast, are heavy, very strong and costly fabric.

If you want a boat that is heavy-duty, Hypalon boats are a better option than a PVC boat. Therefore, your intended use should inform the choice of boat you go for, not just your budget. If you want a boat that can serve you regularly, then go for Hypalon boats. If you want boats that serve you occasionally while retaining their compact and portable nature, then a PVC boat is the better option.

Rigid stacks versus air decks

One feature you will notice on all inflatable boats is that they come with either rigid floors constructed from interlocking aluminum or plywood, or high pressure, inflatable ‘air decks’. This will ultimately influence the net weight of the boat.

If you want a more forgiving ride experience, an easily portable boat, or a simple assembly process, then a high-pressure air floor is the best. If you want higher operating speed with less flex and higher structure rigidity, and more effective use of power, then go for a hard deck boat. A cautionary measure, however: rigid deck slats tend to trap unwary fingers and injure you more frequently.

RIB choices

RIB is an acronym for Rigid Bottom Inflatables. They provide you with many advantages – they have improved performance levels, they have better sea keeping ability, and they have unlimited size and style choices. The drawback is that they are more costly than simpler inflatables.

Their portability is not so contrasting to fiberglass boats of similar sizes, so this makes them very intriguing. In fact, if you are thinking of purchasing a RIB boat, here are some pointers to help you make a good choice.

  • The deck must be able to shed water efficiently
  • The boat must have proper support and protection on its helm
  • It should have an area for dry storage
  • The grabbing points need to be well-0positioned and strong
  • The boat should have non-slip surfaces, both on its tube tops and underfoot
  • The seating space should be sufficient for its intended use
  • Decent reserves of power for watersports need to be available
  • The build quality must be high and has a standard finish
  • Payload needs to be sufficient for both equipment and passengers
  • It should equal or surpass your expectations on the water

Extra assets

You may not have all the money in the world to splash on an inflatable boat. However, even with an entry-level budget, there are accessories that every boat should have. A set of oars, pump, carry bag, seats, repair kit and lifting points are essential and must be part of your buying price. I have purchased most of my accessories on Amazon and they can be found here.

Aside from these, features you should look out for include multiple air chambers – these will serve you well in emergencies, and inflatable thwart for added strength. Inflatable keels enhance directional stability, while optional tabs and fins improve the boat handling.

When you need to move the boat up and down beaches and docks, you will require a set of wheels. If you want a small outboard, think about purchasing electric power – it is more efficient in transport and storage, not to mention, it is cleaner than using fuel. Regardless of the outboard type you choose, extended tillers help in shifting your weight forward to enable easier rides.

Our pick for the best inflatable boat brand: Intex Recreation Corp. The brand has some impressive Hypalon and PVC boats, all renowned for their durability and function. They also make other inflatable items like pools, beds, toys and many more. They have ten varieties of boat types, and regardless of the one you ultimately pick, they will all serve you well for a long time.

Inflatable Boat Versus Regular Boat (rigid boats)

On the surface, a boat is just a boat. However, these two types differ from each other in many ways, and we will explain these differences in various aspects.

Coastguard certificates: Normally, inflatable boats do not have certifications from the Coastguard. This is because they lack specific testing protocol, so their ratings are arbitrarily determined and set by the manufacturer. Regular boats, however, require extensive testing and certification from the Coastguard. They are subject to very strict standards, such as weight capacity tests to five times the rated capacity level, and then loaded and tested for weight stability.

Weight: inflatable boats are surprisingly heavy, considering their size. For example, a simple looking 10” inflatable can weigh up to 450 lbs. when you add an item like a 30hp motor, as well as a few options like seats, it can approach close to 700lbs. regular boats, however, have weight limits. A normal boat, for example, can weigh a little over 355lbs. if you add a 30hp motor and a few other options, the boat can weigh close to 600lbs.

Build: all inflatable boats excluding RIBs are deflectable for storage. Regular boats, however, use a fiberglass construction process with no wood. They can use yacht quality hardware and hull to stabilize the construction, in addition to high-quality marine sealants to further make the boat waterproof.

Stability rating:  the boat becomes slippery when it gets wet, so inflate walk-around boats fully for maximum safety.  Regular boats have non-skid floors. They also have safety stands on their gunwale to add egress and ingress.

Floating: For inflatables, their ribs often have many air chambers, but these can let you down when one of them punctures and deflates. For regular boats, they instead have standard, closed-cell chambers that the coast guard approves. These allow for floatation even when loaded with items or people.

Ride:  Inflatable boats need a larger horsepower motor, and the tubes need proper inflation to ride on the water smoothly and track adequately. Regular boats are easier to plane and have a straight track line with smoother rides.

Storage:  inflatables lack storage facilities, though they can offer you a bow locker. Regular boats come with a lot of storage, including both a bow locker and tubes. For example, the boat can have more than 12 cubic feet of storages space.

Dryness: inflatable boats get wet easily, so it is part of the experience. Regular boats do not get wet easily.

Maintenance levels: To take care of inflatable boats, keep the pump close by, and the tubes need protection from the sun. Any leaks should be quickly fixed, and watch out for sharp objects and organisms like barnacles. Regular boats are very easy to maintain, only needing some waxing and washing.

Performance:  Inflatables usually lumbers onto a plane, while they have uneven motion at high speeds. Their movements are somehow predictable because they bounce like balls in bumpy water. Regular boats are easier to navigate, even in bumpy water. They have a nimble motion and take bumps in stride.

Safety levels: For inflatables, they are very good at promoting safety – that is until the air chambers puncture and deflate then start leaking. This means that you have to wait until you get help because the boat cannot move. For regular boats, they are Coastguard certified and go through numerous stability tests before they approve. This means you do not need to worry about your safety, and as long as the motor is functional, you can head home.

Comfort: the seating in inflatable boats is adequate, and the ride is comfortable, though it is wet. Regular boats have comfortable, well-designed seating, and the ride is dry.

Quality of design: Many inflatable boats have a good quality of construction, and are highly good and durable quality. The major issue though, is that the product has various flaws. Their life expectancy is usually around ten years. As for regular boats, the design is of yacht quality, with no sparing of expenses – and the life expectancy lasts for about forty years.

Customized colors: a majority of manufacturers of inflatable boats only offer you one boat color, so there is not much variety in this area. They also provide you with cushions, fuel tanks and lights, though the basic structure does not allow you to do much. Regular boats, however, tend to have varieties in customization, and you can purchase them in any color you want.

Gel coating: RIB inflatables use a gel coat on their fiberglass portion of their rigid hulls, while regular boats use superior, durable and UV-resistant fiberglass finish.

Hardware:  The tubes and the hardware of inflatable boats are together. Regular boats use yacht quality stainless steel throughout the boat structure, secured further by using backing plates.

The interior: inflatable boats are somewhat narrow because of the narrow shape of their tubes. These intrude on the floor width and the floor space ends up cluttered with unnecessary gear due to lack of enough storage. Regular boats, on the contrary, have big interior storages, thanks to their flat vertical interior gunwales that increase the interior width by 4 to 6 inches.

Warranty: inflatables have warranties usually lasting between 5 to 10 years, while regular boats have warranties of up to 5 years, which are typically no-hassle.

How to Inflate an Inflatable Boat

Learning how to inflate an inflatable boat both easily and quickly can help you in emergencies, as well as save your life. There are various options for inflation, and this will largely depend on the boat size. For example, if you have a small boat, you can inflate it by using your mouth, though this will not be efficient for larger boats. Here are some other examples:

Using pumping equipment

If the thought of blowing air into the boat with your mouth were unappealing, an alternative option would be to use a compressor or an inflation device. Air compressors will need power supplies, so this option is only suitable if power is available to you. The air compressor should inflate the boat quickly without requiring you to blow it up yourself.

There are several pump options that you can use to inflate the boat, which includes:

  • Hand pumps – this is a cylindrical-shaped pump that blows air into the boat. It comes in two varieties – single action pumps and double action pumps.
  • If you go with double action pumps, these push the air in on the up and down stroke. Single action pumps on the other hand, only push air during down strokes. The pumps come with inflate and deflate function on their handles.
  • Foot pumps – these are smaller than hand pumps, making it favorable for both storage and transport purposes. It works in a similar way to single-action hand pumps, which only push air in during down strokes. They also come with inflating and deflating functions. They are good for people with back issues because they do not require you to bend over while using them.
  • 12-Volt electric pumps – these are mostly used when the power point of your car provides the power. They are the easiest and quickest solution because there is no effort required on your part. The only thing to them is that you need to put in a small amount of effort, as they cannot fully inflate the boat on their own. Use them in conjunction with hand or foot pumps to inflate the boat to recommended levels. I use this electric pump from Amazon because I got sick of the hand pump that my boat came with.

Note that it is very easy to overinflate and damage your boat when using an electric pump. If you are using it for inflation, you must stop before the boat gets full inflation, then use your mouth or the hand or foot pump to finish the job.

Use airbags

Unless you own a pack raft, you will not see an airbag. Packrats usually have it because it is light and compact. It is essentially a large bag, open at one end and has a connector at the other end. What you do is take the bag and pull it through the air until full.

Once the bag is full, close the open end by gathering it together, and then you attach the connector to the inflation valve of the boat so that it allows air into the vessel. Once the airbag and valve area connected, squeeze the air into the chamber. Repeat the process until you inflate the boat completely.

This method is very good because the bag is very light, so it is good in cases of backcountry use. It is also convenient for trips where a pump or air compressors are prohibitive in weight.

Before you start on the boating adventure, make sure the boat is in top shape. You do not want incidences of being stuck in your journey before you begin, just because something went wrong with the boat.

  • Open all the valves on the boat
  • In case your boat has multiple valves, choose one to start checking and inflate them to recommended pressure levels.
  • Move to the next valve and reiterate the process, until all valves are okay.
  • Once this is over, double-check the boat. Check that each chamber is full – after all, you do not want the boat to tip over – and make sure the boat can stay steady in the water.
  • Inflate the thwarts and cover each port with their individual covers.
  • Check all the sections in the boat, ensuring you do not miss any sections.
  • When this is over, your boat is now ready to sail, so you can now set up the oars. Have a spare set for safety reasons.

Tips for checking the boat

If you want to ensure that the air pressure remains stable, here are a few pointers:

  • When the boat is fully inflated, take it to water and put it for a few minutes. After you retrieve the boat, check the air pressure and add some more if required. This is because water temperatures can affect the air pressure, making it less dense. This step will, therefore, prevent dangerous situations from occurring.
  • If you are using the boat in high-temperature weather, keep in mind that the pressure of air will increase as air expands. Therefore, check the pressure after every few hours, and release some air if the pressure is above recommended levels.
  • If using the boat in cold weather, the air pressure drops because the air contracts, this will lead to loss of air in the boat, so bring a pump along with you so you can increase the pressure when required. Again, check the pressure after every few hours
  • Once everything has been checked you’re good to launch your inflatable boat

Are Inflatable Boats Safe?

This question is a frequently asked one, and this is understandable since many people are concerned about the safety of these boats mainly because they easily puncture on sharp items. The good thing is, inflatable boats are similar to traditional boats in terms of safety, and you do not have to worry too much about them. In some instances, they may be safer than traditional boats. Here are some reasons why.

They are unsinkable

Inflatable boats have separate tubes, which are actually separate air chambers. If one of them accidentally punctures and deflates, the craft is still buoyant because of the air in the other tubes. However, do not use this as a reason not to take safety precautions. Here is a great guide on picking the right life vest which is something that everybody should have.

More bounce

The valve tubes are oversize, so the boat becomes quite buoyant on water and floats very easily. It is therefore difficult to capsize it, thanks to its low center of gravity. Some modern boats do not have the buoyancy that inflatable boats have, and tend to sink when they hit obstacles such as rocks.

Inflatable boats are easier to enter the water

The problem with some traditional boats is that they capsize easily when you try to board from the water. Inflatable boats do not have the same problem, so swimmers can board them from the side.

The US Coastguard uses inflatable boats

The US Coast Guard is the ultimate organization that knows inflatable boat safety. The military and emergency personnel also use them to move around, as do rescue craft operators.

All kinds of water activities are fun because they allow you to experience nature and the outdoor form a new perspective. The element has a refreshing effect to our senses, and thanks to more affordable boats, water sports such as white water rafting and canoeing.

Nevertheless, remember that water is still a powerful force of nature, and you cannot control it easily. You should, therefore, take certain precautions when dealing with inflatable boats. Some of these are:

  • Make sure that you have all the necessary equipment before you leave the port. These items include floatation jackets (I use this one from Amazon), flashlights, handheld radios, paddles, and maps.
  • Inform someone of your planned schedule, the names of people with you and the planned time.
  • Have confidence in your boating skills – if you are not knowledgeable on your inflatable’s operations, do not attempt to go on your own.
  • Take a boat safety course to increase your knowledge about navigation
  • Make sure you are familiar with water regulations in your area or get in touch with local authorities who can brief you.
  • If you have passengers on the boat, explain the safety regulations to them and have someone to assist you. Part of this involves wearing life jackets and sitting down while the boat is moving.
  • You should not operate a boat when you are unwell or under the influence of alcohol.
  • Ensure that the switch lanyard of the boat is functioning properly.
  • Ensure you know the amounts of fuel you need – you do not want an embarrassing situation of being stuck in the middle of the sea without fuel.

How to Attach a Motor to Your Inflatable Boat

Ah, boat motors. The simplest boat motors will only require you to set them on the boat transom and then tighten the clamps.

If only it was that easy!

You end up with many questions – what if it is too low, how do you tell when it is too low, or what if you long shaft motors but you want or need short shafts? Here is a comprehensive guide on inflatable boat motors (trolling motors) that I have written.

If you are making use of a standard inflatable boat motor system, you need to consider some factors.

Get the height of the motor right

You may think that short shaft motors go with boats that have short shaft motor designs, right? The truth is it does not work out this way. This is because it is vital that you adjust a motor to the ideal height.

If your motor is too high for the shaft, ventilation occurs and there is decreased thrust power. If the motor is too low, there is decreased momentum, more splash, and more difficult steering.

A general rule is that the ideal position of the anti-cavitation plate on your motor should be 2.5 centimeters or one inch below the bottom of the boat’s hull. You may find that it is better to raise or lower your motor because you may find your propeller works easier in that position.

Motor tilt angles

You need to adjust the tilt of your motor according to the sea conditions and the motor’s weight. When heading out to a head on the sea, you should tilt your motor inwards or place it a negative trim position, that is, at the first or second hole of the tilt pin. This will push the bow down. You can also want to move the weight in your boat towards the bow.

In a following sea, you want to push the motor outwards, or on a positive trim, that is the third or fourth hole on the tilt pin. This will push the bow upwards. You can also move some weight towards the stem of the boat for added stability.

How fast can you go?

An important point to note: just because your motor produces high amounts of thrust power, it does not mean it will move faster. In fact, more thrust motors of seemingly high power can end up being less efficient than a less powerful motor.

A rule of thumb – 12V trolling motors are for bigger boats that gave larger load amounts. The maximum speeds trolling motors can achieve is 5mph, regardless of how much thrust power they have.

The trolling motor is going to steer your boat, and it is very easy to install. For my inflatable boat, I use this motor which can be found on Amazon. This motor has been great to me so far and it can handle lakes with no problem. Additionally, it is a pretty quiet motor and comes with a great warranty. I have also written some reviews of the best trolling motors here.

Here is a breakdown of the installation procedure:

Tools: wrench kit with needles and pins, screwdriver, drill machine

Steps

  • The boat has two sides – the starboard side and the port. You can actually mount the motor at any side, depending on where the steering is. If you are steering from the port side, the starboard side is your mount base. If you are steering from the starboard side, the port is where you place the motor.
  • Remove the screws that secure the panels and detach the plates. Within that area are the mount holes.
  • Assemble the motor parts. You need to fix the motor to the shaft, and the head assembly to the mount. This and the motor are together, and place the motor in a stand position and keep the bow parallel to the side.
  • Fix the shaft to the boat center. When the trolling motor is in use, you can find out drifting and steering problems from this point.
  • Position the mount’s front accordingly, after clearing the bow tip. This can differ among motors, but all of them require a flush position, and you should not alter it more than one inch in any case.
  • The trolling motor head and its positions will undergo checks later, and it must nit overhand on the side of the boat. If it does, you then check the position twice. If it is still in a hanging position, you will need to break the motor head. The final mark point should be the boat size, and the motor must perfectly fit the boundaries of your boat.
  • The next step is to drill some holes; at least two pilot sized ones. If you can find someone to help you hold the mount, it is even better. This ensures the mount is steady and does not shift to another position. The screws at the drilled holes can fix the motor, and you can drill the other holes easily without the tension of motor shifts. Once you get to this point, you can remove the shaft or the motor head to make drilling easier.
  • Fix the bottom part of the bow with the screws, which steadies the position of the mount. You can now fix the side plates of the boat.

How to Attach an Anchor to an Inflatable Boat

You may not realize it, but it is essential to set up your inflatable boat anchoring system early so that you can use it in case of emergencies. In cases of adverse weather conditions or maintaining fixed positions, you need two anchors. Inflatable boats are easier to anchor than traditional boats because of weight differences.

The first thing to find out is the type of anchor you want, and you can know this by the following criteria:

  • The type of inflatable boat you have
  • The water conditions you will experience
  • Where you want to use the boat
  • The bottom type

When you choose your anchor, also keep in mind the correct anchor weights you need. A general guideline is that for every 3 meters of your boat length, an anchor that is at least 1% of your boat weight should support it. Bigger boats require less support than smaller boats. For my inflatable boat, I use this anchor from Amazon, which has always worked very well for me.

You should also get some shackles with your anchor since proper chains increase the effectiveness of the anchor by 1.5 to 2 times. Look for stainless steel or galvanized chains – you do not want it rusting and transferring rust to the boat.

Here are some steps to follow when anchoring.

  • Select the best anchor for the conditions you want to fish in.
  • Attach the chain. It should be strong enough to withstand friction from the substrate
  • Ensure that the length of the rope you are using is long enough to cope with strain and protects you from the impact of waves and wind.
  • Work out the type of bottom you are over as well as the water depth.
  • Using this information, choose the best anchor and chain length you need, and secure the chain on the anchor.
  • Adjust the bow of your boat to the direction of wind or currents
  • Once you are satisfied, put the engine into neutral and slowly lower the anchor in the water. You can set the anchor by slightly reversing the boat.
  • Choose some points as landmarks – these will alert you if you are drifting.
  • Here is a more in depth guide on how to anchor your inflatable boat

How to Fish from Inflatable Boats

Inflatable boats can seem like delicate things – you are afraid that when you place extra weight on them, they will capsize or sink. If you are wondering whether you can fish from such a boat, the answer is yes, you can.

They are actually more advantageous because they have lower operating costs as opposed to hull types, which leads to lower fish costs in the end. The difference here is the convenience an inflatable offers.

The first noticeable thing when you fish in an inflatable is you are above the water, instead of in it. This makes it slightly more challenging to pull fish on board, but it gets easier when making strikes. Inflatables are usually silent and lightweight, which is good for you, as you do not need to announce your presence to potential catches. The process is not different from fishing in a traditional boat, however. If you are going on your adventure solo I would recommend one of these inflatable fishing floats.

How to Clean an Inflatable Boat

Cleaning your boats for storage is very easy, as long as you know what you are doing. Hypalon and PVC boats need similar cleaners and methods to have effective results. Sometimes using the wrong inflatable boat cleaner can destroy the boat because they are more delicate than aluminum or fiberglass boats.

Stay away from products like MEK, solvents, toluene, highly alkaline cleaners (any cleaner with pH levels higher than 11.5), ammonia, acetone, bleaches, abrasive scrub pads and steel wool. These will all damage or discolor the boat fabric and attack the adhesive quality. Detergents and soaps have sticky residues, also known as scum, which attracts dirt and acts as a conductive base for mildew.

There are specialized products on the market that are good for cleaning inflatables, though you can use a very mild dish soap. You should also rinse the boat after each use thoroughly, or else debris can enter the boat and cause friction or mold may begin developing. Typically, when I clean my inflatable boat I use this product which can be found on amazon for a pretty good price.

How to Repair an Inflatable Boat

If you are losing air in your boat due to punctures or similar circumstances, you want to repair the boat as soon as possible.

  • The working conditions

Ideal repair conditions are a dry, shaded and well-ventilated area with no naked flames, relative humidity should be less than 60% and temperatures of between 18-25oC.

  • Fabric type

Identify the fabric type of your boat. This will help you select the best adhesive for your boat.

Process

  • Repairs can be either large tears (over 20mm long) or punctures. A patch to the outside of the affected tube can repair punctures, while larger ones need patches both on the inside and outside.
  • Locate the tear on the tube. If unsure of the puncture’s location, apply soapy water to the inflated tube, observe any bubbles forming at the puncture, and dry the area after marking it out.
  • Prepare the patch. Cut a fabric patch with rounded corners that allow a five cm overlap around the hole, put the patch over the hole and mark around it with a marker.
  • For Hypalon patches, abrade the patch rear and the marked repair area on the tube with abrasive paper to get a key for the adhesive. Do not over-abrade – this can damage the material.
  • Clean the patch rear and the repair zone using a lint-free cloth that has either acetone or MEK solvent. Wait until the solvent evaporates, then clean the area.
  • Mask the repair zone on the tube using removable masking tape to prevent overspills when applying the adhesive.
  • Mix the rib store adhesive according to the instructions. Apply at least two coats, leaving each coat for 20 minutes to dry. Once it dries, you can carefully place the patch to the area and leave until it dries and becomes tacky. This repair kid on Amazon has helped me in the past.
  • Before launching the boat, leave the repairs for at least 24 hours to set.

Wrap up

Inflatable boats can seem like a lot of work – which they can be – but as long as you take care of them, they will be reliable for many years to come, and will not let you down. With everything to consider, Here are my best inflatable boat picks! Let me know in the comments section what you think!

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