When most people think of inflatable boats, they probably picture some dingy red and white plastic pool toy. Maybe some people have a picture of some type of life raft, which, in many cases, is only slightly less crude than the former. However, design technology, materials and manufacturing prowess have made leaps and bounds in the past two decades or so, leading to some impressive inflatable boat designs. Many of these boats are just as seaworthy as equal size aluminum or fiberglass options (or RIBS) - and can also be a fraction of the price. That price point makes them an attractive option for many anglers, especially those on calm inland waterways and shallow rivers. Let's take a look at some of the best options on the market now for truly inflatable fishing boats.
How Reliable Are Inflatable Boats?
Most proper inflatable boats are fairly reliable for inland waterways and calm bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds and shallow rivers. In fact, inflatable rafts (also called paddle rafts or paddle boats) are the standard for white water rafting and commercial whitewater trips because they are stiff and durable with just enough flexibility to pass over rocks and down drops without folding in on themselves.
The advantages of inflatable boats are:
- They offer increased buoyancy on the water over other materials
- They're highly maneuverable, allowing anglers to get into areas with difficult access
- They are comfortable, since the hull is softer and many have built in seating.
- They are typically difficult to capsize
- They are offer a forgiving impact against hard surfaces due to their flexibility (making them good for tenders coming alongside motherships or frequent boarding and docking.
- Hybrid inflatable-fiberglass boats, called rigid inflatable boats (or RIBS for short), offer some of the best advantages to both fiberglass and inflatable with great stability, seaworthiness and overall safety. In fact, the Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and the Navy Seals even use RIBS because of these key characteristics.
Some disadvantages to consider:
- Less onboard storage space onboard (particularly no live wells or fishing boxes)
- Harder to stand up on the smaller models
- An inherent level of vulnerability to puncturing on sharp objects always exists
Of course we don't want to create any confusion regarding the difference between real proper boats and simple children's toys that market themselves as boats. Many types of inflatable watercraft exist, including RIBS (rigid inflatable hulls), kayaks, packrafts, tubes and even stand-up paddle boards (i.e. inflatable SUPs). But, a real proper inflatable boat (or partially inflatable) can be an ideal vessel for boaters who plan to do a lot of fishing particularly because of their manageability. The purpose of this article is to focus on what would be considered the most suitable inflatable boats for fishing. Here we will be focusing on portability and affordability, rather than the higher end RIB segment of the market which tend to be geared more towards luxury yacht tenders than small fishing platforms.
Why An Inflatable Fishing Boat?
If you fall under the category of the uninitiated, at this point, you might be asking, "Why the heck would someone want an inflatable boat? I might as well buy a glass house."
Let’s explore the biggest advantages and see why a true angler may actually want to consider an inflatable boat. Perhaps the best highlight of an inflatable boat is the ease of portability and storage. It doesn’t take a massive driveway, an expensive trailer, or an extra-large or specialized garage to store one of these boats. Getting these boats launched into the water is also a breeze due to their lightweight construction. Which of course, means more time on the water fishing!
Additionally, getting your boat to and from a water source is even easier. When we had our first inflatable boat, we didn't even need a trailer – we just tossed it right in the back of our pick up truck! Plus, you don’t risk damaging anything you have the boat on or near.
Now, let’s get into the real meat that true fishermen want to hear. When you need something stealthy, inflatable boats are the cream of the crop. There’s no need for a loud, stinky motor that scares all the fish away. (Although many inflatable boats can accommodate an outboard or a trolling motor.) Even the hull is quieter in and on the water. For inflatables that have a mount for an electric trolling motor or gas outboard, you have the option of easily switching to paddles, meaning when you encounter fish, you can shut the engine off rapidly and do your thing.
Now let’s talk about boat maintenance. Honestly, if you get a solid inflatable boat, they can be tanks. They don’t get dented and dinged as easily as a hard-shell boat when you hit a sharp object. Yes, we said it. These boats are more durable in the water and have lower chances of puncturing than you may think.
Next let's look at cost. Inflatables won’t set you back tens of thousands of dollars – although you can find one in that range if that’s what you’re looking for (especially a RIB), it's not the norm. Generally inflatables cost considerably less than typical hard-shell craft, fiberglass or aluminum skiffs and bass boats – which can often set you back many thousands of dollars. If it sounds like these boats are at least worth considering, then keep reading for the best options.
The Best Inflatable Fishing Boats - A Buyer’s Guide
Here are our top picks for the best inflatable fishing boats, with relevant information and pros and cons for each. Again, we're focusing on small, portable, affordable and truly inflatable.
Saturn HD470 15' Fishing Boat
Saturn Boats builds some of the toughest inflatable fishing boats on the market and at some really competitive price points to boot. The company's HD470 model (slightly different than the one pictured above) is a heavier duty 15-foot inflatable fishing boat, based off their popular FB series of boats. She's made with premium quality PVC materials, extra thick top wear strips, fishing rod holders, higher buoyancy tube design, and 5 external air chambers. This model can accommodate up to a maximum of 40 HP outboard motor on her transom, but will plane easily with a smaller 15-25 HP outboard. The HD boat tubes are produced with an advanced high-frequency heat welding construction method and also have extra-reinforced transom holders to accommodate larger motors. The extra wide and extra thick rub strakes at the bottom of the tubes and along the keel provide extra protection from sharp rocks and abrasive sand. The pressure relief valve aids in preventing excessive air pressure in the external air chambers. With a max capacity of 1,950 pounds or 8 passengers, she weighs in at a mere 245 pounds and can reach speeds of over 30-35 MPH with two adults (with a 40HP engine).
Price: The Saturn HD470 fishing boat list price is $3,699 but generally retails for around $2,000.
- Extremely Durable
- Fast (high max HP rating)
- Multiple air chambers
- High capacity (8 passengers)
- Built in rod holders and fishing features
- Heavy for an inflatable
- Bare bones
View all Saturn inflatable boats for sale today on boats.com.
Classic Accessories Colorado XT Pontoon Boat
Colorado is a great name in inflatable fishing boats. This one-person, 9-foot long, high-capacity, inflatable pontoon boat has a convenient transport wheel that allows easy access to your favorite fishing spot and stows out of the way when fishing. She has a removable stripping basket, gear bags, removable side pockets that can be combined to create a portable gear bag, a sturdy 2-position motor mount for trolling, wire rear storage and a battery platform. More fishing-friendly features include a 3-position rod holder, 2 detachable foam fly patches and an easy anchor system with fillable mesh bag, cleat, and pulley controls.
The Colorado XT has a Class 1 river rating and an abrasion-resistant PVC underside, a tough nylon upper, and a powder-coated steel tube frame for use in saltwater conditions. There’s also a stowable transport wheel that gives you an additional way of getting out of the water. Plus, the removable stripping basket with gear bags provides features that any fishermen will love when plying for their favorite species.
The max capacity weight says 400 lbs., although it seems that the storage room would allow for more. The detachable padded seat makes all-day angling very comfortable. This could be one of the best affordable inflatable pontoon boats for shallow backwater fishing on the list. This boat is rated very high, she's relatively spacious for the size and an overall fun boat to tool around. However, you’ll get quite a workout if you don’t use the trolling motor. The storage is also friendly for specific tools like fishing pliers and more.
- Great value
- Plenty of storage
- Insulated drink holders
- Two aluminum oars included
- Very portable
- Multiple colors available
- The oars aren't the best
- Limited weight capacity
- 1 person capacity
Price: This boat retails for between $800-$1,000.
Sea Eagle 375fc FoldCat Inflatable Pontoon Boat
We're not sure whether to call this a pontoon boat or a catamaran, but Sea Eagle calls it a FoldCat and that sounds like a good fit. Either way this nifty little inflatable boat is a pontoon fishing boat with patented folding frame design that provides a lightweight, portable, fuel efficient platform fishing boat for up to two anglers that packs easily into a car and does not require a trailer! Featuring the versatile universal Scotty™ Mount System with 2-4 Scotty™ Rod Holders and the ability to attach an incredible assortment of Scotty™ accessories, she comes with an optional pro angler guide package to add even more fishing features.
The patented folding system allowing this inflatable pontoon boat to be fully assemble in just minutes and when fully inflated, her lightweight aluminum cross boards and under bars combine to create a rigid fishing platform giving anglers a full access deck. That's the uniqueness of this boat, and its not something we've seen any other builder do in this class. The vessel is ideal for two anglers to stand up and cast in all directions. The full fabric floor with the aluminum cross boards will also hold any electric batteries, fishing tackle, tackle boxes or fishing lures you may have. Best of all this boat comes comfortably equipped with padded 360° swivel seats, oarlocks, and a motor mount which allows you to paddle, motor and fish! She can accommodate up to a 3 HP gas engine (min 20" shaft, 45 lbs. max weight) or 70 lbs. thrust Electric Motor (min 30" shaft, 45 lbs. max wt.). Her top speeds will be between 8-10 mph w/gas, and 4-6 mph w/ electric 2 Adults or 650 lbs.
Sea Eagle FSK16 FishSkiff16 Inflatable Frameless Fishing Boat
Most people who grew up around the water – even those uninitiated with inflatable boats – have probably heard of Sea Eagle at some point. The Long Island-based outfit has been creating inflatable boats since the late 1960s, so we're used to seeing them on the water. From their small children's watercraft to more serious proper boats, the company has a wide range of vessels. The FishSkiff 16 is designed for two anglers and is a frameless boat including two swivel seats for high levels of comfort. These seats also give you a great 360-degree view when you’re fishing. Plus there is space on the deck for your fishing cooler or even a pet!
For an inflatable, this boat is incredibly tough and durable. It’s made with a 1000 Denier reinforced drop stitch seam and offers a huge 1,765 lbs. weight capacity. These boats can handle a 10 horsepower engine while zipping you around from one spot to another at up to 21.5 mph and well over 30 mpg (many traditional boats boast a mere 3-5 mpg). It's nearly unsinkable and completely self-bailing with three separate independent large air-filled chambers. They are widely considered one of the best inflatable fishing boats on the market.
Price: The FishSkiff16 lists for $3,332 but generally retails for around $2,699.
- Great build efficiency
- Includes canopy
- Drop-stitch flooring
- Paddle included
- D-rings and other mounting options
- Lightweight (99 lbs.)
- Somewhat expensive for the size
- Limited capacity (3 people)
Saturn 10' Heavy-Duty Boat FB300 Fishing Boat
Saturn Boats appears on our list twice here for a reason – they make some of the tougher inflatable boats on the market with a few models geared specifically for fish heads. If you want a slightly smaller, lighter boat than the 15 footer we mentioned above, but still a fishing feature-heavy boat, the FB300 model might be right up your alley. The boat is designed to take a serious beating and is constructed with fishing top of mind, although it can also accommodate snorkeling, scuba diving, and other water recreation easily.
Incredibly tough German Heytex PVC gives the vessel strength and durability with the aluminum floor for rock-solid standing casts or retrievals. In addition, there is a 2nd layer of extra thick 1.5mm PVC glued along the bottom of the tubes, all the way up to rub strakes on side of tubes. And, the whole boat bottom is also made of extra heavy-duty 1.5mm PVC fabric. That is the most extra protection available for any inflatable boats on a market today! Made from the same heavy-duty, commercial grade 1100 Denier PVC other Saturn boats (like the 15 footer above) this vessel is versatile and durable.
What about the extras? Rod-holders, an inflatable keel, aluminum benches, drain valves and extra D-rings make her accessory-heavy and fully capable on the water. This is without a doubt, one of the best inflatable fishing boats for sale today when it comes to the smaller end of the spectrum.
- Loads of quality features
- Tough and durable
- Has a keel protector
- Oars, pump, and repair kit included
- Splash guards
- Detachable motor mount for trolling motor
- Oar holders for rowing
- Anchor rope
- Rowing oar holders.
- Pricey (May be too expensive for some budgets)
- Relatively heavy (although lighter weight than the 15' version)
Price: This boat retails for $1399.00 USD.
Inflatable Sport Boats Swordfish SB-330A Dinghy
The Sports Boat’s Swordfish model is a high-quality offering from Swordfish. Despite the fact that it’s a dinghy, this 10.8 foot inflatable with extended rear pontoons and transom area allows for larger amounts of weight from larger motors. The balanced stability also optimizes the motor area, allowing the boat to run much smoother during use. Drop-stitch air flooring is also reversible, leading to multiple design options.
The underside is crafted from 1,100 denier reinforced PVC material, which makes this boat incredibly strong. Waterproofing is also next level from the UV and oil stain approved by the United States Coast guard.
You’ll be ready to deploy in less than ten minutes because of this portable, quick inflating fishing boat. Additionally, you can take up to five guests comfortably. The bottom line is this inflatable boat is a beast and built to last. Plus, it looks good while doing it. It might be a little more expensive than other inflatables, but it’s worth every penny. And at this price, you won’t get much better, to be honest.
- Rugged construction
- Attractive visual elements
- Heat-welded seams
- Great for all conditions
- Front-towing rings
- Aluminum oars and pump included
- Fits up to 15HP motor
- Relatively Expensive for its size
Price: This boat retails for $1,899.
Sea Eagle PackFish7 Inflatable Fishing Boat
This Sea Eagle option is incredibly compact and great for fishing. If you’re short on space, this one-person fishing boat is the next step up from a tube. It’s incredibly lightweight at only 26 pounds when you use the floorboard. It’s made with durable 1,000-denier PVC-coated polyester that’s built to take a beating.
There’s more than one air chamber, which is common for quality inflatables. Rods and paddles are included in case you’re unfortunate enough to suffer a puncture. Additional rod holders allow trolling, and there are even fish rulers on the side so you can measure your catch. If you’re into weight and portability, this craft should be one of your top options. This bad boy is great for traveling and tight spaces.
- Unbeatable portability
- Cup holders
- Zipper pouches for storing
- Grab handles
- Tracking strips
- Inflatable seat
- Bag and pump included
- Low weight capacity
Price: This boat retails for between $400-$600.
Airhead Angler Bay 6 Person Inflatable Boat
For the extremely budget-minded, here’s a very affordable inflatable fishing boat selection that’s not nearly as expensive as some of the others on this list and can at least get you out plying the waters on the cheap. The Airhead Angler Bay inflatable falls on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from some of the more overbuilt and feature-rich models above. But, she'll at least get you on the water. Designed for slower bodies of water and calm lakes she can accommodate up to six people. Truthfully though, it would probably be bit uncomfortable for that many adults, especially if you're trying to fish. So we'd suggest the boat is more suitable for 1-2 anglers. Also, you'll want to figure out a seating arrangement for casting, which may be a bit tricky but it is certainly do-able.
When you’re fishing solo, this boat would be a nice little, nimble fishing platform. The welded seams and durable vinyl construction make her a solid inflatable and that's why we added her as a selection to the list. Despite her affordability and simplicity, the boat isn't junk. In fact, there are even some nice touches. For exampled, two rod holders come with this package, as well as a few other features. You’ll find transom mounting fixtures, paddle holders, a removable seat, and oarlocks. So, despite the price, it’s still loaded with some quality fishing features. If you’re a newcomer that’s looking to save money, this could be a great first-timer's inflatable fishing boat.
- Great Price
- Fast inflation/deflation
- Wrap-around grab lines
- Lightweight and portable
- Several drink holders
- Multiple drain plugs
- The six-person claim is a little ambitious
- There’s no pump
- May be hard to stand up in
Price: The boat lists for $402.99 but often retails for between $299-$350. Let's face it, you can't get on the water for much cheaper than that!
How To Choose An Inflatable Boat For Fishing
There are multiple things to consider when you want the best inflatable on the market. However, you should assess the following elements when making your choice.
- Materials and DurabilityThe two primary concerns with inflatables are how long they’ll last and how puncture-proof they are. This all comes down to what they are crafted from. Normally, inflatable boats are created from one of three options – PVC, polyethylene, and Hypalon. Some of them also use aluminum floors or frames, which are normally powder-coated to avoid corrosion if you’re boating in saltwater.
- Type of Inflatable
You either have a raft inflatable, which doesn’t use an outboard motor, a dinghy made for trolling, or pontoon inflatables, which use two air chambers on either side to create stability. Depending on what you’re after, each of these three could be the right fit for you. Raft inflatables are for more relaxing, light-duty lake fishing and of course, white water rafting sports. A dinghy might do better on faster-flowing rivers, while a pontoon can handle perhaps a bit more of light chop (albeit, on inland waterways of course).
- Size/Occupancy Capacity
Inflatable boats are normally wider than they are longer. This is especially true when you compare them to kayaks. You’ll find that many models are not much larger than 10 feet from the bow to the stern.
This makes them generally stable, but they’re not going to be that fast unless you’re using some type of motor on the transom. Keep in mind, you often can’t stand in many of these types of boats, although there are some highlighted above with rigid floors designed for standing and casting. If that is a make-or-break deal for you, then make sure whatever model you're considering allows for standing casting.
Finding The Right Inflatable Boat for You
Are you convinced that inflatable boats are a serious contender in the world of fishing yet? If you haven’t pulled the trigger on trying one out, you might want to start shopping for an inflatable boat now and see for yourself. These incredibly versatile, durable fishing boat options are one of the most cost-effective, portable, unique and exciting boats on the market for any level of angler!