Last updated: August 4, 2021

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Are you interested in water sports and looking for an inexpensive way to get started? With an inflatable boat you can save money and still have fun. But what types of inflatable boats are there and what buying criteria should you pay attention to?

In our inflatable boat test 2021 we present the best and latest models from the respective categories. We also give you important tips and tricks on how to care for and transport your inflatable boat. Whether inflatable dinghies, dinghy kayaks, dinghies with a solid bottom or rigid hull dinghies, we have the best dinghies on the market.




Summary

  • The classic inflatable boats are paddle boats and are completely inflatable. They usually serve as an inexpensive introduction to the world of water sports. However, there are many other types and variations of boats. The main inflatable boats include inflatable inflatable boats (paddle boats), inflatable kayaks, inflatable boats with a fixed boat bottom and rigid hull inflatable boats.
  • If you want to buy an inflatable boat, you can either find one in various online shops or in specialised shops for boats and accessories.
  • The prices of individual boats can vary greatly depending on the type and manufacturer. Some inflatable boats are already available for around 100 euros, but you can also buy more professional versions for several thousand euros.

The Best Inflatable Boat in the United Kingdom: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying an inflatable boat

What is an inflatable boat and what are its advantages?

Inflatable boats are inflated with air that can be deflated for transport or during storage. A seal prevents the air from escaping during use.

An inflatable boat is a boat with an inner tube as its hull or as its exterior, which can be filled with air. It is made of either plastic film, plasticised PVC, rubberised fabric or synthetic rubber.

The classic inflatable boats are paddle boats and are completely inflatable. They usually serve as an inexpensive introduction to the world of water sports. However, there are many other types and variations of boats. The most important inflatable boats include:

  • Inflatable rubber dinghies (paddle boats)
  • Inflatable kayaks
  • Inflatable boats with a solid bottom
  • Fixed-bottom inflatable boats

There are many inflatable boat variations. The classic paddle boats, inflatable kayaks, inflatable boats with a solid bottom and rigid hull inflatable boats. They all impress with their special stability and seaworthiness. (Image source: pixabay.com / manseok)

The main advantage of any inflatable boat is the buoyancy tube. This brings with it a number of amazing effects: On the one hand, it makes the boat twice as wide, which significantly increases stability. In addition, the combination of buoyancy tube with medium or deep V hull gives the inflatable boat outstanding seaworthiness.

The multi-chamber tunnel of an inflatable boat provides an incredible buoyancy volume and guarantees great safety, carrying capacity and additional passenger seats. The main materials of the inflatable boat also speak for themselves. They are light, flexible and facilitate transport and storage enormously. For this reason, however, all inflatable boats have a somewhat shorter life expectancy and need more care and maintenance.

The reason is that the main material is much more sensitive and elastic than metal.

Did you know that you need a licence plate to drive an inflatable boat in inland areas? You must obtain such a licence plate beforehand from your local water and shipping authority.

How many people can fit in an inflatable boat?

You want to buy an inflatable boat and are not sure how big it should be? Then think about the purpose of the boat. Besides the place of use, you should also know how many people you want to take with you. Depending on the number of people on board, you can estimate the length of the boat you will need:
Number of persons Boat length
3-4 approx. 3 metres
5-6 approx. 4 metres
7-8 approx. 5 metres

Of course, these figures are only guidelines. As soon as you have luggage or similar with you, you should plan for a little more space.

How much do inflatable boats cost?

The prices of the individual boats must be clearly differentiated according to their type. While you can get fully inflatable paddle boats for a few hundred euros, motorised inflatable boats can cost several thousand euros.

A motorised inflatable boat naturally costs more than a pure paddle boat. For some types of boats, however, a motor can easily be retrofitted. (Image source: pixabay.com / ephotographythemes)

Basically, you can say that paddle boats are the cheapest. They are followed by inflatable boats with a solid bottom and inflatable kayaks. Motorised rigid hull boats (RIBs) then form the price peak by far. An overview of the individual price ranges can be found here:

Boat type Price
Paddle boats approx. 30 to 200 EUR
Kayaks approx. 70 to 400 EUR
Fixed-bottom boats approx. 300 to 1200 EUR
RIBs approx. 1500 to 7000 EUR

Decision: What types of inflatable boats are there and which one is right for you?

There are different types of inflatable boats that should be used for different purposes. Depending on whether you want to use an inflatable boat only for a relaxed summer holiday at the lake, hiking trips in canals or use an inflatable boat as a dinghy, you should consider the different types of boats. There are:

  • Inflatable rubber dinghies (swim boats/paddle boats)
  • Inflatable kayaks
  • Inflatable boats with fixed bottoms
  • Rigid inflatable boats

When should I choose an inflatable dinghy?

If you are looking for a good and inexpensive boat for occasional, summer swimming and leisure use, it is best to go for so-called bathing boats/paddle boats. Bathing boats are the simplest and cheapest inflatable boat models. They are usually regarded as pure "swimming aids" and are used for bathing, splashing around and swimming. They are perfect for summer bathing fun at the pool, in the lake and in the swimming pool.

Depending on the model and size, they can carry both children and adults over short distances across the water. Unlike inflatable kayaks, they are much smaller and do not have a fixed floor plate and additional motor mounts. The somewhat larger and higher-quality bathing boats often have paddling devices, a circumferential handle line and several air chambers, which is why they are somewhat more robust and safer.

Advantages
  • Particularly cheap
  • Suitable for children
  • Easy to use
Disadvantages
  • Little comfort
  • Not particularly stable

When should I choose an inflatable kayak?

There is another alternative to the normal inflatable boat, the so-called inflatable kayak.

Due to its special kayak-typical shape, the inflatable kayak is much more manoeuvrable and agile in the water. In addition, it is usually driven with a double paddle, which enables greater acceleration and thus faster progress.

In principle, inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks are very similar. However, the latter variant is somewhat narrower and more elongated in shape.

Narrow inflatable kayaks are also used for rafting and are considered particularly manoeuvrable and agile. (Image source: pixabay.com / KeithJJ)

Despite their narrow shape, modern inflatable kayaks offer a lot of comfort and can be used perfectly for longer river trips and also for trips on easy to moderate white water.

Advantages
  • Low weight
  • Easy to transport
  • Space-saving
Disadvantages
  • Slower than real kayaks
  • Susceptible to side and head winds

What are the advantages and disadvantages of an inflatable boat with a fixed bottom?

An inflatable boat with a solid bottom naturally offers a certain value and stability, which significantly increases the quality standard of the boat. However, this is also reflected in the price, as it is no longer a pure beginner's boat. With most inflatable boats of this type, it is possible to retrofit a motor with up to 15 hp, which significantly increases comfort and speed.

A boat with a solid bottom is suitable for fishing, boat hiking, or is simply a suitable boat if a paddle boat is simply too wobbly for you. A summary of the advantages and disadvantages of this type of inflatable boat:

Advantages
  • Very stable
  • Comfortable
  • Partially motor retrofittable
Disadvantages
  • More difficult to transport
  • Somewhat more expensive

What is special about rigid hull inflatable boats and when should I choose them?

A rigid hull inflatable boat is also known as a "RIB" and, as the name suggests, is equipped with a rigid hull. RIB stands for Rigid Inflatable Boat. These boats are considered to be extremely resistant and robust.

The hull of a rigid inflatable boat is usually made of glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GRP), aluminium or Kevlar. Such a boat is much lighter than a comparable conventional boat. Because of the buoyancy of the air tubes, it is almost unsinkable and can be sailed in heavy seas without capsizing.

For this reason, this is the preferred class of boat used by rescue organisations, the police and environmental organisations. The engine power of most RIBs significantly exceeds 15 hp, which is also reflected in the price of these boats. You can buy a RIB from 1500 euros upwards.

Advantages
  • Very stable
  • Very comfortable
  • Very fast
Disadvantages
  • Hard to transport
  • Very expensive

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate inflatable boats

In the following, we will show you which aspects you can use to decide between the many possible inflatable boats. The criteria you can use to compare the different boats include:

  • Maximum load capacity & number of persons
  • Material
  • Number of air chambers
  • Dimensions & weight
  • Floor

In the following paragraphs, we will explain what is important in the individual criteria.

Maximum load capacity and number of persons

Before buying a boat, you should definitely compare the individual boats according to this criterion. The maximum payload or load capacity is a limiting factor for the use of your boat. The number of people should also be taken into account.

If you plan to take the whole family on a bathing holiday, your boat should also have enough space for all the people and possibly luggage. It is especially important that you stick to the given specifications and do not exceed them, otherwise stability and safety on the water are not guaranteed and the boat may break down.

Material

There is a wide range of inflatable boats made of different materials. The differences in the material lie on the one hand in the properties of tear strength, abrasion resistance, UV resistance and cold resistance. But also in durability, price and sustainability (raw material, production methods, duration of use, possibility of repair, recyclability, disposal). The most commonly used materials for inflatable boats are:

  • Natural rubber
  • EPDM
  • Nitrilon
  • PVC
  • Teflon

Each material has certain advantages and disadvantages. Depending on which criterion is particularly important to you, you should consider and compare the materials used when buying a boat.

Number of air chambers

The number of air chambers also plays an important role in inflatable boats. It is a safety aspect and ensures that the boat does not sink.

Depending on the size and weight of the inflatable boat, your boat should have at least 2, but preferably 3-4 air chambers that can be filled individually with air.

Dimensions and weight

The dimensions and weight of an inflatable boat determine not only the water characteristics of the boat, but above all its transportability. The smaller and lighter your boat is, the easier it is to transport, of course. Fully inflatable paddle boats usually have the edge here with a tare weight of 2 to 10 kilos. But inflatable kayaks are also relatively light. On the other hand, inflatable boats with a solid bottom and especially RIBs are by far heavier and more unwieldy.

Floor

The floor of inflatable boats can be very different and made of different materials. A distinction is made between the following types:

  • Air floor
  • Wooden floor
  • Aluminium floor
  • Slatted floor

The air or high-pressure floor is an inflatable dinghy floor that has a high air pressure of approx. 0.8 bar. This makes the floor relatively stable. At high speed, however, small air bubbles can form under the hull. If there are waves or too little air, the floor can even "wobble" slightly and bulge. An air floor is much more susceptible than a wooden floor, for example. Therefore, you should be careful not to take any sharp objects or even dogs on board; sand or small stones can also be a problem. In most cases, the wooden floor is made of marine plywood and is varnished. This varnish can chip or scratch over time. This can then damage the wood in connection with water. An aluminium floor, on the other hand, does not have such negative characteristics. It is usually lighter, more scratch-resistant and better in terms of durability and handling. In most cases, both wooden and aluminium floors offer better handling characteristics than a slatted or high-pressure floor.

Type of floor Features
Air floor Inflatable, unstable when moved a lot, vulnerable
Wooden floor Lacquered marine plywood floor, damage from water if lacquer chips off
Aluminium floor Lightweight and scratch-resistant, long-lasting
Batten floor Very robust

The slatted floor is a good alternative to the air or high-pressure floor. It is also very light and easy to handle, but withstands greater loads. In most cases, the slatted floor is only available for small inflatable boats and is therefore suitable for dinghies that are not so fast.

Trivia: Interesting facts about inflatable boats

How can I transport and store my inflatable boat?

Folding boats are easiest to transport with a trailer. We have put together a few tips for you that you should pay attention to during transport.

  • The size and load capacity of the trailer should be based on the dimensions of the boat.
  • The hull of the boat should have as large a bearing surface on the trailer as possible; equipment with many rollers and pads is preferable.
  • Crossbeams are more suitable than rollers because of the larger bearing surface.
  • Align the crossbeams and rollers according to the shape of your boat. The keel line is usually the strongest area of the hull, it should be the guideline for contact with the hanger.
  • Pull the boat onto the trailer only when inflated, using the bow eyes or the lateral towing eyes.
  • Lash the boat well and attach the motor shaft to the designated place.
  • For long transports, we also recommend a cover to protect the boat from stones and dirt.

Once your boat has arrived safely at the storage location, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your boat lasts as long as possible. When storing your boat, make sure that it is absolutely dry and that it stays dry, otherwise there is a high risk of mould!

We advise you not to fold the dinghy in the long term, because constant rubbing and bending can lead to leaks in the dinghy's tube. In addition, the dinghy should not be stored too cold to prevent the material from becoming brittle. Tarpaulins or tarpaulins are also practical to protect the boat from UV radiation and water.

How do I clean and care for my inflatable boat?

To keep the material of your inflatable boat nice and soft and flexible, inflatables should be cleaned and treated regularly - because: Regular cleaning and care can prolong the life of an inflatable boat! First of all, an inflatable boat should be thoroughly rinsed with fresh water and dried after each use. Even before the inflatable boat is folded, sand grains, algae residues, crustaceans or other dirt stuck to the boat skin should be thoroughly removed.

Otherwise, these could be rolled up and trapped when the boat is folded, leaving damage to the material. To clean the boat, you can use special inflatable boat cleaners or conventional, mild cleaning agents such as soap and water. This usually removes normal dirt very effectively. Make sure that you do not use hard brushes or other rough utensils for cleaning. A cloth, a soft sponge or a cleaning cloth are ideal for this purpose. Follow these simple tips for proper care so that you can enjoy your inflatable boat for a long time.

Image source: pixabay.com / vsalgado23

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