Best Inflatable Fishing Boats: 2019 Buying Guide and Reviews

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If you want to get out onto the water, but don’t have a truck or trailer, you might consider an inflatable fishing boat. They’re also great for anglers on a tight budget, or for people who fish on lakes that limit engine horsepower.

Far from pool toys, the most capable designs are used by special forces for amphibious assaults, and if they can trust them for rough beach landings and stormy seas, you can too!

And as manufacturing tech has improved, inflatables have joined the ranks of serious fishing craft. It’s now high time to reconsider the advantages of this type of boat.

But if you’re in the market for an inflatable, it pays to do your homework, separate fact from fiction, and know just what you’re getting into. We’d like to help, and below, we’ll offer an in-depth discussion of their strengths and weaknesses, handling characteristics, and design types. We’ll also present reviews of some of our favorites.

Quick glance at the best inflatable fishing boats available today:

Buying The Best Inflatable Fishing Boat – What To Consider

Durability

We’d like to discuss the elephant in the room immediately, dispel your concerns, and lay the truth out quickly and clearly.

Inflatable boats can be tough, durable, and extremely puncture-resistant. How tough? Two examples should suffice to answer this question. Both Navy S.E.A.L.s and professional whitewater guides use inflatable boats in the most demanding conditions.

That’s because the best inflatables are constructed from incredibly robust materials, feature multiple air chambers, and sport air-tight valves. Often, they’ll have a covering made from layers of really tough synthetic rubber or PVC, and though not absolutely puncture-proof, they can take more of a beating than you probably imagine.

And because they’re filled with air, they can shrug off hard impacts that might crack fiberglass or rupture aluminum. If they couldn’t, you wouldn’t see them on white water and in naval assaults.

The myth that these are overgrown pool toys can be put to bed, especially for the higher-end models from companies like ISB and Newport Vessels.

As in most things, though, you get what you pay for. If you want ultra-tough and super capable, prepare to see the price gap between an inflatable and aluminum shrink.

That said, even the most expensive inflatables are vastly cheaper than fiberglass, and much, much easier to transport.

video of torture testing an inflatable kayak–impressive!!!

Navy SEALS using inflatable strike boats

inflatable boat vs class 5 rapids

Material

The outer skin of inflatables is generally made from one of two materials: PVC or Hypalon.

PVC – Polyvinyl chloride is a plastic polymer increasingly used for the construction of inflatable boats. As the tech for producing PVC fabric has improved over the last few decades, it’s now a top choice for manufacturers.

Very durable, relatively light, and comparatively inexpensive, the only downside to PVC is UV sensitivity. That said, when properly cared for, PVC boats last a very long time, often eight to ten years.

Hypalon – Hypalon is a brand name for chlorosulfonated polyethylene (CSPE), essentially synthetic rubber.

It’s extremely durable and resistant to UV, but it is much heavier and considerably more expensive than PVC. This material is best reserved for very hot climates with extreme temps and UV exposure.

Which you choose is up to you, but most manufacturers have switched to PVC to keep costs reasonable.

Transportability, Weight, and Storage

This is one area where inflatables really shine.

Because they can be aired-up for use and deflated when you’re done, they’re ridiculously easy to transport compared to solid-hulled alternatives.

And even if you choose to inflate them at home and transport them on the roof of your car, bed of your truck, or trailer, they’re incomparably lighter and thus easier to handle than either aluminum or fiberglass.

For instance, the Zodiac Classic Mark II, a 13’8” rigid-bottom inflatable, weighs in at a svelte 192 pounds. By comparison, a 2019 Tracker Grizzly 1448 Jon, just 2 inches longer, tops the scales at 562 pounds!

Imagine handling both hulls on dry land. Two to three people could easily unload and drag the Zodiac, but it would take five to six people to man-handle the Grizzly.

That’s an enormous difference.

Moreover, when deflated, the inflatable takes up very little space and can be stored in an outbuilding or the corner of a garage. Some of the smaller models can even fit in the trunk of your car or in a closet!

Handling and Safety

Inflatables are incredibly durable and ultra-transportable; that’s where they’re at their best. But for many models, handling isn’t their strong suit. Safety, however, is generally excellent.

In terms of performance, the very best of the bunch can get close to the handling of a solid-hull, and in some instances, exceed it in rough water. Inflatables that are equipped with an outboard can turn on a dime. And if you need to run long distances to get to where you want to fish, options like the ISB Killer Whale and Newport Vessels Dana are the best bet.

But handling is largely dependent on the specific design, and we’ll be sure to take note of this characteristic in each review.

The issues you can expect in inflatables result from two design choices:

High gunnels/lots of rockerThe basic design of inflatables demands that they have relatively high sides and lots of rocker. With high bows, sterns, and gunnels, they catch the wind easily and tend to track poorly, meaning that they won’t hold a straight-line very well.

The advantage of this design is that, at their best, they’re theoretically unsinkable, and many can remain afloat with a compromised tube. They’re also unswampable.

Low weight – Great for transportation, these inflatables’ low weight can be a liability on the water. It makes the boat more susceptible to being pushed by the wind and lifted by waves.

Some models offer a detachable skeg to improve handling and tracking. We’ll note that feature when it’s available.

We can offer some general guidelines up-front by grouping inflatables into different design categories.

For boats like the Intex Mariner series and the Sea Eagle SE9 – Simple physics is going to inhibit their tracking and handling with oars. When compared to a canoe, kayak, or conventional dinghy, they’re going to be a bit ungainly and hard to keep moving in a straight line. They’ll also get pushed by the wind quite a bit.

Stability is quite good, but we’d keep these on rivers and small lakes.

For pontoon boats like the Classic Accessories Colorado XTS – When used with an appropriate trolling motor, their handling is excellent. Stability is also good because of the widely spaced pontoons, but the high seating position does create a taller center of gravity. That will also create plenty of surface for the wind to catch, so keep that in mind.

Overall, we’d recommend these stay on quiet water.

For inflatables like the ISB Killer Whale and Newport Vessels Dana – Handling is exceptional with an appropriate outboard or trolling motor, as is general seaworthiness. When purchased from reputable companies, these are among the best choices for foul weather and rough seas–within reason, of course!

Stability is awesome, and these are absolutely capable of handling saltwater and larger lakes where significant swells can appear suddenly.

After all, here’s a reason this style of inflatable is used for amphibious assaults!

Maintenance

Regular upkeep and a few simple tips will keep your inflatable in top shape.

  • Dry before you pack To get the most from your boat, you need to take care of it. When you’ve finished your fishing adventure, give your boat a quick rinse with clean water and let it air dry before packing it away. Folding it up wet will encourage mold and mildew and shorten its service life. Plus, it can lead to some really foul smells!
  • Bring a patch kit with you – Inflatables are tough, but so was the Titanic! Always bring a patch kit with you in case you puncture your boat!
  • Proper inflation is important – As the experts explain, “proper inflation is the best preventative medicine you can do for your inflatable boat. By running a ‘floppy’ or ‘soft’ boat, you are putting stresses on the seams and hardware that otherwise would be mitigated by the rigidity of a properly inflated boat. Remember to keep your boat tight and it will perform better, use less fuel and live a longer life.”
  • When not in use, keep your boat out of the sun. UV radiation will eventually deteriorate even the toughest materials, so be sure to keep your investment well protected. Never store your boat in the sun!
  • Use a conditioner and protectant regularly. Products like 303 Protectant and Star Brite Inflatable Boat Cleaner are things you should have on hand. Use these regularly to clean and protect your boat, and you’ll get decades of service from doing so.

303 Products 30305 Marine & Recreation Aerospace Protectant - 10 oz.Star Brite Inflatable Boat Cleaner - 32 oz.

Best Inflatable Boat Reviews

Classic Accessories Colorado XTS

Size: 9’ x 4’ “ x 2’ 4”
Weight: 80 lbs.
Material: PVC bottoms and Nylon tops on the pontoons/steel frame
Valves: N/A
Outboard and trolling motor capable: Trolling motor only (36” shaft/30 pound thrust max.)
Max. capacity: 400 lbs.

Classic Accessories is a household name in products like boat covers, and they’ve expanded their line to include the Colorado series pontoon boats. We like the Colorado XTS, and its innovative design has a lot going for it.

Rather than the conventional inflated gunwales, the Colorado XTS offers a more-or-less standard chair supported by two long, wide-spaced pontoons. Ideal for fishing very calm water, let’s take a closer look at what makes this boat tick.

Classic Accessories isn’t forthcoming about the grade or thickness of the PVC and Nylon used on the pontoons. That doesn’t inspire us with confidence, and we’d try to keep the Colorado XTS away from hard impacts with stumps and rocks. We also doubt that they’ll hold up for more than a few years, but we could be surprised.

The steel tubing used to create the frame is strong enough, but the powder coating isn’t great. Expect scratches.

At just 80 pounds, the Colorado XTS should be something almost any angler can handle, and its relatively small size means that truck beds are a great way to get this boat to the water.

The frame can be trying to assemble, but once in place, it does its job well to hold everything together. And the Colorado XTS’s wide stance offers excellent stability in calm conditions.

This boat offers plenty of storage options, many of which are moveable to allow a nearly custom layout. That’s something we really like, and we wouldn’t feel undergunned fishing with what the Colorado XTS can carry onboard. There are plenty of mesh pockets and storage bins, and even two insulated drink holders!

The seat is comfortable and the seating position is high. For many, this will be a great option because of that, and since the seat swivels, it corrects a common problem when using the earlier XT–being unable to reach the tiller of a transom-mounted trolling motor.

Handling with the included oars is pretty bad, and it can be very hard to keep to a course. On that front, we recommend a trolling motor, which can be attached to the frame. You’ll find that the Colorado XTS handles admirably when under power, though, of course, it’s no speed demon.

But because of that high seating position, wind will be an issue. A drift sock, anchor, or trolling motor will help remarkably on this front.

The no-name valves on the Colorado XTS are often difficult to use, refusing to accept air. Many users complain of this issue, and it’s something to look out for before you plan your first trip.

Pros:

  • Light
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Plenty of space for gear, much of which is customizable
  • Stable
  • Comfortable seat

Cons:

  • Long-term durability is not likely
  • Poor pontoon quality could allow punctures
  • For calm water only

Inflatable Sport Boats Killer Whale

Inflatable Sport Boats Killer Whale 10.8' - Model 330 - Aluminum Floor Dinghy with Seat Bag
Amazon 

Size: 10’ 8” x 5’ 3”
Weight: 80 lbs (plus 35 lbs of aluminum flooring and 6 lbs. each for the benches)
Material: .9 mm (35 mil) 1100 Denier PVC
Valves: N/A
Outboard and trolling motor capable: Yes
Max. capacity: 1,268 lbs.

Inflatable Sports Boats isn’t the sexiest company name, but they’re well respected in the yachting community for tenders, dinghies, and multi-sport inflatables. And while you’re not likely to see these guys in freshwater angling much, their winning combination of awesome handling, lightweight, and extreme durability should get you rethinking what makes a great boat.

ISB constructs this inflatable from super-high grade 35 mil PVC. That’s tough–really tough–and I wouldn’t hesitate to land this boat on a beach. Punctures and abrasion will simply be no issue.

ISB recognized the common failings of similar inflatables: problematic nose cones, cracking transoms, and adhesives that fail. Upgrading the basic design, they’ve produced a real winner.

Let’s get down to the brass tax. The Killer Whale is 10’ 8” long and more than 5’ wide, providing for five passengers or two anglers. Sliding aluminum benches provide ample seating, though some padding might be welcome on a long day fishing trip (not your PFD!). Space won’t be at a premium, even with the battery for a trolling motor.

24mm-thick aluminum flooring provides firm footing and better hydrodynamics. We’ll get to that point in a moment, though.

And while this robust boat is truly sea-worthy, it’s just 80 pounds without that flooring, making it very easy to handle and stow.

While the Killer Whale can be rowed with the included, and high-quality oars, that’s not really where this type of craft shines. Instead, attach a small outboard, and the Killer Whale will plane easily, racing across the water and turning on a dime!

Handling and performance are in an entirely different league from the Sea Eagle and Intex competitors, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take this into the open ocean, the Great Lakes, a sprawling salt marsh, or anywhere else I need to fish.

A final advantage to this design, shared with Zodiac and BRIS, is that you can leave this boat fully inflated for long periods without worry.

The Killer Whale is built to last, and quality control is excellent. Expect a long service life from this boat.

Pros:

  • Reasonably light
  • Moderately priced
  • Extremely durable
  • Plenty of space for two anglers
  • Awesome handling
  • Great long-term durability
  • Go anywhere–ocean, lake, or river

Cons:

  • When assembled, tough for one person to handle

Intex Mariner 3

Intex Mariner 3, 3-Person Inflatable Boat Set with Aluminum Oars and High Output Air Pump (Latest Model)
Amazon 

Size: 9’ 9” x 4’ 2” x 1’ 6”
Weight: 73.5 lbs.
Material: two layers of PVC
Valves: two Boston valves
Outboard and trolling motor capable: Yes (with available aftermarket transom)
Max. capacity: 880 lbs.

Intex manufactures pool tools, above-ground pools, and inflatable beds, and they’ve branched out into the boating world with the Mariner series. What’s clear is that the Mariner 3 is no floaty, and you can count on it to deliver the fishing performance you demand on calm water.

The Mariner 3 is so-named because it’s designed to accommodate three people, but we recommend that you think one or two anglers plus gear instead. With one person fishing, there’s plenty of space for gear, and the relatively high gunwales will keep your tackle in the boat and out of the water.

Its multiple air bladders ensure that it will stay afloat even if one is compromised, and it’s covered in two thick layers of tough PVC. We’re not sure what grade or thickness of PVC Intex uses, but it strikes us as durable and tough. When properly inflated, the sides of the Mariner 3 are reassuringly rigid, too.

The flooring is extruded plastic, and it’s firm enough to stand on with confidence. Two inflatable seats provide ample room and a comfy spot to fish. And in a nod to anglers, you’ll find two rod holders and a handy gear pouch. Don’t expect Scotty quality, here, however.

Two quality Boston valves control air flow, and these are among the best in the business. We have absolutely no worries here.

And at just under 74 pounds, this is an inflatable that’s easy to handle and transport, and when deflated, easy to store as well.

The Mariner 3 can be equipped with an aftermarket transom to mount a trolling motor or small outboard. We recommend this, as using the low quality included oars–or really any oars–to get around will be quite the hassle. When rowed, expect the Mariner 3 to be relatively sluggish, track poorly, and catch plenty of wind.

When powered by a trolling motor or an appropriate outboard, however, this small boat will make its way quite well, turn admirably, and generally be much more friendly when you’re trying to get to the spots you’re looking for. And with this in mind, Intex has provided a built-in battery pouch, a thoughtful touch.

Especially with an outboard, expect sudden changes to the throttle to cause some momentary buckling–more an annoyance than anything to worry about. Drifting in the wind will be an issue, too, so some form of anchor is advisable.

We’re pretty confident in the short-term durability of the PVC skin the Mariner 3 sports, and I wouldn’t worry about hooks penetrating the gunwales. It will also take hard impacts well, including sharp stumps and rocks. But this is not a purchase that will serve you for decades–as the price reflects.

Seam quality can be an issue, causing a loss of air pressure. This is almost certainly a quality control issue, so thoroughly inspect your boat between each use.

Overall, you can count us impressed for the price, but in terms of durability and performance, the Mariner 3 is outclassed by some of its competitors.

Pros:

  • Very light
  • Very inexpensive
  • Durable
  • Plenty of space for one angler

Cons:

  • Long-term durability is not likely
  • Poor seam quality

Intex Mariner 4

Intex Mariner 4, 4-Person Inflatable Boat Set with Aluminum Oars and High Output Air Pump (Latest Model)
Amazon 

Size: 10’ 9” x 4’ 9” x 1’ 7”
Weight: 91.1 lbs.
Material: two layers of PVC
Valves: two Boston valves
Outboard and trolling motor capable: Yes (with available aftermarket transom)
Max. capacity: 1,100 lbs.

Intex’s Mariner 4 is the big brother to the Mariner 3, offering more seating, more space, and greater carrying capacity.

While advertised for four people, we recommend that you think two anglers plus gear, and the Mariner 4’s ample deck should provide more than enough space for your tackle, lunch, and beverages.

Like the Mariner 3, the Mariner 4’s multiple air bladders ensure that it will stay afloat, even if one is compromised, and it’s covered in two thick layers of tough PVC. As with its smaller kin, we’re not sure what grade or thickness of PVC Intex uses, but it strikes us as durable and tough. And like the Mariner 3, when properly inflated, you can expect reassuring rigidity.

The flooring is extruded plastic, and it’s firm enough to stand on with confidence. Three inflatable seats provide ample room and a comfy spot to fish, but plenty of folks opt for aftermarket swivelling chairs.

Just as on the Mariner 3, you’ll find two rod holders and a handy gear pouch.

Two quality Boston valves control air flow, and these are among the best in the business. We’ve absolutely no worries here.

And while not as light as the Mariner 3, at a paltry 91 pounds and some change, this is a boat most anglers can transport alone.

Just like the Mariner 3, the Mariner 4 can be equipped with an aftermarket transom to mount a trolling motor or small outboard. In this case, we’d call a motor essential, as rowing this larger inflatable will be nothing but trouble for anglers who are more interested in fishing than excursion.

With an electric or gasoline motor, the Mariner 4 is mild-mannered, responsive, and plenty fast enough to get you where you’re going, though, we’d still keep this inflatable on calm water.

Like it’s smaller sibling, we’re pleased with the PVC skin in terms of abrasion and puncture resistance. It’s not going to take the top spot, to be sure, but when it comes to price for performance, it’s very hard to beat. That said, like the Mariner 3, don’t expect decades of use.

Seam quality can be an issue, causing a loss of air pressure. This is almost certainly a quality control issue, so thoroughly inspect your boat between each use.

Pros:

  • Very light
  • Very inexpensive
  • Durable
  • Plenty of space for two anglers

Cons:

  • Long-term durability is not likely
  • Poor seam quality

Newport Vessels Dana

Newport Vessels 8-Feet 10-Inch Dana Inflatable Sport Tender Dinghy Boat - USCG Rated (White/Gray)
Amazon 

Size: 8’ 10” x 5’
Weight: 107 lbs.
Material: three layers of .9 mm (35 mil) 1100 Denier PVC
Valves: Halkey Roberts directional
Outboard and trolling motor capable: Yes (max. 10 hp)
Max. capacity: 1,067 lbs.

Newport Vessels manufactures boats, stand up paddle boards, and trolling motors, and they’ve won a real name for themselves with their super high-quality, remarkably inexpensive inflatable dinghies.

The Dana illustrates why they’ve become so popular.

Built from triple-layered 35 mil PVC, this is one tough inflatable. Barnacles, beaches, branches, broken rock: it’ll shrug these off with aplomb. And like the ISB Killer Whale, it’s designed to be kept inflated for long periods, making it especially easy to use.

Holding as much as 1,067 pounds, it can seat three with an optional second aluminum bench seat, and like the ISB, we’d recommend some non-PDF padding for long trips. With only one angler aboard, deck space will abound, and the oversized 18-inch tubes will help keep you a bit drier if it gets windy or nasty.

The flooring is marine-grade wood with an aluminum frame, and it installs in sections. It’s firm, confidence-inspiring, and perfect for fishing.

While not light by any means, the Dana tips the scales at just 107 lbs., making it cumbersome but doable for one, and much easier for two, to manhandle this boat.

And while it can be paddled, the Dana shines with a small outboard attached to its transom. It planes well, handles nimbly, and will get you to the fish with time to spare. And like all inflatables of this design, it’s very seaworthy should things get rough.

We’re not suggesting you go looking for trouble, but if it finds you, the Dana will keep you safe.

Pros:

  • Reasonably light
  • Very moderately priced
  • Extremely durable
  • Plenty of space for two anglers
  • Awesome handling
  • Great long-term durability

Cons:

  • Tough to handle for one

Sea Eagle SE9

Sea Eagle NEW SE9 Inflatable Motormount Boat Start Up Package
Amazon 

Size: 11’ x 4’ 8”
Weight: 50.7 lbs.(with floor and motor mount)
Material: 38 mil Polykrylar (K80 PVC)
Valves: four valves
Outboard and trolling motor capable: Yes
Max. capacity: 1,199 lbs.

Sea Eagles’ SE9 is a worthy competitor to Intex Mariner series, offering many of the same strengths with greater durability and performance.

The SE9 is constructed with a skin of thick 38 mil PVC. Sea Eagle uses high-quality PVC, and if you watched the torture test video above, you can see that this is no pool toy! We’d rate this as far tougher stuff than what’s offered on the budget-priced Intex Mariners, and we’re very confident about abrasion and puncture resistance. Unlike the Mariners, Sea Eagle’s seams are good, and they’re backed by a three-year warranty on workmanship.

That’s reassuring, and we generally think build quality is superior to Intex in this respect.

With plenty of weight capacity and a spacious deck, two anglers will find the SE9 a comfortable fishing fit, including gear and coolers. The floor is inflatable, and thus not as sturdy or confidence-inspiring as the Intex Mariner 3 and 4, however. The advantage of this design is that it offers even more buoyancy, and it decreases weight as well.

At just over 50 pounds, the SE9 is just as large but only half the weight of the Mariner 4!

As with all quality inflatables, the SE9 features multiple chambers, and these are filled by four one-way valves. We’d like a name brand here, but users report no issues with pressure loss.

The SE9 was designed to accommodate a motor, and a motor mount is included with this boat. As with other inflatables of this design, we wouldn’t recommend using oars when fishing. It’s simply too sluggish and unwieldy to make that practical.

With an appropriate outboard or trolling motor, however, the SE9 can strut its stuff. Like the Intex Mariners, don’t expect blinding speed, but it will get you where you’re going, turn well, and generally inspire you with confidence given its stability, even in light chop.

Long-term durability should be adequate given its materials and build quality. Don’t expect a decade of service–but we’d guess that you’d get three to four years out of this excellent, affordable inflatable.

Pros:

  • Extremely light
  • Inexpensive
  • Durable
  • Plenty of space for two anglers

Cons:

  • Flooring is inflated
  • Don’t expect long-term durability

Final Thoughts

Which inflatable boat is right for you depends on where you fish, how far you need to go to get to your honey hole, your budget, and your demands for long-term durability and handling. We’ve tried to present a range of options, sizes, and price tags to help you find the model that best suits your needs.

Recreational anglers who like a day on the water every now and then will be well served by models by the Intex Mariner series and the Classic Accessories Colorado XTS. You can count us as impressed by these designs.

But if you need to run long distances, demand speed or sea-worthiness, or plan on some serious fishing adventures, you’d probably be better served by the ISB Killer Whale or the Newport Vessels Dana. These are real boats with stunning performance, and for the price, you can’t get much better!

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