Fishing Information

From Personal Belly Boats to High Performance Racers - An Overview of Inflatable Boats

Inflatable boats, also called rubber boats or dinghies, have been around in one form or another for thousands of years. They now come in many different sizes and models and include inflatable kayaks, sport boats, and inflatable catamarans. Their versatility and relatively low cost have contributed to their popularity, and more and more water enthusiasts are discovering the advantages of owing an inflatable boat.

Evolution of the Inflatable Boat

Historical records indicate that the first inflatable boats were animal skins filled with air. Over the years, many cultures have created various versions of inflatable watercraft, and in 1839, the Duke of Wellington tested the first inflatable pontoons. In the decades that followed, many new designs were introduced and some of them were utilized by European military forces.

The inflatable boats were used to transport torpedoes and other cargo. They also allowed troops to make discreet landings in shallow water, and their compact size and storability made them easy to bring with, even on overland marches where it would not have been possible to bring a traditional boat.

One of the models, the Zodiac, grew to be very popular with the military and contributed significantly to the rise of the civilian inflatable boat industry, both in Europe and in the United States. After World War II, surplus inflatable boats were sold to the public and the general population had a chance to experience how easy and enjoyable these boats can be.

Since then, inflatable kayaks, sailing inflatables, inflatable canoes, sport boats, and belly boats have been added to the mix. Some inflatable boats run 45 feet in length or more and may include inboard steering, luxury features, and even full cabins. Inflatable boats have evolved so much that today, the only thing inflatable on some boats is the collar around the perimeter gunwales of the deck.

Hull Designs & Types of Inflatable Boats

Inflatable boats come in rigid hull design and soft-bottom style. Soft-bottom boats have floors made of fabric and slats (usually wood) running across the beam. This design is generally found in smaller inflatables ranging from about 6 to 8 feet in length only.

Rigid hulls, or RIBs, were introduced in 1967 by Tony Lee-Elliott and advanced by Admiral Hoare and the Atlantic College in Wales. As opposed to soft-bottom boats, which have a fabric hull with inflatable or wood keels, RIBs have hard fiberglass or aluminum hulls and large, inflatable tubes. This allows for a combination of the best features from both types of boats.

Some RIBs incorporate the V-shaped bow similar to that of a traditional boat. This design consists of a separate inflation tube running the length of the boat beneath the floorboards. Once inflated, it pushes the floor materials down to form the V-shape that helps in steering. The flotation collars on many RIBs are removable, making them easier to store and to clean.

RIBs typically range from 10 to 30 feet in length and are propelled by either by an outboard motor or an inboard motor turning a water jet or z-drive. They were first used as lifeboats in 1970, and later as dinghies or tenders on larger pleasure yachts. Many of today's sport boats used for fishing and water skiing are made with RIB designs.

Inflatable Sport Boats

Inflatable sport boats generally describe recreational boats that are used for fishing, water skiing, and other activities where a motor is required. Depending on the size of the craft, an inflatable sport boat can be used with a motor that generates up to 40 units of horsepower They can be deflated and packed away for easy transport or used with a trailer to avoid having to inflate at each use. Inflatable sport boats typically cost much less than their traditional counterparts and, because they are lighter, use much less gas.

High Performance

Several companies also make high performance inflatable boats that are used for racing, rescue, and other activities where speed is essential. These high performance boats generally have additional inflation tubes that lift the boat up off the water and create additional hydroplaning effects. They typically use larger motors, sometimes up to 400 horsepower. Because of their speed they are more difficult to navigate and require an experienced captain.

Inflatable Canoes, Kayaks, and Other Personal Watercraft

On the flip side are the inflatable canoes and kayaks that rely on human power and are used by one or two people at a time. These watercraft often look similar to their traditional counterparts, but have inflatable bodies, making them much lighter and easier to transport. They are often less expensive as well.

In more recent years, inflatable sailboats and inflatable catamarans also have been introduced. They usually range from 12 to 14 feet in length and, like inflatable canoes and kayaks, only accommodate one or two people.

Belly boats are yet another category of inflatable personal watercraft. These floats are sometimes called pontoon boats, but are not to be confused with the large, flat-bottomed craft often seen carrying large numbers of people on area lakes. Belly boats were specifically designed to be used for fishing and often look like floating donuts with a seat. Some may have two small pontoons with a seating area suspended between. Most are less than eight feet long and have room for just one person.

Yacht Tenders

Falling in between inflatable kayaks and other personal watercraft and the larger sport and performance boats are the Yacht Tenders. These are typically inflatable boats that range in length from 6 feet to 20 feet and, as the name implies, they are often used as lifeboats and runabouts on larger vessels. Yacht tenders can also be used for fishing, general boating, river rafting, and other activities where a motor is not essential. Many tenders can be paired with a small electric motor if needed.

These categories of inflatable boats provide a general overview of the choices available. There are many variations and unique designs within these categories. In addition, some larger models of inflatable boats have inboard steering stations, cabin areas, and other features similar to traditional yachts.

As the inflatable boat industry continues to advance and grow in popularity, we are likely to see many new and innovative designs in the future, providing even more opportunities to find the inflatable boat that fits perfectly with your budget and boating needs.

About the Author:

C.J. Gustafson is a successful writer for, providing consumer information on inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks. She and her family make frequent fishing trips to Canada's backcountry. The numerous portages required to reach some of the smaller lakes have made her especially appreciative of the lightweight, compact design of the inflatable dinghy.

Copyright 2005

Permission is granted to publish this article on your site only if the author's byline is included and all links are hyperlinked.

This RSS feed URL is deprecated, please update. New URLs can be found in the footers at

BBC News

Shellfish industry under threat due to fishing restrictions
BBC News
The West Wales Shell Fisherman's Association claims the ground is no longer viable, and it is calling on the Welsh Government to open up a different area within the SAC for them to fish. Prof Mike Kaiser from Bangor University, who has researched the ...

and more »

Friday Fishing Report |
From Pickwick Lake, the Mississippi DFW reports Alabama-rigs, single swimbaits, rattletraps, jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits are all catching pre-spawn bass. Most anglers are focusing on transition areas leading to the spawning pockets. Gravel bars ...
North state fishing reportOroville Mercury Register
Weekly South Florida Fishing Report - March 22, 2018Palm Beach Post
Hagerman Valley presents many angling options (fishing report, March 23)Idaho Statesman -User-generated content (press release)
all 55 news articles »

Seattle Times

No rescue by Congress for $75M fishing boat in Anacortes that can't ...
Seattle Times
America's Finest, a $75 million, 264-foot catcher processor, is shown here at the dock at the Dakota Creek Industries shipyard in Anacortes. By now, it was supposed to be working off Alaska, the newest addition to the fleet of Kirkland-based Fishermen ...
U.S.-Built Fishing Vessel Cannot Fish in U.S. - The Maritime ExecutiveThe Maritime Executive
No waiver granted for fishing vessel | News |

all 5 news articles »

WDFW FISHING RULE CHANGE: Klineline Pond to close for kids ...
Access Washington
Location: Klineline Pond is located at Salmon Creek Regional Park, on NE 117th Street, in Vancouver, Wash. Reason for action: This rule change is necessary to ensure a safe and successful Klineline Kids Fishing event. Several thousand fish will be ...

and more »

Certain local rivers will close completely to game fishing on March 31
The Daily World
April will consist of low-morning tides. On these two days, there will be an exception to the normal rule of no morning digging since the low tide will be occurring close to noon on the dates the beaches will be open. In regards to river fishing ...

and more »

Popular Mechanics

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Mostly Made of Fishing Gear
Popular Mechanics
The patch, in fact, is made up mostly of abandoned fishing gear. According to the study, fishing nets alone make up 46 percent of the 79,000 tons of garbage. The rest of it is also largely made up of fishing gear, including eel traps, oyster spacers ...
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch Isn't What You Think it IsNational Geographic
World's largest collection of ocean garbage is twice the size of TexasUSA TODAY
Evidence that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is rapidly accumulating plastic | Scientific Reports - NatureNature
YouTube -The Ocean Cleanup
all 163 news articles »


Fishing with X-ray vision -
(WRDW/WAGT) -- Gene Jensen, also known as the Flukemaster, has always loved teaching people how to fish. That drive led him to build one of the top fishing channels on YouTube with nearly a quarter million subscribers, but just a little over a year ago ...

and more »

The Courier

The Courier » Catch the local March madness fishing frenzy
The Courier
Every year, avid fans can't wait for March madness to get underway. They get prepared by reviewing stats while developing strategies that will work to bait their opponents into a few fatal errors. Their hope is to be able to brag about a long stringer ...
Forty of 81 fishing teams fare well on opening day of MWC | Free ...LaSalle News Tribune

all 4 news articles »

The Northwest Florida Daily News

Coast Guard responds to diesel spill after fishing boat catches fire
The Northwest Florida Daily News
The Coast Guard and local agencies responded to a diesel fuel spill in Pensacola Bay on Friday. Coast Guard Sector Mobile watchstanders received notification of a 50-foot commercial fishing vessel catching fire while moored at Joe Patti's Marina in ...

and more »

Columbus Telegram

About time to think about fishing again
Columbus Telegram
With warmer temps in the works, ice is melting and I have been thinking about fishing again. Most of the smaller lakes have open water, but there is still some ice on some of the larger lakes. A word of caution about ice this time of year. As the ice ...

Google News

home | site map | Ocean Photography
© 2006