Choosing the right kind of fishing craft for your next excursion can be a bit confusing – especially if you’re a total beginner.
There’s a lot of products on the market, and it can be a challenge to navigate through them all.
In this article, we take a look at the inflatable boat vs kayak debate, and try to find out which is better for fishing.
Hopefully, by the end of it, you’ll have a clearer idea as to which type of vessel is going to be right for you.
Let’s get started.
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Table of Contents
Inflatable Boat or Kayak? Too Long, Didn’t Read
Before we get into this match up in more detail, for anyone in a rush who simply wants to know the answer, a drum roll please…
Inflatable boats are probably better overall.
However, as we’ll soon see, there’s not a lot in it, and it will most likely come down to personal preference.
Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each when they go head to head.
Having the right terminology will eliminate any confusion, as “inflatables” is often the generic term used to describe any water-going vessel that uses pressurized air to inflate and stay afloat.
For the purposes of this article (and as a general rule of thumb) an inflatable boat describes a dingy-style craft with a wide hull, filled with pressurized air.
Depending on their size, they can have a rigid floor made from wood or aluminum.
They are powered either by using oars, or – more commonly – with an outboard or trolling motor attached to the transom at the stern.
An inflatable kayak refers to a watercraft with a slimline hull filled with pressurized air, that is propelled with the use of a double-bladed paddle.
For the sake of keeping things equal, we’re exploring inflatable kayaks vs inflatable boats.
Hardshell counterparts are obviously available for both, but that’s another article entirely.
Take a look at this article on the best inflatable kayaks for fishing if this is the kind of craft you’re interested in.
Exploring the Features
With regard to both types of craft, let’s take a look at the main features you should be looking out for when you’re in the market for a new fishing vessel.
We’ll cover the pros and cons of each, and then you should be able to form a conclusion as to which model is right for you.
Materials and Strength
Inflatable technology has come a long way since those days splashing about in a manually blown-up play boat at the beach.
These days, both kayaks and boats utilize the same or very similar advanced materials in order to provide durable, puncture-resistant craft.
You’ll find that the most common of these are PVC, polyethylene, and hypalon.
The latter is the preferred choice for the inflatables used in the US Navy and Coast Guard, and is easily the most durable and long-lasting of the three.
Either way, you can rest assured that the materials used in today’s quality inflatable boats and kayaks won’t “burst” or “pop,” which is a common misconception people have when they’re new to the sport.
Most models also make use of several air chambers, so even if you do have an accident, you won’t suddenly sink like a stone.
When it comes to overall strength, inflatable boats tend to use more premium materials, so they just take the points on this one.
But it’s a close-run thing, and you can see just how strong a quality inflatable kayak is in the fun video below.
Now, this is a tricky one. On the surface, you might think that inflatable boats are going to be more stable, given the fact they have a wider, flatter hull.
But this might not necessarily be the case – particularly when it comes to choppier waters.
Kayaks with V-shaped hulls can really come into their own if you’re tackling rougher conditions, as they have excellent “secondary” stability. “Tippy” kayaks are actually good for staying right-side-up in whitewater.
But it’s going to be hard to beat an inflatable boat with a solid floor when it comes to overall stability in the most common fishing conditions.
For one thing, standing casts and retrievals are going to be much easier in an inflatable boat than an inflatable kayak.
Although there are some excellent hardshell stand-up fishing kayaks that will give you the same experience, inflatable kayaks are not quite on the same level just yet.
Portability and Convenience
When it comes to portability and getting to and from the water easily, inflatable kayaks have boats totally beat.
They’re not even in the same league.
With the time it takes to set up an inflatable boat, most users simply keep them ready-to-go, but that still means they need a trailer for transportation.
And the motor alone is going to significantly increase its overall weight, which will likely hamper you when you’re trying to get set up.
With an inflatable fishing kayak, one person can just throw the thing in the back of their vehicle in a moment’s notice and be off.
And if you want a similar level of convenience and portability from your fishing pole, check out this review on the best telescopic fishing rods on the market.
Seating and Comfort
This is another win for inflatable boats, as there’s going to be a lot more room for adding comfort seating on board – especially compared to an inflatable kayak.
Unfortunately, of all the types of kayaks that are available, it is the inflatables that suffer from the most problematic seating.
That’s not to say they’re really uncomfortable and totally useless – it’s just there are better options out there.
For overall nonrestrictive comfort, an inflatable fishing boat is likely to be the preferred choice, and they offer a much better field-of-view than most inflatable kayaks that sit lower in the water.
Given that inflatable boats are generally much larger than any kind of kayak, it stands to reason that they can accommodate more people.
That’s not to say kayaks can’t be fun for more than one occupant, if these excellent tandem fishing kayaks are to go by.
And unless you’re using a much larger boat, most inflatable craft can’t accommodate more than two people anyway.
Still, there is usually more space to move around, which makes boats the preferred choice for fishing with a buddy or loved one.
And they’re also going to be a better choice if you like to bring a non-human on board, as our four-legged f riends will usually feel much more comfortable in a boat than a kayak.
Propulsion and Performance
Apart from the obvious differences in their shape, perhaps the main factor that separates inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks is how they’re actually powered through the water.
Most boats use some kind of motor, with varying degrees of power, while kayaks will most commonly use a double-bladed paddle. Some inflatable kayaks can accommodate a small trolling motor, however.
You can purchase premium pedal fishing kayaks – but they’re hardshells only. We’re not quite there yet with an inflatable pedal kayak, and so paddle-power is generally what we’re left with in this class of craft.
Obviously, it’s going to take more effort to make a kayak go forward, and you’ll not even have close to the speed a motor is capable of achieving.
As a result, inflatable boats will be able to travel further and cover more fishing grounds when using a motor, and you’ll be a lot less knackered at the end of the day.
Having said all that – and before you rush off to purchase an inflatable fishing boat, there are some notable caveats.
Motors are loud, they’re obnoxious, and they are likely to spook fish – not to mention potentially upset other water users. Using an inflatable kayak eliminates all of that, and increases your stealth when hunting your quarry.
And without the smell, noise, and fuel emissions, inflatable kayaks are the preferred choice of environmentally-conscious anglers who want to remain as close to nature as possible.
Furthermore, without the motor, the performance of an inflatable boat takes a serious nose dive, maneuverability reduced to all but nothing, while the amount of effort it takes to row significantly increases.
FFF – Fishing Friendly Features
Both boats and kayaks need to have the “triple-F” in order to at least be classed as a fishing craft in the first place.
However, there are some quality inflatable kayaks out there that have built-in frames that allow accessories, and they can accommodate GPS and fish finder technology just as well as any boat.
It will be up to you to decide what you need for your style of fishing, and what is surplus to requirements.
Maintenance and Storage
There’s long been a misconception that inflatable kayaks and boats require a lot of maintenance, but that simply isn’t the case.
While they’re not going to last as long as hardshells, they can actually be more durable when it comes to damage. They simply bounce off rocks and obstacles, whereas a hardshell might suffer a hefty dent.
And even if you do happen to puncture one – they are easily repaired with the right gear – just check out the video below.
But when it comes to a face-off between inflatable kayaks and boats, you’ll likely do more work and spend more money maintaining a boat than you will a kayak – often due to the motor alone.
And when it comes to storage when not in use, an inflatable kayak will take up significantly less room than an inflatable boat – even if you do manage to pack it down.
When it comes to price, it’s another tick in the box for inflatable kayaks.
Inflatable boats can be exorbitantly expensive, especially when you start adding the cost of outboard motors and other accessories.
You’re not going to reach the realms of quality inflatable boats until you start spending well upwards of $500.
But good inflatable fishing kayaks are more affordable, which is often a huge plus point for anyone who is on a budget.
Remember though – you get what you pay for – and I’d encourage you to spend a little more when it comes to inflatable craft. Don’t be swayed with cheap PVC rubber dinghies and expect them to last.
You can always check out this review for more budget-friendly fishing kayaks if you do need to tighten the belt.
A Word on Safety
Regardless of which type of craft you end up settling on, you should always wear a personal flotation device when you’re out on the water.
You can be piloting the most rigid, stable, and unsinkable vessel known to humankind, and still end up in the drink – especially when you’re fishing.
And with that in mind, try using one of these awesome fishing PFDs – which not only could save your life, but also provide some extra storage with work areas if you’re already short on space.
In the battle of the inflatable boat vs kayak, it’s clear that they both have their advantages and disadvantages in every department.
In the end, I think there’s no clear winner, and it will most likely come down to personal preference. For me, I’d choose a kayak hands down, any day of the week.
Let me know which craft you would prefer and why.
And no matter which one you choose, stay safe out there, tight lines, and happy fishing!