Difference Between Inflatable Boats and Inflatable Kayaks

side by side comparison of an inflatable boat and an inflatable kayak

When I was in the process of buying my inflatable boat, I’m pretty sure I routinely mixed up the terms ‘inflatable boat’ and ‘inflatable kayak.’ To avoid further confusion, I did some research to figure out exactly what the differences and similarities were between the terms.

What is the difference between an inflatable kayak and an inflatable boat? ‘Inflatable boat’ is sometimes used as a generic term for inflatable watercraft, but it implies that the watercraft has a wide base similar to a hard-shell rowboat. An ‘inflatable kayak’ is just that, an inflatable watercraft in the shape of a kayak that offers similar performance as a kayak.

While that’s an excellent overview, there’s a lot more to consider when trying to determine whether an inflatable kayak or boat is the right fit for your needs.

Shape of inflatable boats vs. inflatable kayaks

picture of an inflatable kayak stacked on top of a larger inflatable boat
Note how significantly wider the base of the inflatable boat is.

The difference in shape between inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks has significant ramifications for everything from performance on the water to the level of portability. For inflatable boats, they feature a much broader base that usually means that these boats are often technically capable of holding more passengers.

While it wouldn’t be a terribly comfortable ride, my Seahawk 4 inflatable boat boasts of being able to accommodate up to four adults and much of this is due to the substantial width of the boat. Beyond the extra width of the boat, the nose and tail of an inflatable boat is usually quite flat or stubby and doesn’t feature sharp angles as a kayak would.

On the other hand, inflatable kayaks have a shape that is just that: an inflatable watercraft that is designed in the shape of a traditional kayak. What this first means is that the kayak is more narrow than the inflatable boat throughout its entire body. On top of that, the nose and the tail of the kayak feature a sharp edge that allows the kayak to cut through the water effortlessly.

Water handling of inflatable boats vs. inflatable kayaks

paddler paddling an inflatable boat on a small lake
Inflatable boats tend to ‘lurch’ back and forth when paddling.

As inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks have significantly different shapes, how they interact and flow through water varies greatly. Let’s face the facts here: unless you have an electric trolling motor hooks up to your inflatable boat, it’s probably going to paddle through the water a little clumsily.

The super wide base makes it more difficult for you to paddle efficiently and it means that when you’re paddling the boat kind of lurches back and forth after each stroke. Needless to say, paddling will usually be a little bit more tiresome in an inflatable boat and steering may be a little more difficult too.

While the truth is that inflatable boats are more difficult to paddle in the water, they do come with one significant benefit: they are much easier to outfit with a trolling motor than inflatable kayaks. If you like the idea of trolling and are serious about mounting a trolling motor on an inflatable watercraft, I would lean towards a proper inflatable boat as opposed to a kayak.

paddler paddling an inflatable kayak on a cloudy day on a small lake
Paddling an inflatable kayak is a breeze in comparison. The sleek shape allows for little wasted energy.

For inflatable kayaks, their sleek shape allows them almost effortlessly to glide through the water as you paddle. Steering will be much easier and your Strokes while pedaling will be much more efficient. Therefore your inflatable kayak will get up to speed much faster and generally is capable of reaching higher speeds.

While inflatable kayaks are much easier to paddle, their narrower tail will make it much more difficult to mount a trolling motor properly. It’s still very possible, but you should be aware that the mount might not feel as comfortable and secure as if you had it in a wider inflatable boat.

Fishing performance of inflatable boats vs. inflatable kayaks

When it comes to fishing, both inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks have their pros and cons. generally speaking, inflatable boats offer excellent stability on the water, and they offer a great setup for two people who want to fish at the same time. Also, It’s relatively easy to add a hard bottom floor to an inflatable boat, and this can be an easy DIY project for the weekend. This hard bottom floor can do quite a few things for the fishing performance of your boat.

First of all, it will allow you to stand up and cast, which is not something that any inflatable kayak will be able to pull off. You’ll also be able to securely mount a trolling motor and the electric battery for it. Heck, you can even find a way to mount in custom boat seats to the hardwood floor if you so choose. Needless to say, the fishing customizations that wide inflatable boats offer are far superior to the inflatable kayak equivalents.

fisherman standing on an inflatable boat while on a lake
The wide base of an inflatable boat allows you to fish while standing, which is my preferred method.

While they may not offer the extensive customizations that I mentioned above, inflatable kayaks can be an excellent solo fishing setup. As they are made from less material, inflatable kayaks generally weigh less and therefore are much easier to haul into backcountry locations. The trade-off here is that you’ll likely have to pack unless gear as it’s going to be more difficult to store a bunch of fishing gear in an inflatable kayak.

With that said, some high-end inflatable kayaks offer really great solutions on the fishing front. Hobie inflatable kayaks feature a foot-based pedaling system that provides nearly hand free operation and therefore allows you to focus on fishing instead of constantly trying to paddle yourself into position.

Also, many brands do offer inflatable kayaks that are geared towards fishing. These inflatable kayaks are better for storage, but they just fall short when compared to the impressive storage capacity of inflatable boats.

Portability of inflatable boats vs. inflatable kayaks

In comparison to inflatable kayaks, inflatable boats are going to be much less portable as they have added weight and are more Awkward to handle because of the larger size. This may not be a big deal if you don’t anticipate trying to pack the boat into remote locations, but it’s something to keep in mind. Yes, having two people there to help haul the ships in makes it somewhat more straightforward but it is still pretty awkward to handle.

side by side comparison of an inflatable boat and an inflatable kayak packed up
Note the size difference between the two. The inflatable kayak is much easier to haul around due to its smaller size.

On the other hand, an inflatable kayak will usually be much easier to haul around. This makes it better for packing it into remote lakes and streams As it’s generally possible to fit the inflatable kayak in a large backpacking pack. The con here is that inflatable kayaks like this are usually meant for solo adventures; therefore you likely don’t have someone to split the load with.

Leave a Comment