Difference Between Inflatable Boats and Inflatable Kayaks

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While inflatable kayaks and inflatable boats might sound the same, they are actually different. Although the term ‘inflatable boat’ can be used to describe an inflatable kayak, the vice versa is not true.

Let’s take a look at the kay difference between inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks. We’ll explore how they compare in terms of their build, style, materials, intended use and a host of other criteria to help you learn which is right for you. 

Key Takeaways

  • Inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks may be similar in a few ways but they are quite different.
  • Inflatable boats are wider, flatter, and more comfortable than inflatable kayaks, but they are also harder to handle and track on the water. They are good for leisurely outings and fishing with a buddy.
  • Inflatable kayaks are narrower, longer, and more rigid than inflatable boats, but they are also more cramped and less stable. They are good for recreational activities like touring, white water rafting, and fishing solo.
  • Both inflatable boats and kayaks can be made of three types of materials: hypalon, PVC, or polyurethane. Hypalon is durable and affordable, PVC is flexible and cheap, and polyurethane is stiff and strong. 

Design of Inflatable Kayaks vs. Inflatable Boats

One of the first things you’ll notice with both inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks is the design. An inflatable boat is often wider and looks very much like a raft with inflated chambers. 

An inflatable kayak on the other hand, tends to stay true to the design of traditional hard shell kayaks. Inflatable kayaks tend to be longer and  more narrow too. The front of an inflatable kayak may have a rubberized keel that allows the bow to tilt upward. This helps with the overall experience of the kayak when you are paddling.  

The best types of inflatable kayaks will try to mimic all the features of a hard shell kayak so that you get the same feel. Typically, inflatable boats offer a simple construction made of a flat base and inflated chamber walls. 

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Design & Intended Use 

The design of an inflatable is largely driven by how it’s intended to be used. Inflatable boats that are specifically designed for white water rafting will use a more durable material that gives your inflatable boat more protection and rigidity. 

Most other inflatable boats however will not be made out of a durable, multilayer construction because they aren’t usually intended for extreme rafting. The same goes for inflatable kayaks. An inflatable kayak intended for touring will be much longer and lighter than an inflatable kayak that is intended for fishing

Materials Used in Inflatable Boats and Inflatable Kayaks

While inflatable kayaks and inflatable boats both offer two different paddling experiences on the water, there are still many features they have in common. One of these features is the materials used in their construction. 

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There are three types of materials used to construct inflatable watercrafts. They include hypalon, PVC, and polyurethane. These synthetic constructions are what determine the integrity of your inflatable. Each type offers its own benefits and features and largely dictates the experience you’ll have with your inflatable. 

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Hypalon is incredibly durable and made out of a Neoprene and CSM synthetic rubber material. This rubberized construction offers very tight seams that don’t come apart easily. High-quality, rigid inflatable kayaks often use hypalon because of its durability. 

This material is really resistant to scratches and deterioration making it a great option for recreational kayakers. If you do get a puncture, Hypalon is easily repaired as well. Overall, its affordability, and durability make it the preferred choice. 


Another popular option for constructing inflatable boats is a flexible PVC fabric. PVC fabric will have either a nylon or polyester fiber within, giving it the flexibility that inflatable watercraft require. 

PVC is a synthetic material that requires a variety of chemical treatments, making it extremely flexible, but with some downsides too. Chemicals within PVC leak into the water over time, making them harmful to the environment. 

Also, PVC inflatable boats can scratch and puncture more easily than hypalon constructed boats. If not stored properly, a PVC inflatable kayak may even come undone at the seams under extreme heat. 

Many inflatable boats and kayaks however will use a combination of PVC and hypalon. This allows you to have extra protection on parts of the boat that need it.


Polyurethane boats are gaining traction because this material is incredibly durable, stiff, and strong. Polyurethane fabric is much stiffer than either PVC or hypalon, making it extremely resistant to punctures and scratches. Unlike PVC, it does not have a harmful impact on the environment. 

While you won’t find many inflatable boats made out of polyurethane, some top of the line inflatable kayaks will feature this material. Generally speaking, inflatables made out of polyurethane will generally cost you more money because of the durability they offer. 

Water Handling of Inflatable Boats vs. Inflatable Kayaks 

Because an inflatable boat and an inflatable kayak have two different forms and can be constructed with different materials, they will both handle differently on the water.

The wider base of an inflatable boat makes it a little bit trickier to handle. It can be awkward to find a good posture for paddling, even in calm waters. And even if you do, inflatable boats have a flat hull that makes tracking really tricky. Even with the aid of fins on the bottom of the boat, you may have a difficult time staying on course. 

One upside to an inflatable boat is that you can easily install a trolling motor; as these can be incredibly compatible with inflatable boats, especially if there is a transom on the stern. The best inflatable boats will have a rigid transom for added stability.

You’ll have better handling if you opt for an inflatable kayak, though. Inflatable kayaks are narrower, and you’ll have a better grip when you are paddling. It will also be easier to paddle in a kayak because you can get your paddle closer to the water.  

A great benefit of inflatable kayaks is that there are so many features you can shop for that will make water handling so much better. Removable skegs on the bottom of the kayak will help you track significantly better than an inflatable boat. 

An inflatable kayak with a v-shaped bottom and a rubberized keel will help you cut through the water easily too. 

Unlike an inflatable boat, however, it can be tricky to install a trolling motor on a kayak. There are some inflatable kayaks like the Bote Lono Aero that offer a rigid transom that allows you to easily install a trolling motor. 


The stability of your inflatable boat or inflatable kayak really depends on how well built it is. You can have an inflatable boat that has exceptional stability yet have a similarly constructed boat with poor stability. 

One of the determining factors is having a rigid floor that features either a dropstitch construction or an I-beam construction. Drop stitch will always be more rigid but you won’t typically find a drop stitch construction on an inflatable boat. That type of construction is usually reserved for higher quality inflatable kayaks.

The side chambers of your inflatable boat or kayak will also contribute to stability. Inflatable boats tend to be really stable because of their higher PSI pontoon chambers. Some inflatable boats use a mixture of materials on these chambers in order to give you a stronger sense of stability while on the water too.

Inflatable kayaks typically offer the most stability even though they might not feel like it, especially for first time kayakers. Because inflatable kayaks are much more narrow, they have the luxury of offering more rigidity. Some inflatable boats offer rigidity only in the side chambers, while others focus on the boat as a whole.


If you are looking to do different types of activities on the water with your inflatable watercraft, then an inflatable kayak is the way to go. Investing in a high quality kayak will allow you to do everything from white water rafting to recreational touring to fishing. 

Unfortunately, by the very design of an inflatable boat, you won’t be able to do all that. Instead, your inflatable boat will likely be suited for one specific activity. For example, an inflatable raft designed specifically for white water rafting may not allow you to have an enjoyable experience if you try to take it out for, say, fishing.


Comfort is another component that you need to consider when deciding between an inflatable kayak vs inflatable boat options. Overwhelmingly however, you’ll find that inflatable boats tend to be more comfortable

Inflatable boats offer more space, legroom, and more cushion. You won’t feel as cramped as you would in an inflatable kayak, and you’ll likely be able to bring along more buddies with you than you would with an inflatable kayak.

Additional Accessories

Depending on what you’re looking for in an inflatable watercraft, accessories may or may not be a determining factor for you. Overall, however, inflatable kayaks lend well to additional accessories. 

Almost every type of inflatable kayak will come with additional features like kayak coolers, fishing racks, cargo nets, adjustable chairs, and other components to make your adventure comfortable. Inflatable boats don’t usually offer as many accessories because the design of the boat makes it difficult for them to be used functionally.

Fishing Performance of Inflatable Boats vs. Inflatable Kayaks 


Inflatable boats and inflatable kayaks can both be used for fishing. Depending on how you want your fishing adventure to look like however, you might find that one type of inflatable will be better suited for you. 

Inflatable boats are much more spacious and are great for those who want to go out fishing with a buddy. Inflatable kayaks however will typically come with additional fishing accessories to help store your fishing gear and make your experience a lot easier.

One of the drawbacks of a boat is that it can be tricky to stand up on the boat and cast your fishing line. However, it’s not too difficult to install a rigid floorboard onto the base of your boat.  

Lastly, when you are moving around from one fishing spot to another, having a trolling motor on hand can make that experience so much easier too. It’s easier to set up a motor on an inflatable boat than it is on an inflatable kayak. 

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Portability of Inflatable Boats vs. Inflatable Kayaks 

When it comes to the portability of inflatable kayaks and boats, there really isn’t much of a difference. The biggest draw of an inflatable is that you can easily pack it up and tow it around. You won’t need a pickup truck, roof rack, or other gear. 

For the most part, inflatable kayaks and boats pack very much the same.

Benefits of Choosing an Inflatable Kayak

If you have a specific activity in mind like fishing, touring, or white water rafting, you’ll find a kayak design for it. Perhaps the biggest benefit of a kayak is that even standard models will allow you to experience a variety of activities.

There really isn’t a huge learning curve for inexperienced kayakers with an inflatable kayak. However, inflatable kayaks can be intimidating for first time riders. Generally, these types of boats are better suited for intermediate or experienced water lovers.

Benefits of Choosing an Inflatable Boat

Inflatable boats are great for individuals who are looking for comfort while on the water. These types of boats are really well suited for families who want to bring along children on a water adventure. There’s a lot of space on the boat for kids who might not want to do well in a tightly confined space. 

These types of Inflatables are also really great for first time boaters. They are incredibly stable and because they are so wide, riders feel really secure and safe.

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What Are Inflatable Kayaks Best Used For? 

Inflatable kayaks are best used for recreational activities on the water. This includes fishing, touring, long distance treks, and other recreational uses. Although small, kayaks tend to have ample storage space. This is great for kayakers who like going out for long treks or bringing their kayak on camping adventures. 

If you really enjoy getting up close and personal with the water, then an inflatable kayak might be for you.

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What Are Inflatable Boats Best Used For?

Inflatable boats are best used for leisurely outings while on the water. Installing a trolling motor on the boat will make it that much easier to get from different locations on a large lake. 

Comfort is the key point with a boat like this so if that’s something you’re seeking, then this type of boat might be the best option for you.

Which Type of Inflatable Is Right for You? 

It all boils down to what your needs are and what you want an inflatable to do for you. Two main things to consider are who you want to bring along with you and what you want to do. Knowing how you plan to use your inflatable will allow you to find the right one for you. 

Also read: Do inflatable kayaks need to be registered?

Consider Weight Capacity

Every boat has a weight capacity and this determines how many riders can go on the boat as well as how much extra gear you can bring with you. 

If you plan on doing lots of solo kayaking or want to bring along one person, then you’ll want an inflatable that gives you enough weight that you can also bring on additional gear. This is especially important if you are someone who enjoys doing long-distance kayaking. 

The same goes for boating. Families who enjoy bringing along children and pets should pay close attention to the carrying capacity so that the boat meets your needs. 

Specific Water Activities

If you have a specific water activity in mind, then you’ll want to shop for an inflatable boat or kayak that will meet this need. Having an inflatable kayak that has built in storage for all your fishing needs makes the experience that much more enjoyable. 

It’s also important to consider specific water activities from a safety standpoint. For example, if you want to go whitewater rafting, make sure that your boat can handle the specific class rapids. Using a boat for an activity that it’s not intended for not only compromises your safety, but it will likely end up damaging or even destroying your inflatable.

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Both inflatable boats and kayaks have great benefits. You only encounter the drawbacks if you find yourself in a boat that does not meet your needs. We hope our helpful guide has helped clear up the distinction between these two watercraft. 

Which do you think is a better type of watercraft to invest in and why? Let us know!

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