What Are Inflatable Boats Made Of?

what are inflatable boats made of
Written by ahmaddirar

Inflatable boats are in demand for various reasons. They are quite lightweight, versatile and very compact as you can deflate them whenever you want. They utilize flexible tubes containing pressurized gas to propel them forward and are very useful for short-distance travel and emergencies. They can even be used as life rafts on ships or airplanes or just for some good old fashioned fishing. With the advent of new technology, a wide variety of upgrades are now available when it comes to the material used in these boats. If you are wondering what materials are inflatable boats made of, then read on to find out.

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Modern day inflatable boats are well known for their versatility but among them, there are two types that more popular than the others. They are:

RIB or Rigid Inflatable Boat – These are more rigid and are well known for their strong endurance and ability to withstand extreme weather conditions.

SIB or Soft Inflatable Boat – These aren’t as rigid as the RIB but can be folded more easily making it extremely compact and ideal for transportation.

What Fabric Materials Are Used in Inflatable Boats?

Initially, inflatable boats were mainly made of rubber but all that has changed in the last few decades. Today, new materials like PVC, Hypalon, Polyurethane, etc. are used as they are far more versatile and provide numerous benefits.

1)   NEOPRENE/CSM or Hypalon

inflatable hypalon boat preview

The Neoprene/CSM combo is also known as Hypalon and is well known for holding air efficiently. CSM is a material that is made out of a type of rubber called chlorosulfonated polyethylene. However, on its own, CSM doesn’t hold air properly and so manufacturers use a combination of neoprene and CSM. It does have a great tolerance for UV though, which prevents the material from hardening when left out under the sun.

It is also resistant to chemicals and very easy to repair. All you have to do is patch up the holes and you will be good to go. This of course is only a temporary solution and you will have to get it fixed properly once you get ashore. Neoprene is used in this combination as it holds air for a very long time and lasts for a long period. Together they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses to create a durable and abrasion-resistant material for inflatable boats.


  • It is abrasion-resistant and better than PVC
  • It is both chemical and UV resistant
  • It holds air efficiently
  • It can last for over a decade easily; thanks to its durability


  • It is quite expensive compared to other materials.
  • Gets dirty pretty easily as it’s quite porous.
  • The paint on it will get faded over time which adds to its maintenance cost.

2)   PVC

PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride and comes in two different types; rigid and flexible. PVC is a very common material used for making a wide variety of objects such as pipes, clothing, toys and many more. PVC on its own cannot be used for inflatable boats and so certain chemicals have to be added to them. To make it usable on boats, several things such as pigments, heat stabilizers and UV stabilizers have to be added to it. This makes it functional but it comes at a cost. All these chemicals aren’t environmentally friendly and tend to drain out over time.

One upside is that PVC costs significantly lesser than other materials. So it helps to keep the maintenance cost in check. If you are environmentally conscious, then this might not be the right boat to go for but if you have a tight budget, it might be right for you. It is also important to note that PVC doesn’t last as long as some of the other materials. So do keep that in mind before going for it.


  • Easy and convenient to repair as all you have to do is use glue or weld new sheets
  • It has good resistance towards abrasions under wet conditions
  • It is very affordable
  • You get a wide variety of colors to choose from


  • Not environment friendly due to the use of numerous chemicals
  • It’s not as resistant to UV as other materials
  • Boats that use PVC don’t last as long and become brittle over time

3)   Polyurethane

This material was used only sparingly in the past but now is slowly gaining more momentum in the world of inflatable boats. It was not popular in the past as it had a tendency to be too stiff, especially after prolonged exposure to sunlight. Thanks to technology, improvements have been made and many swear that it provides an incredible amount of durability to the boat. Amongst all the popular inflatable boat fabrics, this one provides the most resistance to abrasions. It is also more eco-friendly than PVC and Hypalon.

Another great aspect of polyurethane is that it has the ability to hold the shape of the boat as it shrinks and stretches exceptionally well. This really helps on the sea where waves are constantly hitting your boat. On the downside, it is also the most expensive of all three materials and is quite rare. So go for it only if you have deep pockets and want a long-lasting, durable boat.


  • More abrasion resistance than all other fabrics
  • Very durable and provides excellent resistance against punctures
  • It’s very easy to clean
  • Excellent resistance to UV and gasoline
  • More eco-friendly than other materials


  • Very expensive especially for the high-end polyurethane fabric
  • It’s more difficult to repair than PVC
  • Weaker against dry abrasions than Hypalon

How to Differentiate Between PVC and Hypalon?

There are a few ways in which you can differentiate them such as:

1)   Color: To do this, you need to unscrew a valve and look inside. If you see a dark grey color, it will be Hypalon whereas if it is a shinier version of the color found on the outside, it will be PVC. 

2)   Seam: Hypalon seams can only be glued whereas PVC seams can either be glued or welded. So all you have to do is take a look at the seam and you’ll know which material it is.


3)   Sandpaper Test: When you lightly rub sandpaper on PVC, it will display scratch marks whereas Hypalon will produce dust and the color will lose its luster.

 Each material comes with its advantages and disadvantages. You have to weigh its uses and cost to find the right one for your need. Hopefully, the above information has helped to answer your question: “what fabrics are inflatable boats made of?”.

About the author


I am an avid traveler and adventurer, I love fishing, skiing, snowboarding, hiking and camping. when you want me you can usually find me on the water either fishing :) , paddleboarding or kayaking.

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