Comparing Inflatable vs. Traditional Sailing Catamarans

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Comparing Inflatable vs. Traditional Sailing Catamarans

Inflatable sail catamarans offer stability and smooth sailing due to the wide beam and double-hulled tubes on either side. They range in size from 8 to 16+ feet. You can propel inflatable boats using sails, an outboard engine, or a pair of oars.

Similar in design to a pontoon boat, an inflatable sailboat can accommodate from 1 to 4 people depending on size. Below, we do a side-by-side comparison of an inflatable sailing catamaran versus a traditional cat so that you see why an inflatable may be your best choice.

Price Points

When comparing any products, price point or affordability shouldn't be the main item to consider. Furthermore, it is more important to look at the value of a vessel instead of its cost. However, you may not have the budget - or even the need - for a high-end, hard-hull catamaran, but you still want to experience the joy of taking one on the water.

Brand new traditional sailing catamarans rarely sell for less than $10,000 even a barebones beachcat. The average selling price based on the current market is around $350,000, including the big boys. On the high end, a new cruising catamaran, depending on the length, can sell for up to $1,000,000, while the average beach cat will run $20,000+!

If you are thinking to yourself, "There is no way I want to spend that much on a boat," that is where an inflatable catamaran may be a more practical option. Inflatable beachcats typically run between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the size of the boat and selected trim and accessories. A lower price combined with a performance comparable to a traditional cat makes an inflatable sailboat a great value, with the added benefit of being more affordable.


Sail Area-Displacement Ratio

In the simplest terms, the Sail Area-Displacement ratio (SA/D) is a calculation used to express how much sail a boat carries relative to its weight. A catamaran having a sail area-displacement ratio under 15 would be considered under-canvased. Values above 15 would indicate reasonably good performance. Any vessel above 18 to 20 suggests relatively high performance, provided the boat has sufficient stability and a low enough displacement-length ratio to take advantage of its sail area.

A practical way to apply the SA/D ratio is to think about three key characteristics.

  • Affordability

  • Comfort

  • Speed

In most cases, you can find any of those two combinations. However, it isn't easy to get all three and have a balanced Sail Area-Displacement ratio. With that in mind, you are more likely to balance affordability, comfort, and speed in an inflatable catamaran than you are with a traditional catamaran. For instance, if you want both comfort and speed, you will pay for it with a traditional catamaran. You may not get the level of comfort and speed you want with an inflatable catamaran, but you'll save thousands of dollars. Fortunately, you can get pretty darn close, as inflatable boats have impressive SA/Ds.


Racing Classes

The clear winner here (pun intended) is the traditional catamaran. It is because rigid hull users have established racing classes, the most notable being the A-Class. The A-Class catamaran is the fastest single-handed racing catamaran in the world. Upwind, the A-Class catamaran can cruise at 10 knots. Downwind, it can really rip at over 20 knots of speed!

Unfortunately, there are no racing classes for inflatable catamarans. However, racing classes are in the works as organizations create classes, set professional competitions guidelines, and host regattas in metropolitan areas. As inflatables become more popular in the North America there is an increasing demand for organized racing classes and the manufacturers are ready to support these classes in any way they can!. t will be interesting to see how the classes get established and grow in the coming months to years.


General Recreational Use

While it is generally true that rigid-hull catamarans can outperform inflatable catamarans - mainly because rigid-hull cats are designed with speed as a primary factor - the tradeoff is that they are not ideal for general recreational use. It is comparable to using a Nascar to take the family on a weekend trip. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it also presents numerous safety risks.

The only time you can take children or inexperienced passengers out on the water in a Nacra or Hobie 16 is when the weather conditions are calm, and the waves are low. In more demanding conditions, you would want to avoid taking children and newbies out on the water. Inflatable sailboats are capable of thrilling speeds and maneuvers. However, you can tame them at will due to the weight of the passengers compared to the weight of the boat. You can still take the family out for an excursion in less-than-ideal weather conditions and maintain full control of the boat.



As a rule, you must transport a hard hull boat or larger catamaran using a trailer. Transporting the boat takes a crew, a lot of equipment, and, in some cases, expertise. Traditional catamarans are not easy to get in and out of the water. In many cases, they must be docked and stored off-season at a shipyard. It can add up to thousands of dollars in transportation and storage costs.

Unlike hard hull fiberglass boats, which take up space on your property or cost you a lot of money to dock, you can deflate inflatable boats and store them in smaller spaces on your property. Additionally, you don't need to move them in large trailers. Most inflatable boats can fit in compact spaces in your car, SUV, or RV. Plus, you can use a pump to inflate or deflate the boat quickly.



Since inflatable catamarans are buoyant, they are far more stable in severe weather conditions than traditional catamarans. They are less likely to capsize or pitchpole because they ride flat on the water's surface and have a very low center of gravity. Since the air chambers are separate, your boat will stay afloat if one of the chambers loses air. Tubes are easy to repair on-site, making inflatable boats an incredibly safe option for all your boating needs.

Inflatable sailboats have hulls made of EPDM Rubber, a vulcanized natural rubber compound identical to car tires, and PVC, a durable and inexpensive material commonly used in inflatable boatbuilding. These materials are perfectly within their expected use to hit rocks, sticks, other boats and docks without expecting damage. Traditional boats require fenders that protect the boat's outer surface from getting scratched or damaged as well as extra care needed when beaching.


Loading Capacity

Although inflatable catamarans are lighter than traditional boats, their buoyancy allows them to handle heavier cargo and provide a stable ride. That means they can hold multiple passengers, all accessories, and your gear. Balance the load across the large deck area and take off. Even smaller boats have surprisingly high loading capacities compared to traditional vessels.

For instance, If you want to go camping for the weekend with the family, you can expect your inflatable catamaran sailboat to easily accommodate all of your gear and passengers without worrying about overloading. An inflatable boat carries almost double the load of a hard hull boat. When you consider this fact, an inflatable is a more practical choice that allows you to engage in more water activities no matter where you go. It is the right boat that gives you more options.

Unique Boating Features

An inflatable boat has many of the same structural features as a traditional vessel. However, although some of the features are the same, they may operate differently on an inflatable boat. Other features are unique to inflatable boats. Some of the most useful features include:


Multiple Propulsion Methods

You can operate inflatable catamarans with outboard engines, sails, or oars. The type of propulsion you use depends on your purpose for buying the boat or the type of excursions you go on.


Heat-Welded EPDM Rubber Seams

Heat welding ensures a sturdy, durable, water-resistant seam that can stand up to salt water, fresh water, and high heat. The high heat factor comes into play if you store your inflatable boat for long periods in high-heat areas such as garages or attics. The Grabner EPDM hulls are welded then filled with a natural rubber before being vulcanized, this process guarantees that seams are air tight and can withstand decades of use and abuse.


Glued PVC Seams

Glued PVC Seams are the most debated seam in the inflatable world. Just blindly launching our opinion into this heavily debated topic: Properly glued seams with quality processes and materials is preferred over welded seams. Because glues vary wildly in quality and properties, glued seams get a bad rap. Glued seams are immortal, using the proper repair techniques and quality materials, glued seams can be "un-done" repaired and fixed indefinitely. As long as the PVC material still has life, which modern PVC fabric stands up way better than the PVC fabric of the 80's and 90's, you can repair glued seams if any issues arise.

Welded seams are not repairable. You can patch them, but once the fabric is welded, attempting to separate those sections, even to try and repair a leak, will destroy the fabric. Welding seams is typically done on boats that will be inflated once and never un-inflated save for repair work or a puncture. The welding process makes the seam slightly brittle and, after multiple folding cycles, will eventually develop leaks at those crease points.


PVC Hulls

The bottoms of inflatable catamarans (known as the hull) consist of durable PVC, which helps prevent tension and tearing during a boating trip. This feature is especially useful in larger boats. PVC hulls typically have an additional wear strip glued to the underside to further protect the hulls when beaching.


Wide Beam

Like a traditional catamaran, wide beams make your inflatable boat suitable for one or multiple passengers, whether you are swimming, scuba diving, fishing, or just cruising around the lake. A wide beam are paramount to a stable platform for fun!



Because inflatable catamarans sit on the water instead of in the water like their rigid-hull counterparts, inflatables are much more maneuverable. Tacking an inflatable sailboat happens much faster in every wind condition, you will never have to experience the awful shame of a failed tack or being stuck in irons on an inflatable catamaran a situation that is all too common on all traditional cats such as the Hobie Wave and nearly every other catamaran without deep daggerboards and/or foiling. 


In Conclusion...

While it is true that traditional catamarans have some advantages - namely speed and organized racing opportunities - there are several glaring benefits of inflatable catamarans. When it comes to small sailboats, inflatable sailing catamarans give you exceptional performance at a fraction of the price of a traditional sailboats both in initial costs as well as continued cost of ownership.


Check out or full line of inflatable sailboats here!

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