Easiest boat to get back into from the water?
July 24, 2021 9:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm completely uneducated when it comes to boats. I want one for a very specific purpose. Help me find the perfect little boat for lake swimming!

There is a lake near me with the most beautiful swimming spot, a sandy-bottom marsh area with cypress trees. I want a boat that will get me 2-3 other friends to this spot so we can jump out and swim and stuff.

The most important thing is that it be pretty stable, and very easy to get out of (and back into) from the water. There are areas where the water is only about 3 feet deep, but it would be ideal if you could also get back into it from deep water too. It doesn't necessarily need a motor, as the lake is pretty small and row-able. But a trolling motor option would be cool!

I've been looking at everything from inflatable kayaks to dinghies to these cool little SoloCrafts. I'm kind of overwhelmed by the options. It's difficult to know without experience which ones you can easily get back into without being an experienced kayaker/boater. It would be awesome if there were something that could hold several people, but I'm also open to 1-2 person options if those are more suited to this purpose.

Would love to spend $1k or less, but willing to spend more (up to $3k) if there's something really great out there!
posted by a.steele to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In your position, I would build a soda bottle raft. Soda bottles float, they are widely available for free, and they are standardized in size. So you basically use them as bricks to build yourself a sweet sweet raft. It really works!
posted by aniola at 9:25 PM on July 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

If it is a very small lake, consider just getting an inflatable tube the type you would go tubing down a river in with a kayak paddle to row yourself over in the tube in.

Or a standup paddle board.

Both are easy to get on and off of and let you leisurely float to your spot and back without the full effort of swimming over there.

Or an inflatable kayak.
posted by slateyness at 9:57 PM on July 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm probably coming at this from a completely different direction than you are, but first I would figure out what kind of boat you need, how big you need it to be (carrying three people is very different than a kayak that fits one), and how much power you need (I know you said you don't and that rowing is an option but if you've been swimming all day, and you're tired (and sunburned) you may not want to row home. I also don't know how choppy the lake gets, but I'd hate to be stuck in the middle of the lake in a boat with no power (and friends on board) when the waves really kick up. But in your area, maybe that's not really a concern. Figure out what the locals use, and buy something similar.

Then I'd look at getting an accessory that is designed to get you in and out of the water like a swim ladder or a swim platform.
posted by sardonyx at 9:59 PM on July 24, 2021 [4 favorites]

The other question you need to answer is how you get it to the lake and what state you are in as in many states as soon as you put a motor in a boat you have to register it and pay yearly fees. Is that ok? The short answer is what is called a John boat- flat bottom aluminum, not too big and able to support a small motor or be towed.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:06 PM on July 24, 2021 [3 favorites]

Ha it’s called a Jon boat - Swedish originally. I never knew that
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:08 PM on July 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a huge fan of inflatables. They hold a lot of weight, and can be massively overloaded beyond that. They're very safe because they're entirely made of tubes full of air, and if one gets a hole you have at least two others. They're extremely stable because the flotation is all around the edges. I've had people stand up and walk around on the outside tubes without it even leaning over. You can sit on the edge to get in the water and climb back in the same way.
My largest one is about ten feet long, was made in 1964, is still in perfect shape, is light enough to row by hand, but will take a 40Hp motor, with which it will pull two water skiers. (I've seen this done with a 25Hp motor, and 40Hp may be overkill, but you may be a lunatic.)
It folds up and will go in the trunk of a car. I once rolled it up wet and full of sand, and when I unrolled it two years later, expecting the worst, it was fine. It cost $600, used.
My smaller one is about seven feet long and cost the same. It came with a very old 5Hp motor which moved it very well but only ran once.
The big one takes two people to carry and another trip for the floorboards. The smaller one is one person for the boat, another for floorboards and oars. If I only needed to move two or three people and had a small car I'd be happy with a small one.
You can get one with no transom, but you're limited if you want to ever put a motor of any size on it. Some of those don't have floorboards, so they're simpler to set up. I like a rigid floor, because when you're moving around it's much easier.
You can get cheap ones, but I'd personally only buy Avon, Zodiac, or Metzeler. The best ones have an inflatable (or rigid) keel, metal or wooden floorboards, and a proper transom to clamp your motor to.
I've let children take mine out on a lake, alone. They're extremely safe, and a huge amount of fun. We've had battles involving water fights and ramming each other. They're very tough. If you put a motor on them they use a fraction of the gas a rigid boat does, and if you're rowing they'll go into about four inches of water.
I'm told that if you're in a hot climate you should get a light coloured one, because the sun can expand the air in a black one and pop it. I've never seen this happen. If you want to dress in a black wetsuit and do a midnight raid on a big industrial facility built for some odd reason on a beach, a dark colour is preferable.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 11:50 PM on July 24, 2021 [13 favorites]

Seconding a standup paddle board and there are inflatable ones available. Check the weight limits to see if they will carry two adults. I know most will carry one adult and one child without any issues.
posted by soelo at 6:25 AM on July 25, 2021

Best answer: I think what people are not saying here is that it's very hard to get into a boat from a non-standing depth. It's also very hard to get into a boat standing if the water is waist height or higher. Inflatables are a lot easier; I'd look at a an inflatable Catamaran or Sup like the ones from Aqua Marina.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:33 AM on July 25, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: A friend had an inexpensive inflatable rowboat that lasted years, similar to this. Make a rope ladder to help you climb back on board, attach to the handles; something to put your foot in really helps, and a rope to grab to pull with. You will pull it over on yourself at least once;practice in shallower water. Secure everything to the boat. One nice thing about inflatables - if there are kids swimming, you can flip it over and use it as a swim platform for them. Also, rowing is pleasant and good exercise.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 AM on July 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

If your solution involves a ladder, and it should if you plan on hosting anyone with limited upper body strength no matter the water depth, spring for a ladder with wide, flat treads topped with rubber and a fourth step. The standard treads are round pipes that are hard on the feet and get hot in the sun. The standard number of steps, at three, will still be hard for people to use because they will have to haul their weight out of the water from a compressed position to use it. After-market four step wide tread ladders are available in collapsible configurations that will fit in a boat’s pre-existing niche. Be sure your ladder can be secured to the boat when underway.

If you choose a bow rider or other small motorboat, also consider the size of its swim platform. Larger ones are also available as aftermarket accessories but they’re expensive.
posted by carmicha at 1:37 PM on July 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

Have you considered how you will get this boat to the lake and/or where you will leave it (and how you will secure it) when it is not in use?

Those issues would certainly seem likely to inform your choice, but you haven't given us information that would help us properly advise on those factors.

Also most boats that can (safely) carry you and 3 other people across a small lake may be too large and heavy for you to pack out by yourself. From solo craft to potentially four people is actually a pretty wide capacity range for a small boat, especially if you may all have gear on top of that.
posted by Nerd of the North at 2:43 AM on July 26, 2021

Response by poster: A few points of clarification and a few follow up questions:

1. The main thing I want to know is which boats are easy to get into and out of from the water, and solutions for that issue specifically. I like the advice of attaching a rope ladder to an inflatable rowboat. Follow up questions for this:

- AugustusCrunch mentions "inflatables," but like...inflatable what? Should I just search "inflatable boats"? When I say I'm uneducated, I mean it, lol. It seems like there are a lot of inflatable options. Whatever AC is talking about sounds perfect though, because they mentioned you can sit to get on/off and that it folds up compactly, and the rigid floorboard sounds very stable. Which style of inflatable should I be looking for?

- Carmicha and sardonyx's advice about ladders and swim platforms is great, but which types of boats can you attach these to (And which ones can't you)?

2. To clarify some of my requirements:

- The lake is big enough that I wouldn't feel as comfortable on something like a tube or paddleboard than I would an actual vessel. For reference, it is Horseshoe Lake in Arkansas. It's small enough to be able to row to the inner marshy area from the boat ramp, and there's not a ton of boat traffic or waves.

- I need something that can be transported in an SUV, either mounted to the top or disassembled/deflated to fit inside. Assume I will have 2-3 helpers to get it to and from the water.

- I'd like something that can hold 2-4 people, but if there is a 1-2 person option that is VERY EASY to get on/off of and affordable, I can probably convince a couple of my friends to get one too. I initially considered paddleboards for this reason, but as I mentioned, I think I would feel safer in something more substantial.

Thanks for all the advice so far!
posted by a.steele at 7:39 AM on July 26, 2021

We have an inflatable dinghy that holds 4 people. I can get into it from deep or shallow water but not gracefully - I kind of have to flop up into it then lift a leg up and shimmy in. I am physically healthy but not especially strong. It has oars to row very slowly. It can go in very shallow water. I recommend it!
posted by mai at 9:55 AM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We used to have an inflatable dinghy similar to what mai linked and replaced it with a hard-sided version so we could mount a small electric motor to the transom: basically this boat and this motor. We use it to get to a mooring and I can rope the dinghy into my pickup truck bed. It's 55 inches wide and 9.5 feet long so you could put it on top of an SUV. Two of us can lift it pretty easily; it's more awkward than heavy.

Regarding rope ladders, they are trouble for unfit people because they don't hang straight down; they flex such that your feet go under the boat while your upper body stays behind partially out of the water. Then the user must hoist up their body weight from this awkward position with physics working against it.

My earlier advice about swim platforms and collapsable four-step wide-tread ladders applies to small bow riders and ski boats, which obviously won't fit atop your vehicle. For inflatable boats, there are rigid boarding ladders designed to accommodate the curved side edges, like this three-step option. For a hard-sided dinghy, your options will vary based on whether you want a transom or side mount, how you feel about drilling holes in your boat, and whether you want to remove it frequently, e.g., for transport or anti-theft reasons. Another factor will be the shape of the transom and/or gunwale (the side edge). Finally, the slope and height of the boat's back or side will affect the utility of secondary braces, like the ones featured on this gunwale mount ladder.

There are plenty of boarding ladders available plus other options too (e.g., ladders that attach to the rub rails of flat bed and pickup trucks), so you may want to buy the boat first and then explore.
posted by carmicha at 1:14 PM on July 26, 2021

Whoops! I linked to the wrong dingy motor above and missed the edit window to correct it: too many tabs open. Unfortunately, you won't get away with a cheap trolling motor like that without some battery shenanigans. We have a Torqueedo that is an earlier version of these options which all basically start at $2k. Apologies for that error.
posted by carmicha at 1:38 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

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