Choosing A Float Tube

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A few years ago, while in the process of buying my first float tube, I took the time to sit down and write an article on how to choose the float tube or boat which best suits you. Having not used many tubes at the time most of my information was gathered from the internet and, as we all know, everything on the internet needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Over the past few years I’ve been far more involved in fly fishing and have had the pleasure of using various craft. I’ve also had the pleasure of chatting to several people involved in the industry and as such have had to reassess some of my original opinions.

When I began my quest for a float tube I had the usual limitation of budget as I’m sure many of you do. Although there’s usually some room for creep within one’s budget it’s normally a very deciding factor in the purchase. So to start, come up with a budget for your tube, and while doing so please bear in mind that you’ll probably need to buy the following items along with the tube:

  • Waders
  • Booties or wading boots (if you get stocking foot waders)
  • Fins

Now let’s look at some of the boats available to you. I’m sure by now you’ll have noticed that there are large number of models on the market. Luckily for us each of these models has its own advantages and disadvantages. All you need to do is to work out which model best suites your individual needs. Below is a list of your main options:

  • Doughnut float tube (this is where it all started)
  • U-boat
  • V-boat
  • Pontoon boat
  • Regular boat/Inflatable raft

The best mechanism for choosing between the models is to consider all possible factors and how they affect your decision, decide which of these factors are important to you, and then pick the boat which best matches your criteria.

Here’s a list of the factors which I consider to be important when choosing a boat:

  • Safety
  • Size
  • Type of Water
  • Comfort
  • Build Quality
  • Availability
  • Ease of use

These factors can rank in any order depending on personal preference and what you’ll be using the tube for. Safety should however always top the list.

Let’s now discuss each of these factors and how they’ll ultimately affect your decision.


As with anything in life safety is an important aspect of float tubing. It has been rumored that certain float tubes can be flipped if one leans too far in a certain direction. Once upside down one can easily become trapped, especially if there is no quick release for your stripping tray, and this can potentially result in drowning. People who are taller are more prone to this so please bear this in mind when choosing a tube. Bigger tubes are generally more stable but they are also heavier and more difficult to transport.

Please remember that all float tubes can be flipped if the angler doesn’t use common sense. Try and anchor all non-floating tackle (including rods) to your tube. The most common cause of flipped tubes seems to be anglers reaching quickly for items they’ve dropped overboard.

Another safety issue to consider is that float tubes (V boats, U boats and doughnuts) do not behave as well in rough condition as pontoon boats do. So if you’re going to be fishing big waters where the weather can change unexpectedly a pontoon boat may be a better option for you.

Something else to consider with safety is the number of bladders the tube contains. If your boat has just one bladder and springs a leak while on the water you’re in serious risk sinking. Luckily most crafts nowadays come with two or more bladders meaning that if one starts to leak the other will hopefully keep you buoyant for long enough to reach land.


Size can be a deciding factor for float tubes since each float tube has a maximum weight rating it should carry. Please bear this in mind when purchasing a tube, especially if you’re a larger angler. Also remember that this weight rating includes both your weight and the weight of you equipment.

As I mentioned earlier, taller people may also need larger boats in order to stop themselves from flipping the tube. Obviously this is less of a problem with pontoon boats or inflatable rafts.

Type of Water

When buying a boat it is also important to consider the type of fishing one will be doing as this normally determines the type of water one will be fishing.

Float tubes are great for smaller still waters and slow moving rivers. They are easy to maneuver and aren’t easily affected by strong winds. On large waters they can however be tiring to kick long distances and they don’t behave well in very choppy water.

So if you are going to be fishing large waters a pontoon boat may be a better option, if only to cover the distance quicker and easier. Pontoon boats can also be rowed and/or have a small sneaker motor attached to them. Float tubes don’t offer you this option, they are however easier to control in the wind when pontoon boats tend to get blown across the water due to the larger surface area and lower drag.

Another thing to consider is that pontoon boats are better suited to rivers with fast moving water and small rapids. In fact it can be dangerous to fish fast moving water in a float tube. This doesn’t mean tubes can’t be used in rivers, it just means they can’t be used in fast flowing rivers. In fact some pontoon boats even come with rapid ratings.

Also remember that float tubes are far lighter and take up less space than pontoon boats. If you’re therefore likely to be hiking to your water pontoon boats aren’t a good option. Float tubes can be folded up to fit into a duffle bag whereas pontoon boats, with their large metal frames, don’t pack nearly as small.


Comfort is of course something to be considered when buying your tube. You will after all be sitting in it for hours at a time and you wouldn’t want to not use it just because it’s uncomfortable.

I can’t tell you what’s comfortable and what’s not and you may therefore be better off going and sitting in one or two to judge for yourself. What I can tell you is that some tubes come with foam seats while others come with inflatable seats.

I personally find inflatable seats more comfortable than foam seats. That said, foam seats do take shape after a few uses so you can’t always judge them on your first sitting. I know that one of my frequent fishing partners has a foam seated tube and he swears by it.

Remember that in v-boats you will sit out of the water, making them warmer, whereas in u-boats you will sit in the water, making them cooler if fishing in cold water. Also remember that in a pontoon boat you will be sitting in what is essentially a garden chair (and you can even add a pillow). You sit high out of the water and can even lift your legs completely out of the water making it warmer than some of the alternatives.

The old doughnut tubes basically have you hanging in a harness and are probably the least comfortable and coldest since you often sit waist deep in water. These are getting far less frequent and I haven’t seen one in the shops for quite some time.

Build Quality

Since a tube is an expensive purchase you do want it to last as long as possible. Some of the more obvious problems can be spotted easily such as the quality of the stitching, etc. The fabric used to coat the tube is also important and one can usually find out the thickness fairly easily. Remember that this is what will be protecting the tube from abrasions like rocks, the ground, thorns, etc . Thicker is generally better and the thickness of the material under the tube is perhaps more important than that on top, since many people will drag their tubes to and from the water.

Something not so obvious with build quality is to check what the bladders are made from. Most tubes are made from vinyl/PVC. This particular substance is prone to damage from the suns UV rays. This means that as time passes it will become weaker and more brittle as it perishes. It’s also prone to temperature meaning that it the mornings, when it is cold, it will be tough, and as the day heats up it will soften. More expensive tubes are made from poly urethane which is not as affected by the sun. It is also lighter and slightly thicker making it less prone to punctures. So if one can afford it, it will generally ensure your tube has a longer life. In fact urethane bladders, if treated correctly, should last forever.

That said, the bladders are protected to some degree by the float tube’s body material. As such if you look after your tube, and don’t leave it exposed to the elements unnecessarily, any bladder should give you a long and hassle free life.

Something important to remember is that most tube’s bladders fail for one main reason, over-inflation. Generally anglers inflate their tubes in the early morning when it’s a lot cooler. Over the course of the day the temperature rises and the air in the tubes expands. As such the pressure inside the bladders increase which can lead to them popping. Be careful to not overinflate tubes. Also let a little air out later in the day if need be. Never do this on the water as this may be unsafe.


Living in South Africa means that most tubes bought are local brands. These tubes are often cheaper than overseas products, but one should not confuse this price difference with a difference in quality.

Having spoken to some of the local suppliers I’ve discovered that many of our local brands come out of the same factories (and are of the same quality) as these elite, imported products. The reason for the cheaper price of the local product is due to a combination of two factors. Firstly larger numbers are brought into the country and transportation is therefore cheaper. Secondly our local products are shipped directly from the factory to South Africa, rather than through other countries adding on additional expense. Basically, they cut out the middle man.

When looking at the dollar price one may be tempted to import the tube yourself. Remember that when importing tubes, the importer pays VAT, duties, and a large amount for shipping. In the end you will therefore only end up saving a few hundred Rands and will generally lose out on both local guarantees and service should something go wrong. Is it worth it? That’s your call.

Ease of Use

Something which many people under-rate is the ease of use of the tube; if it’s difficult to set up and/or use you’re less likely to use it. What a waste! Here are examples of a few things to consider.

Doughnut shaped tubes are difficult to get in and out of since you have to step into them and through leg holes (usually with fins on).
U-boats and v-boats are easy to get into due to the gap in the front.
Pontoon boats are more difficult to set up and transport.
Inflatable rafts are difficult to maneuver individually.
So to sum up, here are a few of the pros and cons of each type of boat:

Doughnut Float Tube


  • Good for smaller children as they cannot easily fall out.
  • Packs small
  • Not affected much by the wind


  • Old technology
  • Difficult to get out of if flipped (although this is only a concern for heavier, taller people).
  • Difficult to get into
  • You sit in the water
  • Moves slowly through the water
  • Tough to travel long distances
  • Doesn’t handle waves or moving water well



  • Easy to get into
  • Packs small
  • Not affected much by the wind


  • You sit in the water, making them colder
  • Moves slowly through the water
  • Tough to travel long distances
  • Doesn’t handle waves or moving water well



  • Easy to get into
  • Packs small (if it has an inflatable seat)
  • Not affected much by the wind
  • Moves better through the water thanks to the v shaped bow (relative to a U-boat or doughnut tube)
  • Warmer since you sit out of the water


  • Tough to travel long distances
  • Doesn’t handle waves or moving water well

Pontoon Boat


  • Easy to get into
  • Moves well through the water
  • Can travel large distances well
  • Can be used in rivers with fast moving water
  • Sit the highest out of the water of any boat, making it easier to spot fish
  • Warmer since you sit high out of the water


  • Packs large
  • Heavy to carry
  • Time consuming to set up
  • Badly affected by the wind

Regular Boat or Inflatable Raft


  • More than one person can use it
  • Easy to travel long distances
  • Warmer since no part of the body is in the water
  • Larger packing space
  • Dryer


  • Hard for one person to control
  • More difficult to get into position
  • Larger packing space
  • Longer to set up
  • Cannot be carried any distance
  • Badly affected by wind

Hopefully this information will aid with your decision to purchase a tube. As you can imagine there’s a lot more one can consider, but at least this will get you started. Now get out there, buy that boat, and do some fishing.

Tight lines!

– By Warren Prior

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