The Intex 4 Person Mariner Inflatable Boat Set — an inexpensive but large and durable raft — is simply the best bang for your buck that I’ve ever seen in an inflatable raft.
The Intex Mariner is what I call a mid-quality raft. I wouldn’t trust it for whitewater rafting, but it’s also far more durable than the cheap little inflatables you can find all over the place. You can fish from this inflatable raft without worrying that a stray hook set on a missed fish is going to rocket your lure back at you and pop your boat. Plus, it’s got a packable-but-hard floor, which gives it a whole new level of stability for a raft that flirts with an amazing $300 price point.
The oars (included) are better than most oars that come with low-end inflatables, and the oar locks provide a good balance between maneuverability and stability. Combined with the hard-bottom system with an inflatable keel, I could row across a lake with a light wind surprisingly well. Oh, and on the maiden voyage, three people caught six trout.
Inside the Intex Mariner Inflatable Raft
This four-person raft is 57 inches wide, 129 inches long, and 19 inches high. It boasts an 880 pound weight limit, which means it can hold up to four 220-pound men. It uses a three-layer heavy-duty vinyl that is not as tough as what you’ll find on $5,000-plus whitewater rafts, but it’s far more durable than most of the low-end inflatables I see in sporting goods stores. It’s got quick-fill and fast-deflate Boston valves for all four of its main air chambers. It has an all-around grab line, an electric motor mounting point and an available Intex Motor Mount Kit, and it’s certified by the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association (NMMA) and is a U.S. Coast Guard approved vessel.
Underneath the keel, the boat features a heavy-duty bumper strip. I scraped the entire raft over a lot of rocks on the St. Joe River in Idaho one hot August day and it held up fantastically. I was surprised to see it barely scratched at the end of the 6-hour float trip.
Overall, it’s a surprisingly solid inflatable raft for the price.
Setting Up the Mariner, With a Floor Like a Boat
The Mariner comes with a hand air pump that let me completely set up the boat in less than 20 minutes. After you unfurl the thing, you’ll find a rolled up set of 1×4 synthetic boards covered and connected by vinyl pouches. When you unroll these boards into the bottom of the boat, they lock into place when you air up the sides, forming a rigid floor. Below this roll of boards is the inflatable keel. You can’t really use the boat without the hard floor, but then again, the hard floor is the key feature of the boat anyway.
The Mariner comes with three inflatable seats, which fit snugly between the outer walls of the raft.
It’s pretty easy to set up, really.
The Mariner raft comes inside a carry bag, in which you’ll find the raft, the floor, the oars, and the pump. If you pay attention, you can fit it all back inside the bag even after you use it, which I found surprising. Unfortunately, the raft is relatively heavy and ungainly for one man to pack. Sure, I can do it and most manly men could do it, too, but why? I’ve got a better solution: Snag an extra-large duffel bag and split the load — the floor goes in one bag and the raft in the other. I use the Northstar 1050 HD Tuff Cloth Diamond Ripstop Series Gear Bag, and for about $20, it’s a perfect blend of durability and cost. Suddenly the boat is a breeze to load and pack.
Best Budget Raft Ever?
All-in-all, this inflatable raft isn’t made for whitewater and I wouldn’t want to count on the oars or oarlocks on any river that’s typically run with real whitewater rafts. And yet, the raft is surprisingly durable, versatile, and cost-effective. It’s a great leisure raft or simple fishing boat that you can actually throw into a car get out of the house with.
If you like the idea of a hard-bottomed raft and you’re on a budget, the Intex Mariner Four-Person Inflatable Boat is the way to go. Some guys have even outfitted this raft with sailboat kits. You can’t beat the versatility and quality for the price.
What if you want something a bit lighter with an inflatable floor? Try the Intex Mariner Three-Person Boat Set. It has a similarly tough construction.
If you want something tough enough to handle a gas outboard motor and a little saltwater, try the Newport Vessels Baja Inflatables Sport Tender Dinghy Boat or the Seamax Ocean380 Inflatable Boat.
And whitewater rafting? Check out any of the inflatable rafts at NRS.
Get the Gear:
Don’t Forget Key Water Gear — Read these: