The Different Kinds of Float Tubes

May 18, 2011

Kennebec Float Tube from CoverBonanza

Open-front tube with stadium seating.

Float Tubes, or belly boats as some call them, are inflatable floating chairs used for fishing and recreation on the water. They are light, maneuverable and surprisingly comfortable. Most will have a number of features designed for fishing, including rod holder(s), stripping aprons and pockets for other fishing equipment. Some are designed to be carried on the back while out of the water and include straps for easier portage.

Most float tubes will have a weight capacity of 300 lbs. or more, with most not exceeding 350 lbs. Obviously, the more weight that is in the tube will affect how it handles and rides in the water, so larger people may want to consider something at the 350lb capacity mark.

Closed-Front Float Tube

This is a closed-front tube.

Most float tubes have an open front design for ease of entry. This simply means that the shape of the tube is akin to a chair; you simply sit in it, strap the stripping apron over you and you’re good to go. Other float tubes have a closed front design. This means that the tube is basically a ring with a backrest and that one needs to step into the tube, taking small steps out into deeper water until there is enough room to sit down, or of course, you can hold it around your middle. Closed-front tubes typically mean that more of a user’s body will be in the water, usually up to the waist. Open front tubes can keep a sitting person out of the water up to the knees if buoyant enough.

Float tubes are also offered in different shapes. Some will have what are effectively short pontoons with a seat in the middle. This design usually refers to the seat as a “stadium seat,” meaning that the backrest is supported by straps that attach to the bottom of the seat and that it will fold down and flatten, if necessary. This design is typically the longest float tube configuration, and offers the most lateral and front and rear stability due to its wide stance in the water. If there is going to be moderately rough water where you are going, this may be the design for you.

Another design shape would be the typical U-shaped float tube. This tube is exactly as it sounds, a U that conforms around the user, joined in the rear and open in the front. Typically, this float tube shape uses the bladders and inflatable volume of the tube to form the backrest, so that you are leaning against the tube itself. This is different than a “stadium seat” which has straps attached to the base of the seat to provide support, like some camping chairs. These float tubes are typically shorter than the “stadium seat”-style of tube, but will usually ride higher. This is due to the fact that the bladders on these types of tubes are larger in volume as they also form the backrest. These types of tubes are recommended for larger users, those who plan on carrying a bit of gear, or just want to ride as high above the water as possible. Please note that all of these designs will get much of your legs wet!

The ring design, or closed front float tube design mentioned above, is the oldest out there and seems to be waning in popularity. It is exceptionally stable. Unfortunately, the reason it is stable is because it uses the rider’s weight pulling down in the middle against the ring as the primary stabilization force. This means that you are getting pretty wet, probably the most of all the different models. Imagine a tube with a very large and strong pair of underwear sewn in the middle of it and you’ll get the idea. These tubes are also usually the smallest of the three main groups, so for portability, they’re not a bad way to go. But, for overall comfort, I would not give them the highest marks.

When choosing a float tube, be sure to explore all of your options and look at what you’ll be using it for. With enough research, it is hard to make a bad decision.

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