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All inflatable pontoon boats have bladders, or pontoons, made of a resilient material and can be inflated or deflated as necessary for ease of transportation. There are different designs based on ease of transportability and storage, the method of propulsion, the number of occupants and the bodies of water on which they are used. The different types of inflatable pontoon boats include framed or frameless, motorized or self-propelled and lake or sea watercraft. The word "inflatable" in the name of these boats sometimes refers to the pontoons alone and not the entire vessel.
All inflatable pontoon boats have frames. The difference between framed and frameless boats is the construction of the frames. A traditional framed inflatable pontoon boat has a metal frame, usually constructed of aluminum, and the pontoons attach to the frame. The frame of a "frameless" boat is constructed of material that is similar to or the same as that of the pontoons and, like the pontoons, it is easily inflated and deflated. This makes these boats lighter than their framed counterparts and enables them to be stored in much smaller areas.
Inflatable pontoon boats that are designed for use on lakes typically are lightweight watercraft, which makes them easier to transport from a vehicle into the water. They usually are built for one or two boaters but can be designed to carry more people. Some craft in this class can accommodate small outboard motors, but the majority are propelled with paddles or oars. These boats can be framed or frameless.
More sturdy inflatable pontoon boats are available for use on open seas or even rivers, although they also can be used on lakes. These boats most often use an outboard motor and can seat two to four boaters, although some might seat more than four people. Inflatable boats that are designed for use on the sea usually have added safety features. Their pontoons typically are constructed with three or more separate chambers, so if the wall of a pontoon is punctured, only one chamber will deflate, and the remaining chambers will keep the boat afloat.