skiff

The portable boat

What is a portable boat?

A portable boat is a small, lightweight boat that can be easily transported on the roof of a common passenger vehicle, and carried by hand to the water and back from it by one or two persons. Portable boats are also referred to as car-top boats.

By definition, a portable boat does not require a trailer for transportation.
But when portability is concerned, not all trailer-free boats are equal, and some boats (e.g. small dinghies and Jon boats) and motorized boards are small and lightweight enough to be hauled onto a pickup truck bed, but too heavy and bulky for car topping and easy carrying, which is why these vessels are not considered as portable boats.

Kayaks are small vessels that are typically lightweight enough to be car topped and carried by hand, but since kayaks don’t lend themselves to effective motorizing, they are not considered as boats, and the same is true for most canoes, with the exception of very wide, square-stern canoes that can be driven on flat water with a small outboard gas motor.
Kayaks equipped with electric trolling motors are still considered to be kayaks and not portable boats, similarly to bicycles that are not designated as motorcycles even when outfitted with small motors.
A motorized board labeled as a skiff for a solo user would not qualify as a portable boat even if in the future a lightweight enough version of it is produced, because it lacks the load capacity and free board that are expected from a boat – even a small one.

In sum, in order for a vessel to qualify as a portable boat, if must be both a fully functional boat and fully portable.

Why is portability important?

Portability has advantages both in economic and time terms.
In dollar terms, portability offers you to save the money that you would have had to spend on a boat trailer, and spend it on the boat itself, and on other useful equipment such as electronics, fishing gear, etc.
More importantly, a portable boat makes you gain productive, fun time on the water that you would have otherwise spent driving to or from a boat ramp, which is the only place where you can launch a boat from a trailer. A portable boat also saves you time waiting at a boat ramp to launch your boat, and waiting for others to launch their boats or take them out before you can take out your own boat. Not having to depend on boat ramps guarantees that you’d never drive to a boat ramp just to find that there’s no more parking space left there for your vehicle and trailer.
At its highest level, portability gives you the freedom to launch anywhere you want, as seen in this video –

 

 

Types of portable boats

Rigid Hull

Some dinghies, Jon boats and square-stern canoes are small and lightweight enough to be car topped. They are made from aluminum, fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) – typically fiberglass, or polymer resin (plastic) such as Polyethylene.
Having a rigid hull means that these boats are ready to be driven without additional work such as inflating and/or assembly, and once the trip is over, they can be car-topped without deflating and/or disassembly.
The only difference between a car-top boat and a boat transported on a trailer is that a car-top boat requires mounting the outboard motor on it before launching, and dismounting it after the end of the trip. For an experienced boater, mounting the motor and dismounting it takes a couple of minutes.

Folding Hull

A folding hull is made from rigid panels attached by flexible sections. Folding a boat makes it take less space, and being less bulky can be an advantage for transportation.
Upon arrival to the launching spot, a folding hull needs to be unfolded, and the boat requires assembly for its seats, transom, etc., which can take up to twenty minutes. Disassembling the boat and folding it back can take a similar time, and altogether, whatever time is gained as a result of not having to launch at a boat ramp thanks to the lack of a trailer, might be wasted on tedious assembly and disassembly work.

Inflatable Boat

Some inflatable dinghies are made solely from soft parts, and others, namely rigid-inflatable boats, or RIB, include rigid components as well. This requires inflation and assembly before launching, and disassembly plus folding upon return from the trip. These activities take time, even if you’re experienced and equipped with a good electric pump.
Inflatable boats are not very popular among anglers, who prefer to avoid fishing from a boat whose hull might be perforated by a fishing hook, a knife, or other sharp object that anglers typically carry on board.

Catamaran

Some small catamarans feature rigid hulls (pontoons, actually), and they can be disassembled and transported in sections, on top of a car roof. Typically, such catamarans are used for sailing, and they are rarely used for fishing and hunting.

Other issues with portable boats

Aside from the problems that some portable boats present as far as assembly and disassembly time is concerned, some designs leave much to be desired in terms of seaworthiness, stability, and comfort –
Canoes are either round bottomed or flat bottomed. The first type of hull is extremely tippy, especially for a crew of more than one passenger, while the second type is moderately stable on flat water, and unstable on moving water.
Portable Jon boats and rigid dinghies that feature a flat bottom are moderately stable on flat water, but not stable enough for trips or fishing in moving water, or in the presence of wakes from big motorboats.
Portable Jon boats and dinghies that feature a shallow V hull perform better in moving water, but less so on flat water.
Portable Inflatable dinghies are very wide, and designed to go in moving water, but these boats are not comfortable.

What is the most portable boat?

At slightly less than 100 lbs, the Wavewalk S4 is the world’s lightest boat for a crew of more than two adult passengers, and it also features a fully rigid twin-hull that requires neither inflation nor assembly. These two facts combined make the S4 the world’s most portable boat.

What is the most stable portable boat?

For a boat that requires neither inflation nor assembly, the Wavewalk S4 is the world’s most stable in its class. With a load capacity of over 600 lbs and a saddle seat that’s similar to the seat of large-size high performance personal watercraft (PWC), this patented boat can carry up to three adult passengers on board – all of them standing up.

What is the most seaworthy portable boat?

This question is more difficult to answer, since many inflatable and rigid-inflatable dinghies are very wide and designed to go in rough water. However, for a rigid hull portable boat, the Wavewalk S4 is the most seaworthy.

What is the most comfortable portable boat?

Typically, portable boats feature simple bench-like seats, or basic swivel seats. None of these seating accommodations is particularly comfortable, and they don’t offer good means for a user to balance themselves.
In contrast, the Wavewalk S4 features a saddle seat that prevents back pain, and allows for easy, natural, intuitive, and fully effective balancing, even in rough water. Both the driver and passengers of the S4 can ride (straddle) the saddle while facing forward, or sit side-saddle while facing sideways. This is true even for a big and heavy person who weighs more than 300 lbs.

What is the most versatile portable boat?

Hands down, the most versatile portable boat is the Wavewalk S4, since it works perfectly in a non-motorized mode, both with canoe and kayak paddles, in a solo and tandem mode, and it features a frontal casting deck, as skiffs do.
Being most seaworthy, the S4 can serve as a perfect tender for a yacht or a big motorboat, and it can be effectively towed behind the mother ship, as well as hauled on board.

 

 

The Wavewalk S4 portable boat / skiff

The Wavewalk S4 portable boat / skiff

 

When smaller is better in boat design

Thanks to the revolution in electronics and portable phones, we’ve learned to accept the notion that smaller can be better. In the world of recreational and sports fishing, kayaks have replaced many boats, or at least they’ve replaced many canoes, pirogues, etc., which served for decades as popular alternatives to boats.
Fishing kayaks’ success is due to their lower cost of ownership, portability, and good shallow water capabilities.
But kayaks’ lack of stability combined with their poor ergonomics and dismal range of travel prevents them from challenging the dominance of the full fledged boat.
Indeed, the typical boat that people fish out of can be a bass boat, a Jon boat, or a skiff (flats boat), but in any case, it offers enough room and stability for a crew of at least two anglers, and it offers to take them out on long trips, in good or acceptable comfort during transit and actual fishing.

When it comes to boats, the bigger the better. Not necessarily.

Bigger boats can take more passengers on board, they are stabler and more comfortable compared to similar but smaller boats, and they are less problematic in choppy waters. And when boating is concerned, speed is fun, and so is having guests on board, and this is why bigger boats rule.

Without going through the clichés about a boat being a money pit, and the day you sell your boat being one of the happiest days of your life, economic factors are worth consideration in terms of dollars and time, with the latter sometimes being more important – The total number of hours a boat owner spends on the water fishing is not that big, which is why every hour spent on unwanted activities such as maintenance, transportation and waiting in line at boat ramps counts more, and makes the ownership of a full fledged boat less attractive. The alternative to transporting the boat on a trailer is paying for a docking spot in a marina, or for dry storage, but these just transform one problem into another, without offering much flexibility in terms of places that you can can go fish in.

Flat bottomed boats such as Jon boats and skiffs are great for going in flat water, except when it comes to their reaction to other boats’ wakes, which leaves much to be desired. This lackluster performance, coupled with the fact that such boats do not fare well in choppy water and rough weather, makes them basically fair weather watercraft for inland fishing.
While the last sentence is generally true, it still doesn’t reflect another critical limitation that owners of big boats suffer from, which is the inability to go in very shallow water, or in water where much vegetation grows. This limitation is particularly annoying to anglers who go after species that thrive in fisheries that are characterized by shallow water and /or abundant vegetation. Effectively, an 18 ft skiff drafts more than a foot, due to the need to keep its propeller running below the surface, and its skeg a few inches away from the bottom. And one foot of water is shallow for some boaters, it is not real skinny water for others. The presence of rocks and oyster bars and sand bars on the bottom, coupled with low tides, can transform a fishing trip in a big boat into a most unpleasant experience. And big boats are too big to move by hand, and you can’t paddle them…

Smaller boats can be an alternative to a big boat, but not necessarily a good one.

By small boats we mean portable boats, namely ones that do not require a trailer for transportation. The ability to launch elsewhere than at boat ramps is important, as it frees the owner from wasting precious time, and the likelihood of being stranded in a small boat is much reduced. Still, typical small boats are not paddle craft, and this means that they are practically useless if the water is too shallow or too rich with vegetation for their motor to run properly.
Other disadvantages of small boats compared to big ones are that they are tippy, far less uncomfortable, and some, like a motorized board whose name includes the word skiff for some reason, do not allow for more than one person on board, and such self inflicted solitude is kind of sad. It is true that fishing buddies can be annoying, sometimes, but that certainly doesn’t mean that you’d want to deprive yourself of their presence at all times.

The better alternative to big boats and skiffs

The new, patented Wavewalk Series 4 (S4) from Wavewalk offers the most comprehensive and effective alternative to a full fledged skiff or Jon boat –
Price wise, the S4 costs a fraction of the price of a full size Jon boat or skiff, and not just thanks to the fact that it does not require a trailer for transportation.
The Wavewalk S4’s Polyethylene twin-hull is maintenance free, as it requires neither cleaning nor painting.
The S4 provides better stability than bigger boats do, thanks to the combined effect of its catamaran hulls and the saddle seat that allows the user to balance themselves in the most easy, intuitive and effective way, similarly to the way the users of personal watercraft and ATV drivers do.
The S4 is more seaworthy than flat bottomed Jon boats and skiffs.
As far as the number of crew on board, the S4 can accommodate up to three fishermen on flat water, and two fishermen in rough waters. Fishermen on board can fish standing.
The S4 works perfectly as a paddle craft, both with kayak and canoe paddles. This means that its users are not limited by the draft of its outboard motor, or the need to protect its propeller from vegetation. The likelihood of an S4 getting stranded is lower than that of any other watercraft.
The Wavewalk S4 can be launched almost anywhere, including rocky, muddy and sandy beaches, marshes, sloped terrain, etc. It can also be outfitted with a mud motor, similarly to Jon boats and skiffs.

The following play list of videos shows various aspects of the S4 –

 

 

The following animated slideshow shows some of the Wavewalk S4 capabilities –

 

Disadvantages of the Wavewalk S4 compared to full size boats and skiffs

Speed wise, the S4 cannot compete with a full size Jon boat of skiff powered by a big and powerful motor. But the S4 outfitted with a portable, 6 HP outboard can go at speeds attaining 18 mph, which is pretty good for most fishing trips that do not require traveling over excessively long distances.
The S4 has a 650 lbs load capacity, which is impressive for its small size, and even more so for its extremely light weight, which is 98 lbs without a motor, but this payload is still not as much as a large size Jon boat or skiff can carry.

 

Recommended articles:

Better Than a Full Size Skiff

Mud Motor for Kayak Fishing the Flats

A multi-hull multi-boat for fishing, diving, and touring

Captain Larry Jarboe operates a small fleet of Wavewalk 700 and S4 fishing kayaks, as well as two commercial fishing boats, out of his docks in Key Largo, Florida. He uses these kayak – skiffs and boats to provide fishing, diving and touring guide services to tourists and local residents of the Keys and southern Florida.

Captain Jarboe, a master tonnage captain,  has become increasingly aware of the commercial potential of the Wavewalk S4 kayak skiff for his business, both as a paddle craft (canoe / kayak) and motorized with a portable, lightweight outboard motor.

But he also found a way to take this high performance and extremely versatile skiff to a higher level, namely use it to comfortably transport a number of passengers that he could have previously transported only in a full-size fishing boat. He created a multi-boat watercraft composed of three Wavewalk S4 skiffs attached in parallel. The middle one is motorized, and the two skiffs on the sides are attached to it by ropes that can be easily detached in case the passengers feel like continuing the journey by themselves, independently, whether in a paddling mode (canoeing or kayaking), or in a motorized mode.

The following video shows Captain Jarboe’s multi-hull multi-boat in action –

 

 

In technical terms, this modular watercraft is composed of three catamaran kayaks.
It can take up to six adult passengers – three in each of the side boats, plus the captain, who’s driving it from the middle boat.  Its total load capacity is close to 2,000 lbs, which is the equivalent to the load capacity of a fairly large leisure boat, or skiff. The passengers can sit in various positions, and stand up anytime they want.

Captain Jarboe experimented with various configurations of this boat, and he found that attaching the two side boats slightly in front of the central boat provided optimal results as far as control goes, and minimizing spray intake from the bow.

This modular watercraft is extremely stable and seaworthy, yet nimble enough to allow for trips in the mangrove creeks around Key Largo, as can be seen in the video.

In a broader sense, this new concept opens new possibilities in leisure boating, namely using the same smaller boats separately as kayaks (under paddle) or skiffs (motorized) for crews of one to three persons, and as a multi-passenger boat with room on board for up to nine adult passengers, for leisure and fishing trips and for entertaining guests, family, etc.
In other words, instead of having a big and expensive pontoon boat attached to your dock, plus a multiple canoes and kayaks, you could have use three Wavewalk S4 kayak-skiffs, and easily create an ad-hoc big boat out of them anytime you need to.

Captain Jarboe’s innovative concept also opens the door for guides on a budget, who can operate a fleet of small, very shallow draft and relatively inexpensive boats that offer a wide variety of services, rather than a big and expensive boat that offers a limited range of services, and is also limited to traveling in much deeper water.

The following photo shows three fishermen fishing standing out of a Wavewalk S4, which is outfitted with a 6 HP outboard motor –

In other words, Captain Jarboe’s multi-boat dubbed S4x3 can be used by groups of fishers who need to cross rough waters on their way to fishing the flats, or mangrove creeks, and back from there. The advantage of this concept over using big motorboats is the ability to fish shallow water without fear of reefs, oyster beds, sand bars and low tides. Its advantage over using kayaks is the bigger range of travel, better comfort, better stability, and many times more storage space – both in a joint configuration and separately.

A breakthrough in skiff design and performance

Skiffs are small, open deck, typically flat bottomed boats that are similar to Jon boats, except for some characteristic structures such as a frontal casting deck, or platform, which most skiffs feature.
Skiffs are powered by outboard motors, and they are used mostly for recreational fishing in flat water, especially shallow water. A skiff may be required to travel through moving water, such as bays, tidal currents, and rivers.

The smaller skiffs are sometimes called micro skiffs, or microskiffs, and the smallest of them can carry no more than a single passenger going on a solo trip.
Even these skiffs of solitude are too heavy for car topping, especially by one person, and they lack a proper casting platform at the front. The best performance these very small skiffs can achieve in transportation terms is fitting on a pickup truck bed, and since the most lightweight of them weighs 150 lbs without the motor, one wonders how uploading and downloading it is even possible.

This sub category of solo skiffs is rather worthless for paddling, which can explain the motto “Forget About Paddling” coined by a manufacturer of one of these micro skiff.
In shallow water, paddling is the best alternative to motorizing, since motors are often prevented from proper functioning in such waters, be it as a result of too much draft, vegetation, underwater obstacles, or regulations. Therefore, the notion that anglers fishing out of small skiffs can forget about paddling is senseless.
The S4 cockpit features slanted sides that make it easy for the passengers to move their paddles closer to the boat, so this 38″ wide craft paddles more ergonomically, and feels like a narrower kayak in this sense, although in stability terms it’s more stable than any kayak.
And as for bigger skiffs, their users are forced to forget about paddling, and that’s too bad, since it reduces their mobility and limits their ability to fish in skinny water, and increases their exposure to unpleasant surprises at low tides, etc.

Lackluster performance can be expected from these small skiffs when it comes to seaworthiness, namely performance when driving or fishing in the ocean or in other moving water, and providing enough stability in the presence of wakes that big motorboats generate. This is reminding a similar problem that many Jon boat passengers and anglers experience.

The skiff is a successful boat design, especially in the southern states, where flats fishing is popular. However, as popular is it is, this design has left many problems unsolved, or poorly solved, so far.

The Wavewalk S4 – a revolutionary skiff, or a new type of boat?

The Wavewalk S4 performs in various conditions

Legally, the S4 is a kayak, and technically, it can be described as a catamaran. This is not a good start for a boat that claims to be a skiff. But its shallow draft and front deck can serve to justify its inclusion in the skiff category, at least in the sense that it offers to do what skiffs do, just better.

Better skiff in what sense? –

  1. Weight and portability – At 98 lbs without accessories, the S4 is significantly lighter than the lightest micro skiff out there. It is the only skiff that one person can easily car-top.
  2. Load capacity – With a weight to payload ratio that’s over 1:6 (the S4 can carry over 600 lbs on board), the S4 can carry up to three adult passengers or two large-size fishermen even in a motorized mode. This is over twice the load capacity of the micro skiff that’s closest in size to the S4 in weight, and it’s comparable to the performance of bigger skiffs.
  3. Stability – The S4 is more stable than any other small skiff, and the stability it offers is comparable to the stability that medium size skiffs offer.
  4. Balancing capability – A skiff that’s considerably bigger than the S4 can be more stable in absolute terms, namely resistance to change, but no skiff offers its passengers to ride a saddle seat that only high performance personal watercraft (PWC, or jet-ski) feature. This type of seat allows the users to balance themselves intuitively, and more effectively than any other type of seat does.
  5. Versatility and mobility – The S4 is the most versatile of skiffs, in the sense that it delivers top performance both when motorized and in a paddling mode. There is no other vessel whose user can host two extra passengers on board while driving in moving water, and later paddle it effectively in a solo mode on a long trip. Similarly, there is no other vessel that performs well both in the ocean and inland, in very shallow water.
  6. Seaworthiness – The S4 excels in going through waves, and it reacts extremely well to other boats’ wakes. Such performance isn’t typical for a small or even medium size skiff, and it can be found only in bigger models.
  7. Price to Performance – The S4 may not be the least expensive micro skiff on the market, since the solitude skiff is offered for less, but in terms of price to performance the S4 is in a league of its own, especially considering the fact that it is a trailer free boat, and trailers cost money.

For more information and demo videos visit the Wavewalk S4 skiff page »

Conclusion?

As shown here, the S4 barely fits in the micro skiff class, and it deserves to be in a class of its own. However, a class of boats with just one boat model in it is not a practical tool for classification, or for anything else. The S4 is somehow comparable to the Wavewalk 700 (W700), but again, a class of boats with just two boat models in it could be acceptable in design terms, but it would not serve its purpose in marketing terms.

And this article didn’t even touch the question of the S4 classification as a kayak…