You want to buy a Belly Boat (also Belly Boat) or have always been interested in this kind of locomotion on the water and the associated fishing? Then you can expect in this article a wealth of information on the purchase and operation, the most important accessories, tips for successful fishing with this vehicle, as well as recommendations for suitable fish finders for belly boats. In detail, we clarify questions about:
- What is a belly boat?
- Belly boat types: Are there differences?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of boat?
- Is a wide range of accessories for belly boats recommended?
- Which fish finder should I choose for my belly boat?
- Buying a belly boat: Our recommendations.
- How to fish with the belly boat?
- Safety: top priority for the Belly Boat?
- Final consideration: fishing with the belly boat.
Undeniably, fishing success on most waters can be significantly improved by using a boat. Possible hotspots that are inaccessible from land can be fished without any problems. The belly boat occupies a special position among the means of transport that are of interest to us anglers. It can still be used where classic watercraft can only be used with great effort or practically not at all.
1. What is a belly boat?
Accommodating such a quantity of luggage on a ¾ square meter, bulging rubber tube is a challenge. Careful planning, even when choosing the boat itself, is therefore a must. In practice, of course, it is easier if the manufacturer has already answered the relevant questions. These include, for example :
- How to attach rod holder, sonar transducer or fish finder to belly boat?
- And where can the necessary utensils such as the fish finder battery, connection cable, etc. be stowed?
But more about that later.
Anyone who wants to buy a belly boat may encounter stressed dealers. Belly boats currently enjoy great popularity because they are relatively inexpensive to purchase, as well as easy to handle in one-man operation. A larger trunk for transport is sufficient. And at home you can quickly find a corner where the device can be stored folded.
In the classic belly boat, which usually comes in a V or U shape, the angler sits more or less deep in the water (depending on the model). With flippers on his feet, he moves forward and has both hands free for fishing. What seems desirable at first glance is disadvantageous for the angler during longer fishing trips and cold water. The permanent immersion of the limbs in the water, quickly leads to hypothermia. This should not be underestimated. A wader (neoprene) is therefore mandatory as an accessory, even if that drives up the cost somewhat.
But do not worry, belly boat designers have also addressed this issue. That is why there are types of boats on the market that can be used in “dry” condition. This requires a different type of propulsion, mostly with oars or else with an electric motor. The advantages and disadvantages of the individual types of construction and the special features of one or the other model are explained in more detail below.
2. Belly boat types: Are there differences?
All belly boats that follow the V or U shape have more or less the same design principle. They differ only in size, materials used and equipment details. All three factors determine the price, which may well be in the high three-digit range. In addition, another type has established itself, which probably arose from the hype surrounding SUPs. It is characterized by a platform design that allows even standing fishing on the water.
The third type in the bunch is an old acquaintance boat-wise with two inflatable outriggers. This belly boat is marketed as a catamaran or pontoon type and has its own fan base. With the decision to buy a belly boat, you can not avoid a closer look at the different design principles.
3. what are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of boat?
So in the following chapters we will go into more detail about the differences and advantages and disadvantages of the three different types of belly boats. Starting with
3.1 The classic (V- or U-shape)
This can typically be recognized by its inflatable boat silhouette. It does not have any fixed components and, like its air-filled relatives in the multi-chamber system, is merely inflated. This facilitates handling immensely, but cannot always meet the stability requirements (and here especially in the seat area), especially with inexpensive models.
This type of boat is propelled by leg movement with the flippers. Depending on the design, oars are also supplied. Due to the design specifications and a low center of gravity, the angler sits in the water only with the legs or up to the buttocks. A heat-protective waders prevents hypothermia. Equipment and carrying capacity are the cost drivers for the purchase. De facto, you can buy such a belly boat already for 200 €. For about 500 € you are in the middle class.
Those who choose this type will have to get used to the obligatory waders, but in return can move safely on the water with a rather low center of gravity. However, the fin drive is less suitable for longer distances. The maneuverability is likewise not the possible optimum. On the other hand, you don’t have to worry about the boat’s susceptibility to wind.
- Inexpensive purchase possible,
- easy handling,
- problem-free storage,
- both hands free for fishing,
- low center of gravity on the water and
- less susceptible to wind.
- Hypothermia possible (waders necessary),
- Stability restrictions in the seat area possible,
- Maneuverability not optimal,
- Scouring effect due to use of fins,
- Extension options depending on equipment and
- usually additional equipment (waders, fins) necessary.
3.2 The flat former
As the name suggests, this type of boat has more similarity with an inflatable SUP (Stand Up Paddle Boat) than with a classic Belly Bοot. Its relatively large bearing surface on the water increases its stability and thus allows standing fishing. Fins propulsion is possible with this design as well as locomotion with oars. These are usually included in the delivery. Some models even bring the transom for motor mounting.
Apart from this device, which is inserted into suitable rubber eyelets during assembly, this variant does not require any rigid components. It is therefore only inflated and can be conveniently folded again for transport. When sitting elevated above the waterline, the legs hang in the water – so appropriate thermal protection will be necessary in case of doubt. In terms of price, we are in a range from 600 €.
- Very stable water position,
- standing fishing possible,
- high payload,
- directionally stabilized (three fins in the bottom area),
- optional drive type,
- both hands free for fishing (fin operation),
- easy handling as well as
- trouble-free storage and transport.
- Additional costs (waders, fins),
- high acquisition costs,
- higher weight,
- larger transport volume and
- also not in the program of all manufacturers.
3.3 The catamaran
With two separate hose chambers on the left and right, the catamaran type, which can also be found under the search term Pontoon Belly Boat, is visually further away from the classic. Constructively, a steel frame (partly hardened aluminum) is used here, which is plugged together during assembly. This subsequently provides the support for the central seat unit and the footrests on the left and right. This makes dry operation possible and the entire vehicle is very stable in its basic construction. This creates the possibility of all desirable extensions such as motor operation, battery storage, rod holder and fish finder to attach without problems.
The catamaran type is rowed or moved by the electric motor. It is very stable on the water. Due to the higher seating position, it gives the angler a better overview. The outriggers guide the boat course stable and maneuverable at the same time. Small contact surfaces in the water mean less friction, so that even longer distances can be mastered with less effort. However, a somewhat higher susceptibility to wind must be accepted.
- Secure water position,
- dry operation possible,
- stable basic construction and
- good expansion possibilities.
- Relatively high purchase price,
- higher weight,
- elaborate structure,
- wind susceptibility,
- drive type without fins and
- less choice.
4. Is a wide range of accessories for belly boats recommended?
When buying a belly boat, it is almost always necessary to calculate the cost of additional accessories. The scope of delivery usually only includes an air pump and a transport bag. To be happy with the vehicle on the water, the basic equipment must therefore be supplemented with one or the other accessory.
Depending on the manufacturer and type of boat, the selected model at least already has zipper pockets and possibly also universal mounting options for rod holders or fish finders. Here you should know which belly boat accessories are desired in further consequence. This saves the search for suitable mounting options and OEM mounting aids afterwards.
The universal is a textile belt that is strapped around the hose. Attached to this is a piece of plastic tube to hold the rod. This simple and at the same time effective method is easy to implement yourself. The easiest way is to tie it and a piece of shrink tubing (possibly with glue), which additionally tightens the tube on the belt by heating.
It’s just as easy to get the sonar transducer in the water. To do this, use a tube-in-tube method with set screws to make the transducer adjustable in height. High for transport, lower for operation. Of course, you can also buy such belt solutions ready-made. It is much better, however, if the manufacturer supplies them as part of the design.
Rod holders can be mounted on universal mounting points on the belly boat, for example. Sonars also fit on such mounting islands. At best, these are already available or you can attach them yourself (e.g. using FASTen locks). Suitable accessories can be found from the same supplier.
The third solution is bracket tabs or tube mounts behind the seat back. This works quite well even with inflatable seats. All other utensils necessary for fishing, you stow in the usually supplied bags. There also fits the personal food ration.
Larger items such as the wading net and the box (insulated bag) for the caught fish belong behind the seat. This storage space is important. The area depends on the size of the belly boat, so you should not choose too small. Last but not least, a support surface (table) in front of the seat position is helpful in practice as a storage place. Usually it is a stretched net, which can be quickly attached and removed. This belly boat accessory belongs on the MUST list, if it is not already included.
- Some consider it superfluous because fishing is only done in the shallows anyway.
- The others do not want to give up having information about the bottom of the water and the occurrence of fish.
In the end, it is always a question of cost. Who already calls a fish finder his own that is suitable for use on the belly boat, which should not abandon the use. For new purchases, the question arises:
- Which model,
- with which features and
- what screen size
may it be?
5. Which fish finder for the belly boat?
Let’s first discuss the screen size. Some belly boat users swear by 4-inch devices because they are so beautifully small, handy, light and unobtrusive. The fishing depth is displayed quite reliably on these devices. All other information up to the fish echoes should be sufficiently informative for the usual water depths up to approx. 20 m. In addition, there is the price. Such devices are, depending on the equipment, with transmitter somewhere between one and two hundred euros.
Other users refer to the usual 6-inch size of their smartphone and consider a 5-inch device to be the suitable solution. With a 5-inch device, you are definitely right at home on the Belly Boat. Compared to the 4-inch models, the screen is significantly larger, has a better resolution and thus displays more details. The technical screen quality with anti-reflective coating, brightness and contrast reproduction as well as viewing angle stability also speaks for this size. Likewise, the higher transmission power of the device, which ensures better fish finder images even in shallow water.
And last but not least, those who want to use the mapping capabilities of their device should leave the 4-inch models out. If you have ambitions to use a SideScan mode, you will only find one in the 5-inch range (or higher) anyway. Larger screens than 5 inches are possible for the Belly Boat – but not always recommended. Unless you already own one. However, one must be aware that the large housing can limit the radius of action on the boat. Also, the power consumption requires larger sonar sounder batteries and all together means additional weight.
One thing should not be forgotten when using the sonar on the belly boat. At shallow water depths, the area that the sonar signal can cover is sometimes small. All the more important in these water regions is a large opening angle of the transducer, which can scan the shallow area more comprehensively.
An example: The Garmin Gt20 transducer has an aperture angle of 45° at 200 Khz. At a water depth of three meters, this means a circular coverage with a diameter of 2.5 m; at 6 m, this would be around 5 m. A Humminbird Dual Beam Si transducer with 74° aperture at 3 m water depth provides a coverage area of 5 m in diameter, at 6 m depth it would already be 9 m
Here you will learn everything about “How do fish finders work and how do you use them“.
5.1 Recommended 4-inch device: Garmin Striker Plus 4cv, GT20 transducer
With 300 W system power and modern sonar technology, the Striker Plus 4cv is technically well equipped. This Garmin fish finder not only makes use of the modern chirp sonar, it also supplies the good Gt20 dual beam transducer, which can chirp in dual frequency mode (77 / 200 Khz) with 20 Khz frequency width. The images are well structured and detailed in the display.
In this price range, you can be satisfied with the scan results even in downscan mode. With Garmin Quick Draw Contours, the device also has the option to create your own depth maps of your personal favorite waters. A GPS module is built in and allows all basic functions to find successful fishing spots.
- GPS fish finder with 4.3-inch display, industry-leading fish finder and Quickdraw contours mapping software.
- Includes transducer for integrated traditional CHIRP, as well as CHIRP-ClearVü.
- Integrated Garmin Quickdraw contours map software to create and save maps with depth contours of 1 foot (30 cm) for up to 2 million acres (8000 km²).
- Integrated GPS for marking waypoints, creating routes and displaying the speed of the boat.
- Bright 4.3-inch display, easy to read even in sunlight, and intuitive user interface.
- Robust design suitable for all fishing conditions.
- Price: about 200,00 €
5.2 Good choice for the 5-incher: Lowrance Hook 5 Reveal with HDI transducer
In the third Hook generation, the devices and HDI transducers have been fundamentally revised. As a result, we now have Chirp in parallel with DownScan and the Reveal function as a special treat. In the Reveal process, the fish arches from 2D are fitted into the DownScan image as illuminated arcs, so that an optimal representation of the detected fish population is directly available.
This Lowrance fish finder makes adjustments and fine tuning automatically. No manual adjustment is needed to get the best images, so it’s perfect for belly boats. Finding fish can be so easy with the right sonar.
- Genesis Live Real-Time Mapping,
- automatic fine tuning,
- 83 / 200 HDI transducer with CHIRP and DownScan,
- SolarMAX display with 800×480 pixels,
- Transmitting power 500 W,
- Keypad operation with access,
- microSD card slot and
- GPS with chart plotter.
- Also, mapping options such as C-MAP, C-MAP Genesis or Navionics.
- Price: about 320,00 €
5.3 The Belly Boat Highlight: Humminbird Helix 5 SI CHIRP GPS with G2 transducer (model year 2020 with Si transducer)
In the 5-inch range, this Humminbird fish finder is an absolute highlight on the belly boat – not only for friends of pelagic and vertical fishing. With real chirp in all three fish finder modes (2D, Down- and SideScan), the autochart live mapping system as well as a simplified operation (reflex menu), the extremely differentiated, detail-resolved images convince all along the line. Humminbird has done a good job here, both in terms of equipment and technology. With the SideScan function, guessing where the fish is currently located on the Belly Boat is no longer an issue.
Some highlights of the fish finder:
- True chirp and switchfire in 2D, down and side image.
- 3-frequency transducer SI with 2 x 85° transmit cone, 455 kHz @ -10dB and 20° & 60°-
Transmit Cone, 200 & 83 kHz @ -10dB (Side Imaging 180° coverage, Dual
Beam PLUS™ with SwitchFire and Down Imaging).
- Autochart Live creates depth maps in real time.
- Jigging mode for vertical and pelagic fishing.
- Screen 800 x 480 pixels with 256 colors in 16:9 format.
- Transmitting power 500 watts.
- Reflex interface for intuitive and easy operation.
- Various setting options, e.g. for the transmission frequencies or transducer angles.
- SD card slot.
- Chart plotter function with common nautical charts.
- Precise GPS with high sensitivity.
- Humminbird Unimap Sea Chart Europe pre-installed.
- Price with SI transducer: about 465,00 €
6. Buy a belly boat: Our recommendations
When selling fish finders, many dealers experience that customers exceed their price range, sometimes considerably. The reason: The customer wants to buy the latest technology. Whether he needs it, is rather not questioned. Well, an overqualified fish finder does no harm. In the end, one has only spent too much money.
With the belly boat, the conditions look quite different. Our safety on the water depends on this vehicle. So every decision for or against a certain model always has to do with the question of how much my own well-being is worth to me. Anyone who has internalized this when buying such a vessel will look very carefully at what is offered to him. In case of doubt, you will also have to question your budget limits. Here, however, under a different premise than when buying a fish finder.
The vehicle is made of 5-layer PVC, which brings a mass of 950 g / m². All main seams are welded. This is important for durability and tightness reasons and is not standard for a long time for most representatives of the genre, which mainly come from Chinese factories.
With a hose diameter of 32 cm and a length of about 170 cm are more than 250 kg load capacity on offer. 55 cm seat width ensure freedom of movement when fishing even for stronger sports enthusiasts. Buoyancy reserves are available even when fully equipped with equipment and choppy weather enough. With three separate air chambers in the hose, the compressed air seat and insert floor, there are a total of five separate air-filled units that ensure a high safety standard.
Five usable mounting islands with FASTen universal locks on the hoses, two mounting rails (lieks) each on the left and right side of the hoses and two slide-in holders (plastic loops) on the seat back make the Optimus Max suitable for the vast majority of equipment wishes out of the box. Rod storage no problem, either in the plastic loops at the back of the seat or / and in two supplied FASTen rod holders that are clicked into the locks.
A FASTen mounting platform is provided for the fish finder and the also supplied articulated rod for the transducer is pushed into one of the mounting rails (Leaks). Preferably in the rear area, so that the water flow does not interfere with the echo during fin movement. FASTen-Borika oars made of coated aluminum with patented FASTen oarlocks form the second drive concept of the Optimus Max. The oars also fit into the rod holders on the seat, in case the rack on the side tubes should interfere.
Another PLUS are the removable bags with 27 liters volume each. This provides enough storage space even for extensive accessories. The workmanship, the quality of the zippers and the strap material used for fastening are designed for continuous use. Finally, the scope of delivery also includes an adjustable FASTen anchor clamp and eight mounted stainless steel D-rings. They are distributed around the boat in key locations. An electric motor option is also available.
A suitable engine mirror can be retrofitted at any time. There are two types of mirrors to choose from: One for the pointed bow, and another for side mounting. Accessories such as a telescopic rod for the Lonako position light and the towing pennant, additional FASTen holders, rod holders or articulated rods for the action camera can also be retrofitted if required. Overall, many details are right with this boat, because they were first thought practical and then consistently executed in high quality.
So how can you proceed if you want to buy a belly boat? First, we put all the features of this boat in a table, in which you can enter in parallel the boat or boats that you have in mind for purchase. In a direct comparison, one will then compare one’s choice with the optimized boat shown here, calculate the accessories and calculate the final price. After that, it is easy to estimate what you get for your money and how practical it is.
Criteria for buying a belly boat:
|Elling Optimus Max|
Price : 845,00€
|Material usage||PVC 950 g/m²|
|Air chambers base||three|
|Total air chambers||five|
|Load capacity||> 250 kg|
|Pump and repair kit||Yes|
|Pockets||2 x 27 l|
|Seat above water||Yes|
|Ground plane solid||Yes|
|Floor support air filled||Yes|
|Seat air filled||Yes|
|Tensioning net rear||Yes|
|Mounting rails Leaks||four|
|FASTen universal lock||five|
|D-rings stainless steel||eight|
|FASTen rod holder||two|
|FASTen sounder platform||one|
|FASTen tilt rod for the transducer||one|
|FASTen anchor leash clamp||one|
|Engine mirror||Available as accessories|
|Additional FASTen accessories available, |
e.g. for GoPro
|Total price||845 €|
7. How to fish with the belly boat?
Let’s go in order. The Belly Boat itself fits into a large sports bag – or, depending on the packing format, into a cuboid packing format. In terms of luggage space, any medium-sized and not too shallow luggage compartment of a car is suitable for transport. However, if you want to go on vacation with the whole family, you should have a large van, because a mid-size station wagon can be a bit cramped. In terms of weight, we are in the range of less than 20 kg. So it can still be carried well alone. Often the transport bag can also be packed with straps on the back. Ready-built boats sometimes also have this option.
The boat assembly with all accessories takes about 20 minutes. With a lot of routine it also goes faster. The volume of the air pump of course has an influence on the time. In a jiffy it goes electrically, but then the car must be handy or the fish finder battery is in use. With electrically operated pumps, a pressure limit should be adjustable. No one wants overstretched seams or hoses because they were not inflated carefully. As an insider tip are considered battery-powered air pumps, which are very handy and have pressure limits. These are great for inflating a belly boat and are also recommended for emergencies on the water. The cost of one is manageable at around €40.
When entering the water, there must be enough water under the boat to avoid damage. With a boat on the bottom nothing goes forward anyway. Walking with fins is a little unusual. But the movement with the flotation devices in the water to move forward is mastered intuitively.
For rods, small types around 2 m in length are advisable. A short handle length is also an advantage. Anything else is unwieldy and spoils the pleasure of fishing quickly and permanently. Special care is required with the hooks. Horror scenarios such as “hook slips out with big fish close to the boat” could lead to the realization that “the air goes out!
What takes some getting used to is the feeling of sitting a bit on the turntable. When drilling a larger fish, this is rather advantageous, because the change of direction of the fish can be followed quickly. Due to the small boat dimensions, there is also no problem if the fish pulls under the boat. The landing net is on board in the wading version. You sit directly at the fish to be landed. On the belly boat no one knows anyway where to put long handles when the fish changes sides.
Here, order fanatics are clearly at an advantage. There is little room to look for anything. Pointed objects are enemies of the floating base and it is difficult to sit on hooks anyway.
As soon as the longed-for fish is hooked, the question arises: “Where to put it? On the boat it can sometimes get quite warm – thank PVC. The only thing that helps is the expert method: pull the fish onto a string and leave it in the water to cool it down. That’s what the Native Americans did when they went canoeing on the great lakes.
What knowledge remains? When deciding to buy a belly boat, you should take your time to carefully weigh all the criteria. Fishing with such a boat is a lot of fun and justifies the effort. It feels like you are closer to the action on the rubber tire. With the right evening mood or early morning fog, you literally melt into the elements. This may well be due to the fact that part of the body is permanently submerged.
8. Safety: top priority for the Belly Boat?
Of course, no one will disagree – even if the reality is often different. Let’s be clear: our lives depend on a piece of inflated hose that will surely sink with even minor leaks. The question arises, who has already made swimming attempts with clothes and waders? The answer no one wants to know.
The important thing is: everyone must be aware of the risk of belly boat use. Especially if he is on the move on larger waters. Appropriate safety equipment should always be on board in case of emergency. Experts also recommend wearing a life jacket at all times. Otherwise, carrying an air pump, signal whistle and a waterproof packed cell phone can actually only be useful. And if you’re traveling with a partner, you’re well protected against all eventualities.
9. Final consideration: fishing with the belly boat
Anyone who has ever been on the road with a belly boat can experience two things. Either enthusiasm sets in – or frustration. Both are very close to each other. A belly boat is small, cramped and not very suitable for storing a lot of stuff and keeping it handy. If you are not well prepared, especially as a newcomer, you can quickly get nervous and wish everything to hell. On the other hand, the vehicle opens up unimagined possibilities to fish successfully and feel at one with its waters and nature. However, the highest premise is to always proceed in a calm and relaxed manner. So why not buy a Belly Boat and try it out for yourself?