Best 12-Volt Pumps for Kayaks, Inflatable Boats, and SUPs
As teenagers, my brother and I saved our lawn mowing money to buy a used Sea Eagle inflatable boat.
We had a lot of fun with it. The boat had a hard bottom but large inflatable sides and a 5-horsepower outboard motor. It was great for zipping out for a morning of predawn fishing before we had to rush into school.
Whether you are looking to inflate your fishing boat, your kayak, or stand up paddleboard, here is the list of pumps that get you into the water fast!
Most of our competitor's blogs will provide a list of inflators to choose from, but -- as you'll see from our notes below -- most of the ones they recommend are underpowered, and not designed for watercraft.
Our article explains why you need a specialized inflator for your boat.
FAQ: Is a 12 Volt Air Compressor My Best Choice?
There are a lot of excellent 12-volt air compressors available. Tool Tally has a good example list of them. These are designed to inflate your car tires with high pressure but are deficient in the volume of air flow they produce.
One of the great dichotomies of air pressure is that higher pressure means lower flow. Higher flow comes with lower pressure (physics, or so they tell me).
Since you don't need high-pressure for your inflatable boat, you are better off choosing a High-Volume, Low-Pressure Inflator that can make quicker work of inflating your boat.
There are some H3 to Schrader valve adapters out there. If you have a boat that requires extremely high pressure (over 10 PSI), it might save you some time to inflate the boat to 10 PSI with a device below, and then switch to a high-powered air compressor. But the time savings will be pretty minimal (a few minutes).
FAQ: Which Adapter Do I Need for My Boat?
All of these pumps offer the standard marine adapter referred to as the "Halkey Roberts" or "H3" connection. These pumps aren't suitable for airing up items like an air bed that doesn't have this connection.
FAQ: How Much PSI Do You Need?
For most inflatable Stand Up Paddle Boards, you'll want to have at least 10 PSI of pressure. That is more than your average "Air bed" inflator can provide, but way less than an air compressor is designed to produce.
A Kayak or boat will need around 2.5 PSI to 3.2 PSI, depending on the model. A high-quality airbed inflator should be able to output that amount. (Cheaper inflators max out around .5 PSI and are inadequate)
The two compressors that I review below are designed to deliver the high-volume you need for a quick fill, with enough PSI to make sure your boat or iSUP is adequately inflated.
Sea Eagle Inflatable Pump
My brother and I started with the Sea Eagle foot pump. It is probably one of the best foot pumps out there with a large bellow and an easy spring action. However, even with two teenagers taking turns stomping on it, the process of inflating the boat was longer than we really liked. The workout required to inflate our boat was the worst part of owning an inflatable.
Their electric pump takes all of the pain out of it. This one has a little bit bigger motor than what you are going to find in your average off-the-shelf airbed inflator. The bigger box size not only allows for the bigger motor and fan but also facilitates airflow to keep the motor from overheating.
What is unique about this compressor is two-stage inflation. Anyone who has tried inflating an air bed with an off-the-shelf inflator has probably experienced the frustration that the bed or inflatable is never truly "full."
No matter how much you let it pump, your inflatable is a little "soft."
One solution has been to keep a handheld pump around. You can use the inflator to blow a large volume of air in and then add a little bit of pressure with the hand pump to finish it off.
The Sea Eagle combined this 2-pump design into one unit. You have the fan-type compression that blows a large volume of low-pressure air. This delivers the speed inflation that you need.
Then, there is a pump-type compressor that delivers 14 PSI air pressure at a lower volume to deliver that nice, taut finished inflation. Most boats only need 2.5 PSI, but that 14 PSI comes in handy for inflating SUPs.
Start to finish; most boats can be inflated in two minutes or less.
This one is a purely 12 volt model with two alligator clips that connect it to your vehicle's battery. The power cord is almost 9 feet long, giving you room to work without being right next to your car.
The included bag makes it easy to store the pump either with your water gear or in your car for easy use. It also comes with a 6-foot hose, which is the perfect length for easy reach without being unwieldy.
As with the Tower pump below, this one only has the H3 connector for use with most recessed boat valves. It is not suitable for use with an air bed or towable.
Tower is a brand that you likely recognize for their line of stand up paddle boards. Accordingly, they have created a stellar pump to go alongside their watercraft.
Their unit is a little smaller and comes with a handle for easy carrying. It also comes with a cigarette lighter for plugging it into your car. This is awesome for those of us who don't enjoy poking around a greasy engine to connect to a battery (have you ever gotten grease on your board shorts the first thing in the morning? It isn't cool.).
The auto-shut-off feature is cool, for inflating boats that have the H3 connector.
The shut-off feature prevents over-inflation and, should you have a good connection with the nozzle, it lets you walk away and prep the rest of your gear while the pump works.
Just like the Sea Eagle above, it is worth noting that it only comes with an H3 connector. This is the adapter that twist-connects to your boat.
This one also has dual stage inflation. It will fill the boat rapidly at about 1 PSI and then switch to the high-pressure mode to take it the rest of the way. It maxes out at about 20 PSI, so be sure to watch the gauge, as that is more than most watercraft need.
With both of these pumps, the higher the PSI that you want, the longer it will take to inflate. If you just need a couple of PSI, then the high-volume mode is going to get you there in a few minutes. Even inflating to 10 PSI is pretty quick. But getting it up to 20 PSI may take closer to 20 minutes.
Both the Sea Eagle and the Tower are similar, high-quality, dual-stage pumps that connect to a car battery and are great for inflating your boats. Our hat tip goes to the Sea Eagle. The Sea Eagle brand has been around since before Stand Up Paddle Boards were even an idea, and they continue to lead the way in quality and brand performance.