I'm thinking of visiting some uninhabited Scottish islands just for some "wilderness hiking". Particularly attractive to me are those islands which don't have regular transport routes to and from them (for a wilderness in its purest sense), but on the flipside, I need to think about how I can get to such places!

I had the idea to take an inflatable dinghy and paddle across various straits in order to reach such islands. The idea of an inflatable dinghy is that it's (a) quite cheap, (b) quite easy to transport. However I don't have a lot of experience with them, and particularly, how far I can travel in them.

For example, the island of "Wiay, Skye" (not to be confused with the nearby "Wiay, Uist") is an uninhabited island off the coast of Skye. According to Google Maps it is only around 0.7 miles off the coast of Skye, although Wikipedia has it at 0.87 miles. As one commenter mentions below (thanks again), the waters around Scotland are typically quite rough, and so I couldn't guarantee perfectly still conditions. Is this a distance which it's feasible to travel in an inflatable dinghy? What is about the maximum distance which one should consider to travel in this way? What preparations should I make in order to travel such a distance?

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    I think your big variable could be currents and tides. What's fine on one stretch of water could be lethal on a different one, especially one with strong tidal flows and currents. Sadly for you, many of the scottish islands are well enough known for those that they're piloting tidal electric power generation off some of them!
    – Gagravarr
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 22:39
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    Have you considered a more appropriate craft such as a kayak? Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 23:49
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    I'm going to add a general caution that, unless you have extensive experience and are in superb condition, solo paddling is not advised. I realize that one mile doesn't seem like much ... until you're fighting a contrary wind. Of course, it's entirely possible that both of you will get blown into the North Atlantic.
    – kdgregory
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 11:13
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    @pnuts thanks for the suggestion, but I checked and most of the water tags over at TGO are related to how to carry water safely for consumption, or water sports, whereas my question is specifically about travelling across water, which there doesn't seem to be a tag for. Since crossing water is for me a means to an end (as opposed to an activity in itself) that's why I put the question on travel.SE. To be honest, I've got some great answers here @ travel.SE so far! And as to your second question, I would probably try to travel at the "safest" time of year, whenever that may be, probably summer!
    – Kidburla
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 22:01
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    @GregHewgill good suggestion - it's occurred to me that this question was probably asked in the wrong way. Rather than asking about the possible downsides of my preferred mode of transport, I should have asked for suggestions of the safest mode of transport. I'm thinking about raising another question along those lines.
    – Kidburla
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 22:07

3 Answers 3


Sounds severely risky. If you drift out to sea (which you might if the weather or the tides are not what you expect) then unless you can contact land - and don't count on your mobile phone - you could really be screwed.

RNLI guidance is clear: inflatables are great fun in pools but it is strongly advised that they are not used in the sea. If they are, only do so on a lifeguarded beach between the red and yellow flags.


Have you considered just paying a local with a boat (a proper boat) to take you over there and come back later to get you? Try phoning tourist information or the harbourmaster's office and they might be able to recommend a water taxi.

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    +1 for the last paragraph. It isn't what OP asked, but it's exactly what he needs to consider. Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 21:07
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    All the answers were good (three so far at this point) but I decided to mark this one as accepted because it referred to an external authoritative source. What I've come to realise by reading the answers is that it's not so much the distance I have to worry about, but the type of waters I would be travelling in. I guess even 0.1 miles would be dangerous in rough waters. I'm considering to raise another question to determine the best way for me to get across to the island (and general "lonely" Scottish isles) as there have been a couple of suggestions on this page.
    – Kidburla
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 22:14
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    I decided to not ask the follow-up question (at least not just yet) and pursue the idea of chartering a local boat as you suggest. There's a company called Wild Skye Tours who offer boat chartering from Carbost, which is about 8 miles from Wiay by boat, so I may get in touch with them. Thanks again!
    – Kidburla
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 22:46

It depends on what you mean by "dingy". Some of the inflatable crafts, such as the white water kayaks and sea kayaks are quite useful for long distance travel (much longer distances than you mention). But these inflatables are not lightweight, as they are built of heavy duty fabrics. So you would have to deal with transporting them while on the islands (or finding a place to secure them, in which case you could use any paddle craft).

If you are referring to the cheap, vinyl kids blow up boats, then they are not designed for open ocean travel. You need to consider where would you put your backpack (you can't wear it while paddling as the boat will be top heavy and tip over). Most do not have any directional controls (ie no keels or skegs to keep them going in a straight line), so you are going to have to steer constantly to keep on a direct line to the island ... and if there are currents or side winds, good luck. And the cheap vinyl is easily torn by rocks while landing, by your backpack clips, and other such bits leaving you stranded on a wilderness island.

Can it be done ... yes. Is it practical and safe ... not really.

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    +1, and I'll add two points: (1) the shape presents a lot of resistance, and (2) assuming no rigid structure, and oar-locks glued to the gunwales, a lot of energy will be dissipated before it ever gets to move water. Both of which make paddling a blow-up dinghy a painful experience.
    – kdgregory
    Commented Oct 28, 2014 at 11:09

I'm no expert. I've had 3 people known to me die together in 'interesting conditions' - not in an inflatable boat but in a "dinghy" when a new outboard failed on a test run - where I would not have expected them to die.

I'd say at a minimum you want a rudder - can be quite rudimentary (groan) and still very useful. I had a friend with a kayak who added a rudder and told how it transformed the experience in a cross wind. Plus ...

Some sort of keel or means of reacting side forces into the water (dropboard maybe). And ...

A super marvellous device, a sail. The sail can also be rudimentary and still make a vast difference. I've seen NZ adventure programs where a jury rigged sail using a ground sheet turned an inflatable nightmare paddling journey on a long rough NZ lake into something of a joyful roller coaster. (They don't show you the helicopter stage off waiting to rescue them.). BUT perhaps the most useful add on would be a small electric motor and a battery. You don't specify what wait is tolerable but it meets your 'quit easy to transport' criteria, can be quite cheap if improvised and can be exceeding useful. you can but small electric trolling motors and "Kontiki" motors but cost is usually high for what you get. A suitable quality battery drill is liable to have what it takes to be useful. [I've dismantled and used quite a few for their motors and integral gearboxes. The best are reasonable. The worst are not. ]

You can get purpose built electric people pullers that provide prop and gearbox & motor. You'd probably want to use an external battery. -

A small internal combustion engine will give you substantially better energy density than the best battery except for short runs where the electric motor may be much lighter than the I/C motor. ie a super teen tiny outboard motor.


People happily Kayak the km or so here Belmont to Rangitoto in conditions I'd not trust. A rubber boat would be "a challenge".

An enthusiastic multi-sports enthusiast used to commute daily to and fro across the Maraetai-Waiheke leg - looks like about 6km. Again - in a kayak.

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