When you think of boats, you probably picture heavy, shiny metal or fiberglass crafts glinting in the summer sun. But there’s another type to consider: the inflatable boat.
The hallmark of the inflatable boat is the air-inflated tubes made of durable materials including PVC and Hypalon. These tubes, which increase in diameter for longer boats, provide tremendous buoyancy, allowing for more passengers than a fiberglass boat of the same size. Put everyone on one side in an inflatable boat and it stays balanced.
Added buoyancy gives inflatable boats a striking ability to handle bumpy seas in any type of waterway. And, thanks to their buoyancy, inflatable boats shine in shallow water.
What Floats Your Boat?
Inflatable boats feature either a pliable hull or hard hull. The pliable bottom ranges up to 10 or 12 feet The hard hull, referred to as a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), is seen in boats 10 feet and longer, reaching nearly 30 feet for recreational models. RIBs feature either a fiberglass or an aluminum hull. Consider aluminum RIBs when your boating pursuits will be on lakes and rivers or waters with rocky bottoms and shores.
Get Up and Go
Most inflatable boats – whether RIB or pliable-hulled – are powered by a single outboard, but not all.
A variety of different power configurations are possible, including twin outboards for RIBs above 25 feet, gasoline- or diesel-powered stern drive as well as jet drive, which is ideal for shallow waters.
Big Things Come in Small Packages
An important benefit of the inflatable boat is its low weight. Low weight results in fuel savings on the water and on land when trailering. A lighter boat allows a smaller vehicle to tow the boat to your cabin. And storage couldn’t be easier. The tubes can be deflated and re-inflated easily, making it possible for you to store the inflatable in just a small garage when your boat is not in use.
On the Water
In the on-water ride department, inflatable boats typically feature hulls with sufficient deadrise (more vee shape) at the transom to handle bumpy conditions.
If your waterway is prone to big waves, consider a hull that also has plenty of vee near the bow. With more forward hull depth, the tubes will do a better job of knocking down the spray from the waves, keeping the cockpit and passengers dry.
And yes, today’s inflatables include an ever-expanding list of features and options like sturdy pylons for towing water-skiers and wakeboarders, live wells and storage for anglers, and racks that hold air tanks and gear for divers.