There are tons of choices out there when it comes to inflatable boats, and it could be a bit overwhelming. If you are thinking about buying an inflatable boat, there are a few things you need to consider before diving head-first into a purchase. PVC or Hypalon? Roll-up, air floor, or rigid hull? These are the questions that you must answer, and we’ll help you pick the one that’s right for you once you’ve explored the options. Now, let’s go over what distinguishes one inflatable boat from another, because they’re not all made the same.
While manufacturers can decide on several various kinds of materials employed to make the tubes on an inflatable boat, we are going to focus on the two most durable fabrics: Inflatable Floating Platform. These two fabric types are utilized by every major inflatable boat logo and certainly are a proven, time-tested – and battle-tested – approach to build an inflatable.
Fabric types – Hypalon was a proprietary synthetic rubber coating from DuPont, applied to the outside of the material. As the Hypalon brand name has stopped being made by DuPont, the concept lives on from other manufacturers. This coating – called CSM – provides surprising strength, and the neoprene coating on the interior helps with sealing. Hypalon/CSM boats are hand-glued. Because building these boats is fairly labor-intensive, and because they are more durable, they are more expensive than boats made from PVC. Hypalon/CSM inflatable boats are immune to several different things, like oil, abrasion, harsh temperatures, gasoline, and other chemicals. Because of being so hardy, they’re considered ideal for boating in extreme conditions or perhaps for boaters who won’t be deflating their boats repeatedly. These boats are usually guaranteed for about 5 years or longer with 10 years being the customary warranty for Hypalon/CSM boats.
PVC is a kind of plastic coating laminate around a nylon fiber core. They could be assembled by hand, but they are more often performed by machine, so they’re not nearly as labor intensive. Therefore, boats made using PVC are generally less expensive than Hypalon inflatable boats. PVC is very tough and is also very easy to repair. It is really not as durable as Hypalon, however, and choosing a PVC boat for hot climates will require extra effort to keep up. Usage of a boat cover is usually recommended, as well as liberal use of 303, a UV ray protectant. PVC provides great value for those utilizing their inflatable in cooler climates like in Seattle and also the Pacific Northwest, and are perfect for recreational use.
You will find three different hull types available: roll-up, air floor, and rigid hull. A roll-up boat typically features a removable floor system, comprised of Drop Stitch Fabric and secured within the boat using aluminum rails called “stringers”. The stringers serve as the backbone in the boat. There has been inflatables designed to use a hinged floor system that rolls up with the boat, which are seldom seen. Roll-up boats are usually lighter than the rigid hull boats, but heavier than the air floors. Assembly can be challenging, particularly for people that are independently. An inflatable keel for planing and tracking is normal.
The air floor boats use an inflatable bladder because the floor, typically with drop-stitch construction. This means there are many small strands of fibers within the bladder that prevent ballooning. When properly inflated, air floors can feel as rigid as wood, and simply supports the load of various adults as well as their gear! The air floor remains in the boat for storage, and rolls on top of the tubeset. Preparing the boat to use is very easy, as all one needs to do is get air to the floor and tubes; no other installation is necessary. Air floors can also be very light weight and can be inflated right on deck, even over hatches or any other obstructions that would make assembling a roll-up inflatable difficult or impossible. Air floor boats are typically higher priced than roll-ups but lower than gbpman hulls. Air floors can be replaced if damaged or worn. Inflatable keels are typical, with inflation sometimes plumbed to the floor making for extremely easy setup.
Rigid hull inflatables (commonly called RIB’s) provide the best performance, and not just because they are usually rated for higher horsepower outboards than comparable length roll-ups or air floors. The RIB has planing characteristics similar to traditional hulled boats; quick to have on step and can be used as a variety of purposes, including pulling a water skier. Virtually all the name brand luxury inflatables are RIBs. Hull construction can be created from Inflatable Drop Stitch, with a keel guard suggested for durable protection from rocks and beaching. Investing in a RIB almost guarantees the requirement for a trailer for transport, so keep that added expense in mind when shopping. There are a few smaller RIB’s (across the 10′ size) that offer a folding transom for easier storage; just deflate the tubes and fold the transom down to get a low profile.