There are tons of choices out there in terms of inflatable boats, and it could be a bit overwhelming. If you’re thinking about buying an inflatable boat, there are a few things you need to think about 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 select 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 different types of materials used to create the tubes upon an inflatable boat, we are going to focus on the two most durable fabrics: Inflatable Floating Platform. Those two fabric types are used by every major inflatable boat brand name and are a proven, time-tested – and battle-tested – way 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 is not made by DuPont, the concept lives on off their manufacturers. This coating – called CSM – provides surprising strength, and also the neoprene coating on the interior assists with sealing. Hypalon/CSM boats are hand-glued. Because building these boats is fairly labor-intensive, and as they are stronger, they cost more than boats produced from PVC. Hypalon/CSM inflatable boats are resistant to many different things, such as oil, abrasion, harsh temperatures, gasoline, as well as other chemicals. As a result 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 typically guaranteed for around five years or longer with ten years being the customary warranty for Hypalon/CSM boats.
PVC is a form of plastic coating laminate around a nylon fiber core. They could be assembled yourself, but are more regularly performed by machine, so they’re not as labor intensive. Therefore, boats made using PVC are generally cheaper than Hypalon inflatable boats. PVC is very tough and is easy to repair. It is really not quite as durable as Hypalon, however, and choosing a PVC boat for hot climates will require extra effort to keep. Usage of a boat cover is suggested, as well as liberal utilization of 303, a UV ray protectant. PVC provides great value for those using their inflatable in cooler climates such as in Seattle and also the Pacific Northwest, and are perfect for recreational use.
There are three different hull types available: roll-up, air floor, and rigid hull. A roll-up boat typically has a removable floor system, comprised of Drop Stitch Fabric and secured inside 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 compared to rigid hull boats, but heavier compared to air floors. Assembly can be tough, especially for folks who are independently. An inflatable keel for planing and tracking is normal.
The air floor boats work with an inflatable bladder because the floor, typically with drop-stitch construction. This implies there are many small strands of fibers inside the bladder that prevent ballooning. When properly inflated, air floors can seem to be as rigid as wood, and easily supports the weight of several adults as well as their gear! Air floor remains within the boat for storage, and rolls with the tubeset. Preparing the boat for use is very easy, as all one needs to do is get air into the floor and tubes; hardly any other installation is necessary. Air floors are also very lightweight and can be inflated on deck, even over hatches or any other obstructions that could make assembling a roll-up inflatable difficult or impossible. Air floor boats are generally higher priced than roll-ups but lower than gbpman hulls. Air floors could be replaced if damaged or worn. Inflatable keels are typical, with inflation sometimes plumbed in 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 comparable to traditional hulled boats; quick to have on step and can be used for many different purposes, including pulling a water skier. Virtually each of 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. Purchasing a RIB almost guarantees the requirement for a trailer for transport, so keep that added expense in your mind when you shop. There are a few smaller RIB’s (across the 10′ size) that provide a folding transom for easier storage; just deflate the tubes and fold the transom down to get a low profile.