There are plenty of choices out there with regards to 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 choose 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 select from several various kinds of materials used to create the tubes on an inflatable boat, we are going to focus on the two most durable fabrics: Inflatable Floating Platform. Those two fabric types are employed by every major inflatable boat brand name and are a proven, time-tested – and battle-tested – method to build an inflatable.
Fabric types – Hypalon was actually a proprietary synthetic rubber coating from DuPont, put on the outside of the fabric. As the Hypalon name brand has stopped being made by DuPont, the reasoning lives on using their company 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 very labor-intensive, and since they are stronger, they are more expensive than boats produced from PVC. Hypalon/CSM inflatable boats are resistant to a number of different things, such as oil, abrasion, harsh temperatures, gasoline, along with 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 around five-years or longer with ten years being the customary warranty for Hypalon/CSM boats.
PVC is a type of plastic coating laminate around a nylon fiber core. They could be assembled yourself, however are more regularly performed by machine, so they’re not nearly as labor intensive. Therefore, boats made using PVC are generally cheaper than Hypalon inflatable boats. PVC is very tough and is also easy to repair. It is not as durable as Hypalon, however, and choosing a PVC boat for hot climates is going to take extra effort to keep. Use of a boat cover is recommended, along with liberal usage of 303, a UV ray protectant. PVC provides great value for those making use of their inflatable in cooler climates such as in Seattle as well as the Pacific Northwest, and are ideal 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, composed of Drop Stitch Fabric and secured in the boat using aluminum rails called “stringers”. The stringers work as the backbone in the boat. There were inflatables which use a hinged floor system that rolls on top of the boat, and those are seldom seen. Roll-up boats are typically lighter compared to rigid hull boats, but heavier than the air floors. Assembly can be tough, especially for folks who are on their own. An inflatable keel for planing and tracking is typical.
Air floor boats work with an inflatable bladder as the floor, typically with drop-stitch construction. What this means is there are millions of small strands of fibers within the bladder that prevent ballooning. When properly inflated, air floors can feel as rigid as wood, and easily supports the load of several adults as well as their gear! Air floor remains in the boat for storage, and rolls on top of the tubeset. Preparing the boat for use is simple, as all you need to do is get air to the floor and tubes; not one other installation is necessary. Air floors are also very light-weight and may be inflated on deck, even over hatches or any other obstructions that will 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 can be replaced if damaged or worn. Inflatable keels are typical, with inflation sometimes plumbed into the floor making for extremely easy setup.
Rigid hull inflatables (commonly called RIB’s) give you 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 of the name brand luxury inflatables are RIBs. Hull construction can be made from Inflatable Drop Stitch, having a keel guard suggested for durable defense against rocks and beaching. Purchasing a RIB almost guarantees the necessity for a trailer for transport, so keep that added expense under consideration while shopping. There are a few smaller RIB’s (round 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.