There are a lot 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 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 have to 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 decide on several various kinds of materials employed to make 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 and are a proven, time-tested – and battle-tested – method to build an inflatable.
Fabric types – Hypalon had been a proprietary synthetic rubber coating from DuPont, put on the exterior of the fabric. As the Hypalon brand is not produced by DuPont, the concept lives on off their manufacturers. This coating – called CSM – provides surprising strength, and 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 more durable, they are more expensive than boats produced from PVC. Hypalon/CSM inflatable boats are immune to a number of different things, such as oil, abrasion, harsh temperatures, gasoline, and other chemicals. Due to being so hardy, they’re considered suitable for boating in extreme conditions or 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 type of plastic coating laminate around a nylon fiber core. They can be assembled yourself, however are more often done 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 extremely tough and it is simple to repair. It is not quite as durable as Hypalon, however, and selecting a PVC boat for hot climates is going to take extra effort to keep. Utilization of a boat cover is suggested, along with liberal usage of 303, a UV ray protectant. PVC provides great value for those using their inflatable in cooler climates like in Seattle and 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, comprised of Drop Stitch Fabric and secured within the boat using aluminum rails called “stringers”. The stringers work as the backbone of the boat. There were inflatables that use a hinged floor system that rolls up with the boat, and those are seldom seen. Roll-up boats are typically lighter than the rigid hull boats, but heavier compared to the air floors. Assembly can be difficult, specifically for folks who are on their own. An inflatable keel for planing and tracking is common.
The environment floor boats use an inflatable bladder as the floor, typically with drop-stitch construction. This means there are millions of small strands of fibers within the bladder that prevent ballooning. When properly inflated, air floors can seem to be as rigid as wood, and easily supports the body weight of several adults along with their gear! The air floor remains in the boat for storage, and rolls up with the tubeset. Preparing the boat for use is very easy, as all you need to do is get air to the floor and tubes; hardly any other installation is required. Air floors will also be very lightweight and can be inflated directly on deck, even over hatches or some other obstructions that could make assembling a roll-up inflatable difficult or impossible. Air floor boats are generally higher priced than roll-ups but less 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) give you the best performance, and not just since 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 get on step and can be used as many different purposes, including pulling a water skier. Virtually all the name brand luxury inflatables are RIBs. Hull construction can be created from Inflatable Drop Stitch, having a keel guard suggested for durable protection from rocks and beaching. Buying a RIB almost guarantees the requirement for a trailer for transport, so keep that added expense in your mind while shopping. There are some smaller RIB’s (around 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.