Consumer Tips: How To Buy An Inflatable That’s Right For You


Before buying an inflatable or RIB, consumers must answer some simple questions about their needs and lifestyle. Answering these questions will help to determine "which inflatable is right for you?" Those boaters who are new to the inflatable boat market will be amazed at the wide variety of choices available to them.

What Kind of Boater Are You?
Will you be using your inflatable for sporting activities or primarily as a runabout? Will you spend more time in small, sheltered bodies of water or out on the open seas? Planning ahead now for how and under what conditions you will be using your inflatable could lead to a decision to buy a RIB versus a fabric hull model.

What Are Your Storage and Launching Needs?
How do you plan on storing and launching your boat? What is most convenient for you? Inflatable boats clearly have an advantage in providing owners many options for how and where they can choose to store their boats. Some fabric hull inflatable models are very light and easy to transport by car or to hoist on board a yacht. These inflatables are also easily stored in a small space.

RIBs also offer an easier solution to storage than most hard-sided boats, and some RIBS are designed specifically for compact storage spaces.

What Are Your Performance Needs?
Do you plan on using your inflatable as a central focus for sporting fun or an occasional supplement to your yachting experience?

First, consider your particular needs for the boat in terms of passenger capacity. Many inflatable models can carry between four and eight passengers. For those boating enthusiasts who need a larger capacity, RIBs are typically a better choice. Some can hold as many as 15 people.

Remember too that the size and weight of the inflatable will affect its performance. Larger inflatables typically perform better, with improved stability and comfort, and faster planing.

Choosing Your Floor and Hull
Keep in mind that the type of flooring you choose will have a direct bearing on the time it takes to assemble the watercraft. There are two basic floor types for fabric hull inflatables from which you may choose. For occasional or seasonal usage, a traditional removable rigid floor is best.

However, you may find it less time consuming to pick a floor that can be left in place for easier assembly. With some models, the owner can choose slats or a high-tech air floor that becomes very rigid when inflated.

If you’re in the market for a RIB, look for a deep V-shaped fiberglass hull.

Choosing an Outboard
When deciding what outboard is right for your inflatable, you need to ask yourself what your actual power needs will be. Will you use your inflatable for sportier activities? If so, you will need an outboard with at least 30 hp behind it. However, if you think more leisurely activities are likely, then less power may be all right.

Are You Ready To Go Inflatable?
Inflatable boats have been around for a long time, but in recent years, manufacturers have made tremendous strides in developing user-friendly, comfortable, stylish models with all the amenities recreational boaters enjoy. Just go to your local dealer, or the next boat show, and see for yourself if the inflatable advantage is right for you.


More American recreational boaters are coming to appreciate what the U.S. Coast Guard, military organizations and many European boaters learned years ago about the unique advantages of inflatable and rigid-inflatable boats (RIBs) over their hard-sided counterparts. Whether used for leisure or sport, the innovative designs of inflatables make them easy to transport, easy to launch, fuel efficient, comfortable, safe and easy to maintain.

Here is a quick primer for recreational boaters who may be new to the inflatable boat market. There are two basic types of inflatable boats: inflatables and RIBs. Inflatables, also referred to as soft-bottom inflatables, always utilize inflatable hulls. Flooring options include the traditional soft-bottom units with floorboards, high-pressure air floors, and roll-up models.

Rigid-inflatable boats (RIBs), also known as hard-bottom inflatables, always utilize rigid hulls, such as fiberglass or aluminum. Inflatable tubes, or "collars," are fitted to the top of the rigid hulls to create rigid inflatable boats. RIBs are generally considered hybrid vessels that combine the benefits of traditional powerboats and inflatables.

Growing In Popularity
Today’s inflatables are more popular than ever. In fact, for the first time, two brands of inflatable boats were ranked in the "Top 20" report of the most popular consumer searches on BOATS.COM, a leading marine Web site for boat buyers and sellers. The report was released in February 2003. This is a positive sign that more consumers are recognizing the advantages of inflatables, both as primary boats and tenders.

The Top Seven "Inflatable Advantages"
What makes inflatables a good choice for recreational boaters? Inflatables and RIBs are user-friendly, they are designed for safety, speed, comfort and durability - and they look stylish. Here are the top seven "inflatable advantages":

Safety: The large, shock-absorbing inflatable collars of inflatables and RIBs create a highly stable boat that is nearly impossible to capsize under normal conditions. With several independent air compartments in each buoyancy tube, the boat is stable and unsinkable, even with one of the air chambers deflated.

Buoyancy: Because of the large buoyancy tubes, the load capacity of an inflatable is far greater than that of a traditional rigid boat of similar size.

Mobility: Once deflated and folded, the space taken up by an inflatable is so compact that transporting and storing it is extremely easy. Even RIBs are easier to transport and launch than comparable traditional boats because of their much lighter weight. Cars that could never tow a traditional boat can easily tow a RIB.

Fuel Efficiency/Power Ratio: Because of their light weight, inflatables and RIBs achieve excellent performance with smaller engines than would be required on traditional boats of similar size. That means greater fuel efficiency and lower purchase cost for engines, at a time when fuel prices are soaring.

Smoother, Drier Ride: The buoyancy tubes on these boats do a remarkable job of absorbing impact when cruising at high speeds, and they also deflect spray for a drier ride than most traditional boats.

Simple Maintenance: Upkeep on an inflatable is simple and cheap -- soapy water keeps it clean, while proper inflation is a breeze with either a foot pump or available auto inflation pump on some models. The buoyancy tubes also mean no worries about dings and scratches during docking and other maneuvers.

And Another Thing - They Look Cool: The crisp, modern designs and sharp colors and graphics of today’s inflatables stand out against a crowd of traditional boats. That alone draws many buyers who simply want a different, sharp-looking boat without a custom-boat price.