The RIB revolution!
February is the month of affection and is also our inflatable boats edition. Leisure Boating shows its love for RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) by looking at the advantages of owning an inflatable boat. Where are inflatables and RIBs better suited than most other boats in terms of resilience, practicality and safety? Where do we start!
Firstly, let it be said that I’m quite an ardent scuba diver, and I find that in the application of diving, a RIB is well know for its numerous advantages and I can’t imagine diving off anything else. I often visit the KwaZulu Natal coast – Sodwana Bay in particular, as well as a few spots in Mozambique for its great diving visibility, abundance of various marine life and spectacular reefs; and RIBs and inflatables are the preferred diving craft for charters and private users in these parts.
Whenever I plan a boating trip to other ends of the country from Cape Town where my offices are situated, I prefer to fly to Johannesburg and drive from there, but I have made the long trek – with inflatable boat in tow – from Cape Town to Sodwana or across the border to Mozambique on a few occasions – and the exercise was surprisingly painless every time, whether we were going diving or simply spending time on the water.
One of the factors that contributed to our trouble-free towing experience is the reduced weight of an inflatable. A great benefit of buying an inflatable boat is that you aren’t likely to have to upgrade your vehicle in order to tow your boat. The absence of a cabin structure, and near-weightless pontoons forming a large part of the hull, means that a typical inflatable boat can be towed by the family car – just make sure you don’t overload the boat or vehicle as it could become illegal.
The time and place
RIBs have a magnitude of applications and include being used as work boats (supporting shore facilities or larger ships) in trades that operate on the water, as well as use as lifeboats, police and military craft – where they are used in patrol roles and to transport troops between vessels or ashore.
Their shallow draught, high manoeuvrability, speed and relative immunity to damage in low-speed collisions are advantageous in these applications. In extreme conditions, the inflatable collar allows the vessel to maintain buoyancy even if a large quantity of water is shipped aboard due to bad sea conditions.
Do a little dive
The few dive charters that still make use of fibreglass or aluminium boats will tell you that these boats ‘age’ very quickly with air cylinders and weight belts constantly knocking about onboard and against the sides. An inflatable or RIB’s soft pontoons act like shock absorbers and are less likely to mark as easily, be it from scuba tanks, skis, or careless passengers. The shock absorbing effect of the soft pontoons also help and act as cushioning on those long boat rides over choppy water on seas and dams. Fishing for a good buy?
Many anglers are sceptical about using RIBs as fishing craft, which is understandable to some degree. Although I would think twice before going on a marlin hunt in a RIB or inflatable, I have had many successful and highly enjoyable fishing expeditions aboard a RIB. It just means being a bit more organised and cautious, especially when landing a large fish or bag of crayfish. But, where technology is at the moment, you do get material which is said to be bullet-proof since it is used on RIBs which are built for and exported to the armies around the world.
A stable relationship
Another advantage of RIBs and inflatables is the stability they offer which is paramount in all applications and especially so for diving. I once went out on a dive with a charter in beautiful Barra, Mozambique, aboard a RIB. Once we arrived at the reef, five divers somersaulted backwards off the boat, but my dive ‘buddy’ indicated that his regulator (breathing apparatus) wasn’t working properly. The dive master and I stayed onboard to solve the problem, and all three of us sat on the port side pontoon. Each of us weighed in excess of 90 kg’s without the air cylinders, weight belts and other kit! While we tried to fix the regulator problem, the skipper manoeuvred the RIB to try and keep us on top of the reef; and although the sea was fairly choppy that day, the boat showed no signs of listing to the side. An aluminium boat of the same size, for instance, might not have been as stable in the same circumstances. An inflatable or RIB’s stability stems from the fact that it has a very low centre of gravity and a high centre of buoyancy – and for this reason (among many others) it is the preferred vessel of the NSRI and other rescue agencies. Most RIBs are of such a design that when the boat is stationary, the pontoons rest in the water, aiding its stable characteristics.
The obvious drawback of an inflatable or RIB is the lack of space and storage onboard. Usually the centre console is about the only dry storage space aboard a RIB and it is generally a good idea to have high-sided plastic fish bins onboard with non-skid rubber matting glued to the bottoms. These work well for stowing gear as well as the catch of the day. The other factor that seems to repel anglers from using them as fishing vessels is that the inflatable pontoons on the normal RIB are vulnerable to sharp objects such as hooks, gaffs, teeth, the sharp edged shell of crayfish, etc. As mentioned, you can get tubes which are resilient to punctures from hooks – but this material needs to be ordered – it’s not standard. Make sure you know what your tubes are capable of.
It shouldn’t have to be an issue though, and if you take precautions you’ll prevent accidents. The first rule to fishing off a RIB is to never have a gaff on board; rather use a net to bring the fish onboard and deposit it directly into one of the fish bins. It is also a good idea to have rubber mats or wet grain sacks over the pontoon where the fish are landed. Also, never leave hooks or other tackle lying around; make sure to store everything neatly once finished using it.
Another issue that fishermen might have is that there are no rod holders on the pontoons. My last fishing experience aboard a RIB was with a skipper who has fished from his own modified RIB for many years. His solution was to bolt vertical rod racks to both sides of the centre console. In addition to fishing bins, he had a holding tank running down the middle of the boat which provided comfortable seating as well as large fish storage. On the inside of the pontoons he had netting which was great for storing loose gear. When it comes to watersports…
If you happened to be an avid skier, most RIBs and even inflatables will be able to tow you without a problem. Growing up, I used to frequent the quaint little town of Kei Mouth in the Eastern Cape during December holidays. We had many hours of fun skiing and tubing on the Kei River behind a RIB. This particular RIB was a family friend’s which he had fitted with a customised wake tower. Although it didn’t produce the wake that advanced wakeboarders would like, the RIB did kick up enough wake for some beginner to intermediate riding.
At the end of the day
The last great advantage of a RIB or inflatable is the ease with which it can be cleaned after a day on the water or after a holiday before storing it. Simply wash it down with hot water and a mild detergent (like dishwashing liquid) using a soft broom. Refrain from using cleaning agents that contain Ammoniac though, as it may damage the PVC or Hypalon.
If you’re faced with the difficult decision of which class and category of boat to buy, hopefully this article has brought some insight as to what an inflatable or RIB has to offer – especially if you’re on a tight budget, as these boats are considerably lighter on the pocket than other craft of the same size and class tend to be. If you’re looking for a boat that’ll allow you to dive, fish, ski, tube or wakeboard, you don’t have to look much further than a good quality RIB.