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What is the Best Fabric for a Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boat?


John Sweeney asked:

We plan to do some cruising in our 38 ft power boat and want to buy a RIB to be used as a tender and sport boat. I would like something about 10 to 12 ft with an outboard motor that can pull a water skier and can live on davits on the back of my boat. I don’t want to overspend but I don’t want to buy something that will let me down and not perform for my needs. I’ve heard a lot about different types of fabrics for the tubes and I’m confused. What is the best material for this type of boat?


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There are three basic types of material used for inflatable tubes today: Hypalon, PVC, PU, plus there are numerous hybrids that are appearing every year. All materials are excellent, depending on how and where you will use your boat. You will often hear that this material is far superior to that, based on peoples personal experience, but keep in mind that the fabrics used today are quite different than the fabrics used even 5 years ago. The mills are constantly improving their technology and manufacturers improving their techniques. Today’s Inflatable Boats and RIBs are quite amazing compared to boats that were made even 10 years ago.

To help you decide, I have produced a brief comparison of the three major fabrics used in these boats with their pros and cons. In the end, you have to choose the boat that you will be most happy with. And, don’t be afraid to spend a few extra bucks to get the extra bit of horsepower or any accessories that you really like. You will really appreciate that decision in the long run. Keep in mind that the boat will last you 10 to 20 years or longer if you look after it.

The biggest factor effecting the life and performance of the boat is maintenance or lack of maintenance. Rule 1: Keep it clean and protected, right from the day you buy it. I have seen expensive boats turned into garbage in 24 months and economical boats looking new after 15 years. Remember that the money you spend today on quality maintenance products will come back to you, with interest, when you go to sell or trade you boat.

Some of the products that I recommend for your new boat are:

  • Speed Clean. Clean your boat with this before you do anything. It will remove excess plasticizers, waxes and other lubricants and mold release agents used in the manufacturing process. You can use this on your tube as well as fiberglass parts.
  • Poly Guard. This UV protector can add many years to your boat. Apply it when your boat is brand new and as required thereafter. It will last from 2 to 6 months, depending on where and how you use your boat. Think of it as a sacrificial shield for your boat. It will also compensate for some of the shortcomings of the various fabrics. For example; It will stop Hypalon and PU from chalking, scuffing and color fade from UV attack. It will protect PVC from UV, suntan and diesel oil, color fade and staining. Poly Guard uses new water based polymer technology instead of oils and silicones so it’s not greasy and won’t transfer onto your clothing. It does not wash off with water and you’ll love how it enhances the appearance of your boat with an easy to maintain low luster shine. Recommended by major boat manufacturers.
  • Repelin is a clear anti-fouling that can be applied to both your tube and the fiberglass hull. Even though your boat will be on davits when not in use, if it will ever remain in the water for more than a few days at a time this is still great insurance for your boat’s bottom. It will seal the pores in the fiberglass to prevent osmosis blisters and will make the bottom much easier to keep clean. Salt water and most dirt, just rinses off. It will also improve the performance and reduce fuel consumption.
  • Sure Step is a sealer, protector and polish for the non-skid deck of your rib. It will put a beautiful, easy to maintain shine on the deck that is very easy to maintain without scrubbing and best of all it’s not slippery, even when wet, which is important to your safety and the safety of your passengers. It uses a new pressure sensitive polymer technology.

These are what I would consider the “Must Have” products for your RIB. There are other specialty products that you may want to use such as Boat Clean Plus for washing your boat (it can be diluted so it won’t strip the Poly Guard and won’t leave a sticky residue like soap or detergent), Inflatable Bottom Spray if ever you need to remove marine growth from your boat bottom, Marine Power Mitt to help with cleaning, and Premium Boat Shine for the vertical surfaces if you have steering console or other accessories.

Enjoy your new boat,

Captain Aurora
Richard Kittar

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