Updated on November 26th, 2023
Unlike America, Europe loves rigid inflatable boats. The reason for this is not exactly clear, there are only assumptions. Perhaps it’s a combination of reasons.
Europeans are much less gambling in sea fishing, therefore, as a rule, they do not take dozens of spinning rods with them and they do not need several fish boxes. In addition, fuel is more expensive in Europe, and RIBs are usually more economical.
Or, perhaps, in America there is simply a wider choice among rigid-hulled, fairly seaworthy boats for any budget. Or maybe it’s all about marketing.
In short, we don’t know.
The uniqueness of RIB boats is beyond doubt. Some of their qualities make them incredibly versatile and safe. RIBs are indispensable for special services and have been one of the main tools of rescuers for several decades. These boats are as courageous as those who work on them.
Divers, both amateur and professional, consider RIBs to be as important equipment as scuba gear with fins and a mask. It’s easy to see why, even if you’re not a diver.
As for us, ordinary yachtsmen, we greatly appreciate RIBs for their friendliness to the shiny gelcoat of the sides and superstructures of our boats, and therefore often use them as tenders or even tugs.
RIBs have a huge fan base all over the world, there are even entire magazines dedicated to them and races are held on them. But many boaters say they have trouble bringing themselves to like them. Yes, it’s a great tool that, when properly tuned, works in any conditions, but it doesn’t come to mind when we hear the phrase “beautiful boat.” Well, in some ways they are right. RIBs never cause such delight as the newly restored modest wooden Riva.
Some are willing to risk their yacht’s new gelcoat without hesitation for a more elegant tender with beautiful side lines, without thick, sometimes very ugly, inflatable tubes. It’s just all about aesthetics. Many older RIB boat models are so ugly that if they were yachts they would be on this list.
Most in the rigid-hull boat camp can’t ignore all the benefits of RIBs, but they say it’s even harder to ignore their downsides, including the need to pump up air and protect from the sun, very small internal volume, lack of mooring cleats and other convenient elements that are usually located on the sides, poor puncture resistance and cuts, low freeboard and others.
As for the statements about the incredible seaworthiness of RIBs, this is not true for all models, but only for some boats with a large deadrise and sufficient weight, which are mainly used by coastal services. Many rigid inflatable boats for the recreational market are poorly designed, too light and have a shallow V, which eliminates one of their main advantages.
Although we can immediately say that this argument is outdated by several years and today there are an incredible number of civilian models on sale with characteristics for any conditions. In addition, technology, boatbuilding experience and knowledge are constantly evolving, leaving the worst boat models on the margins of history.
However, the following argument is quite reasonable.
Some RIBs look great when they’re new, but have you seen ones that have been in use for two or three years? In order for inflatable elements made of PVC or Hypalon (or its modern analogue under a new brand) to remain presentable, they need to be constantly looked after. But the fabric of the tubes is quite delicate and subject to rapid aging, especially due to ultraviolet radiation, so even regular cleaning will not always help maintain the original rich color and shine.
But the most important thing is that you cannot live on a rigid inflatable boat. Even if it is a 15-meter maxi-RIB, the tubes will eat up all the usable space. If you are looking for a single boat to suit all occasions, including family cruising, then the RIB is obviously the last option you should look at. Now, do you know the prices for maxi-RIBs?
In our experience, you will have two options for the development of events. Either you will fall endlessly in love with RIB boats, as happens quite often, or you will join the other camp and buy a cruiser of comparable size with a fully rigid hull, a spacious cabin and a private head with shower. Just because it will be cheaper, more beautiful, more comfortable and offer much more.