On the Water
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2009 Best Boats-Inflatables

4 perfect picks for your waters
By Zenon Bilas
Published: February 1, 2009

When you think of boats, you probably picture heavy, shiny metal or fiberglass crafts glinting in the summer sun. But there’s another type to consider: the inflatable boat.

The hallmark of the inflatable boat is the air-inflated tubes made of durable materials including PVC and Hypalon. These tubes, which increase in diameter for longer boats, provide tremendous buoyancy, allowing for more passengers than a fiberglass boat of the same size. Put everyone on one side in an inflatable boat and it stays balanced.

Added buoyancy gives inflatable boats a striking ability to handle bumpy seas in any type of waterway. And, thanks to their buoyancy, inflatable boats shine in shallow water.

What Floats Your Boat?

Inflatable boats feature either a pliable hull or hard hull. The pliable bottom ranges up to 10 or 12 feet The hard hull, referred to as a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), is seen in boats 10 feet and longer, reaching nearly 30 feet for recreational models. RIBs feature either a fiberglass or an aluminum hull. Consider aluminum RIBs when your boating pursuits will be on lakes and rivers or waters with rocky bottoms and shores.

Get Up and Go

Most inflatable boats – whether RIB or pliable-hulled – are powered by a single outboard, but not all.

A variety of different power configurations are possible, including twin outboards for RIBs above 25 feet, gasoline- or diesel-powered stern drive as well as jet drive, which is ideal for shallow waters.

Big Things Come in Small Packages

An important benefit of the inflatable boat is its low weight. Low weight results in fuel savings on the water and on land when trailering. A lighter boat allows a smaller vehicle to tow the boat to your cabin. And storage couldn’t be easier. The tubes can be deflated and re-inflated easily, making it possible for you to store the inflatable in just a small garage when your boat is not in use.

On the Water

In the on-water ride department, inflatable boats typically feature hulls with sufficient deadrise (more vee shape) at the transom to handle bumpy conditions.

If your waterway is prone to big waves, consider a hull that also has plenty of vee near the bow. With more forward hull depth, the tubes will do a better job of knocking down the spray from the waves, keeping the cockpit and passengers dry.

And yes, today’s inflatables include an ever-expanding list of features and options like sturdy pylons for towing water-skiers and wakeboarders, live wells and storage for anglers, and racks that hold air tanks and gear for divers.

AB Rider-800
Length: 10 feet, 6 inches | Beam: 5 feet, 7 inches Weight: 302 pounds (boat only) | Max HP: 30 hp | MSRP: $13,680 (with 30 hp motor) Website: www.abinflatables.com.

AB Rider

For Cabins: The AB Rider combines a RIB ability to handle bumpy water with the fun design and handling characteristics of a personal watercraft.

Best Feature: The AB Rider is an excellent way to minimize fuel consumption while maximizing family boating fun. Its light weight makes almost any car a tow vehicle.

Family Friendly: Thanks to its small size, you can explore backcountry waterways where a big boat cannot go, but it’s still roomy enough for a driver and a guest.

Accessories & Amenities: Though the AB Rider is only 10 feet in length, AB did not skimp on storage. Check out the large dry compartments forward of the helm and under the seating.

Top_View 300ppi-800
Length: 14 feet, 1 inch | Beam: 6 feet, 10 inches Weight: 1041 pounds (with 60 hp motor, as tested) | Max HP: 60 hp MSRP: $17,500 (boat only) | Website: www.walkerbay.com.

Walker Bay Generation 430

For Cabins: Though a smaller RIB, the Generation has an excellent power to weight ratio with its 60-hp outboard, which provides enough power to pull up a skier on two skis or a wakeboarder. Best Feature: For a small boat, the Generation features plenty of hull depth at the entry point near the bow. Lots of cockpit depth also provides a dry ride.

Family Friendly: The side-console layout of the Generation, along with the added buoyancy of the tubes, gives this boat a surprising 8-passenger capacity.

Accessories & Amenities: There’s a 3-person bow seat that doubles as sun lounge, cup holders and integrated fishing rod holders. Other options include a stern boarding ladder and telescoping ski pylon for watersports fanatics.

Length: 17 feet | Beam: 7 feet, 1 inch | Weight: 577 pounds (boat only) Max HP: 100 hp | MSRP: $18,080 (boat only) Website: www.mercurymarine.com.

Mercury V-520

For Cabins: The V-520 is small enough to make garage storage comfortable while minimizing fuel consumption. Though the V-520 is a manageable size for families, it still offers a spacious sundeck and enough cockpit room to fit 9 passengers.

Best Feature: Teak laminate placed throughout the V-520 cockpit improves passenger footing and makes for easy clean up while providing an attractive nautical look.

Family Friendly: The center console layout of the V-520 is perfect for family fishing, diving, water-skiing, wakeboarding or just cruising from cabin to lakeside restaurant in warm weather.

Accessories & Amenities: Hydraulic steering of the outboard makes turning the wheel a breeze. The dive ladder helps to enable the watersports theme of this boat.

Length: 27 feet, 11 inches | Beam: 9 feet, 10 inches Weight: 5,042 pounds (as tested with Yamaha F350 and fuel) Max HP: 350 hp | MSRP: $105,000 (as tested with Yamaha F350 outboard) Website: www.zodiacmarineusa.com.

Zodiac Pro20

For Cabins: With its almost 28-foot length, the Pro20 features a center console combined with the utility design of a RIB, which makes it work well for multiple cabin activities, including: fishing, water-skiing, wakeboarding and diving.

Best Feature: Plenty of deadrise both at the entry and transom of the hull allows the Pro20 to handle bumpy seas incredibly well. It can even climb 6-foot waves.

Family Friendly: Zodiac includes plenty of features and options such as the T-top for shade in the cockpit.

Accessories & Amenities: The Pro20 features more storage than expected for dry and wet items such as wetsuits. The sturdy pylon is crucial for towing water-skiers and wakeboarders, while scuba tank racks and a live well keep divers and anglers happy.

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