Inflatables have been around for years, and are known for being durable, safe, light and very easy to store. Here in Australia we probably know them best as rescue boats or tenders. It’s only been in the past few years that we’ve got round to thinking of them as a fishing boat, or as an alternative to fibreglass or aluminium. I’ve noticed at the state boat shows dealers have displayed a larger range of inflatables than ever before, and there’s been a huge amount of interest in this type of craft.
So what are the benefits of a pump up boat? First and foremost is the safety factor. These boats offer a rock solid platform that can take on all sorts of weather and still come out on top. That’s why surf clubs rely so heavily on them to rescue people when conditions get real ugly. They are great all-rounders that can be used for skiing, fishing, exploring, diving and as commuter boats.
I took a newcomer on the market for a spin recently and came away wondering why more boat buyers don’t have inflatables on their shopping list.
The boat was a Rapid 4.7m SRI, which stands for Semi Rigid Inflatable. The Rapid inflatables, of which there are currently six models on the market up to 5.2m, are manufactured in South Africa and imported to Australia by Glenn Lighton. In South Africa, the boats are sold under the Infanta label and have been on the market for over 20 years. In fact inflatables are one of the biggest sellers in SA – and it seems the trend is just about to start here in Oz. The Lighton family are now permanent residents and spend most weekends on the water fishing, sightseeing or towing tubes. Glenn fell in love with inflatable boats while serving as coxswain in a South African Volunteer Sea Rescue organisation.
The Rapid is a SRI which means only the sponsons are inflated; hull, bow and transom are all fibreglass. This gives it much greater rigidity than a standard inflatable. The Rapid has five separate air chambers as well as one in the hull. Automatic valves release air to ensure the boat doesn’t stress when left in the hot sun.
Maintenance is virtually nil as the boat grade PVC fabric is UV treated and contains oil and petroleum repellents. The fabric weighs in at 1055g per square metre – a very thick skin that will take all the hard knocks (plus give a nice comfortable place to park the derriere). The boat comes with a five-year fabric warranty and a three-year hull warranty.
Up front there is a moulded fibreglass bow housing which includes a bow roller and two cleats for securing the ground gear. Anchor rope is stored under the front seat – a largish self draining area with enough room for a spare anchor.
The forward seat is big enough for a couple of small kids to sit side by side. It’s usually the most uncomfortable seat in the house but I found, due to the soft ride, it was OK with no spray intrusion at all. The transom is fibreglass, as is the transom well. The boat sported an optional ski bar, something I’d recommend as standard as it will hold navigational lights, radio aerial, rod holders as well as a cutting board.
The full width rear lounge doesn’t impinge on useable cockpit space (3210 x 1220mm) and hides the 2 x 25L free standing fuel tanks and single battery set-up. The sponson height is only 430mm but this makes for easy boarding from anywhere round the boat and gives somewhere to sit if all the seats are occupied. The single helm seat is just that – a seat with dry storage within, however it gives a good driving position with excellent all-round visibility.
The north/south throttle quadrant, which takes a few moments to get used to, is responsive and all cabling is directed into the console where it travels below deck to emerge at the transom. Instrumentation was just tacho and trim meter. There’s just enough room on the dash for maybe a sounder and a compass.
A full windshield would have been nice to deflect wind/rain if the weather turned pear shaped, but as the day was a bottler, it was lovely to have the wind in your face. A fully demountable bimini is an option. It attaches by strong Velcro to the sponsons and can be laid back against the ski bar when not in use.
The self-draining, non-slip deck has two duck valves (to prevent water intrusion when reversing). A ‘wet deck’ in a boat under 5m is fairly unique – something which dramatically increases the safety margin when the going gets tough and there is the danger of water intrusion into the cockpit area.
Right round the boat there are anchored grab ropes for hanging on to when underway or for pulling yourself in from the water. Four handles are moulded in for easy carting and the boat comes complete with a hand pump to keep the sponsons fully inflated and rigid if required.
A boat and engine cover, complete with tie downs, is supplied as standard issue. This breathable cover will keep the craft in AI condition, ready for its next sortie. I was impressed by this because a cover is something we all mean to buy when a boat is new but never do. Due to its low profile, the Rapid will easily fit into a standard garage, although the front of the trailer may protrude.
The 50hp standard shaft four-stroke matched the boat perfectly, and with three on board it shot us up on the plane with no complaint whatsoever. Due to overall lightness, there are plenty of sea miles from a tank of fuel. With current petrol prices that will almost certainly increase, this is an important factor when buying a boat.
The test day was sunny with a moderate westerly on Pittwater. As I headed north towards open sea, Glenn moved around the boat showing me how little trim is affected when the load is shifted. Turns were a breeze and the steering was very light considering it was mechanical with no power assistance.
I was a bit concerned about dryness at speed, especially when expensive camera equipment is involved! I needn’t have worried though – the deep veed hull sheeted water almost parallel to the surface. Even with the wind abeam we kept bone dry, which surprised me in such an open boat.
The softness of the ride is something that can only be appreciated by taking an on water test drive. Across chop the hull emitted a dampened thud that had no jarring at all. The stepped chines did a magnificent job of lifting the boat onto the plane very quickly and keeping it there, even at low speeds. After driving the boat round for a while I tried the rear lounge and the seat up front as the boat was powered into the freshening westerly. All were very comfortable across the lumpy water. Even sitting on the sponsons and holding on to the grab ropes was a pleasant and safe experience. When stationary, with three of us sitting on one side, the boat only listed a couple of degrees – and that’s why surf clubs rate the boat so highly for people rescue. The crew can safely pull in others from the water without any dangerous heel.
In reverse, there was no sign of water coming in from the scuppers and, besides a little spillage into the drained transom well, the boat displayed no bad habits at all. Working downwind with a following sea, the Rapid tracked straight down the face of waves without any sign of wanting to slew.
A mate of mine has a semi-rigid inflatable and he fishes up to 10km offshore. He swears there is no safer boat for bluewater work. After doing a full test on the Rapid, I can now see why he extols the virtues of inflatables.
If you have any doubt in your mind that inflatables are just a glorified pump up boat, I strongly suggest you take a SRI out for a water test. Bring along the whole family and let them see for themselves what a good all round fun boat this is.
Length - 4.7m
Width - 2.1m
Weight - 210kg (hull only)
No of people - 6
Recommended hp - 50-75
Rear lounge, battery, 25L fuel tank, padded seating, all-round grab ropes, 4 x carry handles, mechanical steering, skid trailer, self-draining deck, boat cover, hand pump, repair kit, bow roller, under deck storage.
Bimini cover, rod holders, ski bar, nav lights, stainless steel bow rail, transom ladder.
Includes 50hp two-stroke Yamaha outboard, trailer, all registrations, safety gear and on-water instruction.
Boat available through Enterprise Marine (proprietor Chris Tochinni), 1416 Pittwater Road, North Narrabeen NSW 2101.
Ph (02) 9913 7767
These boats provide a rock solid platform and are durable, safe, light and easy to store.
The single helm seat is good driving position with excellent all-round visibility.
The moulded fibreglass bow housing includes a bow roller and two cleats for securing the ground gear.
The inflated sponsons provide superior safety and stability.
The Rapid’s hull, bow and transom are all fibreglass providing surprising and welcome rigidity.
A boat and engine cover, complete with tie downs, is supplied as standard issue. This breathable cover will keep the craft in AI condition, ready for its next sortie.
With the many virtues of SRI boats, it’s a wonder that more boat buyers don’t have inflatables on their shopping list!