The basic concept behind RIBs is disarmingly simple. While many people mistakenly call them ‘RIB Boats’ or ‘Inflatable Boats’, the word ‘RIB’ is derived from the term ‘Rigid Inflatable Boat’. What distinguishes it from a soft inflatable boat (SIB) is that a true RIB uses a rigid (rather than inflatable) hull, built most commonly from fibreglass or aluminium. The ‘inflatable’ element refers to the air-filled tube (or collar) that wraps around the hull’s periphery, delivering extra buoyancy for load carrying, as well as improved stability at rest and uprated impact resistance for rafting up, coming alongside and other close-quarters manoeuvres.
It’s this supremely practical combination of high-performance hull and buoyant collar that has enabled the RIB to win such renown as a tough commercial workhorse. And ironically, it’s these same dynamic benefits that have also now seen the appeal of the RIB migrate from the world of training, security and commerce to the world of marine recreation. There’s no doubt then that the role of the RIB has evolved over the years. But whether you’re thinking about buying a RIB, trying to define what a ‘RIB Boat’ is or wondering why RIBs are so expensive, this is the place to find the answers you need…
Buying a RIB: classic vs contemporary
Some RIB brands, like Zeppelin, Tornado, Redbay and Ribcraft, have a reputation for taking quite a classical approach to RIB design. They’re known for a tough, buoyant, seaworthy craft that continues to evoke their commercial heritage, thanks to heavily built, soft-riding hulls with high-volume, taper-free collars that run the full length of the boat. They tend to maximise easy on board movement and load carrying potential by utilising open decks and in-line jockey seats. And the fixtures and fittings tend to be designed for heavy-duty reliability rather than glitzy showroom appeal. On the other side of the equation, brands like Ribeye, Stingher, Brig and Highfield tend to champion a more custom-friendly, leisure-driven approach. They are known for bringing to market a range of stylish and versatile platforms that offer sunbathing zones, lounge seats, dining areas and cockpit galleys. They also tend to offer extensive options lists, covering everything from deck layouts, fabrics and finishes to audio-visual suites, integrated hardtops and a range of convertible deck furniture solutions. If you want a particular feature a boat appears to lack, it’s always worth requesting it. Such is the sophistication of the modern RIB market that the builder will often be keen to oblige.RIBs have inflatable tubes around their outer edges. Image: Anvera.es
Buying a RIB: matching your boat to your lifestyle
The best way to narrow down a meaningful shortlist of RIBs is to be clear and honest about how you intend to use them. For instance, you might want a modest family day boat for inshore recreation. You might favour a four-season offshore machine with a climate-controlled pilothouse for year-round adventure. Or you might be looking for a slick Mediterranean open RIB with prodigious power and a party-ready cockpit so you can live La Dolce Vita like a Hollywood A-lister. Happily, whatever kind of boating you enjoy, the modern RIB caters for pretty much every kind of application you can imagine. Thanks to celebrated builders like Pascoe International and Scorpion RIBs, there are narrow-beamed race boats, slick high-performance chase boats and superyacht tenders with extraordinary levels of custom luxury. There are vast multi-cabin cruising RIBs from the likes of Italian builder, Sacs, and there are some ingenious little ‘overnighting’ RIBs from Zar that make fantastic use of space. There are compact jet tenders from Williams and AB Inflatables that are superb for shallow water exploration and watersports fun, as well as for traditional ship-to-shore duties. And if you want to take a tangent, you can also now buy yourself a compact, twin-hulled, hydrofoil-equipped RIB, thanks to the endlessly ingenious guys down at C-Fury. Or you can invest in a RIB that can drive straight up the beach, courtesy of award-winning amphibious specialist, Sealegs. In short, once you know how you want to spend your time on the water, rest assured there’s a RIB out there that’s perfectly geared up to satisfy your needs.Make sure the helm is protected and adequately supported. Image: abinflatables.com
Buying a RIB: key features and considerations
Whatever kind of RIB you intend to buy, it still has to do the basics well. For instance, is there proper support and protection at the helm? Are your electronics large enough and sufficiently glare-resistant to remain readable at 40 knots on a sunny day? Are there plenty of strong, well-positioned grabbing points, as well as non-slip surfaces underfoot, so you and your guests can make your way around the boat securely? Is the deck capable of shedding water fast - and is there a watertight storage compartment to help protect your dry clothes and any delicate equipment from water ingress? Is the payload sufficient for your passengers and all the equipment you intend to carry on a day out? And do you have enough deck space and power for towed watersports? If you intend to use it as a family boat with relatively young children, there are other things to consider too. For instance, a lot of modern RIB builders use raised aft mouldings and wraparound guardrails to make you feel like you’re securely contained ‘inside’ (rather than ‘on top of’) the boat. For extra family flexibility, it’s also worth looking out for convertible deck furniture and an extendable hardtop for shelter from the sun. You should also consider the amount of storage available for bulky day gear (rarely a major strength on open RIBs). And it’s also worth investigating whether it’s possible to include a toilet with sink and changing space inside the helm console, to help minimise your dependence on shoreside facilities.If you want extra protection from the sun, you can invest in an extendable hardtop. Image: scorpionribs.com
Buying a RIB: Optimising your extras
Once you’ve narrowed down your ideal size, type and layout of the boat, there are still plenty of ways to fine-tune your RIB’s performance – and one of the most popular upgrades comes in the form of impact mitigation. You can take the pain out of heavy seas by investing in a set of suspension seats or, better still, you can investigate a full impact-mitigation console from the likes of Ullman Dynamics or Shockwave Seats, where the seat, helm station and controls all move as one. For many, a RIB-specific ladder for boarding from the side is another worthwhile investment, particularly on boats where large diameter collars and multiple outboards limit access from the water. Cockpit canvases and integrated heating systems can also help turn an open RIB into a much more practical year-round companion. And the addition of a keel band, a stern anchor and a bow ladder can even help turn your RIB into the perfect companion for Nordic-style beaching and estuary exploration. Certainly, the RIB may have started as a rugged load-carrying platform for the daily grind of industry. But whether you want commercial practicality, recreational versatility or a confidence-inspiring mixture of the two, there’s no doubt that the modern RIB market is now richer, more varied and more tempting than ever before.