Big RIBs: They're not just tenders anymore

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About 12 years ago, a friend and I drove a 16-foot Zodiac Medline RIB roughly 60 miles from Essex to Norwalk, Connecticut. My experience with inflatables had been limited to small, soft-bottom tenders, slowly putting through mooring fields or going ashore for lunch, so the comfort and performance of our RIB opened a whole new world to me. A RIB could be my only boat.

Capelli Tempest 900 WA

Many Europeans embraced the RIB as their primary boat as soon as manufacturers built models big enough to carry the entire family. RIBs are lightweight, seakindly, safe and remarkably fast. The buoyancy tubes, in addition to softening the ride in rough seas, give the boats uncommonly good transverse stability, which makes them ideal for plucking folks out of the water during rescues. All of these characteristics account for the type’s popularity among police departments, coast patrols and militaries. Add luxury to the recipe, and you’ll understand why RIBs are gaining an enthusiastic following among everyday boaters in the United States.

Great Britain’s Royal National Lifeboat Institution developed the RIB in 1964. The organization thought a hard bottom — plywood at first — would reduce wear on the fabric bottom of inflatable inshore lifeboats. With a bottom plane as leveled as Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats, they battered themselves to bits in any sea state feistier than dead calm.

The RNLI transferred development to Atlantic College in South Wales. Designers there formed a deep-vee plywood bottom to add strength and reduce pounding. Not long afterward, they morphed the bottom into a deep-vee forward, gradually transitioning to nearly flat sections at the transom. In 1968, a student at Atlantic College designed and built a deep-vee bottom of fiberglass. Although this first attempt proved fragile, subsequent hulls were strong enough to weather any sea state a prudent skipper was likely to encounter. The Atlantic 21 entered RNLI service in 1972, and a fleet of its offspring continued to serve for about 30 years.

The RIB made its way to North America via Canada. The Atlantic College sent a pair of 21-foot R-RIBs to its new sister school, the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific at Pedder Bay, British Columbia. During that first year of the school’s affiliation with its U.K. counterpart, a trio of graduates from Atlantic College who had also trained as lifeboat coxswains taught a handful of Pearson College students to build two boats: the X-27 and X-28. Twin outboards powered the former, and twin sterndrives powered the latter. After a period of training, these students operated the RIBs as safety boats for the school’s sailing and diving programs.

By the middle of the 1970s, the Canadian Coast Guard, which had been researching RIBs for use as rescue boats, borrowed the X-boats from Pearson College. Later in that decade, the Canadian Coast Guard employed 17-foot Avon Searider RIBs as rescue boats in its Great Lakes stations.

As you can imagine, the transition from workboat to the slick pleasure boat we see today required some time. No amount of written and verbal promotion could persuade boaters to trade a traditional fiberglass center console for a RIB. The only way to appreciate the advantages of a RIB was to drive one.

For any given size, a RIB will weigh less, accelerate more rapidly and respond to steering inputs faster than a common fiberglass center console. In a seaway, the RIB’s buoyancy tubes absorb a significant amount of wave impact. The tubes also reduce heeling during high-speed turns.

The tubes are made from neoprene and Hypalon, developed by DuPont Performance Elastomers, a subsidiary of DuPont. Hypalon is a durable chlorosulfonated polyethylene synthetic rubber noted for its resistance to chemicals, temperature extremes and ultraviolet light. A number of airtight chambers, each with a valve for inflation and deflation, placed throughout each tube prevent a puncture from deflating the entire tube. In the early days, black buoyancy tubes were the standard. Later, red tubes appeared, then white. Nowadays buyers can choose from a variety of colors.

Although the tubes are responsible for a lot of the RIB’s finer qualities, they also get the blame for the single most important disadvantage. For any given overall beam, RIBs have less space on deck because the tubes are often 2 feet in diameter. A small price to pay. Most RIBs ride deep-vee bottoms, commonly made of fiberglass and sometimes aluminum.

If you see a RIB in your future, take a look at the examples here, visit boat shows and maybe schedule a demo day or two.

Capelli Tempest 900 WA

Unmistakably Italian in style, the Capelli 900 WA has a sundeck forward of the console and dual benches and a table aft. The cabin nestled into the console has a teak sole, a dinette that doubles as a pair of berths, a refrigerator, a sink and a marine head. Among the standard equipment are hydraulic steering and an electric anchor winch. The forward section of the 900 WA’s helm seat folds up to form a leaning post. Teak decking adds a dollop of luxury to the cockpit. Stainless steel safety rails surround the forward section of the 900, terminating at the after end of the console, and provide a secure handhold. Stainless rails on each side deck and outboard of the swim steps at the transom further enhance safety. The optional soft top deploys from an arch at the after end of the cockpit.

LOA: 30 feet, 6 inches • BEAM: 10 feet, 8 inches • DRAFT: 2 feet, 4 inches • WEIGHT (dry): 4,189 pounds • TANKAGE: 103 gallons fuel, 16 gallons water • POWER: twin 250-hp outboards • BASE PRICE: $219,268 • CONTACT: Capelli USA, Palm Harbor, Florida. Dealer locator at capelli-usa.com

Ribcraft 9.0

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Ribcraft has reconfigured its tried and true 9.0 to meet current demand for luxury aboard center consoles. This newest 9.0, derived from the company’s offshore rescue boat, has an area of wraparound seating in the bow, a teak table that converts into a sunning platform, helm and additional seating aft, a powder-coated T-top and a head tucked into the console. Each Ribcraft is built to order, letting buyers meet specific needs. Among the options are a live well and tackle station, electronics packages and synthetic teak decking. Powered by a pair of 300-hp Yamaha V-6 outboards, the Ribcraft 9.0 has a top speed of about 60 mph. Her deep-vee hull has 20 degrees of deadrise at the transom, allowing the skipper to maintain high speeds in a variety of sea states.

LOA: 29 feet, 7 inches • BEAM: 10 feet, 3 inches • DRAFT (hull): 22 inches • WEIGHT (dry, no engines): 3,395 pounds • TANKAGE: 135 gallons fuel • POWER: twin 225-300-hp outboards • BASE PRICE: $178,158 • CONTACT: Ribcraft, Marblehead, Massachusetts, (866) 742-7872. ribcraftusa.com

Novurania LX Series 750

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Novurania’s RIBs have been popular as tenders for super­yachts for quite some time, but their styling and luxurious accommodations make them a good choice as one’s only boat. The LX Series 750 is a fine example of the manufacturer’s approach to design and performance. The deep-vee hull is built of hand-laid fiberglass, as are the deck and liner. The stringer system is encapsulated in foam, and the deck is self-bailing. Standard features include custom hull and deck gelcoat colors, NMEA-interfaced gauges, an integrated swim platform with a ladder, blue LED deck lighting, and 316 stainless cleats, rails, cup holders and lifting eyes.

LOA: 24 feet, 7 inches • BEAM: 9 feet • DRAFT: 2 feet, 4 inches • WEIGHT (dry): 3,800 pounds • TANKAGE: 36 gallons fuel, 8 gallons water • POWER: 220-hp Volvo Penta D3 diesel sterndrive or single outboard of equivalent horsepower • BASE PRICE: pricing unavailable • CONTACT: Novurania of America, Vero Beach, Florida, (772) 567-9200. novurania.com

Protector Targa 30

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Protector Boats developed the Targa 30 from its Center Console 30 to give boaters a roomier trade-up from the Targa 28. Since its introduction, the Targa 30 has become the company’s best seller. The 2-foot increase in overall length on the same beam permitted wider berths in the cabin and a redesigned dashboard to accommodate larger displays and improve ergonomics for the electronics. The extra interior volume also allowed Protector to raise the steering wheel, making the helm more comfortable, and to provide space for the optional Stidd shock-absorbing chairs. Compared with the Targa 28, the 30’s additional 6 square feet of space eases boarding and allows for an optional picnic table. The extra length let the company make room for larger-size outboards, and it added 180 pounds of buoyancy to support the larger engines.

LOA: 30 feet, 6 inches • BEAM: 9 feet, 6 inches • DRAFT: 2 feet, 1 inch (average load) • WEIGHT (dry, with engines): 7,900 pounds • TANKAGE: 130 gallons fuel, 26 gallons (optional freshwater package) • POWER: twin 350-hp outboards, single diesel • BASE PRICE: $250,000 • CONTACT: Protector Boats, Richmond, California, (415) 793-8282. protectorboats.com

Brig Eagle 780H

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The Brig Eagle 780H is the newest, largest and most luxurious in the Eagle series. Built in the Ukraine, where ex-military aeronautical engineer Slava Rodionov founded the company after the Soviet Union collapsed, the 780H rides a deep-vee fiberglass bottom. The tubes are Hypalon ORCA and have five chambers. Although this model hasn’t fallen too far from the workboat tree, it includes most of the features buyers expect. The center console has room for a marine head, and the seat locker can house a refrigerator. You’ll find an electric anchor hoist, a shower, a folding boarding ladder and a ski post. The antenna arch anchors the optional folding soft top. Seating fills the bow area of the cockpit, and a narrow bench makes its home on the front console. Another bench, with stowage under, spans the width of the cockpit beneath the arch. The business-like personality of the Eagle 780H ought to appeal to the practical boater who values simplicity and performance more than flash.

LOA: 25 feet, 9 inches • BEAM: 9 feet, 6 inches • WEIGHT (wet): 3,612 pounds • TANKAGE: 90 gallons fuel, 12 gallons water • POWER: 250-hp Honda outboard (300 hp max) • BASE PRICE: $89,000 • CONTACT: Sirocco Marine

Annapolis, Annapolis, Maryland, (410) 690-7780; Sirocco Marine Fort Lauderdale, Dania Beach, Florida, (954) 692-8333. brigusa.com

Zodiac N-ZO 760

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Stepping up from the N-ZO 700 Cabin, Zodiac once again commissioned Italian designer Vittorio Garroni, this time to draw the 760. Its most visually distinctive feature is the broken sheer line in the style of Carolina sportfishing boats. Riding a fiberglass hull with 22 degrees of deadrise at the transom, the 760 has more freeboard forward than other RIBs its size. The high forward sections and large diameter of the tubes turn the cabin into a cozy and quiet space. Zodiac calls it a “cocoon.” To gain space on deck, the design team came up with a console that has a smaller footprint than is common. Unfolding the seat structure in the bow converts the area to a sun pad. A high bulwark surrounding the cockpit abaft the helm adds to guest safety. The bench seat on the starboard side converts to a sun pad, and a passageway opposite gives access to the outboard. A second bench seat flanks the passageway on the port side. n

LOA: 24 feet, 11 inches • BEAM: 10 feet • DRAFT: 20 inches • WEIGHT: 3,373 pounds • POWER: 250-hp outboard (300 hp max) • TANKAGE: 75 gallons fuel, 21 gallons water • BASE PRICE: $109,102 • CONTACT: U.S. dealer locator at zodiac-nautic.com

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue.