Buyer’s guide: tenders and inflatables

By: Kevin Green

Presented by
  • Trade-A-Boat

Shopping for a new tender? We’ve done all the work for you, trawling the marketplace, roping in and reviewing a raft of makes and models. Take up the paddles and outboard…

Buyer’s guide: tenders and inflatables
The Trade-a-Boat guide to buying a tender.

You may not feel the need to cross the Atlantic in an inflatable, as Alain Bombard did in 1952, or indeed jump in the ship’s jollyboat for a jaunt around the Pacific as the infamous Captain Bligh undertook, but safely enjoying the water aboard a seaworthy boat tender is a pleasure in itself. However, buying a tender shouldn’t be taken lightly because apart from ferrying the family and valuables around, it could also be used as a lifeboat in an emergency.

 

Tender designs

Inflatables are overwhelmingly popular as tenders thanks to advances in materials and construction, but hard boats, such as tinnies, fibreglass pram dinghies, sailing dinghies and even kayaks could be options and require less maintenance.

Inflatables, though, do offer a plethora of sizes, constructions and quality, so understanding your own needs will dictate your budget and final selection.

Entry-level models made of glued PVC are cheap as chips but have a limited life and durability. Moving up a notch to welded seamed models, with slatted floors for improved support, is a portable and simple option. Then there are the latest air-mat-floor varieties, using honeycombed celled construction that can also form a rigid keel and vee-bow. With these, choosing a model with a separate air-floor is advisable to increase the boat’s longevity.

Hard-bottomed rigid inflatables (RIBs) offer the best seakeeping qualities due to their stable vee hulls, which can be made out of fibreglass or tough aluminium. These smooth hulls can plane quickly, bank easily into fast turns and pierce waves without drama. For sports RIBs, fibreglass can give a faster, smoother ride but for landings on those rocky shores, aluminium might be the go. RIB features to consider include inbuilt fuel tanks, centre consoles, removable storage lockers and wraparound seating.

As the adage goes, "you get what you pay for". So look out for features such as welded (rather than glued) seams, rubbing strips on hulls, substantial transoms (to house motors) and essential parts such as valve quality and eyebolt fixings. The harsh Australian sun can literally melt cheap glued seams, for instance, and all inflatables require regular maintenance.

Sydney’s major repairer, All Inflatable Boats at Brookvale, is kept busy with failed glued seams says owner Bob Abbot. "It’s the quality of the glue that is important with brands like Bostik and similar European quality products that ensure that your Hypalon- or PVC-made boat holds together," says Bob. He advises a warranty of three years as a minimum, when looking for an average inflatable.

Size is a major consideration, with many cruising sailors preferring, "the bigger, the better" approach, which gives greater stability and carrying capacity. However, stowage, weight and manageability are constraints, so check the dimensions of your dinghy garage, foredeck space or davits.

Also ensure your choice of boat has strong bridle fixings and stainless steel eye bolts, plus bowrollers, which are essential for floating out an anchor in an emergency. In terms of weight some cheaper brands can be relatively heavy due to items such as basic wooden slats and thickly laid-up tubes, so carefully check the brochures.

 

Matching power to a tender

Always follow manufacturers’ power guidelines when it comes to choosing an outboard. Environmentally friendly four-strokes are becoming lighter nowadays and are more fuel efficient than two-strokes. For larger tenders jet power is an option and avoids dangerous propellers. Then there are the electric outboards with brands such as Torqeedo leading this emerging market. Don’t forget, of course, a good set of oars and ergonomic rowlocks.

 

Tender materials

Inflatables are generally made from variants of either plastic, PVC or rubber, with DuPont’s Hypalon the high-end material. These are marketed under various names including Duratex, Duotex, Strongan and Polymar. Other plastic variations include polyester and polyurethane, used by some inflatable manufacturers.

The rugged British-built Tornado boats use welded polyurethane, which is claimed to be extremely durable. But most high-end users of inflatables use boats made from laminated synthetic rubber, Hypalon, because of its durability and strength. Since its introduction by DuPont it’s been used for more than 40 years in many applications. Hypalon material can usually be identified by its characteristic dissimilar laminates as it’s used in the outer coating of inflatable tubes to withstand the elements, oil, gasoline and abrasions. Apart from being pricier it’s also more difficult to work with as it cannot be heat welded but must be hand glued.

The cheaper alternative is plastic polymers (PVC), which many manufacturers use in their boats because of the cost savings involved in materials and manufacturing, with the latter often done in South East Asia and China to western design specifications.

For buyers, as this guide shows, the market has probably never been better with a wide range of boats to suite every budget and usage.

 

Tender types

Aer Marine

These Italian quality tenders are made from polyester coated with plastomeere fabric for toughness and range in size from 1.85m to 3.2m. Available in slatted roll-up, air-deck and fibreglass RIB hulls this range has wide appeal. Custom builds and even jet tenders are available. Warranty offered is five years on material and seams.

PRICE: The 3.2m RIB with 30hp Mercury engines costs $1799. 

DETAILS: Waves Overseas (has moved to) 128-134 Parramatta Road, Croydon, NSW, 2130. 

Phone: (02) 9745 5555. 

Website: www.waves.com.au

 

Aakron

Aakron Boats is a family-owned New Zealand company that also has a Sydney base supplying a range of inflatables. Aakron offers six different models in sizes from 2m to 5.2m, from lightweight get-ashore tenders for small powerboats to luxury RIBs with all the options and space to party. Materials used are heavyweight polymer/terylene composites and all boats come with a five-year guarantee. Aakron also specialise in ocean-going dive boats, harbour fishers and tenders for a superyachts.

The range includes roll-ups, air-floor and both composite and alloy hulled RIBs.

Delivery for most models is within a few days ex-stock from their warehouse in Sydney although larger Sportsmaster RIBs are custom-made on order to the buyer’s requirements. Coverage is Australia-wide, while the head office in NZ covers the Pacific and the rest of the world.

PRICE: Entry-level Valuemaster 2.5m costs $750 plus shipping, Yachtmaster (air-mat-floor) 2.9m is $1296 and largest is the Sportsmaster 5.2m with alloy or GRP hull (POA). 

DETAILS: Aakron Boats, Australian warehouse: Mainfreight, Prestons, Sydney, NSW. 

Phone: 1800 882 652

Website: www.aakronboats.com.au

 

Achilles

Achilles is one of the major brands with a long history in inflatables dating back to the 1960s. It produces a vast range, from entry-level roll-ups to commercial rescue RIBs and many variations in-between. These high-quality boats are made with the company’s proprietary four-layered fabric reinforced with DuPont Hypalon, which Achilles has manufactured under licence for 30 years. Achilles inflatables come with a 10-year guarantee on material and a five-year warranty on seams. For better air retention, Neoprene is used on interior tube coatings and their Japanese plant hand glues the Hypalon to ensure quality, safety and durability.

PRICE: Entry-level two-person LT2 (2.2m roll-up) sells for $1400, mid-range FMA 315 with alloy hull is $3300 and the 4.73m SG 156 is $9450.

DETAILS: Bursill Sportsgear, 157 Cleveland Street, Chippendale (Sydney), NSW, 2008.

Phone: (02) 9698 8022

Website: www.inflatableboats.com.au

 

Aquabay

Aquabay market a range of locally-specified roll-ups and RIBs mostly in PVC. A three-year limited warranty is offered throughout their range, from the entry-level 2.3m ABM-A230 to the flagship ABM-R330XL. Aquabay can also fit a range of its Sail brand outboards to these inflatables. Handy accessories include removable seat lockers ($220) for boats larger than 3m.

PRICE: Prices range from $950 for the ABM-A230. The R330XL is available in PVC ($6173) or the more durable Hypalon ($7642).

DETAILS: Aquabay, 50 Cassola Place, Penrith, NSW, 2750. Phone: (02) 4721 3001 

Website: www.aquabaymarine.com.au

 

Aquila Marine

Sydney-based Aquila Marine has been supplying boats for 10 years with a range of inflatables from 2m tenders to 6m RIBs. Design variations include fuss-free slatted floors, plywood floors, air-mat floors and alloy sports hulls. The latest model is the 2.4m roll-up and is ideal as a yacht tender. The SM 240 folds up into its own carry bag and is easy to inflate and safe to carry up to 350kg. It has a three-year warranty and comes with aluminium oars, foot pump, repair kit and carry bag.

PRICE: The new SM240 sells for $650 (inc. GST).

DETAILS: Aquila Inflatable Boats, Unit 17 / 5 Vuko Place, Warriewood, NSW, 2102.

Phone: (02) 9970 7860.

Website: www.aquilamarine.com.au

 

Aurora

Aurora offer an extensive list of boats ranging from 1.95m roll-ups to 5m fully-optioned RIBs as well as sporty ZapCats. The range, with builds specified by supplier Global Force Marine, is sold to recreational, military and rescue-service users. A feature of the Aurora range is the ability to use modular components to customise to clients’ requirements with tough Hypalon available or the more cost-effective PVC. Good features throughout the range include a front sunbed, anchor locker, identifying colours, pin striping and bucket seats.

PRICE: The top-selling line is the Aurora Lite RIB range, designed on the Gold Coast due to demand for a specialised lightweight tender. The Lite RIB 260 with PVC tubes (welded) retails for $2300 (inclusive) and with Hypalon for $3250.

DETAILS: Global Force Marine, Gold Coast City Marina, Shop 7, 58 Waterway Drive, Coomera, Qld, 4209.

Phone: (07) 5573 7265

Website: www.globalforcemarine.com

 

Brig

The Brig Eagle range of RIBs is distributed in Australia by Sirocco Marine and includes the 340, 380, 500, 645 and the flagship 780. The 340 Eagle RIB was designed and manufactured in Europe especially for the Australian market.

The result is a 3.4m boat, 1.78m wide, using Hypalon tubes and fibreglass rigid hull. The 340 is designed to carry four people with the 40hp maximum power rating and the fully laden weight, including engine and fuel, is 300kg. The fitout includes an inbuilt fuel tank, under-seat storage lockers, two towing eyes, rear locker seating with soft back, electric bilge pump, navigation lights, cover and lifting slings.

PRICE: Brig Eagle 340H with 30hp Honda four-stroke outboard fitted sells for $25,500. The Eagle 380H with 50hp Honda four-stroke outboard fitted costs $29,500.

DETAILS: Sirocco Marine South, 1c Box Road, Taren Point, NSW, 2229.

Phone: (02) 8061 6475; 0410 131438

Website: www.siroccomarinesouth.com.au

 

Force 4

Force 4 inflatables are NZ-built boats with a range that includes 2.55m roll-ups to 5.25m RIBs that can accommodate eight people. Features of the range include removable tubes, fibreglass and alloy vee-hulls and welded seams.

PRICE: The Force 4 Frib 2800 costs $3499.

DETAILS: Waves Overseas (see above).

 

Gemini

Gemini supplies high-quality inflatables to many professional organisations, including surf life-saving and use heavy-duty Hypalon for many of its boats. This South African-based company has a vast size range, from 3.1m to 8.5m, and includes roll-ups and high-end RIBS in its model line-up. Its entry-level yacht tenders are also available in PVC and have welded seems. There’s an extensive dealer network and good customer support. Warranty is three years on PVC and five years on Hypalon.

PRICE: Gemini 200 roll-up with slatted floors is $1100, the Gemini Air Deck 200 costs $1590, and the popular Gemini 245 Air Deck is also $1590.

DETAILS: Wynnum Marine, 31 Fox Street, Wynnum, Brisbane, Qld, 4178.

Phone: (07) 3396 9777

Web: www.wynnummarine.com.au; www.gemini-inflatables.com

 

Lamoore Yacht Tenders

Locally built at Sydney’s northern beaches, this range of inexpensive fibreglass tenders is very popular with local boaters. Models range in size from 7ft to 9ft6in and include conventional bow, snub bow and triple-hull versions. I’ve used their triple-hull version for years, an excellent and stable yacht tender that is also lightweight. They come with inbuilt floatation, a towing eye and 12 months warranty.

PRICE: The 7ft Snub costs $659. The Lamoore Tril Hull sells for $729.

DETAILS: Lamoore Yacht Sales, 1017 Barrenjoey Road, Palm Beach, NSW, 2108.

Phone: (02) 9974 5222

 

Mercury Inflatables Boats

Mercury Inflatable Boats offers roll-ups and three models of RIB. The Dynamic, Ocean Runner and Amanzi are made from high-quality Hypalon fabric and have fibreglass floors. RIBs are not collapsible and require storage on chocks, davit systems, in-water, or on a small trailer.

PRICE: The Amanzi 350 RIB with 30hp EFI four-stroke Mercury engines costs $24,990. The Dynamic 310 model usually sells for $3499 but is being discounted to $3149. The roll-up Airdeck model costs $899.

DETAILS: Waves Overseas (see above). Cunningham Marine, 51–59 Snook Street, Clontarf, Qld, 4019. Phone: (07) 3284 2342

Website: www.cunninghamsmarine.com.au

 

Nautica

Nautica produces 60 different RIBS ranging from 2.85m to 12.5m and offers many custom options. The boats can be specified with outboard or inboard engines, petrol or diesel and propeller or water-jet propulsion options. The company manufactures its hulls, decks, cushions, consoles and inflatable tubes in-house, allowing a high standard of quality control and assurance. This high standard gives Nautica the confidence to provide a 10-year warranty on its heavy-duty Hypalon tubes. Nautica builds RIBs for the leisure and recreational markets, as tough workboats, for police and fire/rescue services as well as for military contracts.

Nautica’s latest ranges are the Nano N Series and the Nautica XP Jet line. The Nano N series is a range of lightweight, fast tenders with outboard motors, ranging in length from 3.1m to 4.6m. The fibreglass construction Nano N series feature wheel steering, fitted seating and deep-vee hulls. Optional biminis, depthsounders and stereos can also be ordered.

The Nautica XP Jet line features a Weber four-stroke turbo-charged 143hp engine driving a water-jet propulsion unit. The XP range is available in standard sizes from 2.85m to 4.9m; custom dimensions are available on request. The XP design has allowed Nautica to create a deep cockpit space for safety but a very low overall height for ease of storage.

PRICE: POA

DETAILS: Hurley Marine, (showroom) Unit 3 / 10 Ponderosa Drive, Warriewood, NSW, 2102.
Phone: Rob Hurley on 0420 509 443

Website: www.hurleymarine.com.au

 

Plastimo

The 20-model Plastimo range, available to the Australian market through distributor RFD, covers both conventional inflatable boats and RIBs, in length variants from a 2m tender through to a 3.5m RIB. The Plastimo range includes Raid tenders, Fun Series, Yacht Tenders and the Charter Range of boats.

The Raid Tender series, available in three models, is a compact, easy-to-stow tender, designed to offer maximum comfort, while gaining the most of onboard space. The Fun Series comprises five models, the design featuring a V-style inflatable hull for lighter weight and increased stability at planing speeds.

The Plastimo Yacht Tender range covers six models, from 2.4m to 3.5m. With a V-type rigid hull, these models are suited to faster cruising in safety. To make them easy for cruising yachties, the Yacht Tenders can be easily mounted on davits, thanks to the lifting eye bolts fitted as standard equipment.

The standard Plastimo inflatables are manufactured from Heytex fabric, a product especially produced for inflatable tenders. Heytex is a multiple-layer fabric with superb air retention and offers excellent resistance to abrasion, UV light and the marine environment.

For use in tropical Australia, Plastimo produces a range of inflatable boats and RIBs under the Charter Series. These boats are manufactured in heavy-duty Hypalon material, ideal for use in tropical environments. All Plastimo boats are supplied with paddles, pump, repair kit and a valise as standard.

PRICE: Entry-level Plastimo P240SH Slat Floor costs $1049, the Air Floor PI270VB is $1799 and the PRI310V RIB sells for $2399.

DETAILS: Family Boats, 15 Chicago Avenue, Blacktown, NSW, 2148.
Phone: (02) 9622 0222.

Website: www.familyboats.com.au and www.walkerbay.com

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: RFD

Australia, Units A, F & G 75 St Hilliers Road, Auburn, NSW, 2144.

Post: PO Box 6091, Silverwater BC 1811

Phone: (02) 9330 7000

Website: www.rfd.com.au

 

Quicksilver

Quicksilver offers a wide range of inflatables including entry-level roll-ups, lightweight blow-ups ideal for camping trips, as well as Air Deck (with inflatable keel) and RIB tenders in Duratex and in Hypalon. The boats have fully-welded seams, quick-lift end cones for faster planing, and raised bows for seaworthiness and spray reduction.

All boats come with a double-action handpump and storage bag. A range of accessories is available. Duratex models have a three-year warranty on seams and materials and Hypalon models have a five-year warranty.

PRICE: Popular entry-level models are the 200 and 240, the latter sells for $829. The range-topping 410 Ocean Runner costs $5619 for hull only or fully configured with Waves centre console and 40hp Mercury for $14,990.

DETAILS: Waves Overseas (see above).

 

Walker Bay

US company Walker Bay manufactures an extensive range of tenders that cover hard hulls, inflatables and even kayaks. Most of their gear has five-year guarantees and the quality-made Hypalon tubes have a 10-year limited warranty. Ranging from fully specified luxury yacht tenders in the latest Generation range down to roll-up inflatables from the Odyssey range, with rigid sailing dinghies in between, this American-made range is available throughout Australia.

The Walker Bay Genesis RIB range is available with console, open deck, and lightweight models in sizes 270, 310 and 340.
The Genesis 310 FTD has a composite hull with 10-year warranty, trim tabs, wheels in the hull, deluxe bow seat with dry storage, main seat with cupholders, davit lifting lugs, and stowable telescopic oars.

The Genesis Inflatable RIB deluxe console 340 includes padded seats with backrest, waterproof storage, trim tabs, davit lifting lugs, 5- / 10-year warranty, with package deals available.

Inflatable Odyssey roll-ups are available in Hypalon or PVC sizes with slatted or air floors. Air-floor models comprise: 240AF, 270AF, 310AF and 340AF. The slatted-floor Odyssey 240 includes oars, pump, carry bag, seat, towing / lifting rings, five-year warranty and weighs only 30kg. Introductory price is $1449.

Walker Bay Generation range is available in 390 and 430 models. Features of this European-styled range include electric bilge pumps, inbuilt fuel tanks and push-button hydraulic stern storage hatches.

PRICE: The Genesis 310 FTD has an introductory price offer of $3799. The Genesis Inflatable RIB deluxe console 340 introductory price on hull is $7899, and the introductory price on the Inflatable Odyssey 240 is $1449.

DETAILS: Family Boats, 15 Chicago Avenue, Blacktown, NSW, 2148.
Phone: (02) 9622 0222

Website: www.familyboats.com.au; www.walkerbay.com

 

Zodiac

Zodiac pioneered inflatable boats and its name is synonymous with the concept, from the French company’s inception in 1934 to feats of endurance such as Atlantic crossings. It uses Strongan Duotex material, welded using proprietary thermobonded technology for durability and offers a five-year warranty. A feature of Zodiac’s is its relatively light weight, something to consider when lugging craft onto yachts and up beaches. An extensive range covering all the popular design types is available including roll-ups, RIBs and commercial-standard boats. For extra durability, the Zodiac Aluminium RIB range offers robust alloy hulls.

PRICE: The Cadet Rib 310 R sells for $5451, the Zodiac Cadet RIB 220 for $3260, the Zoom 310 Solid costs $1545, and the Zoom 260 Aero has an RRP of $1999.

DETAILS: Zodiac Marine Australia, 219 Woodpark Road, Smithfield, NSW, 2164. 

Phone: (02) 8786 6800

Website: www.zodiacmarine.com.au

 

Tender tips

  • Inflatables should always be towed using a bridle (two lateral D-rings); never use a single line attached to the bow handle. 
  • Carefully check air pressures, to within 0.25 bar.
  • When cleaning, avoid using any products that contain silicone because it can be absorbed into the fabric over time, so use mild soap or specialist cleaning agents.
  • For metal fixings use metal-cleaning agents.
  • Preventing marine growth is best done by applying an anti-fouling paint formulated specifically for inflatable boats.
  • Repairing Hypalon fabric is best done with two-part Hypalon adhesive. 
  • Air leaks can often be traced by applying soapy water to suspect area, including valves. 
  • Be aware that air temperature causes changes in the air pressure in the inflatable chambers. 
  • Bad handling/flexing is often caused by incorrect tube pressures so check manufacturer’s guidelines. 
  • Towing an inflatable is best done with the motor leg in the water, as it aids stability and tracking.

 


Want the latest stories delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for the free TradeBoats e-newsletter.