Two of the most popular boats on the water today are rigid inflatable boats (RIB) and fiberglass boats. While both have similarities in function and design, there are some clear distinctions between each type of boat. Below we do a side-by-side comparison of RIBs and fiberglass boats so that you can see the reason to buy a rigid inflatable boat vs. a fiberglass boat.
What is a Rigid Inflatable Boat?
A rigid inflatable boat is a lightweight, high-performance powerboat constructed with a solid hull and inflatable tubes or sponsons around the outer edge. The addition of inflatable tubes to a solid hull increases the shock-absorbing qualities of the vessel giving it a hull that can essentially change shape under the impact of waves.
This design is known as a variable geometry hull and is unique to a RIB. The hull of a RIB consists of a composite material like fiberglass or aluminum and is surrounded by rubber, caves and other inflatable materials. RIBs are great for small work vessels like taking larger boat passengers to shore to run errands or go through customs but are also used recreationally as boats to free-dive from, snorkel, cruise coastlines in, and so much more.
While the Takacat is technically a rigid inflatable boat, it is also considered a SIB - semi-rigid inflatable boat since the hull/transom inflates as well.
What is a Fiberglass Boat?
In a fiberglass boat, the hull is made out of fiberglass. Fiberglass is actually short for “fiber reinforced plastic,” referring to the various weaves of glass fiber cloth that are laid down in alternating layers with any number of resins such as polyester, vinyl ester, or epoxy.
Fiberglass boat construction is the most common way boats are built. Most fiberglass boats are built from a mold that accepts multiple layers of fiberglass cloth or matt and resin that eventually cure together to form a hull shape.
The mold is cleaned and prepped with a mold release wax that allows what will become the fiberglass hull to be pulled from the mold without sticking. Next, a thick layer of high-quality resin called gelcoat is sprayed into the mold. This is the tough, glossy, exterior finish that protects the fiberglass from ultraviolet rays, salty spray, fish guts, beer, and abrasion.
What to Consider When Choosing Between a Rigid Inflatable Boat vs. Fiberglass Boat?
Before you choose between a rigid inflatable boat and a fiberglass boat, you should determine the boat’s primary purpose and function. From there, you should consider the following factors:
Before you consider any other factors in a boat, you need to consider how much your budget can handle. In addition to the upfront cost, you’ll also need to budget for items such as
- Maintenance and repairs
- Registration and fees
- Fuel (if applicable)
- Additional supplies and equipment
- Storage and transportation
Performance considerations can include speed, balance, maneuverability, and how well the boat operates in harsher environmental conditions such as high winds and rougher waters.
For instance, if you just want to spend a relaxing day on the water, you may prioritize stability and space over speed. If you plan to use your boat for hunting or fishing, you want a craft that can get in and out of tight spots with ease. Also, do you plan to use your boat in freshwater lakes or just off the coast?
A seaworthy boat handles well, is stable, sheds water quickly, and has plenty of reserve buoyancy. While no boat is unsinkable, it should take a lot to sink the boat you’re in. The boat should have a natural tendency to return to an even keel after a large wave, gust of wind, or onboard weight shift.
Transportation and Storage
No matter what type of boat you buy, it will take up space. The question is, how much space do you have, and do you have the equipment necessary to transport the boat. Naturally, the larger your boat is, the more storage space it requires. It will also need a larger vehicle or trailer for transportation.
Comparing RIBs vs. Fiberglass Boats
|Inflatable Boat||Fiberglass Boat|
|Avg. Purchase Price||$200 to $2,000||$50,000 to $100,000|
|Avg. Annual Maintenance Costs||$200 to $500||$5,000 to $10,000|
|Maintenance||Cleaning, engine flushing, hull check, hull wax, standard outboard maintenance||Paint and scratch repair, gelcoat application and waxing, deck cleaning and varnishing, engine maintenance, interior cleaning and maintenance, masts, rigging, and sail maintenance|
|Storage Requirements||Small closet or interior space||Garage, shed, or storage rental at a boatyard|
|Transportation Requirements||Inside a vehicle or truck bed||Boat trailer|
|Weight||450 to 650 pounds||1,500 to 8,000 pounds|
|Expected Lifespan||15 to 20 years||10 to 25 years|
Top Five Reasons to Buy a Rigid Inflatable Boat Over a Fiberglass Boat
There are several advantages of a rigid inflatable boat over a fiberglass boat.
1. Easier to Maneuver
Few boat types can compete with inflatable boats when it comes to maneuverability. They easily outperform fiberglass boats because they cut through waves easier, turn sharper and quicker, and get out of tight spots easier. They’re also able to perform at high speeds in almost any type of water condition.
2. Easier to Store and Transport
Fiberglass boats typically require some type of trailer to transport. They also require a storage building to protect them from the weather. Since inflatable boats are deflatable, they shrink in size, allowing you to store them in spaces as small as a closet. You can transport them in your RV, a car trunk, or truck bed.
3. Less Maintenance
On average, you can expect to spend roughly 10 percent of your boat’s purchase price on annual maintenance. That can be a lot of money for a fiberglass boat. Motors, decks, the fiberglass hull, wood floors, sails, masts - the list of maintenance costs are endless. A rigid inflatable boat requires far less maintenance. You may have to clean and wax the hull and maintain the outboard engine - that’s it.
4. Handles Better in Rougher Waters
One of the main features of an inflatable boat is its physical flexibility. Even rigid inflatable boats have more give than fiberglass boats. This characteristic allows the RIBs to handle better in rougher waters. The RIB’s inflatable collar absorbs a lot of the off-keel impact if a wave hits the boat at an oblique angle. At the same angle, the wave is likely to knock a fiberglass boat around.
5. Better Overall Value
Price is rarely an indicator of a boat’s value. Instead, it’s what the boat has to offer versus what you paid for it. When it comes to features, performance, safety, and durability, a rigid inflatable boat is simply a better overall value than a fiberglass boat. You’re going to get more for your money in the long run without spending extra on supplies, maintenance, transportation, or equipment.