A look at RIB construction materials

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Buying a rigid inflatable boat is an investment. You need to know if you’re getting your money’s worth. You need to know your RIB’s weight, speed, longevity, cost of purchase, and cost of care. You need to know how to make RIB repairs, and what it will take for you to finish the job.

There are all kinds of RIBs for sale. It can be incredibly difficult to make a choice, even for someone who thinks they know everything there is to know about RIBs. For example, the most common materials for the inflatable tubes of RIBs are hypalon, PVC, and polyurethane, or PU. Knowing the difference between these three materials can make a huge impact on your ultimate purchase.

Hypalon

Along with PVC, hypalon is one of the two primary kinds of materials used by RIB manufacturers today. Hypalon is a unique kind of synthetic rubber. Like “Kleenex,” hypalon was originally the name of a specific product, but has become the common name to refer to the specific material. For some twenty years, this product has been very widely used in the construction of rigid inflatable boats.

Pros
Hypalon is extremely durable. It is resistant to cleaning chemicals, as well as to the environment. No matter whether it’s exposed to extreme temperatures, UV light, or salt water, hypalon suffers little effect.
In general, hypalon’s life expectancy is greater than that of PVC. That can make it an excellent long-term investment.
Hypalon remains durable when dry, and has great resistance to the effects of abrasion.
Also because of its durability, hypalon performs better in cold air and water than its competitors.
Maintains its shape and doesn’t crease in the way that PVC will.

Cons
Hypalon is more expensive than PVC, though not as expensive as polyurethane. As such, rigid inflatable boats made out of hypalon will generally be more expensive than RIBs made from PVC.
Dirt sticks to hypalon, due to the small pores in its surface. It can be difficult to keep perfectly clean.
The cost of manufacturing adds to the overall price of hypalon crafts. The construction of hypalon vessels requires that each part be glued by hand.
Because of the necessity of hand-gluing, RIB repairs for hypalon crafts can be extremely time-consuming. These repairs require a special glue. The glue is very sensitive to its environment and must be handled with care due to its reaction to pressure and temperature.

PVC

Alongside Hypalon, PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is the most commonly used material in the construction of new RIBs. Unlike hypalon, which is a kind of rubber, PVC is a variety of plastic that is used for multiple forms of construction, and not just RIBs.

Pros
PVC is cheaper by far than the other two options, due to its wide availability.
Although it is less flexible than hypalon or polyurethane, this problem can be mitigated with an additive used in construction.
PVC’s lack of flexibility can be seen as a benefit, due to its ability to batter straight through rough waters.
Smoothly glides around obstacles without sticking, unlike hypalon, which is notorious for getting trapped against rocks.
Unlike hypalon, which must be constructed by hand, PVC is welded together, which makes it easier to manufacture and contributes to its lower cost.

Cons
If you leave PVC untreated, it is less flexible than hypalon or polyurethane. However, if you do treat it, it becomes brittle with the use of the additive. Cracks are likely to form within five years, perhaps even rendering the tubes unusable.
The lifespan of PVC tubes is significantly shorter than that of either polyurethane or hypalon tubes.
Not especially resistant to cold temperatures. Can crack easily in cold weather and require repair.
Somewhat heavier than hypalon or polyurethane, which can slow down the RIB and make it less agile.
After long-term storage, it can be difficult to remove creases from PVC.

Polyurethane

Polyurethane is less commonly used than either hypalon or PVC. However, you should still be aware of its various characteristics in case you encounter it on the market. Polyurethane is a polymer. Like PVC, it has many uses other than the construction of boats.

Pros
Polyurethane has great resistance against punctures and abrasion. It’s so tough that it can be made to resist knives, or even bullets.
So durable that it is commonly used on commercial vessels. Polyurethane tubes are even stronger than hypalon in the first years of their use.
Even more slippery than PVC, polyurethane tubes have no trouble with getting stuck on obstacles, and glide effortlessly over rocks.
Lighter than either PVC or hypalon, polyurethane’s lesser weight grants more speed and dexterity to the RIB.
Polyurethane’s lifespan envies that of hypalon’s, making it a long-term investment of equal worth.

Cons
Polyurethane is the most expensive of the three fabrics.
Because it is difficult to manufacture, polyurethane can be difficult to repair, especially for a reasonable cost. This also, of course, adds to its overall expense.
As such, the cost of replacing an RIB’s polyurethane tubes can cost up to a third as much as the cost of the entire vessel.
Older types of polyurethane are extremely sensitive to ultraviolet light, and age quickly with exposure to the sun. Newer types are somewhat more resilient in this regard.
In order to be perfectly airtight, polyurethane tubes must be constructed with multiple layers.

In the end, all the materials have their drawbacks and benefits. No material is perfect, and you will make some sacrifices no matter which material you choose for your RIB tubes. However, all materials are created to code under serious manufacturing guidelines, so no matter whether you ultimately choose hypalon, PVC, or polyurethane for your tubes, your RIB is sure to be a sturdy craft.

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