Before you invest in an inflatable boat, take the time to learn something about the construction and materials used. The quality of the materials used in constructing these boats can vary widely, and understanding the pros and cons of each of the inflatable boat materials available will help you choose the right boat for your needs.
The least expensive material used to make inflatable boats is PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. This is a form of pliable rubber without any cloth backing used to make boats of various sizes. The quality of unsupported PVC varies widely depending on the formulation and how thick it is. In most cases, thicker PVC inflatable boats are also made better overall and the hull will last longer and withstand more pressure.
On the plus side, inflatable boats of unsupported PVC are inexpensive. You can buy a good quality inflatable boat made of PVC without investing a lot. Since the material isnít woven like fabric, it is equally tear resistant in all directions, so long tears arenít as likely. If a PVC boat is manufactured with strong welds it can be very durable, lasting you for years with proper care.
On the other hand, unsupported PVC inflatable boats can be weak and arenít as durable as many inflatable boats made with coated fabrics. They are prone to sewing problems and fit problems between the bladder and the other parts. It can be difficult to use a motor with pure PVC inflatable boats because these boats arenít terribly rigid.
PVC Coated Polyester Fabric
A PVC coating over polyester fabric makes for a stronger boat. This is the most popular of all the inflatable boat fabrics. Itís relatively economical to make and gives you added strength without raising the cost out of reach of most consumers. Just like with pure PVC boats, the quality relies heavily on the quality of the PVC. It also hinges partly on how the PVC coating is applied.
Calendaring is done by brushing PVC on the top and bottom of the polyester fabric, while laminating is done by fusing three layers Ė the outer coating of solid PVC, the fabric sandwiched in between, and an inner film of PVC. Calendaring is the superior process, as it gets the PVC more completely into the weave of the fabric.
You get a higher quality boat with PVC coated polyester than you generally do with unsupported PVC, but you will still want to check the quality of the joins, the seams and various accessories. There is more flexibility with coated polyester, as the seams can be either welded or glued. The hull is far less expensive than with boats made of materials such as hypalon. It is very strong and puncture resistant and can be inflated to a high pressure point for added rigidity. The durability of PVC coated polyester inflatable boats makes it strong enough for white water rafting and use with outboard motors.
Of course, there are also disadvantages to coated polyester boats. PVC coated polyester is known for developing a sticky layer when it has been improperly formulated. If not properly designed, the material is prone to breakdown when exposed to salt water, sunlight and certain chemicals. This isnít the case in top quality versions, but it is something to keep in mind. If a PVC coated, supported polyester boat is welded or glued in an unsuitable environment, the seams may become weak over time.
Hypalon Coating Over Nylon or Polyester Fabric
Hypalon is one of the most exciting innovations in the manufacture of inflatable boats in recent years. This flexible coating has several advantages, including a strong resistance to ultraviolet light and chemicals. Of course, it is also more expensive to manufacture, significantly increasing the cost to the consumer. You also canít weld materials with a hypalon coating, restricting manufacturing to the use of glue. The superior durability of hypalon coated inflatable boats makes them a favorite of dedicated boating enthusiasts.
There are several good reasons to invest in a hypalon coated boat, included the excellent puncture resistance and impressive strength of the material. This strength enables you to inflate the your boat to extremely high pressure for added rigidity. It can handle white water and large motors easily and will last for years because of its resistance to weather and ultraviolet light.
Unfortunately, hypalon coated inflatable boats are expensive. In some cases, the cost is so prohibitive that it isnít within reach for many consumers. Because you canít weld these boats, the gluing must be done in just the right conditions to ensure there are no defects.