A variety of SIBS & RIBS launching from Glenridding on Ullswater this morning. Was tempted to organise a lineup photo shoot for comparison but I didn't want to ruin anyone's holiday!
I'm sure we all had fun in our boats today, lovely weather for it. Anyway...
My decision process can be found in the thread from a few weeks ago titled "Decision time - Excel 330", but to summarise:
When considering a new SIB, my primary criteria were as follows:
- Safe and reliable boat that I can transport, set up and launch on my own
- Must be paired with a 6hp 4stroke, considering criteria no.1
- Space for four adults comfortably over short distances, day trips at modest planing speeds with two up, and fun speeds on my own, considering criteria no.2
The Excel Volante 330 fitted my budget well and ticked all these boxes. I liked the high pressure flat floor and sturdy feel for less sea-going family members, the internal dimensions are good, and I generally really like the aesthetics. I went to see one in the flesh at Excel's showroom and came home with boat and outboard in the boot.
So, after two days of boating on Ullswater in the Lake District, here is the review of my new Excel Volante SD330 3.3m SIB.
I am not affiliated with Excel in any way, what follows are my own thoughts and opinions. I started sailing when I was a kid, but should be considered a "fair weather boater", tending to get on the water in the sunny summer months when on holiday, be it in the UK or abroad.
• Excel Volante SD330 SIB
• Suzuki DF6AS 6hp short shaft four stroke outboard
• 12L External tank and fuel line
• Searon TachHour meter
• Excel 250mm transom launch wheels (spring loaded clip-on type with 30psi tyres)
• "Tarp clips" to prevent seats sliding
• Sevylor 12v air pump
• 2x SeaGuard auto-inflating life jackets
• Ducksback outboard cover
For those who might be budgeting for a new boat, the total cost of the entire list above including insurance from CraftInsure.com, sealant for installing the transom wheels and parts for a DIY outboard wall bracket came in just under £2320.
I thought long and hard about posting that number online but decided I would have found it useful to know as a ballpark budget. The boat and motor were ex display from Excel with new external fuel tank and transom wheels, everything else I've shopped around for online.
Setup from car boot
The whole setup fits in the back of our VW TRoc with the back seats down. The engine and boat fit lengthways next to each other in the boot, with the two metal seats, oars, 12v pump, life jackets and smaller extras under the boot floor and everything else packed around in available space. There is space left for a large suitcase, two backpacks and assorted holiday gubbins.
The boat comes in a large fabric bag with two webbing handles that strop all the way under the bag and a pocket the front for ropes. The bag quality is OK... ours already has a small tear in the bottom and we haven't been particularly rough with it. It is a big 50kg lump so avoiding even slightly dragging the bag is pretty difficult unless you always have two or more people and plenty of space to unload.
I can just about manage the weight on my own by sliding it out of the boot, but I would do myself damage if I kept doing it without help. The engine is much more manageable at 23kg.
The Sevylor 12v pump plugs into a car cigarette socket and is ok for the money. I always run the car engine to make sure the voltage is constant. It will not get the boat up to pressure though, so I let the it do the bulk of the work and then top up using the Excel stirrup pump which has a gauge on it - correct pressure is crucial, more on that below. Perhaps one day I will buy a Bravo 12v if they are miles better and 100% accurate, but this system works for me and I get some upper body exercise. The pump isn't the fastest but that gives me time to assemble the oars or change my shoes while a chamber inflates.
I inflate the chambers in this order to ensure the pressure relief valve works as designed; bow, port, starboard, floor, keel.
You MUST make sure all chambers are up to pressure, the last 0.5 PSI makes all the difference to the handling of the boat even at low speeds. A top up was required after justa few minutes in the cold waters of Ullswater lake.
The oars attach securely with their captive rowlocks and push into large rubber clips to be held in place along the tubes.
The seats have a tendency to slide along their fittings when you lean on them, so I bought some "tarp clips" from amazon to act as end stops - suggested by a member of this forum, sorry I forget who! They fit perfectly, they even have the notch that matches the seat fittings.
There is a strap on the floor in the bow to secure the external tank, but my fuel line is just too short for this to work without causing a trip hazard. I might extend it, but the tank sat happily at the transom all day with my passenger in the bow and our cargo stowed between us.
I have fitted my transom wheels and have found that they will not attach with the wheels facing forward tucked under boat as I believe they are meant to do. Another 20mm lower would do it but the bolt washers would not clear the blocks that hold the floor in place on the inboard side of the transom. The wheels work ok facing backwards, but I have noticed a small amount of bending on the lower flanges of the brackets that the wheels clip into. I havestraightened them again, I think I caused this by leaning on the transom when attaching the motor, and that may have happened whichever way the wheels were facing...
The boat is easy for one person to move around on land, and the 250mm tyres mean the launch wheels can get over modest sized rocks and obstacles. The buoyancy of the tyres makes removing them a bit exciting, beware of them flying up out of the water!
The build quality feels great, with protective layers of PVC fabric or strake over all the exposed edges and seams. Just from looking at the boat before launching, I wasn't worried about occasionally rubbing over gravel or the odd gentle bump over rocks or logs. I haven't found any scratches under the boat and we launched and landed from several gravelly beaches around the lake. Of course careful use will prolong the life of your boat, but it's good to know that it's solid.
NOTE: With the Suzuki DS6AS mounted without any modification to the transom, the prop is too low in the water by at least an inch. I need to test packing between the transom top and motor bracket, I'm thinking a short length of stainless steel unistrut with plastic trim and end caps will do nicely without scratching anything. Anyway, the boat is reviewed with this in mind. Read on...
The boat handles extremely well in calm or following water, and is comfortable in a modest chop with 6hp at wide open throttle. Some passengers may like to have a cushion for longer journeys on the seats if they don't want to sit on the floor or tubes, and I am considering the Excel seat bag for this purpose.
Everything is rock solid, the floor is amazing and inspires confidence when on the water.
The Suzuki 6hp short shaft is a great low HP companion to the Volante 330 for cruising around comfortably. It got us up on the plane at slow to moderate speeds with two people on board. As always weight distribution is crucial for the best economy and comfort in varying conditions.
The tachometer was very useful for running in the motor and keeping track of motor hours, it could be considered essential. Mine is velcro'd just below the Suzuki S on the front of the cowling below the pull starter handle, with the induction sensing wire fed through the throttle cable gromet and following the kill switch cable to the spark plug HT lead. The Searon tacho from Amazon has survived two days with light rain and some accidental splashes. It shows the current RPM, as well as recording total running hours, trip running hours, trip maximum RPM reached, over rev warning and service hour countdown.
A higher HP engine would be absolutely necessary if you want to travel at moderate to high speed with two or more people in the boat, towing kids on inflatables, or in fast currents or higher winds within the limits of the boat. I'm sure I'll be investing in a 15-20hp for use on the coast with younger family in tow down the line.
There is enough space on board for a day of fun with two people and lunch plus safety equipment. For tender duties or slow cruising, I agree with the manufacturer's maximum rating of 4 adults and 1 child.
I have attached my launch wheel fittings quite close to the motor so that I can invert the wheels on the water without them putting too much tension on the fabric splash panels aft of the transom, but this limits my steering to about 45į in either direction. Fitting them wider would solve this but they couldn't be stored vertically. They are small enough to stow onboard which is what we preferred.
Landing & pack down
Landing is as easy as launching, albeit with a bit more weight due to the boat being wet. Water easily drains out of the self bailer valve in the transom.
Attaching the wheels when afloat takes some practice as you're submerging a very buoyant thing.
The boat comes apart very easily and folds down reasonably small. It took two rehearsals and a YouTube video to pack it small enough to fit into the bag comfortably, but once you've got it it's not difficult.
At worst, the Volante is a great value SIB that rightfully competes with the long standing household brands. At best it is a high quality, easy to use inflatable boat, suitable for newbies and sea-dogs alike, with a long warrantee and UK based manufacturer.
Yes, the transom wheels could be better designed, but there are other options out there. Yes, it would be nice if it was as light as a Honwave, but I prefer the flat floor. Yes, the boat bag could be made from more hard wearing material, but at the price I could buy a new bag down the line.
Life is full of compromises, so if you're in the market for a reliable, portable inflatable boat that is suitable for a small family at a competitive price, I promise the Volante is well worth considering.
I shall update this post with additional, corrected or updated information. Photos to follow.