Inflatable vs. fiberglass boat? Before, I discussed why you should choose an inflatable boat, but what is exactly its difference from a hard-shelled vessel? The inflatable ones use air while the other one utilizes a fiberglass build to track on water. Each one has its unique features and benefits. It may or may not be for you depending on the sailing you’re planning to do.
Fiberglass boats, or sometimes called as Rigid Boats, are usually bigger than inflatables. It also possesses more features given that it has a solid cockpit. But this doesn’t mean the inflatable vessels are total goners. These smaller boats are widely used for leisure and rescue missions due to the versatility of its build.
But to give both types the benefit of scrutiny, here’s a quick comparison to help you out.
Features and build
Fiberglass boats use a hard material in the overall frame of the vessel. It doesn’t use any wood or soft plastic in the majority of its features and it provides more durability. All the parts of this boat are fastened with the use of metal screws, unlike inflatables that are usually electronically welded.
An inflatable vessel may not have such rigidity but it stands out with convenience. An air deck boat can be deflated and stored in a small bag. However, there’s a higher risk to get wet if you’re riding an inflatable, unlike the fiberglass that has a deck that lies high on the water.
Inflatable vs. fiberglass boat: Stability
First, fiberglass boats are stable given that it has the right build. It uses foams and other flotation devices to maintain the stability of the vessel. However, a capsized rigid boat is prone to sinking and retrieval would be challenging.
If the floating prowess is your consideration, an inflatable would be golden. Just make sure that you have a rigid hull to match a Hypalon collar to cut the risk of punctures that can deflate the air chambers.
At some point, both fiberglass and inflatable boats meet halfway in terms of performance. Inflatable vessels can be racers if mounted with a high-powered outboard motor. It also has a good bounce on moving waters that prevent it from capsizing.
In the case of rigid boats, planing is way easier and it can cut through waves with less effort. It could have a more powerful engine on which the inflatable can pit on. An advantage of rigid boats is it doesn’t usually go airborne during a high-speed ride, inflatables do.
Fiberglass boats and other rigid vessels are all subject to the approval and permit of the U.S. Coast Guard. All of them are categorized as maritime vehicles and has to undergo due inspection and testing before launching into the water.
Inflatable boats too can be registered to the USCG but it’s not a requirement. If you’re using it for recreation, you can freely launch it to the sea. Some models come with a USCG approval I.D. that denotes quality and safety standards. Anyway, state laws will apply here. So inflatable vs. fiberglass boat? The USCG approval might help.
Definitely, rigid boats can accommodate more people than an inflatable one given that it can have a wider deck. The interior of a fiberglass boat is by far up to six inches longer than the usual inflatables. It could be more massive depending on the build.
Don’t get me wrong, gigantic inflatable boats can carry dozens of people but the risk of tipping is high. It may also have the tendency to lie low on water if the weight limit is exploited up to the last pound. Whereas fiberglass boats can still maintain its original stance even if swamped with payloads.
Providers of fiberglass boats offer their clients the freedom to have the boat customized based on their sailing needs. This is the number one downfall of inflatables as it only allows a rider to tweak the seats, flooring, motor, and lighting. The construction can’t be changed; otherwise, the buoyancy would be compromised.
It’s rare for manufacturers of inflatable vessels to offer custom made boats as most of their products are already made during purchase. It’s up to the owner to add more features and accessories. But other than that, inflatables are limited in terms of customization.
Inflatable vs. fiberglass boat: Tracking
Both inflatable and fiberglass vessels could use engines to speed up the tracking. It could have 20 horsepower or more depending on the ability of the boat to handle the speed. Inflatables used for racing could have more than 50 hp.
The one important thing to remember is that fiberglass boats can be paddled too. This is another meeting point of the two types. The only difference is that the way fiberglass boats cut through the waves that can give it an edge over an inflatable with the same horsepower. Motorized fiberglass boats tend to be lighter for its weight capacity as well.
Let’s face it, inflatable boats are one heck of a maintenance nightmare at some point. You have to patch holes, pump it with air, and use protective accessories to avoid the tubes from being fried under the sun. On the other hand, fiberglass boats would only need a few wipes and you’re good to for another trip. So inflatable vs. fiberglass boat? The maintenance might be a deal breaker!
But here’s the good news. Many inflatable boats nowadays are made of durable material that can withstand UV rays and reduce the tendency of punctures. Of course, it’s not as tough as the rigid boats but it’s developing through the years.
When maintained well, inflatable boats can last for years just like the fiberglass type.
If you’re planning to sell your boat in the future (why would you, by the way?), you might as well invest on relatively pricey fiberglass vessels. You have the chance to get back up to 90% of the purchasing price after two years given that you maintain it well. In the case of inflatables, 50% is already a lucky bet after two years.
The materials of soft boats aren’t as durable as fiberglass. It’s also harder to repair to look new and the patches from previous trips would decrease its market value. Anyway, inflatables are typically cheaper than fiberglass so I think it’s just the right bargain for your investment.
If there’s one department where inflatables are reigning, it’s convenience. Only inflatable vessels would allow you to fold the boat and place it in the trunk of your car. There’s no need to secure a heavy fiberglass canoe at the roof of the vehicle. Some smaller air deck inflatables can fit on luggage so you can bring it on your travels.
You could also launch inflatable boats on your own with less effort. Fiberglass vessels, on the other hand, would require two or more people to drag it to the shore. The storage is another thing.
Now that the inflatable vs. fiberglass boat argument is discussed, you’re likely to have the knowledge about which one you should choose. Each one has its pros and cons. Fiberglass options are sturdy while inflatables are convenient and can be speeders too. Do you agree with the mentioned points? Let me know below in the comment section!