Which Rigid-inflatable boat (RIB) to buy? RIB buying should be easy. In its simplest and most traditional form, we all know what to expect of a RIB - not least because most of us have used them as training craft. They are very predictable boats, with heavily built and relatively soft-riding hulls, wrapped from stem to stern in a large-diameter inflatable tube to add buoyancy, build confidence and absorb any minor knocks. They use jockey seats to aid support in a lively sea passage and to make the most of the limited internal space brought about by the encroachment of the inflatable collar. And while size-for-size, a good traditional RIB boat offers serious seagoing credentials, it often lacks those leisure boat refinements the pampered modern buyer tends to demand.
There are still plenty of traditional RIBs around and that’s something for which we should be thankful. But what was once a humble workhorse has broken free of its old constraints. You can now opt for radically tapered tubes, stylishly integrated into fibreglass mouldings from high-performance builders like Revenger. You can go shopping for ingenious hybrid craft with step-through screens and sports boat style cockpit layouts from the likes of Sorcerer. And even Humber, that most traditional of builders, justly famous for its tough military, commercial and expedition hulls, has joined the modern drive for RIB sophistication with a range of glossy, pearlescent performance craft. So where on earth does the RIB buyer start? As ever, you need to go back to basics and consider the simple things - the hull, the engine choice, the vital features and of course the price.
As with any form of boat, RIB hulls come in all shapes and sizes. And while it is generally accepted that a long, narrow deep-V hull with acute bow angles will perform very well in a head sea (or make you competitive in an offshore powerboat race), they can also be a bit wet and unpredictable when running with the swells. And in any case, does a family of five in pursuit of a floating picnic really need a £150,000 70-knot missile?
The answer is probably not - so don’t waste your time hunting for the deepest ‘V’ possible because, for most of us, a general-purpose RIB with a more pronounced and buoyant bow coupled to a slightly flatter deadrise is a better bet. As well as offering greater planing efficiency and extra internal space, it ought to be much better suited to long transits in varying sea states. But whatever kind of boat you favour, look for a builder with a well-established reputation and substantial hull and tube warranties. And then talk to existing owners (there are plenty of owners’ forums around), visit a few boat shows to check the quality of various boats in one place - and always insist on a test drive so you can see if a RIB really matches your expectations (and those of your loved ones) on the water.
Vital features to consider when buying a RIB boat
When considering which RIB to buy, you should inspect all the fixtures and fittings with merciless cynicism. They may look very attractive in the showroom, but are they resistant to rust? Are they properly through-bolted? Will they put up with extended abuse? Don’t be afraid to use plenty of force on backrests, frames and grab handles. If you can flex them with your hand, imagine what they will be like once the full weight of the body is multiplied by the G-force of a lumpy sea.
Open all the hatches and poke your nose where you might not be expected to delve. Is the cabling all neatly routed and secured? Are the fibreglass edges rough and sharp or bevelled and tidy? Are the storage spaces all properly drained? And for that matter, does the deck itself have adequate drainage? A RIB needs to be capable of shedding water fast, because at some point, every RIB will take a wave over the bow. And for that same reason, does the boat have a dedicated place for the dry storage of delicate items? Plenty claim to have exactly that but I’ve lost count of the number of times my dry gear has ended up wet.
In addition to inspecting the quality of the build and finish, consider what specific features you require. While traditional seating might involve a pair of jockeys allied to an aft bench and a small ‘suicide seat’ in the front of the helm console, there are now plenty of more sociable, family-friendly configurations available. In particular, the bow space is often far better used, especially on sunny, Mediterranean style boats from the likes of Stingher and Capelli.
Up at the helm, your electronics need to be large enough to read at a glance, robust enough to cope with concerted exposure to saltwater and easy enough to operate with a gloved hand. A good touchscreen colour chart plotter with a sunlight-viewable screen is a great asset - and so too is a fixed VHF with a powerful external speaker to compete with the noise of wind and waves.
Ten key RIB considerations
- Is their proper support and protection at the helm?
- Is the deck capable of shedding water efficiently?
- Are there plenty of strong, well-positioned grabbing points?
- Is there an area for genuine dry storage?
- Are there non-slip surfaces underfoot and on the tube-tops?
- Is the payload sufficient for your passengers and equipment?
- Are there decent reserves of power for watersports?
- Is the seating/deck space ratio appropriate for your intended use?
- Is the build quality, fit-out and finish up to standard?
- It might look good on paper but does it match your expectations on the water?
RIB buying summary
The choice of RIBs on offer is now huge. For traditionalists, there are still simple, hardy boats from the likes of Ribcraft, Redbay, Pacific and Delta, while for playboy sophisticates, exalted names like Hunton, Scorpion and Pascoe are well able to produce the goods. But whatever type of RIB you favour, just take your time and do your research - and if a boat lacks a certain feature, make sure you request it. In today’s leisure-sensitive RIB market, the builder may well be happy to oblige.
Considering alternatives to a RIB boat? See our features on buying other types of powerboats, check out our guide to Buying a sports cruiser as well as How to pick the perfect fishing boat and A guide to bow riders.