Rigid Inflatable Boats : RIBS and Inflatables
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  # 064
Fun with Rigid Inflatable Boats
By: Andrew Thomas
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Beached RIB

Dockside RIB


Endless Summers of Waterskiing, Fishing and Fun
I remember the summer just before I entered high school. My family usually spent their summers at the local lake which is about 7 miles outside of town. It was a man-made lake about 10 miles long which was created by a dam built in the early 1940s. The dam itself was a hold over of a make-work project created during the Great Depression. It's primary purpose was to stop the flooding of the Grand River which occurred every 20 years or so.

Since the original purpose of the dam was for flood control the water levels in the lake were very high after the winter snow melt. The water level then became progressively lower through the summer and into the fall. This created its own unique set of challenges. You're boat dock for instance, had to be on wheels in order to follow the water level down throughout the season. By September you had to move the dock every two or three days in order to stop your boat from grounding.

This continuous water level change presented its own unique set of circumstances for boaters. Early in the spring you could easily go upriver in order to fish or sightsee but as you moved into July the water became too shallow for any boat that could not be paddled. Against the explicit instructions of our parents, my best friend and I chose to tempt the gods of fate one July when I was 12 years old. We chose to go up river in order to fish and just goof off. About an hour before the sun went down we headed back. We almost made it! Just as we were exiting the river into the lake area we sped up the boat and hit what we suspect was either a submerged tree trunk (in 1940 they decided to leave all the tree trunks in place when they flooded the Valley) or rock. Long story short we tore the bottom of the motor off. I can still remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach when we tilted the motor out of the water and saw the propeller and the casing dangling from the bottom of the motor.

Two hours later in the pitch black we managed to row our boat to the nearest cottage and call for help. Two very angry fathers showed up about half an hour later. Even today I am glad that was my friend's boat and not ours. The only saving grace to the whole experience was that there had been a little known manufacturers recall on this particular boat motor. My friend's dad received all his money back for the motor and was able to buy a bigger and better motor.

For the most part of my time on this lake I remember endless summer days lying in the sun, swimming, fishing and waterskiing. For the latter we primarily relied on the good graces of some friends of mine from Toronto. They came up on weekends with their parents during the summer months.

The year was 1979 and the parents of some friends of mine had just purchased a used boat. The boat was very unique and was unlike anything we've ever seen before. The solid shaped hull of the boat was fiberglass with flexible tubes at the gun whale. We didn't know what to make of this new boat.

My friend's father called it a zodiac inflatable life boat . This particular RIB Boat and other zodiac inflatable life rafts had been used at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montréal for the water. The judges had used these boats for use in regulating the water events and by rescue personnel who were always kept on standby in case anything went wrong. They were chosen for their stability (they were very difficult to tip over), the fact that they're inexpensive, and the ease with which rescue personnel were able to pull people out of the water. Also important to the Olympic organizers was the fact that the design is very seaworthy. The buoyancy of the boat is not lost if a large quantity of water ends up on board.

We soon discovered that the boat was very quick and agile. It was very smooth over the waves and because it had a 35 hp engine we had enough power for waterskiing. Sometimes we even pulled two water skiers - although they usually started off the dock. We also spent a great deal of time that summer fishing all over the lake and up the river. The boat didn't draw much water so we were able to move in very shallow water with ease. This feature was of particular benefit in this lake.

For awhile I remember being very worried that we were going to puncture the boat when fishing. It never happened and as typical 14-year-olds we were probably very careless.

One thing I do remember is how easy it was to get out of the water, particularly when we were swimming in the lake or getting into the boat after waterskiing. Unlike a traditional hard hulled boat which is very tall in the water this boat sat very low. This feature combined with the built-in ropes that surrounded the gun whale made getting in and out of the boat very easy. It got rid of a lot of the awkwardness of the process of exiting the water and you didn't scratch your chest and legs when you were pulled in. We really appreciated that!

If there was anything I truly regret about the time with the RIB is that it only lasted one summer. My friend's family moved during the winter and we never saw again.

Today I live on the Pacific coast of British Columbia, Canada. I see all kinds of inflatable boats here from whitewater kayaks (both inflatable and traditional) on the ocean and in the interior rapids. I see all manner of fishing boats from commercial trawlers to pontoon type small fishing boats for the recreational fishermen. And yes, my local sailing club uses rigid inflatable boats for emergencies. They respond to distress calls with these boats and at times they are used by race officials to monitor their racing events.

Sometimes as I sit at my desk and think back to those lazy, hazy days of summer I have a feeling of melancholy. Perhaps it is not too late for me to start enjoying the water again.

Waterskiing anyone!

About the Author:
Andrew Thomas is a successful author both on and off the Internet. He is a regular contributor to best-inflatable-boats.com, other websites and publications.

June 2007

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Rigid Inflatable Boats : RIBS and Inflatables