Hard Bottom Inflatable Boats vs. Soft Bottom Inflatables

Hard bottom inflatable boats are also known as RIBs or rigid bottom inflatable boats. These are hybrid designs that combine the best features of inflatables and traditional hard-hulled boats. Yet soft bottom inflatables retain their extraordinary advantages in portability and affordability.

Advantages of RIBs

Rigid or hard bottom inflatable boats have solid shaped hulls and hard floors. The gunwales are comprised of an inflatable collar which gives the boat its buoyancy. But it is the traditional V-shaped rigid hull that permits the boat to get up on plane easily as well as evenly dissipate the force pounding on the hull as the boat cuts through water.

In comparison, soft bottom boats can achieve planing at lower speeds although the ride is uncomfortable. A shallow V-hull or a flat hull will cause the boat to rise and drop heavily over choppy water. An inflatable v-keel will alleviate this jarring problem somewhat, but the boat will not ride at moderate speeds as well as RIBs will.

Hard bottom inflatables, or any boats with deep V-hulls, require a lot of engine power in order to start hydroplaning. This is where the ability to mount any size engine up to 300hp is another huge benefit of RIBs, and will be very important if your intended use will be water-skiing or pulling towables. The power, control, and maneuverability of rigid inflatable boats are also the reason they are the preferred watercraft of rescue personnel the world over, as well as Navy Seals and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Another difference between soft vs hard bottom inflatables boats is how the air tubes factor into the comfort of the ride. On RIBs, the water is deflected away and kept out of the boat thanks to the oversized tubes, which ride high on the water. When seated inside soft bottom inflatables, however, occupants will likely get wet since the tubes are lower in the water. Once the boat picks up some speed and starts bouncing on the chop, the spray kicks up and soaks everyone in the boat.

The last important point to consider is that while hard bottom inflatable boats are more expensive than soft inflatables, they are far less expensive than hard-hulled boats.

Advantages of Soft Inflatables

If you know the old joke about conventional boats — “The two happiest days of a boat owner’s life are the day he buys it and the day he sells it” — you will quickly see that it doesn’t apply to inflatable watercraft.

Soft bottom inflatables are a low-cost, stress-free way to enjoy leisure days on the water. They are simple to inflate, very comfortable and durable, and come with a variety of floor types including air, slats, wood, or aluminum. With an air floor, the soft inflatable can be rolled up and stored in a car truck giving it a huge advantage in lightweight portability.

As far as price, soft bottom inflatable boats are the way to go for people on a budget. With rigid transoms, small engines, and inflatable keels, they offer an alternative for those who can’t afford the cost of a RIB, don’t have a vehicle to tow a light-duty boat trailer, or who don’t want the hassle of storing a RIB when not in use.

Your Needs and Budget

Ultimately, your choice of hard bottom inflatable boats vs soft-bottom will depend on your intended recreational use. Either type of watercraft can be used for tendering or fishing, or used as a general runabout, dive boat, or even as a ski boat. Soft hulls are very versatile, economical, and portable, but it’s the RIBs that offer a “real boat feel,” yet are half the price of owning and maintaining a traditional powerboat.

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