Inflatable Boat Materials 101 – What are Inflatable Boats Made of?

Inflatable boat makers use different materials for manufacturing and piecing their boats together. Various production processes are also used depending on the type of material utilized. The materials used in inflatable boats include unsupported PVC, supported polyester fabric with PVC coating, and supported nylon or polyester fabric with Hypalon coating.

Inflatable Boat Construction

Unsupported PVC simply means that there is no fabric used in making the boat. Because of this, the thickness and durability of the inflatable boat is largely dependent on how thick and durable the PVC is. The advantage of this material is that it is extremely economical and easy to process. Because strength is equally distributed in both directions, it is highly unlikely that it will sustain tears. The problem is, when used together with nylon/polyester sewn fabrics, the result is a weak boat. Water can also get in between the inside and outside hull that adds weight to the boat and makes cleaning difficult. It’s also a poor material to make a motorized inflatable with since it lacks rigidity.

Supported polyester fabric with PVC coating is a common material used in inflatable boats. Here a polyester fabric with an outside PVC coating is used. This is advantageous because it is strong and puncture resistant. It can be extremely rigid when inflated at the right air pressure. Unlike unsupported PVC, this can handle large outboard motors and can also be used in rough whitewater excursions. However, it needs additives for the material to be resistant to sun, saltwater and other chemicals. When the PVC has not been treated, it can turn brown and sticky over time and susceptible to bacterial growth. When the temperature, humidity and cleanliness are not controlled in the manufacturing environment, the glued and welded seams can deteriorate.

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Perhaps the strongest material used in inflatable boats is supported nylon or polyester fabric with Hypalon coating. It can withstand punctures, sunlight and chemicals and is the ideal material used for roughing it out in the rapids. It is also rigid enough to handle large motors. Compared to the other two, this type is more durable. The thing is, this cannot be welded. Like the second material mentioned above, the manufacturing conditions have to be just right otherwise, it also has the tendency to weaken at the seams. Plus, it is a very expensive material to use and manufacture. Thus, inflatable boats using this belong to the high-end market and are too costly.

Now that you know the types of materials used to manufacture rubber ducks, it is up to you to choose the one that suits your needs and your budget. Inflatables made of unsupported PVC are, of course, the cheapest, but if they’re not manufactured right and/or use poor quality PVC, you might have a boat that won’t stand in extreme conditions. Conversely, those made of Hypalon are the most durable and is most recommended. However, the cost may be too much for all but the most wealthy. Supported PVC is perhaps the ideal choice since it combines affordability with quality. If you’re looking for the most durable and affordable inflatable boat, we highly recommend the entire Sea Eagle boats lineup.

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