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What To Look For When Buying A Used Inflatable

posted by The Captain @ 2:00 PM
Thursday, May 31, 2012

One of the biggest problems when first looking at second-hand RIBs, is how to tell if the craft is really what you need. Some RIBs look very spartan and commercially orientated and therefore are unsuitable for family and sports use, however, these craft may be very tough and provide an excellent safe sea boat albeit without any luxuries. Other craft may look very well fitted with comfortable seating, flashy consoles and plenty of instruments, but this does not mean necessarily that the hull is very capable in typical sea conditions.

Up until quite recently the majority of hulls were based on the on the commercial dive boat layout and, generally, these are pretty sturdy and seaworthy craft; however, more recently, a number of inflatable boat manufacturers have introduced a number of creature comforts which include wide wrap around consoles, thickly padded bench seating with grab handles and even cabins and cuddies to protect crew from the elements. The Italian market has for some years led the way with this type of luxury layout, but with hulls that were based towards calm waters and therefore not ideal in colder climes, however, they have recently changed their hulls to suit the rougher seas and many of the RlBs shown at this years Genoa Boat Show were sporting deep V-hulls.

Most makes of RIBs are a safe bet when looking for a sound investment and used prices are very strong, thus buying a new or used RIB is generally a much better financial proposition than a GRP sports boat or open day boat which tend to depreciate very quickly. Perhaps because of their versatility and general social acceptance in marinas and harbours etc, where sports boats can be frowned upon, that RIBs are new in the majority and to be on the water during a weekend confirms their amazing popularity.

Buying a used, or as the posh used car trade call them, previously owned, RIB can be a very confusing and in some cases expensive pastime, however, it is usually the mechanics of the engine and soundness of the trailer which require the most attention. Problems with engines can be very expensive and a thorough inspection by a qualified person is recommended. At the very least, the water pump should be pumping through the correct volume of cooling water. If it has a weak water flow from the tell tale it may be just a blocked outlet; however, if the water pump is not working correctly then overheating may have occurred and damage to the piston rings or bearings may have resulted. In this case, it is a must to have the engine checked by professionals.

The trailer requires the usual visual inspection paying particular attention to the draw bar and hitch, ensuring that the ball locking system is safe and operating correctly. The wheel bearings and brakes, if fitted, are the major areas for careful inspection. Brakes frequently become stiff or totally seized due to immersion in salt water and should be checked for correct operation. Wheel bearings should also be checked and this can be done by jacking up the trailer and checking for play, plus spinning the wheel and listening for bearing noise/rumble. If the bearings are noisy, do not attempt to tow the boat without first replacing the bearings; failure to do this can result in a very frustrating and potentially dangerous situation arising. Finally, the winch and, particularly the winch strap or wire, should be inspected. Do not rely on the winch alone to secure the front of the boat, always double up with a securing rope or strap just in case the ratchet on the winch is worn and jumps out of its locked position.

Buying a used RIB should be straightforward providing basic inspection shows no obvious flaws. Generally speaking, what you see is what you get and there should be no reason to suppose that if the tubes and hull appear fair that there are any hidden problems; however, the following obvious tips should provide a guide to the main problem areas.

Repairs Check
Check for major repairs to the buoyancy tubes. If there are professional repairs evident, then this should not present any problems; however, half stuck patches may indicate an amateur repair and these should be attended to as soon as possible.


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Blown Baffles
Check for blown buoyancy tube baffles. This is easily checked by deflating the adjoining tube and inflating the inflated one to sufficient pressure so as to provide a firm and correctly inflated section. Any air transfer will be heard escaping into the deflated chamber. Place your ear close to the baffle (division between air chambers) of the inflated tube to magnify the noise.

Seams
Many seams are covered by tape which can become detached or start lifting. On some boats, this is purely a protective tape covering the main seam below, however, on other makes, especially where the tape is the same fabric as the boat and not just a light weight tape, then this may be main attachment between seams. If the former applies, then is nothing to worry about and a little glue will re-stick the tape easily. However, if the heavier wider tape appears to be lifting, consult an expert before proceeding with the purchase. On certain makes of boat, this can be the beginning of the scams becoming unglued and this can prove very expensive to put right. Some early PVC and polyurethane tubes were particularly prone to seam problems and when unsure as to the type of fabric in use, again, contact the manufacturers or an expert to ascertain the likely problems.

Hull to Tube Attachment
Careful inspection will show up any problem in this area and common sense should prevail, however, check for tell tale glue stains on the the GRP and tube which may indicate a previous problem that has been hastily repaired.

Glue Smears
Dark brown smears which are difficult to remove around the hull/tube joint may be just a careless clean up job from new; however, it may be a repair so ask the seller and have a go at pulling at the fabric in that area to ensure the stick is good. Tubes that become detached at sea do not amuse the crew, although it has been known to create mirth amongst onlookers.

Hull Integrity
Check the hull for serious crazing, especially along the spray rails and chines. Any longitudinal cracks should be treated with great suspicion, but, even worse is a hairline crack that runs across the beam of the hull. This may indicate that the boat has a weakness which could result in an expensive repair or even worse a hull that is flexing due to loss of longitudinal strength through severe use or accidental damage. Any cracks should be checked thoroughly and a surveyor should be consulted if in any doubt. Minor star grazing, compression cracks and chips in the chines are generally cosmetic rather than structurally dangerous. To repeat, whenever in doubt get a surveyor or walk away.

Transom and Floor
This is seldom a problem although floors do become spongy in some makes of RIB. This can be caused by the floor becoming detached from its bearers or the plywood base becoming damaged through water or fuel ingression. The detachment of the deck can often be repaired by a professional boat builder by simply grinding back part of the GRP covering the plywood and re-screwing the deck down to the bearers and making good the GRP. If the floor is delaminating for whatever reason, then it may require part or all of the deck to be replaced. This is very expensive and can be difficult to execute so, once again, given the choice, don’t bother and look elsewhere. The transom should be checked around its base and around its bearers knees. Often small cracks appear at the base of the transom especially if not supported by proper knees. The tops of the knees sometimes show cracks but neither of these means that there is something seriously wrong. Flexing of the transom caused by the fitting of a large engine engines can put enormous loads in this area and whist not unusual to experience these stress marks, it is worth taking a close look to ensure that no serious damage has been done due to flexing.

Console and Seating
Check for any obvious damage and condition of the upholstery, seat hinges etc. but, otherwise, nothing particularly serious should occur in this area; however, check the floor attachment area to ensure the console does not break out.

Fuel Tanks
Problems with breakdown at sea can often be attributed to polluted fuel cold there are many reasons as to how this can occur. Where portable tanks are fitted, check for rust or old fuel. Both can cause serious reliability problems. With fitted tanks, wherever possible try and check the fuel by smelling it to see if it has been standing for sometime and has turned varnishy. Also check all fittings, outlets, breathers etc., to ensure there are no leaks. A leaking inboard fuel tank can be expensive to repair and potentially lethal. It is possible to pressure test all fuel tanks but this requires a certain expertise and is best checked by a qualified engineer or surveyor.

Complete Package
Finally, check the engine-trailer-boat package are compatible and have been regularly maintained. Boats that are hardly used hardly used can be just as troublesome as heavily used craft and vice versa. Outfits that have been properly maintained are usually reliable and well found and can provide a worthwhile investment for the buyer.

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