"The first surprise was how long it took to assemble and inflate some of the models... nearly 20 minutes for some boats, and at least 10 minutes for most of the rest"
YACHTING MONTHLY, June 2010 (testing 14 inflatables around 9ft long)
The inflatable dinghy has become very commonplace in the yacht tender market, almost entirely because it can be deflated for stowage. Unfortunately of course they can also deflate when you don't want them to (whether the culprit is wear and tear, a rock, or a prankster)! And - as Yachting Monthly found - they can take ages to inflate, especially when they have:
"anything up to five individual air compartments, each needing to be inflated to a
If we take the average "real world" time to blow up an inflatable as 15 minutes, that is half an hour per launch/retrieval. In contrast our sectional dinghies can be hooked and bolted together in less than two minutes.
Just because inflatables are filled with air does not mean they are light! A good quality hypalon inflatable with transom and floor will weigh about the same as a carefully-built grp hard dinghy, length for length. A thin pvc-skin beach toy will be much lighter, but is not a serious dinghy. If you add engines, fuel tanks etc to the equation, the balance tips in favour of the grp dinghy: you may not need an outboard at all because you find rowing is actually enjoyable, or only need a smaller (lighter and more economical) one for long journeys.
In the Yachting Monthly test the average weight of the 14 inflatable dinghies was 35kg, with the heaviest at 44kg. Our Pram Dinghy can weigh as little as 32kg, depending on materials and specification chosen.
Because they take so long to inflate/deflate, a lot of sailors end up towing their inflatables some or all of the time - probably the worst of all compromises! The drag and windage are huge: at best, it will slow you down, a lot (feel the load in the painter when you're doing 6 or 7 knots); at worst it will flip over and/or fill up with water, break the painter and leave you without a dinghy at all.
But the worst - and most dangerous - aspect is the virtual impossibility of rowing an inflatable. We have never found anybody who thought theirs was pleasurable to row, and the manufacturers know that because of this their customers will buy an outboard, so they make only the most token of efforts at providing rowing facilities. This complete reliance on engines is unseamanlike and we have had to (or seen other people) rescue inflatable dinghy users who had, for example, zoomed out to a dive site under power and then found that their outboard did not work for the return journey. In a hard dinghy they could have rowed back, even against the wind and tide. In an air-filled rubber dinghy they don't stand a chance.
"Our cruising forebears thought nothing of rowing a mile or two, but even the toughest of them would baulk at the prospect of propelling a modern inflatable any distance against wind or tide, with those flimsy little alloy and plastic oars"
Ten Tenders Tested, YACHTING MONTHLY December 2008
In the same article they said of the Tinker Tramp - which is often cited as the exception to the inflatables-are-rubbish-to-row rule:
"Under oars she suffered from the usual inflatable problems: she slipped sideways in any wind and did not track well... disappointing to row"
And what about RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats)? These have a solid hull with inflatable tubes. Well, yes the underwater shape is better (ie boat shaped!) than a pure inflatable but: the rowing equipment supplied is almost always dreadful or non-existent; the windage is huge (making it even harder to row); most are very heavy; and you have to find somewhere to stow at least the length of the rigid hull (it's lost the only real advantage an inflatable has over a hard dinghy), or tow it (see above). A RIB with a large outboard is undeniably fast, but that combination also represents a large and highly visible pile of cash that you are going to have to leave unattended when you go ashore. A RIB is heavy on its own (Avon Rover 280, 61kg), and the outboard you need to get it planing might double the weight. You won't make any friends speeding noisily through the anchorage, nor at the dinghy dock where you feel obliged to padlock it on a short chain so nobody else can get a space. And eventually, no matter how careful you are, it will still get stolen anyway.
If you want speed without needing a large outboard, our 14ft Trio is a good solution. With one person on board she will plane, achieving 11-12 knots with just a 3.5hp engine. With two on board the same engine will give 8-10 knots, semi-planing. And with heavier loads she will go into full displacement mode, where her long, lean waterline (with a length:beam ratio of 4:1) makes her far more efficient than a typical inflatable (with a typical length:beam ratio of 2:1). The issue of transporting/storing a 14ft boat is resolved - like all Nestaways - by making her sectional. And she is nice to row, and she can be sailed with the optional rig.