As tenders or small runabouts, inflatable boats have become as ubiquitous as buckets. They're light, stable, and easy to care for. But they're not maintenance-free. We spent a day with Doug Williamson, of BBS Inflatable Boats in Babylon, New York (631/587-2424), to get tips on the proper care and treatment of inflatable boats.
1. Boats made from Hypalon are highly resistant to the damaging rays of the sun. Those made from PVC can be ravaged by UV radiation and need to be covered with a tarp when not in use. Check with the manufacturer to see which material was used on your boat.
2. Rinse or vacuum out sand regularly, especially where the hull or floorboards meet the tube. Grit can cause damaging chafe.
3. Inflatables don't like to be stored in the water because it's hard to get antifouling paint to stick. If you're using a small RIB as a tender, avoid towing it behind you. Use a davit or pull it up on your boat's swim platform. If a larger RIB serves as your primary boat, don't store it in the water-use a boatlift or trailer.
4. If you have to moor your inflatable in the water, you won't be able to use conventional antifouling paint. It won't adhere to the tubes and won't flex as your boat expands and contracts with changes in temperature. Try MDR's 787 Inflatable Bottom Coating ($48; 516/546-1162, www.mdramazon.com). It can also be applied to the fiberglass hull portion of a RIB.
5. Registration numbers also require painting. Self-adhesive letters and numbers curl and fall off as the boat expands and contracts. Use a stenciling kit, like one from Inland Marine ($13; 888/465-2633, www.inflatablefix.com).
6. A fully inflated RIB rides better and lasts longer. But how do you know when it's full? Although some new models come with gauges, the crew at BBS Inflatables has a low-tech answer: "Use a foot pump. It prevents overinflating. The RIB is properly filled when you feel backpressure lifting your foot off the pump."
7. Outboard-powered inflatables usually weigh less than the motor. If you must tow one behind your cruiser, remove the motor first. Otherwise the bow will ride high and cause the boat to wander or flip over.
8. Are the floorboards or transom made of wood? Varnish these annually. Replacing these parts can cost $300 to $400 on a vessel that originally cost only $1,000.
9. In the off-season, don't stow your inflatable in the garage or shed, where mice or rodents can get at it. RIBs are favorite nesting sites. "Every spring we get 10 to 12 boats in need of rodent repair," says Williamson. "This year one boat came in that had live mice nesting inside. They scattered when we unrolled the boat." If you must deflate and roll up your RIB, stow it in a secure area and completely cover it with a tarp.