If you wanted to design a boat to have the softest possible ride, the best shape would be a ball. Of course, standing up in it would be tricky, you wouldn't be able to go too fast, and steering would be difficult, to say the least. Which is why after more than a hundred years or so of history with planing hulls, we've reached the best compromise: the deep-V hull. Since the late 1950s it has stood as the softest-riding, most practical boat design. Ask owners, builders, designers, racers, anglers, or anyone with powerboat experience in rough water-the consensus will be that for a soft ride, deep-Vs rule.
Yet, there are heretics. Catamarans came on strong during the 1990s and continue to thrive. Twin hull advocates wouldn't trade them for any of Ray Hunt's (the inventor of the deep-V) offspring, no matter what you offered. Round bilged displacement hulls have their devotees, too. Though most of us aren't willing to creep along at 8 mph just for the sake of comfort.
Then there are the variants of the classic 24-degree deadrise at the transom deep-V. Laterally stepped deep- Vs such as those built by Intrepid and longitudinally stepped ones found on old "Potter-built" Sea Crafts both claim improved ride comfort. But the design that makes the strongest claim as being the deep-V adaptation with the best rough-water ride on one hull belongs to the RIB, or rigid-hulled inflatable. Its designers claim that mating a narrow lightweight deep-V hull with a water-smoothing air-cushioned collar produces a softer ride than any standalone deep-V out there.
Rather than let so bold an assertion go unchallenged, Boating's Tech Team hopped aboard two boats that we've rated among the softest riding of their types. To represent the deep-V we chose a 29'0" Regulator 29, and for the RIB, a 27'11" Zodiac Pro 20. We installed G-forcemeasuring accelerometers aboard each boat to keep them honest. You'll get no vague "soft and dry" or "rides likes it's on rails" euphemisms in this report. Instead we'll let our numbers tell the tale.
To paraphrase Da Vinci, those who practice without science are like seamen who steer without a compass, never knowing where they're going. So keep reading-we won't steer you wrong.