Preseason Inflatable Care

Posted: March 1, 2012

Your tender gets treated roughly, so make sure it’s ready for the season

By: Deane Hislop

Most inflatable boats and RIBs are used as tenders and are subjected to some pretty tough conditions, but if they are maintained properly, they should provide 10 to 20 years of service. A little springtime preventive maintenance will help extend a tender’s life and provide a worry-free season of use.

Lisa Selfridge, store manager at Maritime’s Marine Centers in Anacortes, Wash., recently shared several valuable bits of advice to prepare for the upcoming season.

Start by ensuring the boat is properly inflated. Fill the aft chambers first to the manufacturer’s suggested pressure level, and then fill the bow chamber(s). By doing the filling in this order, the torpedo-shaped aft chambers are allowed to fill properly. If it’s a two-chamber inflatable, determine which valve will fill the bow chamber, and inflate the other first. Bow-first pressurization can lead to significant problems with the seams.

Wash the boat with a warm solution of mild boat (or dish) soap and water, using a green 3M scrubby pad. The stubborn stains may need something stronger, such as one of the many commercial cleaners available specifically for inflatable boats. Selfridge advises to not use citrus-based cleaners, because they can melt the fabric. She also recommends applying a coat of 303 Aerospace Protectant. This will protect the fabric from UV damage. Do not use Armor All to protect your inflatable, as its surface will become very slippery and present a hazard.

While the boat is fully inflated and the valve caps are securely in place, spray the entire boat with soapy water and watch for bubbles to form, which will indicate a leak. Clearly mark each leak with a pencil. Don’t assume there is only one leak. Then, check the floor seams and the bilge plug for watertightness. Suspend the fully inflated boat over dry pavement using a trailer or a couple of sawhorses. Fill the boat with water above the floor and tube seam. If it is leaking water, a damp spot will form on the pavement and you will know where on the boat to look. Mark the leak with a pencil.

Many manufacturers recommend that you take your boat to a professional for larger repairs. However, if you have a small leak, follow the directions on the patch kit. Here are some general tips:

Ensure that the area to be patched has been wiped with MEK for PVC boats or toluene for Hypalon boats before applying the patch.

  • Be sure the adhesive is the consistency of honey, not old and dry.
  • Choose a patch that extends at least 1½ inches beyond the rip in all directions. Don’t patch over seams.
  • Also check davit pads and D-rings before leaving the dock to ensure they haven’t worked loose over the off-season.

Inflatable-boat fabric is not only sensitive to UV rays but also to airborne pollutants and abrasions. During the season, routinely rinse off the dinghy with fresh water so that soot and pollution don’t have time to accumulate and penetrate the protective layer, and keep the boat covered whenever it’s not in use.

Posted By: Tom Collins On: 3/11/2012

Title: Use of Armor All on Inflatables

The comment in the article was to not use Armor All because it makes the boat dangerously slippery. Although that may be a concern, the far more important reason for not using Armor All is that once used, the boat can never be repaired. That is because Armor All contains silicone which will prevent bonding anything to the fabric in the future (and also make it slippery). Aerospace 303 Protectant doesn't contain silicone and won't prevent future repairs (although it also makes the boat temporarily very slippery too).

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