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RIBs are considered the 4 x 4s of the sea – they’re powerful, fast, easy to manoeuvre and durable. In order to help RIB owners get optimum performance from their craft and be fully prepared for a season on the water, leading boat insurance provider, Towergate Insurance and RIB Magazine editor, Hugo Montgomery-Swan, offer some essential tips and inside knowledge.

Choosing a RIB

Before buying a RIB, ask yourself what you want it for. What is its prime intended use; ie is it primarily for water sports or offshore cruising? The RIB has developed from its original concept as a working fast rescue craft/commercial vessel, sometimes adapted for private use, to something that’s available in all shapes and sizes – even a full blown cabin cruiser or a 100mph race boat. In other words, there’s a lot of variety out there and many different design concepts to choose from.

With such adaptations ranging from racing RIBs to luxury cruising craft – the majority benefiting from the seaworthy characteristics common to RIB technology, it’s easy to see why these special boats have become head-on competitors to traditional sports craft and small power cruisers. However, it’s true to say that some designs are better than others, some RIBs are better made and finished than others and like other industries, the RIB market is also subject to imports from abroad, Though some of these latter models are good quality products, it has to be said there are some that are poorly made and lacking both in design and hull form. So before parting with any cash, seek to establish the quality of the boat’s fit-out, the materials used in its construction and ensure too that the RIB is stable, safe and offers a sea-kindly ride.

Boat Sales Sign

Undertake the same level of research you’d do when buying a car, check out forums and websites, speak to other owners and understand what you want your RIB to do. RIB Magazine offer a free advice service, contact hms@ribmagazine.com

Don’t overlook the importance of after-sales service. Like many goods and service providers, once the selling ‘honeymoon’ period is over, they may not be so keen to help if your craft needs servicing, something goes wrong or you need additional support. Check out the credentials of your RIB provider and ensure the people you deal with offer a good after-sales service.

Prices are generally dependent on the RIB’s length and horse-power. Often it’s the case that the value of the boat can match the price of the engine (exchange rates, cost of materials such as copper etc and of course the global recession have caused prices to increase hugely over the past five or so years). However, with a sluggish sales market, some dealers are selling engines at cost and there are deals to be had on boat and engine packages.

UK Currency and compass

RIBs have always tended to be more expensive than their hard-boat competitors because they’re hand/custom built by small craftsman and small business enterprises - there are some brands of RIB manufactured on production lines but these tend to be the minority – especially here in the UK. Prices can range from £12,000 to £100,000 – even in excess of 250K in some cases. But in the smaller end of the market you could expect to pay between £12,000 and £20,000 for a 4.8 metre/ 5 metre offshore styled RIB with a 50 or 70 horsepower engine. A well appointed 7metre offshore craft will commonly set you back around £50,000.

If you want a sea-kindly ride, it tends to be the case that the longer the hull and the deeper the vee of the hull, the softer riding the craft will be. Nevertheless, this has to be countered against what you can afford in the engine department! The bigger the boat, the bigger the engine – the bigger the engine, the bigger the capital outlay and the more it’s likely to drink fuel! NB - it can be a false economy to buy an engine that is too low on horsepower for the vessel it’s married to, as it will have to be driven hard and thus be expected to be driven beyond its economical rpm band.

Rather than spend money on gizmos at first, make your initial investment in the basics (hull and engine) and add the extras later. Ensure your basic ‘must have’ kit though includes a fixed compass, a fixed 25 watt VHF radio, a flare pack, first aid kit, an anchor with 50 meters of line and chain, lifejackets for all, a spare kill cord and warps or lines fore and aft.

The RIB’s huge success over the last 40 years is down to its flexibility and seaworthy nature. For the most part these boats are trailable so can be kept in a drive, garage or dry stack storage. This latter fact is also an attractive incentive if you do not wish to pay marina fees.

Equipment

Rope

Because it’s a multi-application craft and there are an increasing number of RIB sellers offering ‘off the shelf’ packages, your RIB may already come with a depth sounder, chart plotter and Global Positioning System. But as stated above, ensure you have the essentials plus navigation lights, a torch and spare batteries, a fire extinguisher and protective clothing.

Remember to always wear your kill cord lanyard when underway and have essential safety items close by.

Servicing/Maintenance

Engine repair

The craft alone doesn’t need servicing as such, or require heavy maintenance; you just need to look after it well. A RIB is essentially a plastic boat – made from GRP/fibreglass. So the best way to ensure its seaworthy is to simply clean it thoroughly after every use. Do this yourself if you want the assurance of the boat’s upkeep and any first signs of fatigue or damage. By doing so, you can thoroughly inspect it, checking for stress cracks to the hull and any damage or wear to the inflatable collar. Also inspect inside lockers, check the bilges and drain points in the hull and watch out for any faulty or degrading wiring within the helm console.

If outboard powered, ensure too that the bolts attaching the engine to the transom are secure/sufficiently tight. Always flush the engine through with fresh water after every use to prevent the cooling system from clogging with salt build up. A proactive maintenance programme can and does save lives.

Commonly, with latest technology, a new engine should be serviced once every two years and older models need checking more regularly. Outboard engines these days share similar technology to car engines. This means they are computerised and some models will even tell you when they need servicing.

The tubes

Traditional/quality made RIB tubes are incredibly tough – if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be used by the Ministry of Defence, law enforcement agencies and by commercial operators in the offshore oil and gas industry. They don’t need any maintenance as such and generally speaking, the only way a tube or sponson collar would get damaged is if you moored alongside a jagged metal marina piling or other some such dangerous item. Transporting and launching

Ensure your vehicle is powerful and heavy enough to tow your RIB and consider mirror extensions if you can’t see round the craft.

Lubricate trailer wheel bearings with waterproof grease. Check the ball-hitch works (locks down the tow bar) and the breakaway cable is in place (keeps the trailer attached to the vehicle if the ball-hitch fails). Trailers have been known to detach themselves from their vehicles and cross lanes of oncoming traffic.

Test the trailer’s lights, brakes and wheel clamps.

Secure your RIB to anchor points, checking and tightening straps before the journey, and keep spare straps in case they split or break (ensure you secure fore and aft with ratchet straps – this is critical).

Keep a spare - on the trailer or vehicle. Trailer tyres carry less weight so will be less robust than conventional vehicle tyres.

Check the tide times and access limits before turning up on the slipway. When launching – take it slowly and never rush. Remove the trailer electrics and check every detail of the craft and its readiness before descending the slipway - such as the bung/hull drain being tight and secure, also that the engine is trimmed to the right angle and, any elephant trunk type scuppers are in the 'up' position and that no one is behind the boat when you begin the reverse down the slip.

Once you’ve got the boat floated off its trailer and secure/made fast, it’s wise to keep the keys to the boat with you until you return to the boat once having parked the car and trailer. This will reduce the likelihood of theft.

As regards the trailer winch – a word of warning; always use a webbing winch strap winch NOT a wire cable– if a wire cable snaps it could seriously injure you – perhaps taking your eye out or worse still, decapitating you. After use always wash the trailer thoroughly with fresh water, paying particular attention to the axle, hub and bearings. Keep your brake bearings greased and your trailer well maintained. A trailer is not and should not be viewed as the boat’s poor cousin!

Be in the know – training and insurance

Although there’s no specific training requirement, it’s advisable to undertake a RYA course. This’ll help you learn the basics, get some sea sense and become familiar with your craft. Powerboat Level 2 is a good starting point, so visit the RYA website for further details. The rest is down to common sense, doing your research and being sensible when out on the water.

Start out in known and safe surroundings, learn how to balance the craft and as time goes on, you’ll be able to drive in progressively difficult seas. Find out what is and isn’t possible and be aware of your RIB’s and your own limitations.

Maritime law dictates you should be in possession of a valid VHF radio licence – you cannot obtain this unless you’ve passed a VHF radio course. The course teaches you when and how to make a distress call, helps you appreciate the circumstances when you might need to do so and covers who will come to your aid and how.

Be aware of beach bylaws and the safe distance you can travel (for powered craft it’s below 6 knots and buoys are usually within 300m of the shoreline). Learn to read the key elements of a chart and understand basic facts about tide and wind and how these elements interact.

It can get busy on the water, so when giving way, know the rule of the sea and move to the right/keep to starboard in any confined waterway. Use your eyes and ears and employ your crew to do the same. If unsure of the protocol when entering a harbour, contact the harbour master – it’ll ensure you behave in a responsible and law-abiding fashion.

Get a copy of a Maritime Almanac, it details local harbours, speed limits and their requirements plus provides a veritable host of invaluable information and contact details.

If in doubt, find it out. There are plenty of RYA guides and courses to help you.

When planning to ‘sail’ to sunnier climes, check what cruising range your policy allows. Standard cover is inland and coastal waters of the United Kingdom, so if you’re sailing outside of this area, you’ll need to extend your sailing limits. An oversight now could result in a claim being excluded.

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