RIBs are used as rescue craft, safety boats for sailing, dive boats or tenders for larger boats and ships. Their shallow draught, high maneuverability, speed and relative immunity to damage in low speed collisions are advantages in these applications.
RIBs up to about 7 metres in length can be towed on trailers on the road, making them attractive as leisure craft.
The maximum speed of the RIB depends on its weight, power, load, and sea conditions. A typical 6 metre RIB, with six passengers, engines, in the sea in Beaufort force 2 is very likely to have a top speed of around . High performance RIBs may operate with a speed between 40 and , depending on the size and weight. Certain companies operating out of holiday destinations use RIBs as a "wave jumper". This is a standard RIB of about 10 metres in length, with two parallel rows of seating down the centre of the craft. It is propelled by two engines, with the aim being to get the craft to roughly 30-40 knots before jumping off the tops of waves.
As a material for building tubes, polyvinylchloride (PVC) has the disadvantage of lacking flexibility. To make it supple, an additive is used with the polymer. This additive vaporises as the material ages, making the PVC brittle and allowing it to crack easily. A PVC tube is the cheapest option and lasts approximately five years.
Tubes made of polyurethane (PU) are difficult to manufacture and hard to repair. PU has the great advantage of being very tough, it can be made knife-proof or bulletproof. Unfortunately to make PU airtight, it has to be used in layers, combined with neoprene. The biggest disadvantage with PU is that it ages quickly: thermal and mechanical wear-and-tear and exposure to ultraviolet-light are problems. A high quality PU-made tube lasts 10 to 15 years.
PU tubes are often to be found on commercial RIBs, in applications where strength and durability are needed. Replacing the tubes when they wear out, usually costs one third of the complete RIB.
Tubes made of Hypalon are easy to manufacture and can be repaired with simple puncture repair kits.
Hypalon is not airtight and so must be combined with Neoprene when used to build tubes. Tubes made with Hypalon and Neoprene layers can last 30 years or more.
Although early in its life a PU tube will be stronger than a Hypalon / Neoprene tube, by the age of 5 years they have similar levels of durability, which is why Hypalon/Neoprene tubes are often to be found on RIBs that are owned by commercial and high value leisure users.
The first image is a CH-47 Chinook helicopter in a training exercise with U.S. Navy Special Warfare 159th Aviation Regiment personnel and a rigid-hulled inflatable boat. Virginia Capes near Fort Eustis, Virginia, July 16, 2008.
The combination of rigid hull and large inflatable buoyancy tubes seems to have been first introduced in 1967 by Tony and Edward Lee-Elliott , and patented by Admiral Hoare in 1969 after research and development at Atlantic College in Wales. RIBs then were introduced for the first time as lifeboats on the Solent, England in 1970 by the League of Venturers Search and Rescue and also the Gosport and Fareham Inshore Rescue Service.
Today there are about a thousand manufacturers of RIBs and inflatables. Other common brands include Walker Bay, Avon, AB & Apex. About fifty RIB manufacturers are in the UK.
Based on the concept of a RIB but with a tube/sponson manufactured from a solid material such as moulded polyethylene or aluminium and therefore being much more robust than the fabrics commonly used. Boats with foam filled collars such as the secure all-around flotation equipped (SAFE) boats employed by the US Coast Guard can also be classified as Rigid Buoyant Boats rather than "true" RIBs as the collar is solid foam rather than inflated. The handling tends to be very similar to a RIB; likewise they will remain afloat (buoyant) even if completely flooded. Aluminium RBBs tend to be bespoke (custom-made to specification) or low-volume products whilst the tooling cost of rotomolded polyethylene boats tends to require these to be higher volume products. At least three manufacturers are producing rotomolded boats of this type. One supplier demonstrates the robustness of the boats by dropping one from a crane onto a concrete car park. The U.S. Navy’s small unit riverine craft and the Coast Guard’s Defender class boats are examples of RBBs.