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Fully inflatable plastic dinghy without insert bottom (a "rubber" or "bathing boat")

An inflatable boat is a boat with a hose as the hull or as the outside, which is filled with air during use. It is either of plastic - film , plasticized PVC , rubberised fabric (eg. Hypalon ) or synthetic rubber (eg. Polyurethane ) generated. Inflatable boats are inflated with air that can be deflated for transport or during storage. A closure prevents the air from escaping during use.


Fishermen from the Sallirmiut people on an inflated walrus skin, a so-called paddle bag, around 1830


Long before modern production techniques made possible the manufacture of inflatable rubber and plastic sleeves that underutilized Stone Age conditions living sadlermiut inflated floats made of animal skin as watercraft. The tribe, which became extinct in 1902/1903, was possibly the last group of the Dorset culture to be spread along all of the north coasts of what is now Canada until around 1100 .

The modern rubber boat

After Charles Goodyear had invented the stabilization of rubber by vulcanization in 1838 , the British General Wellington tried to use pontoons with inflatable rubber floats the following year .

When exploring the Oregon Trail and the Platte River in 1843/1843, John C. Frémont took boats with him, the load-bearing capacity of which was increased by rubber hoses with four air chambers each along the long sides.

Halkett's one-man inflatable boat as a cape and unfolded
Halkett's two-man rubber dinghy: rubber bladder on the left uncovered, on the right in a protective cover made of impregnated fabric

In 1844/45 Peter Halkett developed the Halkett boat named after him in a one-man and a two-man version. These inflatables consisted of a rubber bladder and a protective cover made of impregnated fabric. The one-man boat could be carried by one person as a cloak, the two-man boat by two people in rucksacks. They were supplemented by foldable paddles and umbrella sails. Although several explorers successfully used Halkett's boats while exploring Canada, they could not be marketed beyond.

By 1855, both Goodyear in the United States and Thomas Hancock in the United Kingdom were producing inflatables.

In 1866, four men crossed the Atlantic from New York to the British Isles in a three-tube raft they called the Nonpareil.

In the early 20th century, the American Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company (which used Charles Goodyear's name and patents, but did not come from him) and the French company Dunlop started producing inflatable boats, but they were still vulnerable to storage damage when deflated . There was also no possibility of attaching the outboard motor invented in 1907.

Growing need for life-saving appliances

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic sank . Even if all the lifeboats had been launched, they would only have been enough for half of the passengers and crew. Then began on November 12, 1913 in London the First International Conference on the Safety of Life at Sea (First international conference on the safety of life at sea), which in 1914 agreed the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) ( only officially entered into force in 1929 because of the First World War ). Only since this convention has it been a requirement that (civil) ships must have sufficient life-saving equipment for all persons on board.

The late Berliner

In 1913, between the ship disaster and the political reaction, Hermann Meyer from Berlin “designed and built a double-sided, inflatable watercraft” for patent protection. Together with his son Albert, he had "invented" what had been around for almost 70 years. His boat was equipped with a built-in rubber floor, two handles and a check valve. This boat had a protective net so that the pressure of 0.2 bar did not overstretch the rubber. The net became superfluous in 1919 when the boat skin was changed.

Meanwhile Meyer invented a wooden shelf and won the Imperial Navy as a customer. After four years of unsuccessful attempts, Albert Meyer finally installed bulkhead partition walls in the hoses in 1921. The construction of brass valves followed, and so-called "bulkhead cocks" ensured pressure equalization between the air chambers. Ten years after the patent was granted, he presented his first inflatable boat with a sail. In 1932 he developed an underwater part that was designed as a V-shaped air keel. Until the liquidation of his company in 1967, he had great influence on the further development of the inflatable boat.

World War I and between the world wars

The first version of SOLAS allowed an exception for warships. The First World War brought a change of heart, because a great many seamen from all navies could have been saved if there had been enough space in lifeboats.

Between the wars, rubber had improved significantly in its material properties and Goodyear had also found a way to combine other materials with rubber. A wide-meshed, square metal wire fence as a fixed floor was surrounded by an air-filled rubber hose, and the rigid inflatable boat was born, even if it was only a raft or just an uncovered life raft . But the conservative admirals rejected this invention.

The fully inflatable dinghy regained its boat shape during this time. However, it owes this fact to air traffic. Technical progress resulted in aircraft that could fly longer and longer distances without having to be refueled in between. The emerging flying boats in the passenger flight service were considered by some nations as passenger ships, provided that they did not fly but dived, and therefore had to observe the rights and obligations applicable to passenger ships. In some countries (e.g. Germany) the pilot of a flying boat also had to have a captain's license and SOLAS had to be fulfilled. So fully inflatable rubber boats came on board, which looked quite similar to the small 2.5 meter dinghies of the present. These boats were paddled.

From 1930 inflatables were standard equipment on board (civil) ships. Inflatable boats were initially used in the military by army units (e.g. infantry and engineer units) who wanted to facilitate the transport of boats. Naval units still believed they could do without the dinghy. The shaft motor developed in Germany in the 1920s could also be attached to inflatable boats (in the water) without any problems.

In Germany, inflatable boats (with wooden shelves) were mass-produced by the company "Deutsche Gummiboot" ( DSB ) from 1931 onwards . They went on board of passenger ships and of army units without motorization, as well as equipped with shaft motors for inland navigation.

The Catalina PBY flying boats from the US manufacturer Consolidated and the Canadian manufacturer Canadair are said to have been the first aircraft that were not in passenger service and still had fully inflatable inflatable boats on board as standard. In Europe, the DO24 of the German aircraft manufacturer Dornier, manufactured in the Dutch Fokker aircraft works from 1938 onwards for capacity reasons, was the first flying boat not in passenger service that carried a rubber dinghy as standard equipment.

Second World War

Pilot checks rescue equipment with inflatable boat

These inflatable dinghies, both the US and the Dutch versions, became automatically inflatable very quickly, as a compressed air cylinder in the packed boat, which was released via a pull line, automatically inflated the boat as soon as the dinghy package was thrown from the aircraft. Due to the higher weight of this version, these automatically inflatable inflatable boats initially only found their way on board the SAR versions of the flying boats. With increasing engine power and the progress of the war, the automatically inflatable rubber boats became more widespread and even became part of the standard equipment of land planes that had to cover long distances by sea.

The situation on board warships was completely different. During the Second World War , the loss of seamen that had already been experienced in the First World War was repeated. The worst hit was the theater of war in the North Atlantic, where the pack tactics of the German submarines led to high losses of material and personnel. Even the Allied convoy tactics changed little at first until around 1943/1944. However, the US Navy acquired inflatable floor rafts as the first life rafts and stacked them upright on deck, often set up and moored against the deck structures in the area of ​​the bridge and the anti-aircraft armament. However, these life rafts were always inflated and, in contrast to modern life rafts, had no roof. In addition, they were rectangular and not boat-shaped oval.

After 1945

It was only Alain Bombard that came up with the idea of ​​combining all three construction elements, namely the dinghy in the shape of a boat, the solid floor and the outboard motor, into a rigid inflatable dinghy, with which he crossed the Atlantic as early as 1952 without taking any water or food with him. However, he sailed most of the way and was taken care of by the merchant ships passing his route. And the rigid hull was flat.

At the former French aircraft manufacturer Zodiac , Bombard found the workshops and the staff that he needed to start series production, which then did not deliver rigid inflatable boats, but again fully inflatable inflatable boats, albeit with wooden shelves.

A friend and comrade in the war of Bombard, the former naval aviator Jacques Cousteau , had only been waiting for a light, fast and space-saving boat like this to be accommodated on board. In addition to the successful Atlantic crossing of Bombards, the fact that Cousteau never spoke of his rubber dinghy in his films , but always only of his Zodiac , led to the success of the inflatable boat , which in the French-speaking area led to Zodiac as a synonym for in the 1960s Inflatable boat found its way into the language of boat building there and that everyone knew where to buy such a boat. Zodiac also became a generic name for inflatable boats outside of the French-speaking world .

From the beginning of the 1950s, the Wiking inflatable boat yard of the brothers Otto and Klaus Hanel began building inflatable boats. These were then motorized since 1954, since 1956 under the company Wiking Gummibootwerft Hanel KG .

Already early in the 1960s, Zodiac reached the limits of its capacity and issued replica licenses to German companies. Today, since the patent on the inflatable boat has long expired, there are countless inflatable boat manufacturers worldwide.

Also in the early 1960s, the British manufacturer Avon began building inflatable boats with a rigid hull. The hulls of these boats were made of wood and had a deep V-keel from bow to stern . These first rigid inflatable boats, which already resembled modern boats, had excellent sailing characteristics despite their high dead weight, but became very unstable (without overturning) when they paddled or berthed without moving through the water.

It was not until the early 1960s that the British Frank Roffee came up with the idea of ​​giving the fuselage a deep V at the front, but making it flat in the stern area in order to give the inflatable boat very good positional stability even at zero speed by snuggling reminded the look and construction of the racing boats of the 1920s. In addition, Roffee came from the caravan / caravan construction, where glass fiber reinforced plastic (GRP) had already proven itself, and began to build his hulls in GRP. With this he had brought the rigid inflatable boat into the shape in which it is still known today as the RIB. Avon adopted this form almost immediately and Frank Roffee started his own dinghy company (Humber).

Zodiac began to manufacture rigid inflatable boats of this type in the late 1960s.

Around this time, the German manufacturer DSB also started producing rigid inflatable boats based on the "Roffee" design, DSB was the first to use aluminum hulls.

If you look around the world of rigid inflatable boats today, you have to find that (almost) all competitors who started their production anywhere in the world after DSB, Wiking, Zodiac, Avon or Humber began by buying one or more boats bought or traded from DSB, Wiking, Zodiac, Avon or Humber.

High-quality inflatables are now between 2.5 and 20 meters long. Inflatable boats are usually powered by one or more outboard motors. However, there are now also inflatable boats with inboard motors and Z or inboard motors and water jet propulsion . Alternatively, inflatables can of course still be rowed or sailed. Only the shaft motor as a drive has completely disappeared.

Design features

Inflatable boat on the beach
GRP inflatable boat hull (hoses removed)
A RIB (Rigid (Hull) Inflatable Boat / RIB ) ( US Navy )
A RIB of the DLRG as a rescue boat with twin engines on the Rhine

A distinction is made between fully inflatable dinghies , the "bathing boats", fully inflatable dinghies with fixed shelves made of wood , aluminum or inflatable shelves, which can be stowed particularly compactly and yet inflated up to 8 meters long and fully suitable e.g. B. for Antarctic expeditions, as well as rigid inflatable boats made of GRP or aluminum. Fully inflatable inflatable boats, with or without a fixed shelf, are called inflatables by the shipbuilder . The experts call rigid inflatable boats RIB (Rigid (Hull) Inflatable Boat) .

The side bulges , the "tubes", and also the possibly inflatable floors are nowadays mostly divided into several chambers in order to prevent the entire tube from collapsing if one chamber is damaged.

To steer inflatables, paddles or a mechanism with a steering rope and oar can be used.


Every inflatable boat loses air, the amount depends very much on the quality of the workmanship and the hose material. A high-quality inflatable boat requires a small amount of air about once a month. A good recreational boat needs to be pumped up a little about once a week. An inferior quality inflatable boat (the bathing boat) needs a certain amount of air every day to keep the hose really tight. When it is new, it is still buoyant if it is only refilled once a week.

The durability of an inflatable boat drops noticeably when the intervals at which the hoses have to be refilled in order to keep the inflatable boat buoyant are significantly shorter and the amounts of air to be refilled in order to keep the hose plump are significantly larger. There is talk of the end of its shelf life when an inflatable boat has to be refilled every day in order not only to keep the hoses bulging, but also to remain buoyant. At the end of the lifespan, the inflation intervals not only shorten, they also shorten faster and faster. If, for example, a high-quality inflatable boat with tubes made of pure multi-layer neoprene / PU material reaches the point after 10 to 15 years when the boat has to be refilled almost every day, it then only takes a few weeks before it is the interval between the required re-inflation is reduced to under an hour.

Tubing material

  • Plastic - foils verschiedenster chemical compounds found only in inflatable dinghies use because they are very cheap to produce. Plastic films are not sufficiently gas-tight for professional inflatable boats.
  • PE ( polyethylene ) is a comparatively hard plastic that is often used as a hose and / or hull material in smaller "bathing boats". These boats look like inflatable boats, but the hull cannot be deflated or folded because of the hard material. Often the air spaces are filled with foams to keep buoyancy in the event of a leak. Only the layman calls these boats with PE hoses "inflatable boats". In fact, these are not inflatable boats because they are not inflatable.
  • PVC : Pure PVC ( polyvinyl chloride ) is still used in many inflatable boats today, but it is not without controversy, as PVC evaporates its plasticizer over time, making PVC hard, brittle and gas-leaking, and so do the hose and air chambers of such inflatable boats Depending on the boat manufacturer and the manufacturing quality, they are irreparably damaged after about ten years after careful treatment. Intensive, continuous care and protection of the hose against UV light and temperatures above 15 ° C can extend the durability of a hose made of PVC by another five years. With typical use in recreational shipping (especially in summer and during the day), however, this will hardly be the case. As interesting as the current price-performance ratio of PVC may be for manufacturers and users of recreational inflatable boats, PVC is the worst of all possible materials in the life cycle assessment, as it is very problematic to dispose of and also contributes to the contamination of the world water supply with plasticizers .
  • Hypalon - neoprene mixtures are a compromise to offer the recreational boaters a reasonably acceptable inflatable boat. Pure multi-layer production made of pure, hypalon and neoprene almost does not age and is easy to repair. An inflatable boat made from such a material is expensive, but it will last a few decades.
  • EPDM ( ethylene propylene diene rubber ) is a durable, UV-resistant rubber that is used for high-quality inflatable boats. For example, for rafting boats that have to withstand increased loads in commercial use. Among other things, kayaks and canoes are made from EPDM, which are used in the leisure sector. The material is characterized by high abrasion and tear resistance. Inflatable boats made of EPDM are vulcanized and thus have very strong connections that can withstand high air pressure, usually higher than in boats made of PVC. This results in high dimensional stability. The price for inflatable boats made of EPDM is usually higher than for boats made of PVC. The life expectancy of a boat made of EPDM is several decades. Some manufacturers give a longer guarantee on boats made of EPDM than required by law. EPDM has a good ecological balance because it does not contain any toxic ingredients, is produced from natural raw materials and can be recycled.
  • PU: Pipes made of polyurethane (PU) are difficult to manufacture and are therefore often not used for building inflatable boats. PU has the advantage that it is very hard, with a much higher abrasion resistance than Hypalon and PVC. Earlier PU materials had the disadvantage of rapid aging, but newer types are much more resistant to degradation under UV light. PU hoses are often found on commercial boats where strength and durability are required. A high-quality PU hose lasts for more than 20 years.
  • Rubber , the material with which it all began, is no longer used in the manufacture of hoses or hulls since the chemical industry developed other, synthetic materials with better material properties. Nevertheless, the up to 3½ meter long bathing boat variant of the inflatable boat is still called the "rubber boat", regardless of what material it is made of.
  • Neoprene is the material that makes Hypalon gas-tight, but which is also very sensitive to external influences. That is why it is combined with pure Hypalon layers in multiple layers, but not as the outermost or innermost layer, but always as a middle layer.
  • Other fabrics: If several layers of the same (PVC-PVC) or different (Hypalon-Neoprene-Hypalon) materials are connected to one another in order to increase either the durability (PVC) or the gas tightness (Hyplanon-Neoprene-Hyplaon) of the hose significantly, Curvatures of the multilayer material (in the course of production, during emptying and folding in preparation for transport) make the individual layers take up different lengths. This destroys the connections between the layers. Only the Hypalon-Neoprene-Hypalon variants remain gas-tight even when the layers are separated. However, the layers can move against each other when separated, which means that the neoprene wears out at the kinks over time. Only the Hypalon-Neoprene-Hypalon variant can then still be repaired.


According to possible use

According to construction

  • Fully inflatable dinghies ("inflatable (boat)"),
  • Fully inflatable rubber boats with a solid floor made of aluminum or wood , the "hard floor inflatable (boat)",
  • Rigid inflatable boats, the "Rigid Inflatable Boat" (or "RIB"), an inflatable boat, which has a hull made of GRP , aluminum or Kevlar , which, if one ignores the buoyancy chambers that some manufacturers place in the hull , without a hose or not can only float empty, as can be seen when looking at the photo of the hull of a rigid inflatable boat without a hose.
  • Rigid boat with a circumferential hose (to increase stability), the "rigid boat with tubes", which has a hull made of any material, which also floats without a hose, just not as seaworthy as with a hose. From the seaman's and shipbuilder's point of view, these rigid-hulled boats with a continuous hose are not real inflatable boats, but are classified under the category "inflatable boat" by laypeople and in specialist books such as the Guinness Book of Records and are therefore listed here. An unmanned, remote-controlled version is: Protector UPS

According to the type of drive

  • sailed
  • rowed / paddled
  • motorized

Current rubber boat manufacturers in German-speaking countries

In the post-war years there were numerous manufacturers of inflatable boats in Germany. For example, German rubber boat (DSB), Wiking, Pischel, Gugel, Berolina, Augsburger Ballonfabrik and many smaller ones.

The largest manufacturer was Metzeler in Breuberg. As a manufacturer of rubber products, Metzeler specialized in kayaks, canoes, motor and all-round boats. Due to the technique of hot vulcanization, inflatable air floors were a specialty. 1989 Metzeler stopped production in Germany and sold the brand to Zodiac in France. There some former Metzeler models were made from PVC-coated fabric under the Jumbo brand , but later abandoned entirely. The entire Metzeler production facility was purchased from the Austrian rubber dinghy manufacturer Grabner.

In Austria there was already a large inflatable boat manufacturer before the Second World War - the car tire and rubber goods manufacturer Semperit . After Zodiac, Semperit was the largest manufacturer of inflatable boats.

In the 1970s the trend began to make boats cheaper. That is why most European manufacturers gradually stopped their production or relocated to Asian countries.

In 1985, the life jacket manufacturer Grabner bought the Semperit inflatable boat factory in Austria and in 1989 the production facility of the Metzeler Germany company. Grabner was and is now the only manufacturer of inflatable boats in German-speaking Europe. By mastering hot vulcanization technology, Grabner is able to manufacture air boats with the highest operating pressure. Especially boats with air-grooved floors, which can also withstand an operating pressure of 0.3 bar.

The boat skin of the Grabner boats is produced in Germany by Continental , the second largest elastomer manufacturer in the world. For the coating of the Grabner boat material, natural rubber is used on the inside (highest airtightness) and on the outside EPDM (highest UV, abrasion and aging resistance).


In Switzerland there was a blood alcohol limit for rubber boat drivers from 2014 to 2019 .

Web links

Commons : Inflatables  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: dinghy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  • Yacht , German magazine, years 1922–1929
  • the archive of the Zodiac company
  • the archive of the Dupont company
  • the Dunlop Company Archives


  1. (Google Scan :) JC Fremont: The exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California, 1850
  2. ^ New Scientist: Explorers, don't forget your inflatable cloak
  3. Long Yard William (July 1, 2003). "3". A Speck on the Sea: Epic Voyages in the Most Improbable Vessels (1 ed.). International Marine / Ragged Mountain Press. pp. 51-53. ISBN 978-0-07-141306-0 .
  4. Berliner Zeitung April 2, 2004 inventor years
  5. The rigid inflatable boat  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice.@1@ 2Template: Dead Link / www.schlauchboot-online.net  
  6. Jacques Cousteau: The Undersea World , TV series Secrets of the Sea .
  7. cf. E.g. Lori Schpbach: A place in the sun . In: marina.ch , June 2011, pp. 38–41 (PDF).
  8. The development of the RIB
  9. Rinaldo Tibolla: Whether ship or rubber boat - the alcohol limit now also applies to rivers and lakes. aargauerzeitung.ch , May 12, 2014, accessed December 30, 2019 .
  10. ↑ The party continues from 2020 - no blood alcohol limit for Böötler anymore. srf.ch , May 1, 2019, accessed December 30, 2019 .