Yacht-Finished Tender or Versatile Cottage Boat

Perhaps the best-known name in inflatable boats is Zodiac. The company has been a pioneer in developing these super-safe little boats for pleasure uses, commercial applications and for the demanding needs of search and rescue (SAR).

Hopefully you will never have an “extreme” need for yours, but the virtues and capabilities still pay dividends in everyday use.

Most current inflatable boats are referred to as “RIBs” – rigid hull inflatables. This gives the boat a rigid fibreglass hull and interior floor around which the inflatable tubes are secured. Our test boat, a Zodiac Bayrunner 500 has a very strong composite transom and all of the fibreglass work is hand lay-up.

The tube construction on Zodiacs can be of PVC materials or neoprene. The PVC “Strongon” tube material features a 1100 dernier double weave and weft Duotex material compared to single weave on some other less expensive boats, so the Zodiac is technically about double the strength. However, in spite of that, it’s not much heavier.

You can also get neoprene Hypalon tubes, again 1100 denier. These are favoured for SAR and commercial use. Also, in the blazing sun of the Caribbean, the neoprene will last longer due to having greater ultraviolet resistance.

At the time we wrote this, red and gray tubes were available; this summer Zodiac will also offer white. The tubes contain five chambers of air and each one has a bulkhead with a point, so you always get a pointed end to reduce water intrusion even if a tube was somehow punctured. And the manufacturer says that you can still maintain top speed! That’s a great safety feature.

If you’re not familiar with inflatable boats, you may be surprised to learn that the air pressure in the tubes is only 3.5 pounds per square inch. Sometimes people will increase that to 4 pounds per square inch to accommodate temperature fluctuations that reduce the pressure.

The tubes are removable when deflated which is a feature the SAR people like because they can get an extra set of tubes to ensure that even if it is damaged, the boat can return to service really fast.

The tubes deliver remarkable side-to-side stability for stepping in and Zodiac include many handholds and lifelines to help you. The side fittings and lifelines help to tie it up as required, or to secure cargo. These are very strong. There’s also a rub strip all the way around as well as a splash rail.

Our test boat was well equipped for cottage use or as a yacht tender although the lift points that let you pick it up on davits are optional.

The other exterior features, from the bow, include an anchor roller, centre-mounted cleat and navigation lights.

The interior gives you a comfortable place to sit in the bow and for activities like water skiing, putting the weight of a person forward helps the boat to plane off quickly. Under that area is anchor storage forward and space for other items.

The side console is part of the Bayrunner package on the “Pro” hull. This has storage inside and a removable 12.5 gallon fuel tank underneath. We really liked the grab bar design on the console and the sidebars let people get in or hang on at high speeds. The seat lifts for access to the fuel tank and there is a cooler as well.

Incidentally, the Zodiac Bayrunner comes with two rod holders and according to the Zodiac representative, fishhooks won’t snag the tubes. Because of those tubes, it’s an especially stable fishing platform.

Other features we liked include the sport steering wheel and what we felt were excellent ergonomics, making the boat very comfortable to drive and giving everyone plenty of legroom.

The Bayrunner 500 has a deep vee hull with 22° of deadrise and lift strakes for excellent rough water performance. Once underway at speed, most people will choose to sit on the main seat by the helm console. In terms of performance, this is such a light vessel considering the powerful 50 HP Yamaha, that with the passengers seated at the stern, 12.5 gallons of fuel and other luggage in the aft area, it puts the bow up in the air as you plane off.

Seating a person in the bow helps and an aftermarket accessory that many owners use to increase their load carrying capacity or improve their acceleration for skiing is a “fin” that mounts on the cavitation plate, greatly increasing lift at the stern.

The Zodiac Bayrunner 500 comes pre-rigged for Yamaha engines up to 70 HP, but they recommend 50 for most uses.

The Yamaha has lots of power and was impressively smooth and quiet at all speeds. It also has a quick and effective power trim but it operates so quietly that you have to look at the engine to see where it’s positioned!

Our test boat was equipped with Yamaha LCD type instruments that gave us a tachometer, speedometer, fuel management data as well as engine temperature. Steering was light and easily managed at all speeds and the windy day on the lake was child’s play to the Zodiac.

For safety, convenience and load-carrying in a compact package, the Bayrunner 500 has a lot to offer either the yachtsman or the cottager.

By Andy Adams

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