Inflatable tenders, or inflatable boats, consist of flexible, lightweight composite tubes filled with air and sealed against the elements. The tubes are connected to form a small boat, and a floor is added for stability. Inflatable tenders are used as "marine taxis" for larger vessels. The larger boat may be anchored in deeper water, and the tender is used to ferry passengers and gear to and from shore. The inflatable tender can also be used for sightseeing trips around the anchorage or harbour. According to West Marine, a marine supplier that markets their own line of inflatable tenders, the tenders can be made of either PVC-coated polyurethane cloth or Hypalon (neoprene-coated nylon). Inflatable tenders are generally powered by outboard motors that are appropriately sized for the tender's length and weight.
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Determine the type of inflatable tender you own. According to dealer Apex Inflatables, there are three types of inflatable boats: (1) Rigid inflatable boat with a non-removable fibreglass floor (or hull); (2) Rigid roll-up boat, with inflatable tubes that fold up while the solid floor stays intact and (3) Collapsible inflatable boat, in which the tubes fold up and the floorboards come apart for storage. Each type of inflatable has its own configuration and weight, and its outboard should be selected accordingly.
Verify the tender's capacity. Each inflatable boat has a placard with a listed capacity, or maximum allowable weight, the boat can safely hold. This weight is the sum of all the passengers' weights, any cargo or boat supplies, and the weight of the filled gas tank that fuels the outboard motor. In addition, the placard will list the maximum allowable number of passengers that can safely be carried. This capacity information will also appear in the inflatable's owner's manual.
Determine the outboard motor recommendations. Your inflatable's owner's manual will state the maximum horsepower outboard that the tender can safely accept. According to All Inflatables, an online inflatable dealer, exceeding those horsepower recommendations can lead to difficulty in controlling the boat. Conversely, an outboard with the less than advised horsepower may not be able to power you through chop, wind or current. Also note that when choosing between two outboards with the same horsepower, always select the lighter outboard. Because inflatable tenders are lightweight for their size, be careful not to overload the boat with a too-heavy motor.
Visit a well-stocked marine supply store to check out the outboards with the proper horsepower and weight for your inflatable tender. Search for similar engines from major manufacturers as the dealer may represent more than one product line.
Compare gasoline and electric motors. According to West Marine, traditional two-stroke outboards were known for inefficient operation and high emissions. In contrast, newer four-stroke outboards offer quieter operation, fuel efficiency and greatly reduced emissions. Electric outboards that operate on a battery charge offer another option. Although the motor's range and speed will be less than a gasoline-powered outboard, the units are generally lightweight for their size, quiet to run and emissions-free.
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