- It is hard to beat messing around in small boats.
- All too often we see mini punchy sports RIBs sitting on bathing platforms, which often clock up as many hours as their mother ships.
Mini RIB Multi-test
With the multiple pleasures and advantages of small boating very much in mind, Greg Copp takes a look at some of the options available in the market …
It is hard to beat messing around in small boats. They are small enough to be stored in the garage, easy to launch and can be pretty much driven by all members of the family. There is also the tender dimension. All too often we see mini punchy sports RIBs sitting on bathing platforms, which often clock up as many hours as their mother ships. I myself have a 4.5m inflatable fitted with a 25hp Yamaha with which I cruised the normally inaccessible parts of Falmouth harbour and its outlying beaches – something a bigger hard boat would have had problems with.
Consequently we decided to take a look at a selection of ‘mini RIBs’ from 3.3 to 4.6 m in length. Due to the diversity, each boat is judged on its merits. Some are suitable as tenders and are clearly built with that in mind. Though the bigger craft are really boats in their own right, somebody with a Fleming 65 may consider one of them perfectly suited to running into some far-flung blue-water cove.
SUR 370 PRESTIGE
The SUR ST370 PRESTIGE comes from an Italian yard that has been building RIBs since 1999. This boat, like its smaller 330 sibling, is clearly a luxury sports tender whose attention to detail does the boat credit. If you lift the front cushion you will find a circular waterproof hatch that enables access to the engine battery, safely encapsulated in a box. All the tubes are Hypalon, which is unusual in a boat this size, as most small-RIB builders use PVC, offering Hypalon as an extra. All the GRP mouldings are of a high standard, as are the tubes: for example, the forward grab handles are reinforced with a wide central reinforcing strip.
The well-thought-out stainless steel work is of a similar standard. For instance, amidships there are drop-down cleats located for the passenger and helmsman to easily fit fenders, while not catching bare feet while clambering about the boat when out on the water. The test boat came with the optional £650 A-frame, fitted with an LED navigation light and complemented with a discreet red/green bow light. Synthetic teak decking is par for the course on this model and is conveniently located on the amidships side steps, as well as on the bow step. Storage consists of a big under-seat locker, which, courtesy of a tension spring, conveniently stays open when required. There is also a small under-console storage compartment as well as a watertight hatch in the splash well.
From a driving perspective, this boat performs well. Aided by fixed trim tabs, it planed at 10.5 knots with one person sitting on the bow seat. Flat out she comfortably reached 21.7 knots – two up and reasonably dry in the process. Not surprisingly she turns pretty quickly, and SUR have had the good sense to make sure the engine control has the trim button on the left side rather than the default right-hand side. Running this boat flat out, one up, will squeeze a few knots more from her, and for this you will need to play with the trim for that optimum setting. Engine options from the factory are Suzuki or Yamaha in the 25hp to 40hp range. Our test boat was fitted with the punchy superlight Yamaha F25 – probably the perfect choice for the 370 PRESTIGE. This engine should be enough to pull inflatables or skiers lightly loaded, though the Yamaha F40 option would be preferable.
- Displacement: 210kg with Yamaha F25
- LOA: 3.7m
- Beam: 1.77m
- CE rating: C for 6
From: £11,200 (inc. VAT) (no engine and no extras)
As tested: £17,000 (inc. VAT)
SUR 330 CLASSIC
The SUR ST330 CLASSIC, like its bigger sibling, is built for those wanting something to complement the mother ship in terms of style, fit and finish. It is also constructed with Hypalon tubes and high-quality GRP mouldings. Likewise it has the same neatness in its stainless work, and synthetic teak decking. Navigation lights are an extra. In this case it has a removable pole for the anchor LED light, which fits into a waterproof splash well socket when in use, and a teak-capped GRP bow step with red/green bow LED navigation light. Though well constructed, both these additions cost a total of £700, so it is probably just as well that there is no A-frame option.
It also has the sensible optional teak-capped side steps, which, as with the 370 PRESTIGE, make getting in and out of an inflatable boat quite a bit easier, especially for children. The seating set-up is a more functional affair than its sister’s, as the boat simply does not have the beam or depth to facilitate a sunken stylish seat. Instead, its folding seat is big enough for two adults, and folds forward to reveal a large storage space beneath. The battery is also located under a waterproof hatch in the bow, which, apart from actually keeping it reasonably dry, means you have easy access to something that will need charging from time to time.
Space in the boat is limited, which is always going to be an issue in a 3.3m craft that has a splash well. Consequently the bench seat is pushed forward, and the only seating apart from the tubes is the bow seating, so three can sit comfortably in it. Something I was not overly keen on is the lack of legroom behind the console. You can stretch your left leg out, but your right is always bent.
Performance for this 20hp 165kg boat with two on board, one being in the bow, was 17.6 knots. With just one helmsman it should have exceeded 20 knots. Thanks to what SUR Marine call ‘Surmarine Flaps’ – fixed trim tabs – it held planing speed right down to 8.6 knots. Though this boat was fitted with a 20hp Yamaha F20, it can be ordered with a Yamaha F25. As this engine is based on the same engine as the F20 and weighs the same, this would be the motor to choose, making this a lively 25-knot boat.
- Displacement: 165kg with Yamaha F20
- LOA: 3.26m
- Beam: 1.7m
- CE rating: C for 5
From: £8,600 (inc. VAT) (no engine and no extras)
As tested: £13,300 (inc. VAT) (fitted with Yamaha F20)
ZAR Mini RIB PRO 15
The ZAR Mini RIB, at 4.6m, was the biggest of the bunch, but being aluminium it was certainly not the heaviest. Aluminium boats have a different dimension, insomuch as they are lighter than GRP boats, and stronger. By the nature of its construction, it can’t compete with the likes of the Avons or the SURs in terms of style, but this is a RIB after all, so functionality is arguably more important. This test boat came with a double-cushioned leaning bar, but you can opt for a bench seat; however, I am told this can limit visibility over the tall console. I found the leaning bar worked well as I like standing; however, in big seas you might want something more secure – like jockeys.
This boat drives well. Having a tough deep-vee aluminium hull, the chop that we did manage to find did not provoke the sort of complaints you get from a GRP hull. If you beach it, you do not have to worry about scratches in your gelcoat. The tubes are PVC, which keeps the price down, as Hypalon does not come cheap. The quality of the tubes is good, and there is a pressure relief valve. Though ZAR are an Italian yard, their aluminium RIBs are made in China, a country that is quite capable when it comes to metal fabrication – and cost-effective in the process. The deck layout has plenty of effective non-slip decking, and all rigging goes through watertight conduits up to the console. There is a plug in the shallow splash well, which uncovers a small self-draining channel that works like a mini elephant trunk when on the plane. Below the main deck sits a bilge pump just in case water gets in past the waterproof hatch. The transom has twin buttresses to give it just that extra bit of strength. If you look carefully, you can see that there are four lifting eyes welded into the deck: two just aft of the forward locker and two inside the transom – perfect for craning on board.
Moving forward, there is masses of storage under the leaning post, which is where the battery is located. If you want to have a small suite of electronics, a vast dash space on the console can easily accommodate everything this size of boat will ever need. In the bow is a large locker, and a smaller one just forward of it to accommodate warps. Fuel tanks sit under the console via the folding forward seat. You can either have twin removable 25-litre tanks (standard) or a fixed 40-litre tank with a filler neck in the side of the console at extra cost.
Flat out it hit 33 knots with two on board. Impressively it managed to plane at just over 9 knots, no doubt aided by having a light hull. It turns well, providing a sporty ride, and with its deck space will make a good water taxi. You can opt for a 50hp or 60hp Mercury at not much extra cost. Given the small weight difference, this is worth considering if you intend to pull any skiers or carry a large payload. It might be the biggest of the pack, but its light weight makes it an ideal tender for a blue-water cruiser.
- Displacement: 285kg with 40hp Mercury
- LOA: 4.6m
- Beam: 2.1m
- CE rating: C for 9 (900kg load)
From: £5,225 (inc. VAT) (no engine, console, leaning bar or cushions)
With console, leaning bar and cushions: £8,030 (inc. VAT)
As tested: £14,280 (inc. VAT) (fitted with 40hp Mercury)
One of two RIBs from this manufacturer, the Norwegian-built Fjordstar 380, at just over £8K, was probably the best value boat of the day. It is spartan in appearance, with its battery mounted externally and no form of engine display on the console. However, with the money you save buying this well-finished boat, you can certainly fit her out with those essential electronic toys with cash to spare, as there is a fairly extensive list of optional extras.
The single-piece tubes are made from VALMEX German PVC, and the hull from NORPOL – Norwegian GRP. The fit and finish of the hull and tubes is of a high standard, as are the catches to the lockers, and the non-slip finish to the deck feels effective under foot. The hull is filled with PU closed-cell foam, and fitted with a stainless steel keel band. If military grey is not to your taste, there are four other standard hull colours, as well as four other tube colours to choose from, and a Silvertex upholstery upgrade. The removable 22-litre fuel tank sits under the seat, and sensibly the boat is rigged with a control box that has a lever with a trim switch on the left – a simple feature that many overlook. An extra that this boat is offered with, and should not be without, is an elephant trunk. There are also some other worthy extras like console and transport covers.
With a transom deadrise angle of 21 degrees, it is a deep-vee hull and it feels it when you drive it. It has a smooth ride and provides plenty of heeling and stability in the turns. I will say that the 20hp Selva – in effect a Selva-tuned Yamaha – does not really do the boat justice. It needs at least 25hp to crack on at a sensible pace with two on board, and if you wanted to tow any inflatables or skiers, 25hp is the minimum benchmark, though 30hp or 40hp would be a lot better. With two sitting on the double jockey seat it would not plane with the 20hp Selva, and ran bow high. This is clearly an engine rigging issue and not a design fault. However, with one sitting on the bow seat it planed at 10 knots, helped by having wide fixed trim tab plates on its transom, and it ran flat out at 17.6 knots.
- Displacement: 177kg with 20hp Selva
- LOA: 3.8m
- Beam: 1.76m
- CE rating: C for 5
From: £6,644 (inc. VAT) (fitted with 9.9hp Selva)
As tested: £8,158 (inc. VAT) (fitted with 20hp Selva)
Like its smaller cousin, the Fjordstar FS450 is a typically well-made Scandinavian boat. True to form, it is built with VALMEX PVC, and the hull from NORPOL GRP. All the non-slip deck surfacing is exactly that, and the Silvertex joinery is of a high standard. This is an extra, but at £94 over the cost of PVC, having the more durable and less slippery finish of texturised Silvertex makes good sense – and it looks better. Likewise the boarding ladder and GRP side step box is a great idea, though a bit more costly at £354. If you are going to do some water sports, especially with children who can’t haul themselves in over tubes, the ladder will prove invaluable.
It also had the optional bow box and bow roller at £170, which is always a good idea on a RIB. What also impressed me was the removable A-frame for £574. All rigging is through under-deck conduits, though I would like to have seen the battery positioned somewhere other than inside the transom behind the aft bench seat. This is one of my pet hates with pocket RIBs – but to be fair, something that is easily repositioned. Fuel was supplied by one 23-litre tank under the seat, though looking at the space available, you could get another tank in, or fit a larger one-piece plastic tank. Under the bow cushion is the usual anchor/warp locker, and like the FS380 it is well finished internally. Most of your on-board junk will end up under the aft bench seat, which, being a full-beam affair, has plenty of space.
The most impressive aspect of this boat is how it drives. What struck me was how similar it is to a 4.7m Avon Searider that I used to own. The FS450 has a deep-vee hull with a transom deadrise of 20 degrees. Though not as sharp as the very deep-vee Searider, the ride is not far off in terms of smoothness. It dealt with the occasional rolling Red Jet chop pretty well, and running flat out into some short, sharpish chop at 33 knots posed no problems. It turns beautifully, banking into hard turns with rock-steady precision that has you grinning from ear to ear. It held its planing speed down to 12 knots with two on board. This boat was fitted with the biggest engine option – a 50hp Selva. Like the 20hp Selva fitted to the FS380, it is a retuned, rebadged Yamaha engine. This is a well-engineered motor with a good spread of power that weighs just 111kg, so a good match for this boat.
- Displacement: 300kg with 50hp Selva
- LOA: 4.5m
- Beam: 2.0m
- CE rating: C for 9
From: £12,494 (inc. VAT) (fitted with 30hp Selva)
As tested: £15,518 (inc. VAT) (fitted with 50hp Selva and extras as mentioned)
Avon Seasport 440
No small-RIB test would be complete without an Avon. Avon made their name at the beginning of the RIB revolution in the UK with their hardy Searider range, many of which have been used extensively in commercial service. In more recent years they have become better known for their family-orientated all-rounder sports RIBs. The Seasport range is aimed at the luxury tender market, and the small sports boat field.
The Seasport 440, like the ZAR and the Fjordstar FS450, may be too large for some boats as a tender, but as a sports boat it has lots of potential. It has a medium-vee hull, and with low-mounted tubes the freeboard is fairly low. You might expect it to be a wet boat, but it stays fairly dry. Our test day had moderate weather, so we had a good chance to put this rapid boat through its paces. It is offered with either Suzuki or Yamaha outboards up to 60hp, with our boat having a Yamaha F60. This is a great engine, but arguably a bit too much, which is why there is also a 50hp engine option. It pushes this boat to 42 knots, which, considering the casual seating, in anything other than flat water will have its occupants feeling less than secure. It is a case of adopting a degree of restraint when you have the family on board, as this boat is designed for water sports so needs plenty of grunt to pop skiers up. Being so low to the water, it feels very fast. On a sensible note, it will plane right down to 10 knots thanks to some fixed trim tabs.
The devil is certainly in the detail with Avon, and top marks go to them in this department. Behind the scenes, when you lift hatches you find the same attention to fit and finish as you do externally, and the upholstery is likewise. A large storage area sits behind the gas strut-assisted bench seat, which also houses the nav light pole, fuel filter and battery. You also get a 57-litre built-in fuel tank, the filler for which is beneath the mid seat, and a fuel gauge in the console. There are hidden LED lights on the GRP bow step to illuminate the forward seating area, or alternatively guide you onto the bow step if stepping onto the pontoon at night. Due to the extensive internal mouldings, which give this boat such a well-finished appearance, it packs a few extra pounds.
- Displacement: 390kg with 60hp Yamaha
- LOA: 4.4m
- Beam: 1.86m
- CE rating: C for 6
As tested: £26,670 (inc. VAT) (fitted with 60hp Yamaha outboard)
Avon Seasport 360
For those wanting a high-quality sports tender with bags of punch, the Avon Seasport 360 is a top contender. It has all the build quality of its bigger brother, right down to the drop-down bow cleat in the bow step, and the high-quality synthetic teak decking inserts. Behind the scenes this craft is equally impressive, with lined lockers and a built-in 35-litre fuel tank under the mid seat. With Avon there is no need for an upholstery upgrade, but you will get stung for £495 for the stylish backrests that this boat came with. And if you want the full teak decking package to complement the inserts, the price tag is £469, and the mini windscreen fitted to the test boat is an extra £226.
All this said, in standard form this boat exceeds most similar RIBs in terms of kit. It comes with navigation lights, LED bow step lights and, like the 440, teak-capped boarding steps on the stern quarters, making life a lot easier when stepping down from the pontoon into the boat. It is fairly heavy for its size for exactly the same reason as the 440.
As a driver’s boat, it does suffer from a lack of legroom. But it is, of course, very fast, hitting close to 40 knots and planing down to 10 knots, and having the same fixed trim tab set-up as the 440. This particular boat was fitted with a 40hp Suzuki, which is an option, though Yamaha is the normal fit for Avon. This is more than enough for the boat and it will make a great craft for water sports. The power-to-weight ratio will make it easy to pull up a skier, and throw an inflatable about with ease.
The reality is that this boat is not quite big enough, as the 440 is, to be a sports boat in its own right. However, it is a great sports tender – if the mother ship can accommodate it.
- Displacement: 315kg with 40hp Yamaha
- LOA: 3.6m
- Beam: 1.77m
- CE rating: C for 4
As tested: £20,660 (inc. VAT) (fitted with 40hp Yamaha outboard)