The RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) market is booming, thanks to their light weight, excellent stability and high load-carrying capacity. The inflatable tubes have a certain amount of impact absorption and are unlikely to cause scuff marks or damage when coming alongside a boat – another attractive feature that makes RIBs very popular as tenders for large vessels. They’re also finding wide acceptance in other roles, from rescue boats through to general-purpose family runabouts.
AB Inflatables is a premier supplier of RIBs, with its South American manufacture and worldwide distribution backed by a 44-year heritage of quality and success. That background was evident when inspecting this Nautilus 17 DLX Widebody Bowrider that was immaculately presented by the company’s NSW distributor, Boating Connexions. Everywhere we looked were examples of thoughtful attention to detail and consideration for the boat owner.
There are some 70 models in the AB range, from 2.4 to 9m, ranging in price from $4000 to $199,000 (the latter with twin 250 or 300hp outboards on the transom).
Our 5.2m 17 DLX (the 17 designates 17ft) test boat is among the most popular size range … although our 3.35m Oceanus 11VST camera boat is also in a well-regarded bracket for use as a tender that can be easily davit-lifted aboard a luxury cruiser.
On its trailer (included in the as-tested, ready-togo price of $64,000 with a 115hp Yamaha four-stroke), a few features of the 17 DLX’s fibreglass hull were readily apparent. It carries quite a deep vee with a deadrise of around 25 degrees, for a soft ride. There are three strakes either side of the keel for good stability and control, and the large-diameter tube collars effectively form strong chines that help further with handling, as well as controlling the wake and spray.
The hull carries further forward than on some RIBs to also benefit ride and handling, and it overlaps the tops of the collar tubes to provide more internal space and a user-friendly style. For example, aft on the port side there’s a non-slip-surfaced step on the fibreglass side deck. The interior, too, has an effective non-slip surface pattern for its self-draining sole, with V-shaped seating forward. There are infill panels to convert the whole area into a big sunlounge.
All the seats have lift-up bases with neatly upholstered, closed-cell foam cushions for good comfort and support. Below them on both sides are insulated coolers and there’s a large anchor locker centre-forward. If you didn’t need that much cooler capacity, they could easily be used for general stowage. Space for that was extra-generous, with more room inside the helm console and a true cavern of capacity under the full-beam aft lounge, which lifts on gas-support struts.
That cavern gave good access to the battery and its master switch, the fuel filter and into the aft bilges. The fuel and freshwater tanks are underfloor to keep them out of the way and a shower is standard at the transom. The visible engineering is well designed and installed.
The helm console is on the starboard side and is neat, simple and effective. A carbon fibre-style dash panel carries a stainless steel tilt-adjustable wheel plus two Yamaha multifunction digital gauges with the usual variety of scroll-through data.
Switch panels for lights and accessories, with matching circuit breakers, are to either side of the wheel and a Fusion Bluetooth stereo head is positioned a little lower down. A cushioned panel in front of the console forms a backrest for the starboard-side front seating and hinges open for easy access to the back of the dash and its wiring.
Hardware around the 17 DLX is beautifully made in stainless steel, with pop-up cleats at strategic spots and a combined navigation light at the stem. Low-profile guardrails run back along the tops of the forward gunwales. Even at this size, AB Inflatables are often used as tenders on big cruisers and luxury yachts, so tie-down and davit-lift points are fitted as standard.
The driving position is quite comfortable, although there’s not a lot of leg room between the aft lounge and the console. There was enough for me, however, and I slightly tilted down the wheel for a clear view of the gauges – all-round visibility is, of course, perfect. The throttle and shift are ideally positioned on the fibreglass side-deck and I had a comfy reach to that and the wheel.
The 17 DLX handled very well and was a real pleasure to drive. The 115hp Yamaha gave all the power you’d need, with plenty of push from rest and with solid mid-range acceleration. We had three people on the lounge and a near-full underfloor fuel tank, so that gave a fair bit of weight aft. The result was some noticeable bow rise getting on plane, but that could have been reduced with some of the crew seated forward. In any case, the 17 DLX quickly settled to a good running angle and fairly scooted across the water.
From planing at 3000rpm and 25km/h (13.5 knots), we cruised through 4000rpm and 44km/h (24 knots) to a top end of 5900rpm at 73km/h (39.5 knots) – which is very good for this set-up and showed that the four-blade stainless Solas 17in pitch prop was a good choice. The hull held on well through turns and was rewarding fun to skipper.
AB Inflatables is one of few in this market segment that has CE, NMMA and ISO 9001 certification to prove that these craft are built to the highest standards. The inflatable tubes are made from a five-ply Orca Chlorosulfonated Polyethylene fabric designed to provide durability and to resist scratches and UV damage … it must be good, as the company guarantees it for 10 years.
Seams are overlapped by a full inch (2.5cm) and tape-reinforced on the inside, while multiple air chambers use a special baffle system to equalise pressures across the individual chambers.
There’s more to find out about the Nautilus 17 DLX and the full range of AB Inflatables. Boating Connexions’s Neil Solomons has been involved with inflatables for a long time and is well positioned to give sound advice on the best choice for your needs.
AB INFLATABLES NAUTILUS 17 DLX WIDEBODY BOWRIDER
Overall length: 5.18m
Weight (dry): 537kg
Capacity: 10 persons
Fuel capacity: 125lt
Water capacity: 38lt
Power: Outboard from 67 to 86kW (90 to 115hp)
Power (as tested): Yamaha four-stroke 86kW (115hp)
Price from: $58,000 (on trailer, ready to go)
Price as tested: $64,000 (on trailer, ready to go)
More information: Boating Connexions, tel: (02) 9531 8145. Web: boatingconnexions.com.au.
AB Inflatables Oceanus 11 VST
An AB Inflatables Oceanus 11 VST came along as our camera boat and its performance was quite impressive for its 3.35m size.
This is the smallest in the AB Inflatables Oceanus range of console tenders – these make great boats in their own right, too, including for introducing youngsters to boating. The Oceanus models were originally designed for the Italian Coast Guard, their safe performance partially a result of that heritage.
This small Oceanus demonstrated just how safe and stable these boats are while we powered around getting photos of the Nautilus 17 DLX. There’s all the performance you could want with a 40hp Evinrude E-TEC for power, and there is more room onboard than you’d expect for the size. An underfloor 38lt fuel tank helped with space and there’s plenty of storage capacity under the seats.
After taking the photos, I couldn’t resist asking for a turn at the wheel. The Oceanus 11 VST is such fun to drive – it’s very responsive and it held steady as a rock as we briefly touched 5900rpm and 50km/h (27 knots).
It’s about $22,000 as we ran it – add about $1500 if you need a trailer.
This one lives on the davits of a beautiful 54ft Halvorsen cruiser – many thanks to the owner for providing his sporty tender for our photo session.