WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — I was surprised by the number of rigid hull inflatable boats in the 20- to 40-foot range — both open and pilothouse versions — that were on display at the Palm Beach International Boat Show.
During a 30-minute walkthrough at the show, I clicked off photos of RIBS from eight manufacturers: HIB, Pirelli, Ribcraft, Zodiac, Capelli, Protector, Novurania and San Juan.
You might be surprised that San Juan Yachts, a manufacturer of luxury Down East-style day cruising boats, is now offering a RIB.
"We are not moving away from what we have historically done," said Donald M. Campbell, owner of the Anacortes, Wash., company. "We are adding to what we offer. The [luxury day cruiser] market has slowed down for us out west. This is a departure, for sure, and we're very excited."
Campbell was showing his new San Juan 32 RIB, powered with twin 300-hp Mercury Verado outboards. She can cruise at 30 knots and tops out at over 55 knots.
Campbell has watched the rise in popularity of pilothouse RIBs for recreational use. "We thought we would look at what is on the market and offer some improvements," he said. "We offer a nice separate head and ample headroom. We have galley and fridge modules. We have tried to make the pilothouse roomier."
The pilothouse RIB market has great potential, especially on the West Coast, he said. "Seas can be rough on the West Coast, and with this boat you don't have to pick your weather — you can run," Campbell said. "There is a reason why the military uses RIBS — they give you a soft, predictable ride in nasty weather."