Review: RIBCraft 7.8 Offshore is Fast, Stable & Dry
January 18, 2012
Ever wonder why search-and-rescue agencies and tactical law-enforcement units buy and use RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats) instead of hard-sided hulls? Consider their needs: speed, safety, seaworthiness and a comfortable ride in extreme conditions. Several companies in the U.S. build RIBs that meet these requirements. RIBCraft USA is one of them. The 7.8 Offshore center console (length 25’ 10”) we tested recently showed how a RIB can meet such high standards.
A close look at the 7.8 Offshore, both on the trailer and in the water, reveals several of its key design features. Typical of its RIBCraft sisters, this model has a pronounced upward sweep in its sheerline and a sharp 45-degree deadrise in the forefoot that comes to a point, instead of a squared-off bow. Together they provide wave-cleaving entry with massive reserve buoyancy above.
The hull tapers back to a still-sharp 24-degree running surface. That much deadrise in a hard-sided hull could make for a soft-riding but tippy boat. However, the 7.8’s 21”-diameter tube, which just kisses the water at the transom, provides excellent stability at rest. Loading puts more of the tube in the water, increasing stability up to a remarkable recommended load capacity of 14 people or 8,465 pounds. Another advantage of the tube is the way it acts as a super-wide spray rail, augmenting the wave-damping, spray-throwing ability of the rigid hull’s lifting strakes and reverse chines at the waterline, while also acting as a shock absorber when the hull comes down hard off a wave.
Meanwhile, the inflatable tubes reduce the boat’s weight to less than two-thirds that of a comparable high-quality, hard-hulled center console like the Regulator 26. Moreover, when the hull is running on plane at speed, the tube’s after ends rise almost entirely above the water’s surface, greatly reducing wetted surface and thus drag.
As a result, the RIBCraft 7.8 runs well with a single 225- or 250-hp outboard instead of a pair, though the boat can handle up to 350-hp for carrying maximum loads. The tubes do take up some space inside the hull, with the interior dimensions more like those of a 23’ to 24’ center console, but the RIBCraft’s greater length provides the more comfortable ride of a 26-footer.
RIBCraft’s rigid hulls are made of hand-laid fiberglass, reinforced with woven fabric and a composite stringer grid that ties into a composite transom. The edges on our test boat’s chines and strakes were sharp, a reflection of precise craftsmanship with good tooling (the hull mold) that is maintained well. Underway, those sharp edges provide lift to the hull while directing spray out and down.
RIBCraft builds its tubes with an outer surface of Hypalon fabric, which is very strong, puncture-resistant, and only minimally affected by ultraviolet rays. Inner air-holding layers are neoprene. Assembly requires cutting the fabrics to precise patterns, then putting them together with sophisticated adhesives specially-formulated for these materials. RIBCraft claims these tubes can last up to 30 years. The 7.8 Offshore’s tube has 7 separate air chambers with relief valves to equalize pressure and bleed it off when portions of the tube are squeezed in hard turns.
Sophisticated adhesives are just as important in RIBs as they are in hard-sided hulls. In the first place, they hold the tubes together. In the second place, RIBCraft glues its tubes to its hulls, instead of attaching them mechanically, as some other RIB manufacturers do.
The trick is providing plenty of mounting surface where the tube meets the rigid hull. To achieve this, the company lays up the fiberglass hull with a wide, lengthwise “tube flange.” Onto the flange goes a strip of hull material that is slightly more than twice the width of the flange. Folded over with the closed edge to the outside and glued to both the fiberglass flange and the tube, this “hinge” becomes the connection between the rigid hull and the Hypalon. Because the hinge can open slightly, it augments the shock-absorbing capacity of the tube when running through rough seas.
Another key is providing a wide, round flange on each side of the transom for attaching the ends of the tube. By job’s end, a RIBCraft tube gets 20 “patches” (attachment points) around the transom that ensure it is snugly “tied in” against stresses from multiple directions.
Finally, the adhesives allow attachment of non-skid step pads, safety lines, and a stout rubrail around the entire tube. Meanwhile, the rigid hull is outfitted with top-quality stainless steel towing eyes, lifting rings and other load-bearing accessories.
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So how does this Wonder RIB perform? Very well in the 2’ to 3’ seas we encountered during our test day, and it was obvious the boat could handle far worse. The sharp deadrise and strakes kept it on track in sharp turns, while the combination of the deadrise and the big tube with its hinges kept it running soft and dry, even at high speeds.
Rigged with a Honda BF225, our test boat offered plenty of load-carrying capacity and speed for its assigned duty: commercial wildlife tours for up to 6 passengers (see Performance Profile below for full spex). The Professional version of the 7.8 Offshore can, however, be Coast Guard-certified for up to 12 passengers for hire, plus 2 crew. Such a vessel might well perform best with a single 250- or 300-hp engine or a pair of 130’s or 150’s. Depending on power, the 100-gallon aluminum fuel tank provides a range of 300 to 380 miles.
RIBCraft builds a line of basic hulls and tubes, plus a nearly endless series of stock and custom options. With deep experience in rigging their RIBs for specific and demanding tasks, the company can set up a 7.8 Offshore for anything from sport fishing to firefighting. Our test boat had a center console with plenty of space on the dash for a 10” electronic display, a windshield with grabrail, and a forward seat. The fuel tank lies under a hatch at the base of the console. A T-top is optional.
Though a leaning post with space for a cooler beneath is available, RIBCraft’s trademark seat is an individual pod with a rounded, cushioned saddle and an upholstered backrest/grabrail for anyone standing or seated behind. The pod holds considerable dry storage beneath. Our tour boat/test boat had 3 rows of 2 pods each behind the console. RIBCraft also offers a transom towing post and an antenna arch over the engine(s).
Though RIBCraft builds more than half of its boats for institutional customers, the company finds plenty of recreational boaters who want one of these super-safe, super-tough, super-comfortable vessels for anything from fishing to beach picnics (the latter boats probably equipped with optional keelguards).
- LOA: 25’ 10”
- Beam: 8’ 10”
- Draft: 18” (engines up)
- Weight: 3,200 lbs.
- Deadrise (Transom) : 24˚
- Deadrise (Forward) : 45˚
- Internal Length: 21’ 2”
- Internal Beam: 6’ 2”
- Max power: 350 hp
- Fuel: 100 gals. (aluminum tank)
- Maximum persons: 14
- Max. recommended load: 8,465 lbs.
- Base price w/ Honda 225-hp outboard: $110,000