boats rigidinflatables

The underwater diving tankThe deep-water underwater diving tankThe wet suitThe breathing regulatorThe V-hulled Zodiac inflatable boatVarious underwater cameras and housingsSpecial underwater lighting equipmentDeep-water diving air mixes

For most people, Cousteau became a household brand name with his weekly TV series, the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, where Cousteau, sons and crew took Calypso from island to island or into some of the world's most remote aquatic areas to show viewers what was happening to fish and other underwater species. In reality, few people knew just how much Cousteau influenced underwater diving For these people, Cousteau and Calypso were the stars. Few even realized the Cousteau developed the Zodiac, a variant on the inflatable raft to handle the routine water work Calypso and the dive/camera team required. The Zodiac became the utility vehicle of The Undersea World.

The Zodiac, which used a frame and dual side pontoons, as well as a formal bow and transom where an outboard was mounted and tiller-steered, was the dive platform, the camera platform, the storage platform, the runabout and tender.

That the design would rocket to popularity was likely very unexpected by Cousteau and company. The Zodiac design, whose small V hull and flatter bottom and little draw, encouraged rescue units around the world to try it out. As it could handle foul weather more comfortably and in a more weatherly fashion that old-fashioned paddle rounded life rafts which were meant to be paddled. The 15-foot all-rubber, pontoon-sided Zodiac was meant to shallow plane and could handle some pretty tough conditions, including collisions with rocks or coral that would have torn the bottom out of conventional craft.

That there was a new future and direction for the Zodiac came out of Atlantic University in the United Kingdom where students of Adm. Desmond Hoare, who were also members of the local marine life-saving squad, found that they had to fix the Zodiac they were using for their rescues. The fix they devised, a fitted piece of plywood which replaced the damaged flooring of the original craft, changed the handling characteristics of the Zodiac, making it even more maneuverable and able to stand up better to rough rescues.

Hoare looked at the design and patented the rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB), as part of the work being done by hose under Adm. Hoare at Atlantic. They experimented with V-size in the hull; materials and overall size and most were successful. Indeed, when a specially designed RHIB craft was one of the few small boats to finish the Race Round Britain, even the Queen's representatives took notice and signed an agreement to work with Hoare and company on a series of designs that keyed on different sizes, materials, hull design. The agreement resulted in the birth of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, whose charge was to maximize the abilities of RHIBs.

To think all of this was the result of a rescue squad's attempt to repair their Zodiac makes this almost mind-boggling in how a small, dedicated group working alone and trying to do the best they could actually influenced the crown and life-saving technology.

A whole series of RHIBs were built, some with steel hulls and flotation collars, while others used more traditional rubber and composite material to handle their experimental work.

That work, later moved to Cowle, resulted in the X1 to X10 models, each of which had something just a bid different. The key that Adm. Hoare and his students probably found was that materials technology and marine technology finally had caught up with one another.

They tried various combinations of composite materials and construction techniques and realized that the plywood bottomed models were just too rough-handling in heavy cross-seas and wind. The composite bottom or rubberized bottom with integral frame of bow to stern tubes and air cells handled this situation more comfortably for the rescue team and passengers.

They tried just about every variation you might think of to produce the RHIB. The variations included:

Steel Deep-V hullsFiberglass V-hulls Composite materials and V-hulls

The design team found that 18-feet was probably the best size for a working RHIB, although they did also create a series of smaller RHIBs that could be deployed directly from a beach by lifeguard service members (MX series). The beauty of the design was quite simply its ability to cut through deep water and waves with a Deep-V-hull that didn't run the length of the boat. Instead, the RHIB's V-shaped hull quickly flattened out.

The real developments included the use of boat-length interior rods and air cells for strength, as well as finally settling on the right combination of composites to work with the side pontoon/collar.

During the 1970s and 1980s a whole series of performance RHIBs was produced that ran from a small-sized 7.5-feet to a gargantuan (for an RHIB) 55-footer.

It wasn't until the development moved to this side of the pond with the addition and integration of these craft into the world of the Canadian Coast Guard and later the U.S. Coast Guard that the real changes happened.

RHIBs appeared with quick hydroplaning ability as well as the ability to handle engines from 5 to 300 horsepower. This meant that the craft could be built to meet the need whether it was drug interdiction or rescue work or simple runabout/tender work.

Today, the RHIB, an almost organic and quite natural outgrowth of the Zodiac, works with the military, the private sector providing, at the top end, RHIBs with pilot houses and controls, to tiny runabouts.