Reflex Ribs 5500 Offshore

Inflatable boat manufacturers are getting a big slice of the new-boat pie as buyers weigh up the advantages of modern inflatable technology. The new Shoreline 5500 Offshore epitomises modern inflatable design.

Reflex Ribs 5500 Offshore
Reflex Ribs 5500 Offshore

Inflatables are now as much a part of the nautical landscape as aluminium and fibreglass runabouts. And it is no coincidence given the rapid development of inflatable technology here and overseas.

There was a time when inflatables were largely the domain of activists and terrorists who painted their outboards matt black and raced around under the cover of darkness on various and often nefarious assignments. Comfort was not an issue but serious horsepower was a must.

These days that horsepower is matched by comfort, styling and new technology, which means it is no longer necessary to carry bailers and foot pumps to ensure a safe arrival at your destination.

The introduction of rigid deep vee hulls changed the inflatable boat market overnight with better safety, fuel economy, storage and comfort. As a result, inflatables are now used in just about every sea-going application from simple yacht tenders to 40ft-plus rescue craft that operate on some of the world's roughest waterways.

New Zealand has played a considerable hand in inflatable boat development with the likes of Naiad, Rayglass and Aquapro, which have consistently raised the anti in terms of quality and finish. New Zealand's involvement in the America's Cup and the requirement for large, powerful inflatables has further enhanced design technology. Walk around the Viaduct Basin and you will see an armada of blow-up boats that would bring a tear to the eye of any Greenpeace supporter.

While the commercial attributes of larger inflatables is self evident, smaller craft are becoming increasingly popular for recreational boating activities whether it be water skiing, fishing or just playing around in the summer sun.

Christchurch-based Reflex Ribs is one company leading the charge in recreational ribs with the release of its new Shoreline 5500, the latest in Shoreline's Offshore range of rigid hulled inflatables. The 5500 is one of the first new designs to benefit from the recent merger of Shoreline Inflatables and Reflex Products, the Christchurch manufacturer of the Haines Signature and Chianti range of fibreglass runabouts and cuddy cabins. Reflex Ribs general manager John Hocking recently took three weeks out to tour New Zealand with the new 5500 in tow.

The boat has a deep 23-degree solid fibreglass foam-filled hull with planing strakes each side and a relatively fine entry. The over-sized pontoons are manufactured from German polymar fabrics and carry a six-year factory warranty. The pontoons each have five separate air chambers and extend about 600mm aft of the transom to provide additional buoyancy to carry the weight of the outboard. The boats are unsinkable and have successfully been put into charter under Maritime Safety Authority requirements.

The 5500 has a stylish moulded fibreglass centre console designed and manufactured by Reflex. The console houses the wheel, morse controls and engine gauges and there is a glove box on the front edge for personal items. The console width is such that there is room to walk around to the bow for anchoring and berthing. Storage lockers have been built into the console sides, but the location of these is likely to change in future models. The 5500 has twin fold down rear seats set against the transom, giving a capacity to seat three passengers. There is little up front other than a solid stainless steel Sampson post.

The test boat was fitted with a new Yamaha 90hp two-stroke outboard, which is at the top end of Shoreline's recommended horsepower range. This is a good thing given that the boat weighs less than 350kg and is something of a weapon in the wrong hands. On the water the boat runs and feels more like a jet ski, with a huge power to weight ratio. With the Yamaha 90, it is not for the faint hearted and certainly not a toy for the kids, being capable of speeds in excess of 45 knots. Despite that power, the 5500 is well mannered and rides nicely enough, the big pontoons doing a good job at keeping things dry up top.

The windscreen on the console keeps most spray at bay and the transom height is such that there is no risk of being swamped by backwash. The 5500 is a fun family boat ideally suited to towing water toys, skiers or fishing coastal waters. Its lightweight and low trailer height means that it is both easy to tow and garage when not in use. Hocking says several new models are currently under development following the merger of Shoreline's with Reflex Products. He says the 5500 has been positively received by dealers with four confirmed orders and plenty of consumer interest.

Words and pictures: Steve Raea.


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