Inflatable boats are very popular in Alaska, because they are portable. Remote locations demand gear that packs into small portable packages that are easily loaded into a small aircraft. For situations where a small runabout and outboard are required, a sportboat is the ideal choice. So what exactly is a sportboat? Essentially it is an inflatable boat that has a rigid floor system and a hard, integrated transom. Some sport boats have wood or aluminum floorboards, and some have inflatable floors. Some have transoms that can be removed, but most are glued in. The glue-in design is by far the most pervasive, but the transom makes rolling the boat up for fly-out trips something of a challenge. And the resulting package is bulky and difficult for an individual person to move.
Uses for Sportboats
Sportboats are designed to be used in deeper water where there is little chance of the hull impacting the bottom. Sportboats are not well suited for fast-moving rivers where impact with the riverbed is a possibility. Attempts to run a sportboat in such locations can easily result in damage to the transom (the lowest part of the floor), or the floor itself. Sportboats are ideal for cruising bays and protected marine waters, lakes, and deep, slow rivers.
Shipping a Sportboat
Shipping your sportboat to your air charter requires some advance planning. First, roll the boat up in a tarp to protect it from damage during transit. If your boat came with a boat bag, use that for protection instead. If you palletize your boat for shipping, choose a pallet with no loose or protruding nails, no broken boards, etc. and ensure that no part of the boat hangs between the slats or off the edges of the pallet. These areas can be damaged by careless forklift operators. If possible, choose a plastic pallet that has no nails or boards.
The glue in your repair kit, together with any solvent, is considered a hazardous material (HAZMAT), and is subject to DOT guidelines for shipping. These requirements are listed in DOT Title 49 CFR. If you are unclear on the requirements, consult the transporter for instructions. Generally you should separate all your HAZMAT so it can be inspected by the carrier at the time of acceptance for shipping. Expect to pay a HAZMAT fee in addition to the cost of shipping the goods. Most carriers charge an extra amount for HAZMAT, whether it's one match or an entire pallet of stove fuel.
- Unpack the boat, ensuring that all components are accounted for.
- Lay the boat out, and open the valves so they can be inflated.
- Inflate each air chamber to approximately 2/3 pressure. Overinflation of one chamber before the adjacent chambers are inflated causes strain on the interior bulkheads (baffles) that separate the chambers, and you could blow a baffle.
- Beginning at the stern, lay the floor sections inside the boat one at a time, locking them together as the design requires. The triangular bow section goes in last, however it must be wedged into place by first inserting the bow piece into the front of the boat, then lifting the forward edge of the last rectangular floor piece,and matching it to the aft edge of the bow piece. Push down where the bow and the second panel come together, to lock them to each other.
- Place the stringers along each side, ensuring that the floor panels are fully bottomed out into the recesses in the stringers. The beveled side of the stringers goes toward the bottom of the boat.
- Top off the tubes with your pump, to a working pressure of 2.5 psi.
In the field, monitor the air pressure in your boat. Note that when the boat is in the water the air in the tubes will cool and the tubes will become softer. If you pull the boat out of the water and set it on the bank, the opposite willl occur. If you must leave the boat out of the water, bleed some air off to prevent over-expansion (which can lead to a ruptured tube).
As was mentioned, care should be taken in shallow water, where the fabric bottom on the boat can be damaged by impact with the riverbed. Another risk involves high winds, particularly headwinds on lakes or in the ocean, where the wind can catch the bow of the boat as you crest a wave, and blow the boat right over. When that happens, the occupants are tossed into the freezing water and fatalities can result from cold water shock. Attempts to operate a sportboat in high headwind situations should be done only in cases of extreme emergency, due to the risk of capsizing. Put some weight in the bow to keep it low to the water, and consider using an extended tiller handle so you can position yourself closer to the middle of the boat to reduce your chances of capsizing.
The whole point of a sportboat is to enable the use of an outboard motor. But getting an outboard shipped to the field is not always easy. Most passenger carriers require removal of all fuel and fuel residue. Fuel odors are considered fuel residue, so it is you responsibility to ensure that the vapors are taken care of too. Simply drying the tank and fuel lines is not enough. SYou may use alcohol or diesel fuel to neutralize the vapors. Both mix well with outboard fuel, but leave no combustible vapors behind. Do the same with the fuel tank and lines. Some passenger carriers will not allow used outboards to be transported at all; check with your carrier for specific details, and ask for printed documentation. Bring the documentation with you when you take the outboard to the freight company, to prevent any misunderstandings. Not all freight acceptance personnel know the regulations as well as they should.
Some areas in Alaska prohibit the use of 2-stroke motors, in order to protect the environment. In those areas you must use a 4-stroke motor. Drain the oil out of your 4-stroke before shipping, to prevent oil from running into the intake system during shipping (sometimes the loading personnel lay the motor down the wrong way, causing oil to run out of the reservoir). Call ahead to ensure that you can purchase replacement oil locally. Alternatively, your air charter may be able to purchase it on your behalf in advance of your trip.