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November 11, 2003

Inflatable boat history. Where did they come from?

According to the Guiness Book of Motorboating, the history of the inflatable boat goes back as far as 880 BC, when the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II ordered troops to cross a river using greased animal skins, which they inflated continuously to keep the vessels afloat. In ancient China, during the Sung and Ming dynasties, inflated, airtight skins were used for crossing rivers.

It was 1839, however, that the first inflatable boat pontoons were tested by the Duke of Wellington. In 1840, the Englishman Thomas Hancock designed inflatable craft and described this work in "The Origin and Progress of India Rubber Manufacture in England" published a few years later. In 1844, a Lieutenant Halkett designed a round-shaped inflatable bloat which was used in several Arctic expeditions.

The Frenchman Clement Ader devised a floating vessel too. Indeed, many other pioneers invented craft that foreshadowed "inflatables". In 1913, the German Albert Meyer came up with a fairly novel design. By 1920, his company, A. Meyer Bau Pneum. Boote, was marketing his "pneumatic" boats, of which nine were already in use by the German Army. In France and Great Britain, Zodiac and RFD claim paternity of the first modern inflatable boat. In 1919, RFD's founder Reginald Foster Dagnall tested an inflatable on Lake Wisely in England, and went on to improve its design in the 1930s. This boat was the ancestor of the one-person inflatable liferaft.

In France, Pierre Debroutelle came up with a prototype for an inflatable boat in 1934. The first boat of its kind to be certified by the French Navy, Zodiac's model probably sparked the development of the civil and military inflatable boat industry. Unlike its counterparts, the boat improved by Pierre Debroutelle in 1937 was actually designed in a U-shape, with the two lateral buoyancy chambers connected by a wooden transom patented on August 10, 1943. This version was the direct predecessor of today's inflatable sports and pleasure boats. Since then many new manufacturers, new models and new designs have hit the market.

Inflatable boat are no longer a little dinghy on the back of a large pleasure yacht, but can range up to 45 ft in length and longer. "Rigid" hulls of fiberglass or aluminum have evolved from the original fabric floors, luxury components and even cabins now grace the decks of many inflatable boats. Contrary to the name, inflatable boat, on some inflatable boats of today the only thing inflatable is the collar around the perimeter gunwales of the deck however, the inflatable boat lives on and becomes more popular year after year.


About The Author:
T. Chevrier is a successful author and publisher of several online articles in the inflatable boat industry for

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