Boats Made for the Military, by Chris Caswell (continued)
Zodiac, which started by making rubber-coated fabrics for airships, arguably pioneered the inflatable boat, made famous when Jacques Cousteau used them for his Calypso expeditions. Inflatables had been used during World War II by Marine Raiders, but today’s CRRC (Combat Rubber Recon Craft) is the vehicle of choice for Navy SEALs and other elite special ops teams that must sneak ashore in the dead of night. The Zodiac MilPro CRRC is based on a 15-foot design that you might be using to get ashore from your yacht for your morning coffee. These are designed for air drops, helicopter drops, and even underwater caches on submarines, and are powered by up to 55-horsepower outboards with jet pumps rather than props to minimize chance of injury. Since inflatable rubber boats and flying bullets don’t seem to be compatible, the Zodiac MilPro division has created ArmorFlate, the first inflatable bulletproof system for inflatable boats. I can’t tell you any more about it, but, then again, you probably wouldn’t need it to get your morning Starbucks fix anyway.
Zodiac also provides a government version of its 13-foot 9-inch inflatable, called the FC 470, which is like those found on many small pleasure boats and referred to simply as “roll-ups.” These were used by disaster crews when the California Oroville dam threatened to burst, and you’ll find roll-ups as standard gear for fire and rescue crews who have to face water emergencies. You’ll even find them in use in the winter to rescue fishermen who fall through the ice on frozen lakes, because the roll-up can safely slide along the ice.
Certainly the top of the Zodiac MilPro offerings is the Hurricane series of rigid inflatables (RIBs) from 22 to 36 feet, with the CZ7, a 24-footer, being the most popular. Aside from military duty, Hurricanes are proving popular as tenders for large yachts; they’re also used by adventure operators who take tourists on “wet-and-wild” rides in places such as Hawaii. Shock-mitigating seats are offered on Hurricanes to minimize the impact for the crew, with seats that travel up to 8 inches to cushion rough seas. The 38-foot Hurricane 1100 can run at over 50 knots in Sea State 3 (waves of 4 feet) with a full payload of crew and fuel, absorbing up to 6-g impacts perhaps not comfortably, but manageably. Astronauts incur about 3 gs on launch.
Hurricanes are designed to be kicked off the tail ramp of C-130 cargo planes, with the crew jumping alongside the parachuted craft, and they can even be retrieved from the water by racing up the tail ramp of a hovering Chinook helicopter for the quick extraction of a SEAL team from a combat zone. One 36-foot Hurricane recently transited the Northwest Passage, powered by triple outboards that gave it a top speed of more than 60 knots.
Another rigid inflatable builder that actually transitioned backwards from being strictly a military contractor to offering recreational versions is Ribcraft, which makes no changes for its public offerings. Ribcraft boats are proving popular among owners of very large superyachts, including some longer than 400 feet.