Polyurethane Fabric: The Newest Inflatable Boat Fabric

Polyurethane fabric is relatively new to the inflatable boat manufacturing world. With recent improvements in the coating, companies are beginning to embrace polyurethane fabric in their quest for a tougher weldable fabric with less negative environmental impact than PVC fabric.

For years, some manufacturers claimed the biggest issue with these fabrics is they were too stiff, and they got stiffer after long exposure to UV radiation, so they were not suitable for foldable inflatables.

Perhaps for this reason polyurethane coatings were only found on commercial and professional RIBs and rafts.

Obviously, the fabric coating technology is improving, as many inflatable boat companies are now offering polyurethane (often called urethane) boat fabric.

Feathercraft's Baylee rafts, and Alpacka rafts are examples of small foldable polyurethane coated nylon boats.

Wing Inflatables use a fabric with a polyurethane coating they call coolthane®, made by the Cooley Group. Wing testimonials claim that the polyurethane coated fabrics stand up to more abuse than a hypalon boat or pvc fabric.

There are still many conflicting views about the properties of the different coatings. Based on lots of reading here are the pros and cons of Polyurethane coated fabric.

  • polyurethane is the most abrasion resistant of all inflatable boat fabric coatings - there is some controversy over if the dry abrasion is even better than Hypalon - not everyone is convinced
  • polyurethane is more puncture resistant than all other materials
  • polyurethane is very chemical resistant
  • polyurethane is generally more expensive than PVC but cheaper than Hypalon - the very best polyurethane is more expensive than Hypalon
  • polyurethane is slightly more difficult to weld and glue than PVC
  • polyurethane is easy to clean

Zodiac is offering polyurethane coated fabric on some of their RIBs. They even have a website devoted to their new fabric called Sharc™, granted it doesn't say much.... but it is a start.

It will be interesting to see if more and more companies start offering polyurethane coated fabrics in their boats. Will polyurethane boats replace hypalon boats and pvc fabric boats?

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