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An inflatable dinghy is a small boat that is filled with air during use but can be deflated for storage. These boats carry loads of cargo and passengers comparable to their traditional counterparts but require much less space to store. Often, these crafts are self-inflating, as is usually the case when used as lifeboats, or otherwise easily blown up with a standard air pump. Additionally, larger vessels often are equipped for outboard motors.
The most common use for an inflatable dinghy is as a lifeboat on a larger vessel. Many ship captains prefer inflatable lifeboats because they require less available deck space. In addition, traditional hard-hulled lifeboats often bang into the exterior of the boat, causing dents and scraped paint. This incidental damage is prevented by using collapsible dinghies.
In addition to safety, an inflatable dinghy can provide recreation and transport to passengers on yachts. The buoyancy of these boats makes them easy to lower into and retrieve from the water. This makes these vessels convenient for transporting passengers and equipment between the beach and the yacht. Furthermore, when properly equipped, these boats can be used for recreational activities such as diving, fishing, or even waterskiing.
Casual boaters and fishers with limited space often choose inflatable dinghies for ease of storage. Often, a 12-foot (3.65-meter) longboat of this type can hold up to to 1,200 pounds (544.31 kilograms) but weighs as little as 50 pounds (22.67 kilograms). When deflated, the boat takes up no more room than a large suitcase and can be easily stored in a standard closet.
The lightweight and small size of the modern inflatable dinghy also makes it a popular choice among hikers. Inflatable boats designed to hold one person can weigh less than six pounds (2.72 kilograms) but can carry 200 to 300 pounds (90.71 to 136.07 kilograms). Long hikes that integrate kayaking are now increasingly common, whereas in the past, these trips would have been limited by the weight and size of the boat.
Although inflatable dinghies have many good points, they remain prone to damage by punctures. Manufacturers of these boats have reduced the risk of holes by using protective coatings such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), neoprene, and hypalon. In addition, the interior structures of most of these crafts are divided into sections, enabling an inflatable dinghy to stay afloat even if one section becomes badly damaged. This is, coincidentally, the same principle used by the designers of the Titanic.