John page williams
The following review was written by John Page Williams, Editor-at-large, Chesapeake Bay Magazine. John, senior naturalist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, has been a regular contributor to Chesapeake Bay Magazine for 30 years, specializing in environmental issues, nature, wildlife, fishing and boats. He has been testing new and used boats for the magazine's Time-Tested and New Boat News departments since 1998.
Zodiac 650
AUGUST 2009
 
   
Length overall  21' 4"
Beam  8' 2"
Deadrise  24 degrees
Weight 1,388 lb
Fuel31.7 gal
Max Power 175 hp
Price Range$56,850 w/ twin Yamaha F75s and T-top

Zodiac has practically become the generic name for a large inflatable boat, just as "Kleenex" has come to represent the tissues we reach for when we have a cold. We all recognize these speedy boats with air-filled pontoons. But not many know that the international company that manufactures them has been around for more than a century.

The whole thing started in 1896, when engineer Maurice Mallet bought
the workshops of French dirigible pioneer Paul Jovis. In 1909 the Paris-based company became the Société Française de Ballons Dirigeables et d'Aviation Zodiac, marking the appearance of the Zodiac brand. It continued to design and manufacture self-propelled inflatable airships.

In 1937, under contract to the French Navy, Zodiac started manufacturing inflatable carriers for bombs and torpedoes, beginning the company's long relationship with the military. In 1940 Zodiac engineer Pierre Debroutelle designed the "A-type," the prototype for the modern inflatable boat.

Development of Zodiacs continued with the invention of folding wooden floors and transoms, which allowed the use of outboard motors. The boats appealed to space-limited Europeans, who could deflate the boats and store them in their apartments. By 1969 Zodiac was the largest inflatable-boat manufacturer in the world.

Zodiac continued moving ahead in the development of durable, flexible fabrics. In the 1990s the company succeeded in marrying a multichambered, U-shaped inflatable tube with a fiberglass bottom, creating the rigid-hull inflatable boat (RIB). This led to the production of high-performance deep-V hulls with inflatable topsides, a design that has since found favor with many military and rescue agencies.

American boaters are starting to recognize that inflatables can serve as more than just dinghies. RIBs offer great seaworthiness, high carrying capacity, low weight for towing on trailers, good performance with relatively small outboard engines and versatile layouts.   
 
This review focuses on a Pro Open 650 provided by Zodiac North America headquarters in Stevensville, Md. The 650 is the RIB equivalent of a conventional 20-foot center-console, and a fine candidate for a family's primary boat. The test boat was equipped with twin 75-hp Yamaha fuel-injected four-stroke outboards, though at a mere 1,388 pounds the hull is light enough to provide good performance with a single 150 or even a 115. The test boat also carried an optional T-top and a full bow rail. Pro series boats can also be ordered with open cockpits and a variety of other options.

Design and Construction
The rigid bottom of the Pro Open 650 is formed of two hand laid fiberglass parts--the bottom and the deck--bonded together with methacrylate adhesive. The layup is sturdy, a sandwich of 45-degree biaxial fiberglass cloth and 90-degree knitted fabric between inner and outer layers of chopped-strand mat. Stress points, such as the bow eye, lifting rings and rail stanchions, get extra reinforcement, along with stainless fender washers for the mounting bolts. The hull has a 24-degree deadrise aft, with a narrow, V-shaped planing pad on the aft half of the keel and a pair of lifting strakes on either side.

This design by itself would be an extreme deep-V, but the inflatable tubes effectively give the 650 a variable deadrise bottom, since they form wide,  shock-absorbing reverse chines to keep the ride soft and dry when the boat is on plane. At rest or on the troll, they add tremendous stability.

Material for the 650's tube is Sharc Duotex, a rotproof, dual-thread textile with excellent tear and puncture resistance, sandwiched with a polyurethane coating that is resistant to heat, cold and UV rays. It carries a five-year warranty, but will last much longer with care, according to Zodiac. Many boaters worry about puncturing the tubes, especially anglers, who deal with sharp, pointy objects. While punctures are possible, you'd have to try really hard to get a hook through the material. Plus, the tubes are equipped with separate chambers and internal baffles designed to keep the boat afloat if a leak occurs. Zodiacs come with repair kits, and small leaks can often be fixed on the water. In terms of maintenance, the tubes require very little care. Zodiac recommends periodic cleaning of the tube fabric with fresh water and mild detergent.

On Deck 
Like a conventional 20-foot center-console, the Pro Open 650 is laid out for versatility. The elevated bow deck has storage beneath. The console, set against the starboard side of the tube, offers a windshield with a grab rail, space for electronics, a compass and gauges, as well as storage beneath and plenty of room to pass by to port. 

The helm seat is a two-person leaning post with storage beneath the pad, a footrest, four rod holders (two of which can hold an upholstered seat back), a grab rail around the perimeter and space beneath for a 72-quart cooler. The boat has a full-width cushioned stern seat with space for a cooler below. The center cushion is removable to free up space at the transom for fishing. The self-bailing cockpit has a stanchion at the transom for a ski-tow pylon, which also holds a table with a rod holder on each side. Behind the stern seat is a transom splash well. Despite the size of the tubes, there's plenty of space inside for half a dozen friends.

Power and Performance
With twin 75-hp outboards, our test boat was powerful enough to work as a tow boat or to pull a waterskier, but the twin lower units created enough drag to hold top speed at around 43 mph, versus 51 mph with a single 150 (according to Yamaha). While the Pro Open's big tubes, which extend aft past the engine(s), handle the 740-pound weight of the two engines well enough, a single 400- to 460-pound engine allows the boat to plane at lower speeds (mid-teens or less), costs less and burns less fuel. For most uses, a single 115 should offer plenty of performance.

Our test day was calm, but in the wakes we could find, the Pro Open 650 showed off an easy motion, with the rigid hull cutting through the water and the tubes cushioning the impact. It was clear that this boat is every bit as seaworthy as a conventional 20-footer.

Price and Availability
The Pro Open 650 is readily available from the company's wide dealer net-work. The base price for a new boat rigged like our test model with a pair of Yamaha F75 four-strokes is $56,850. The same boat with a single Yamaha F150 is $50,670 and, with an F115, $48,825. Used boats are certainly out there. We turned up a 2007 with an F150 for $49,000 and a 2004 with an F150 for $27,000.