6 Most-Common Problems With Zodiac Boats (Explained)

Since the first season of the classic adventure series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, Zodiac inflatables have been in the public consciousness.

Well-liked and used all over the world, Zodiac boats are a great option for users who want something lightweight and structurally sound. However, like all boats, they have certain problems that may arise.

First, we need to understand the material we are dealing with!

1. Zodiacs Are Made from Strongan

Inflatables are made from 1 of 2 different materials: Hypalon (a rubber fabric) or PVC. It is important to know which material was used to construct an inflatable before you set out to repair it.

It is usually easy to quickly tell which fabric is which if you are looking at repairing a tear, as Hypalon will have different colors on the outside and the inside, while PVC will be the same color on both sides.

Today, all Zodiacs are made from their proprietary material called Strongan, which is a PVC. Before 1968, however, many models were made from Hypalon.

This means that any repairs you set out to do yourself will require Stabond as the adhesive unless the boat was made before 1968. In that case, you will need to confirm the material as above before determining whether to use Stabond or a Hypalon adhesive.

2. Getting punctures or leaks

Because the sides of inflatables are made from a pliable material, they are susceptible to sharp objects. A moment’s carelessness with a knife or even a screwdriver can punch a hole through the fabric.

Repairs to small holes in the PVC fabric are relatively straightforward, fortunately.

There are several guides and videos on the internet to use as a starting point in repairing. Using the right materials is essential, as are the repair conditions (i.e., no or low humidity and a cleaned surface).

The bottoms are rigid and not susceptible in the same manner, though they are still vulnerable to other kinds of damage such as rocks or other submerged hazards.

Leaks are uncommon in the tubes of a Zodiac unless they have been punctured or cut. If your Zodiac is leaking, it is probably the result of the joint between the bottom and the hulls failing (see below).

3. Welding of seams failing at the hull and stern

While Hypalon seams are glued, as are some PVC seams, the seams of most PVC inflatables, like Zodiacs made from Strangan, are actually welded. Opinions on forums are hotly divided over whether gluing or welding is superior overall. Still, most of those familiar with the process feel that welding PVC is superior to gluing it.

This welding is done using 1 of 2 methods. The first is using high-frequency radio waves to create an electromagnetic field that melds the surfaces together. The second process is hot air or thermo-welding, a more recent innovation, which melts two pieces together with high heat and then compresses them tightly.

Currently, Zodiac uses thermo-welding, and the seams of the inflatable sections themselves rarely fail.

In the late 1980s, however, a rash of seams in the hull failed as a new process was introduced, but that is no longer an issue.

But at the joints where the rigid bottom meets the inflatable sides, several reports of failure at these seams.

This is because they are joined with glue, and the stress of flexing at the joint between the rigid and softer sides weakens the bond over time. When this bond breaks down, it can be costly to repair.

The stern of Zodiacs are also rigid, usually made from wood. The bond here is also glue rather than thermo-welded (as you cannot thermo-weld wood to PVC), subsequently riveted to the PVC. The flex at this joint can cause the bond to break down over time, detaching the transom from the rest of the boat.

This is a more complicated repair than separation at the hull and rib joint and is usually thought of as a temporary repair at best.

The seams at the hull and transom can also fail if the glue was originally applied in improper conditions, such as high humidity.

4. Delamination of the transom

The transom of a Zodiac is usually made of two pieces of marine plywood. There are some occurrences of this plywood delaminating and falling apart.

This can occur if the paint was improperly applied or the transom is somehow damaged, letting water get in between the layers. It can also happen after years of hard use, with the transom flexing and allowing in water.

The bonding between the plywood layers then disintegrates, and the transom rots away.

Replacing the transom is a costly process, and most owners will move on to a different boat at that point.

5. UV degradation of the PVC

PVC is more susceptible to ultraviolet light than Hypalon. If totally left exposed to the sun, a model like the Zodiac can start to degrade in as little as three years, particularly further south, where the UV is stronger.

For this reason, Zodiacs must be covered when not in use.

Looking over the feedback from owners, UV exposure seems to be the ultimate cause of Zodiacs, and other PVC inflatables, breaking down. Hypalon has better resistance to UV light.

6. Low life expectancy of inflatables

The estimate varies depending on whether you are talking to a professional or an observer, and you will always find counter-opinions and testimonials.

But the fact is, inflatable dinghies have a finite lifespan. 10 years is generally regarded as the upper limit of the effective life of a PVC, while 15 years may be expected from a Hypalon.

Welded-seam PVC models, like Zodiacs, last longer than glued-seam PVC, so 10 good years is what you can expect if the boat is taken care of.

These estimates assume yearly use, so keeping an inflatable inside for several years will extend its life.

General pros and cons of Zodiacs:

We’ve gone over some of the problems you may encounter with Zodiacs, but there are quite a few pros.

Here are some good things about Zodiac:

Pros of Zodiacs:

  • The rigid bottoms are among the most durable of any inflatable.
  • The Zodiacs handle better than most inflatables.
  • Zodiacs are very stable even when heavily loaded.
  • Because of their rigid bottom and v-hull, they can cut through many waves that would pound another brand. 
  • Zodiacs (and other PVC boats) are less expensive than Hypalon.
  • Having been made to military specifications, they are very durable despite the low life span.

Zodiac is an iconic brand, often used as a synonym for all inflatable boats. They are well-known the world over and used in all conditions.

The company makes a wide variety of models for several different purposes.

While they are not cheap, they are less than Hypalon models, and if looking for an inflatable, you can likely find a Zodiac to meet your needs.

Cons of Zodiacs:

Like we have discovered, there are a few cons to Zodiacs, though, in fairness, the first and last items on this list apply to all inflatables.

Here’s what we found:

  • Getting punctures or leaks
  • Welding of seams failing at the hull and transom
  • Delamination of the transom
  • UV degradation of the PVC
  • A low life expectancy of inflatables

What Do the Reviews Say?

“The Zodiac hits the mark in several areas, including ride quality, handholds, storage, and deck traction. The fuel-tank tie-down is a nice touch. While Practical Sailor is not a fan of PVC in the tropics, this boat is a top contender if you’re intent on having a bow locker and live in temperate climates.”

[Source: Practical Sailor]

Ride quality is one thing that is brought up in reviews over and over. The storage is also mentioned favorably.

“To sum her up, the 550 Open is a nicely conceived dayboat for families with enough turn of speed to make her interesting without being exciting. She has a great presence on the water and remains planted under normal helming situations without any sudden surprises.” 

[Source: Powerboatandrib.com]

This is another aspect of the Zodiac models that always get a favorable mention: the ease of handling the boat and the response of the helm.

What’s the Resale Value on Zodiacs?

Model Year Price
Zodiac Medline 580 2013 $19,890
Pro Classic 850 2013 $54,750

Zodiac inflatables have resale prices that are a little bit better than other PVC brands. This is most likely due to both the iconic nature of the brand and the welded-seam construction. 

A 2013 Zodiac Medline 580 cost $29,000 new that year, and now that model and year averages about $19,890. Currently, the model retails new for $55,044.

A 2013 Pro Classic 850 cost $81,350 brand new in that year. Now a Zodiac of that model and year has an average resale value of $54,750. That model currently has a retail price ranging between $130,000 and $220,000, depending on the engine make and using two outboards. 

Keep in mind that buying a used Zodiac or any used inflatable will have a short lifespan.

An 8-year-old boat that has seen limited use may be worth these prices, but many, if not most, will not, given the 10-year average life expectancy for PVC boats.

Sources:

Zodiac Nautic Official Site

Defender – Zodiac Slideshow

Inflatable Boat Lifespan

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