In late 1996, Quicksilver (the parts and accessories arm of Mercury Marine) came out with a new line of air-floor inflatables. We missed testing any Quicksilvers during our last look at stowable inflatables in the June 1997 issue. So we decided that their Model QS-230 Air Deck inflatable would be just the boat to use as a test platform for our tiny outboard tests (reported in the October 1, 1998 issue). It offered an opportunity to check out the QS-230s pluses and minuses at the same time.
With an overall length of 7′ 6″, the QS-230 Air Deck is about as small as inflatables come, but it is rated for a 770-pound load (two people, a motor, and some gear) and can carry up to a 5-hp. motor. It lists for $1,185 but sells for only $903 through the Defender Industries discount catalog (800/628-8225).
Theres a lot to like on the QS-230, starting with the light-gray color, which stays comfortably cool to the touch even on a bright, hot day. Then theres the fact that it comes in a small package, rolled into its own nylon bag, and is easy and quick to unroll and prepare for inflation. The brochure specs say the package size is 3′ 3″ x 2′ 0″ x 1′ 6″. We tried to confirm those dimensions, and after some pushing and squeezing, came up with 4′ 0″ x 2′ 4″ x 1′ 5″-not too far off the manufacturers numbers. We measured its weight as 58 pounds (a good bit above the 49 pounds claimed in the Quicksilver catalog, but still relatively light as inflatables go).
The boat is PVC reinforced with a tightly woven polyester core. We went into detail over the issue of PVC versus hypalon in the June 1997 report, so will just restate our overall conclusions: There are good and bad boats made from both. In tropical climes most experienced sailors tend to opt for the more UV-resistant hypalon. We would worry about PVC if we tended to be careless about spilled fuel; but this said, wed look primarily at overall quality of the boat, rather than choice of fabrics. In general, the QS-230 meets our criteria for high quality design and construction.
One particularly clever design feature is the pair of parallel white plastic rubstrakes which decorate the side air tubes. Narrow slots along the lower edge of the upper strake and the upper edge of the lower strake can accept a 3″-wide plastic panel, to which registration numbers and state sticker can be affixed. You can also add a nameboard using the same method of attachment.
Three well-padded stainless D-rings up front provide strong anchor points for a towing bridle if desired, and two more D-rings, amidships on the air floor, serve as hold-downs for the fuel tank, stowage container or what-have-you. A pair of two-piece aluminum oars comes with the rig; they attach to strong, well-positioned oarlocks and stow nicely.
A single painted plywood thwart, well positioned for rowing by an average-sized person, hooks into permanent slots in the side tubes prior to inflation, effectively keeping the thwart in place until disassembly, or at least until deflation of the tubes. We would have preferred the convenience of a more easily removable thwart, held to the side tubes with Velcro as in other small inflatables such as Achilles. That would give more room for stowing supplies and comfort for passengers sitting on the air floor.
Performance was good at low speeds (under 4 knots) using a 3.3-hp. engine. She was relatively dry and stable, with good steering control. Under power, there was plenty of room for two passengers sitting up on the side tubes opposite each other. Without the thwart, two people could sit comfortably on the air floor without additional cushions. We had no trouble rowing it against a 10-knot breeze.
But in attempts at higher speeds under power, even with a little 2.5-hp. motor, the QS-230 stuck its nose way too high into the air. Given a strong headwind and severe chop, wed be concerned about being blown over in a backflip when moving at full throttle. This is the same problem we experienced with the older, and somewhat longer, QSR 8′ 9″ Sport in the 1993 tests.
We didnt try the boat with a 5-hp. engine, but because we almost (but not quite) planed with a 3.3-hp. model, were sure the QS-230 has a planable hull. However, her measured waterline is less than 5′ at rest, and probably in the range of only 3′ on a plane. Very short hulls such as the QS-230 inherently display a disconcerting instability when running at or near planing speeds, so we can’t recommend it (or any other very short boat) for this service. We havent tried the larger Quicksilver air-floor models.
The QS-230 has a one-way drain at the bottom of the transom, but it doesn’t work whenever theres water on the outside face of the transom. That, unfortunately, is all the time the boat is in the water, except when on a plane. Consequently, rainwater and spray in the cockpit either must be sponged out-a difficult job due to the position of the air floor-or drained by standing the boat on its tail feathers with drain plug removed.
The QS-230 has five different air chambers, each with its own filler valve: two main side tubes, a bow tube, the air floor chamber, and, under the air floor, an inflatable keel. All these chambers tend to make the boat somewhat of a nuisance to inflate (connecting and disconnecting valves) but once done, give it an extra safety margin should one or more tubes incur a puncture.
The air tubes are 15″ in diameter, unusually large for so small a boat. Big tubes help avoid water splashing into the cockpit when running in chop, provide extra reserve buoyancy and stability, and give a big-boat feel to this little craft-but take more time to fill with air.
These big tubes are designed for 3.5 psi inflation, while both the air floor and the inflatable keel can accept up to 10 psi. At the time we tested this inflatable, there was no manual available (it was still being written, even after the boat had been on the market for over a year). We asked the Quicksilver people about how much pressure should go into the air floor and keel; they said that anything over 3 psi would be fine. In our opinion, that flies in the face of conventional wisdom on air-floor inflatables (that performance is compromised by soft chambers), but we accepted their advice without comment.
The airfloor, a 2″-thick flat-topped platform similar to an air mattress, makes assembly particularly easy, because there are no slats or floor-boards to fit into place before inflation. (There is a wooden transverse reinforcing rib, permanently sandwiched above the keel between the airfloor and the bottom skin, which doesn’t seem to interfere with the roll-up feature. In fact, you only notice its presence if youre paying close attention during assembly.)
In general, we liked the air floor. We think it would be easy to keep clean with soap and water, and probably would need no other maintenance. The only problem we had was with the large air-valve access hole at the forward end. While doing our tests, we lost a pencil down the hole. It immediately tumbled to a position wedged under the air keel. We finally retrieved it by deflating the air keel, but until we did, worried that the pencil point, in bouncy conditions, might somehow puncture the boats skin before we could get to it.
Overall, we think the QS-230 would be a good choice for those looking for a minimum-size, lightweight tender for rowing or slow-speed motoring.
Its tendency to rear nose up at higher speeds, however, makes it a dubious choice for those wanting to plane. And that, it seems to us, is a major advantage of inflatables.
Contact- Quicksilver Inflatables/Mercury Marine, c/o Maritz, 1365 N. Highway Dr., Fenton, MO 63099; 800/552-3882.