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TA Coral Adventurer Zodiac

Zodiac Boats: What Is a Zodiac Boat on a Cruise Ship & More

TA Coral Adventurer Zodiac
Susan Moynihan
Assistant SEO Editor
Marilyn Borth

May 23, 2023

Read time
2 min read

When going on certain cruises, situations arise where your cruise ship simply can't be used, such as getting to excursions in rocky, shallow waters. That's where a Zodiac boat comes in -- an expedition craft that assists in getting you and other cruisers where your cruise ship simply can't.

Larger cruise ships use tenders for getting passengers to and from shore, smaller ships -- especially in the adventure category -- use Zodiacs to provide the same service or for nature-viewing excursions. Initially created in the 1930s for naval aviation, Zodiacs today come in different shapes and sizes -- and have a unique application in the cruising industry.

Cruise Critic has extensive experience with Zodiacs, so we've gone ahead and compiled our knowledge of these helpful boats to assist in answering your questions.

Zodiac Boats: What Do Zodiac Inflatable Boats Look Like?

Antarctica Zodiac Chimu Adventures (Photo: Fiona Harper)

First off, Zodiac boats are inflatable. Both the sides and bow are constructed of inflatable tubes filled with pressurized gas, making them light, fast, buoyant and easily transportable. They have shallow drafts, which means that the bottom of the boat doesn't go very far below the waterline.

What does this characteristic then mean for Zodiac rafts' functionality? Zodiacs can access shallow waters or water with obstacles such as rocks that would likely damage a less-hearty metal or fiberglass hull.

Zodiacs are typically open-air, which makes them ideal for exploration by water, such as whale-watching excursions or sightseeing trips along rocky coastlines.

Where Are Zodiac Boats Used?

The Zodiac Tour on Seabourn Quest (Photo: Erica Silverstein)

Cruise ships, especially expedition ships, use these sturdy inflatable rafts in every part of the world, from the Caribbean where Zodiacs may take you through mangrove isles on a bird-watching tour, to Antarctica, where their easy navigation is key in getting passengers through waterways dotted with chunks of floating ice.

Who Can Safely Ride on Zodiac Boats?

Zodiac excursion in Antarctica (Photo: Colleen McDaniel/Cruise Critic)

Due to their smaller size and lack of cover, Zodiacs are best used by passengers with full mobility who are comfortable boarding and disembarking at sea, when the boat will be rocking due to wave motion and currents. Be prepared for wet landings, where the Zodiac pulls up at a beach and passengers hop out in the water and wade a few feet to shore.

What to Wear and Bring on Your Zodiac Boat Ride

A Zodiac takes Seabourn Sojourn passengers to their kayaks for a Ventures by Seabourn excursion in Alaska's Misty Fjord. (Photo: Ashley Kosciolek)

When you're riding in a Zodiac boat, it's important to be as comfortable and safe as possible. Note that it is highly possible that you'll get wet and it may be chilly, so be sure to prepare yourself accordingly with items like a waterproof jacket (your cruise ship may supply you with this), a fleece jacket, waterproof boots, a hat, waterproof gloves, warm socks, waterproof pants, and a waterproof bag for your belongings.

The wind can be relatively strong, too, and so can the sun along with its reflection on the water. We recommend wearing warm (yet waterproof) clothing, a ski mask or scarf to cover your face and polarized sunglasses (to protect your eyes from both the wind and sun).

Last but not least, don't forget your camera or phone to take plenty of pictures and videos of your thrilling adventure, whatever it may be.

Updated May 23, 2023
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