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Photo by Roger Marshall
Photo by Roger Marshall

Dinghy Deliberations

So, you have decided to buy a new dinghy. What will you look for? Lightness as in the Walker Bay, ease of lifting aboard as in Zodiac’s Cadet Fastroller with its air filled floor, or do you plan on going with a rigid bottomed tender stored in davits on the transom? Your choices are many and you would do well to consider every option before laying down your hard earned cash.

Payload
The first consideration and the one that governs every other decision is the number of people you want to take aboard. For example, if you usually bring four people and a pile of groceries out to your boat, you will need a dinghy that can carry at least 700 pounds (assuming two guys at 200 pounds each, two gals at 130 pounds each and 40 pounds of groceries). Is there just you, your wife, and a dog? The payload drops to 400 pounds. Now add in the weight of the engine and fuel tank which might add another 100 pounds! So already you are beginning to define the size of the dinghy you need.

Storage
Now that you have a base payload, where are you going to keep the dinghy when you are on passage or on a mooring? Storing a dinghy on davits off the transom is a popular option. Keep in mind that transom stored dinghies add weight at the stern which could affect the boat’s balance and increase pitching. Be sure the davits can support the weight of the dinghy that you plan to carry and have the proper lifting hooks installed. Also check the width of the davits and the location of the dinghy lifting slings carefully. Too small a dinghy may require substantial modifications to the lifting sling location while too long a dinghy might mean its bow or stern goes in the water when the boat is heeled.

Storing the dinghy on the cabin top or foredeck while underway are also options to consider carefully. Think about making a cardboard template of the dinghy with the exact measurement of length, beam and height. Make sure you can maneuver around the stowed dinghy, that all the sheets and halyards are clear, and the boom with boom vang in place clears the height of the dinghy. The placement might block the saloon hatch preventing quick exit in case of an emergency, or hinder your ability to change sails. Also be aware that in a gale, you may have to cut it free. Either option will require the use of a halyard to get the dinghy onboard.

Towing the dinghy while cruising is certainly an option but will slow your overall boat speed by at least one knot. Plus, you should insure it. Towed dinghies have a distressing habit of either turning over or snapping the tow line.

When in harbor most people simply let the dinghy ride on the end of its bow line but when the tide changes, the dinghy often rides up under the boat’s transom. This only occurs at 4 a.m. on a rainy, cold and wet night.

Hull Material
So now we come to the decision as to whether the dinghy will be fiberglass, wood, or an inflatable. You might want a hard dinghy or even a wooden dinghy. If you decide on either of those, have a fender rail installed around the dinghy hull on the sheerline to minimize damage to the boat’s topsides.

My preference is for an inflatable dinghy. It is softest on your boat’s topsides when you come alongside a little too fast. Plus, it will not thump the hull under the transom unless you are unlucky enough to hit the oarlocks against the hull.

Engine Power
Most manufacturers list the allowable engine power for their dinghies. It is advisable not to exceed this power. Also keep in mind you will have to lift the motor off the transom when storing the dinghy. Do not buy an engine you cannot, standing in the dinghy,  lift onto its transom storage pad. This simple operation has turned perfectly usable outboards into anchors.

Lifting slings and Oarlock Locations
If you plan to lift your dinghy onboard when cruising, lifting slings are a far more secure method of handling it than is trying to put a harness under the dinghy. The eye bolts for the lifting slings should be installed at strong points by a reputable dealer. You should be able to lift the dinghy on a single eye bolt, giving you a factor of safety should one eye bolt or sling break.

You may also have to row your dinghy, so you should check the oarlock location. Make sure you can sit on a thwart and row the dinghy with your feet braced against something. I also like an oarlock on the transom to allow me to scull the dinghy with one oar.

Next month we will consider what you need to know before purchasing an inflatable.

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