Photo by Jack Klang
My first dinghy was seven feet long and made of blue plastic, but it was the only one I could afford. Though it originally looked large enough, I soon discovered it was too small and flimsy for my use. By its second season, it had faded and showed several deep scrapes and gouges from being dragged across the rocks. Before long, a crack appeared in the floor of the liner. I spent valuable sailing time cleaning and repairing the dinghy in order to sell it. Though the price had been right, the dinghy was not. With so many options available today, it’s important to consider your needs and the limitations of each vessel (not just price), when you purchase your dinghy.
I have owned several inflatable dinghies. With each purchase, I’ve learned more about the dinghy’s abilities as well as my needs. There are several types of inflatables available. Many early inflatables experienced sun damage, poor quality adhesive panels resulted in a constant loss of air pressure, and the flat-bottom designs made towing a drag. Over the years, many improvements have been made.
Adding plywood floor inserts makes moving about easier, but they can be difficult to store when the dingy is deflated. The next generation of inflatables added roll up floor slats. This improved their utility for passengers and gear, but still didn't tow well. An inflatable keel under the plywood floor finally improved towing by reducing drag and improving tracking while improving passenger comfort and making cargo storage easier.
Solid dinghies, either wooden or fiberglass, are preferred by serious cruisers with large, off-shore boats. These dinghies are easier to tow but are often tippy, so they are not recommended for transporting children or animals. They can be rowed easily, adapted for sailing, and can withstand rough treatment, such as landing on rocks. When floating alongside your sailboat, however, they are known to bump the topsides of the mother ship unless fendered well.
Many of the shortcomings of early hard dinghies were addressed with the modified tri-hulled fiberglass dinghies. Their long beam, almost half the length of the dinghy, creates stability, but it also adds weight, making on-deck or cabin-top storage difficult, if not impossible. Towing seems to be the best option, though spray from waves can add additional towing weight.
Which Dinghy Works Best?
I prefer a 10-foot long, rigid bottom inflatable dinghy. The large hypalon tubes and wide beam add stability while the fiberglass bottom makes standing and moving about quite easy. It tows well, though hauling it aboard requires the use of davits or a halyard and winch.
This is my preference, but no specific dinghy works for everyone. Take all of the dinghy’s abilities and limitations into consideration before making a purchase. Pick a dinghy that fits your needs and matches the towing or storage provisions on your sailboat. Choose well so you can focus on sailing, not your dinghy.
About the Author
Jack Klang is a Cruising Consultant for Quantum Sail Design Group. He has shared his vast experience with thousands of sailors through his seminars, a syndicated newspaper column, magazine feature articles, television and movie appearances. He is the author of “Cruising with Quantum” a series of how-to articles covering all aspects of sailboat cruising as well as an instructional video. Jack is recognized as one of the country’s five best sailing speakers, appearing at boat shows across the country. For the past five decades, Jack has sailed the Great Lakes, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. He earned his first Coast Guard captain’s license at age 18 and has logged over 30,000 miles under sail as a cruiser, ASA instructor, charter captain and delivery skipper. Contact Jack at captjack1(at)charter.net.