Dinghy decisions Dinghies represent boating simplicity, butt finding the right one for your needs isn't necessarily straightforward ...

Dinghies are a necessity for anything more than a day sail. They’re a blessing for getting back and forth to the shore, but when it comes time to drop your mooring or weigh anchor, the problem is what to do with them. Towing the dinghy is only an option in calm weather during daylight hours. The only remaining option is to stow it aboard. How and where they are stowed depends to some extent on the type of dinghy. Each type has its own unique advantages and disadvantages, and the final choice must be a balance of all your needs.

When deciding on a dinghy it’s a good idea to observe other boats to see how their owners have tackled the issue. Talk to as many boaties as possible, to get fresh ideas.

Safety concerns

Issues such as stability, buoyancy and seaworthiness will be of prime concern when it comes to considering safety. All dinghies should be able to support the weight of their passengers and stores if swamped. Hard dinghies should have built-in buoyancy tanks, while inflatable dinghies should be constructed with multiple tubes to ensure their buoyancy even if one of the tubes is punctured.

Inflatable dinghies and Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) provide superior stability and load-carrying capacity over rigid dinghies. However, they’re usually much harder to row. A small outboard can overcome this, but it adds to costs and the outboard requires regular maintenance.

Size matters

This is always a difficult decision as there are always conflicting requirements. Larger dinghies provide better utility when in use, but they pose a greater problem when it comes to stowing them aboard prior to departure.

At some stage the dinghy will have to be moved up and down the beach to follow the tide. The ability to move the dinghy is a function of size, weight and method of construction. Unfortunately the advantage of portability also makes it easier for thieves to help themselves to your property.

Stowing while underway

Inflatable dinghies can be deflated and then rolled up and stored out of the way, which is handy, but then it takes time to prepare them for further use. Hard dinghies made to fold or split into two also provide a solution here.

All types of dinghies can be stowed on davits if the vessel is large enough to accommodate them. The convenience of this arrangement is hard to beat, as it is a simple matter to launch and retrieve the dinghy, but this set-up will also collect rainwater and spray. A solution is to fit non-return valves in the dinghy transom and then hang it with a stern down trim. A davit-hung dinghy also increases windage, which should be a consideration, especially for sailing craft.

Dinghies can also be stored on deck in several locations. Stowing a dinghy on the foredeck can be one of the safest places as it keeps it well out of the way and it doesn’t interfere with the helmsman’s vision. The effectiveness of stowing a dinghy on the foredeck is very much dependant on the size and type of vessel.

Stowing the dinghy on the cabin top creates additional windage up high and may also obscure or restrict the vision of the helmsman, so this option should be used with care. A dinghy needs to be very securely tied down. This is best achieved by fitting eyebolts into the deck with large pads behind them to spread the load. If the dinghy is lashed down to the handrails or stanchions it puts additional strain on these structures ?– structures that were not intended for this purpose. Some years ago a yacht had the main deckhouse torn open while suffering a roll. The skipper attributed the substantial damage to the additional drag caused by the dinghy tied to the cabin top.


The ability to maintain and repair the dinghy is an important consideration, especially as you venture further away from your home base. Let’s look at the maintenance issues of each type of dinghy here. Bear in mind that dinghies that depend on an outboard motor add additional cost and effort to your workload.

1. Hard Dinghies

Hard dinghies can be built of plywood, fibreglass or aluminium. Each material has its own characteristics. Hard dinghies are rarely as stable as inflatable dinghies. Some years ago a person was killed as the other occupant capsized the dinghy when she climbed aboard their yacht. The man in the dinghy hit his head against the topsides of the yacht as the dinghy went over, the blow rendering him unconscious. He drowned before he could be rescued. It is always important to ensure all movements in and out of dinghies are executed slowly and carefully.

i. Plywood:


  • Quick and easy to build.
  • Easy to repair.
  • Will float if flooded but should still be fitted with buoyancy tanks to support the weight of passengers and stores when swamped.
  • Strong method of construction.
  • If a good design is chosen, the dinghy should be easy to row, sail or motor.


  • Can be heavy, especially if over built.
  • Requires regular maintenance.


On any boat the tender will be subject to rigorous use and abuse for all manner of tasks. Load-carrying capacity and the ability to move people and stores from ship to shore and keep them dry is an important consideration. As discussed earlier, the dinghy should also be able to be moved up and down the shore or beach with minimal effort. This can be enhanced by fitting wheels on the transom, so that the dinghy can be lifted at the bow and moved like a wheelbarrow. This wheel arrangement works well on firm ground but is hopeless on soft sand or mud.

A dinghy that can be rowed, sailed and motored will have an all-round advantage and will also keep the children entertained for hours.

ii. Fibreglass:

This is by far the most popular construction method for hard dinghies.


  • Low maintenance.
  • Easy to repair.


  • Can result in a heavy dinghy.
  • If swamped the dinghy will sink unless fitted with buoyancy tanks.

iii. Aluminium:

Aluminium dinghies are less common but have many desirable characteristics.


  • Strong method of construction.
  • Results in a light dinghy.
  • Good load carrying capacity.


  • Difficult to repair.
  • Difficult to row, especially in a chop or strong breeze.
  • If swamped the dinghy will sink unless fitted with buoyancy tanks.

Cost Considerations

Cost is, of course, a major consideration when deciding on a particular type of dinghy. However, the costs involved extend beyond the initial purchase cost. There are maintenance costs to be considered as well as the expected life of the dinghy.

If the dinghy is an inflatable or RIB then there is often a greater risk of theft. This should also be considered, even though it’s an intangible cost (at least until you have to replace it or pay your next insurance premium!).

2. Inflatables and RIBs

Inflatable dinghies and RIBs are constructed of either Hypalon reinforced fabric or a variety of PVC-based products marketed under a number of different names.

Hypalon is a Du Pont product, which is very resistant to abrasion, oils and ultra-violet light. The Hypalon film is bonded to either a nylon or polyester core, which is lined on the inside with two layers of neoprene to make it airtight. Hypalon dinghies must be hand glued, thus it makes them more expensive. However, these boats typically have a warranty period of five to 10 years.

Dinghies made of PVC are cheaper to produce as the seams are easily machine welded. Typically inflatables and RIBs made of PVC usually have a warranty period of only one to two years.

Only the smaller sizes of this type of dinghy are suitable for rowing. The medium and larger sizes are best powered by a small outboard. If you intend to power the dinghy it is advisable to purchase a boat with a “long tail” configuration, (i.e. the tubes extend well aft of the transom). The extended tubes provide additional buoyancy to accommodate the additional weight of the outboard motor as well as the person sitting well aft. The long tail configuration also improves trim and ensures a better ride, especially in choppy conditions.


  • Can support very heavy loads.
  • Are very stable.
  • Easily driven by a small outboard.
  • The dinghy is very light.


  • Subject to puncturing when rubbed against anything rough or sharp such as piles, rocks, oysters, etc.
  • Difficult to row.

i. Inflatable Dinghies

Inflatable dinghies have a variety of different stiffening systems in the bottom to resist the forces of the water and also maintain some sort of reasonable shape to allow the water to easily slide past the bottom of the hull. The stiffening can be by way of inflatable tubes, slats that are put into place as the dinghy is being inflated or a rigid plywood floor that fits into the bottom. One of the main advantages of inflatable dinghies is that they can be deflated and easily stored when underway. Conversely they are usually difficult to row, especially in anything but very calm conditions. Soft-bottomed inflatables with a two or three horsepower outboard slither over waves and tend to be very wet.

At the bottom of the size range is the small inflatable designed purely as a tender. These tenders often lack any form of stiffening in the bottom as they are designed purely to transport one or two people with minimal stores between the shore and the vessel. The smallest of these can weigh in the order of 12kg. These boats are of very light construction and will not withstand much in the way of punishment.

Inflatables will “sail” in a strong wind and thus are usually hard to control, especially with only a pair of oars. With this in mind they should be used with great caution, especially when children or less mobile people are involved.

ii. RIBs

RIBs offer the best of both worlds. The rigid bottom gives them a good ‘grip’ of the water, while the inflatable tubes give them excellent buoyancy, stability and load-carrying capacity. The lower rigid component of the hull is made of either fibreglass or aluminium. RIBs with a bottom made of aluminium are usually a little lighter than the fibreglass equivalent.

This type of dinghy is now available in sizes from as small as 2.4m long, which makes them very convenient for all sizes of boats. The RIB has many advantages and makes for a versatile solution. They can be rowed, sailed and motored. However, like inflatable dinghies, RIBs are not that easy to row, especially in a strong breeze or choppy conditions.

A RIB with an 8hp outboard with two people aboard will achieve very high speeds, which allows shopping trips and excursions to be accomplished with ease.