Choosing a Dinghy

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2016 • all rights reserved

Your dinghy choice is almost as big a decision as your "big boat" when it comes to cruising enjoyment. What we just upgraded to and why . . .Dinghies are referred to as your car when you’re living aboard, and the options for choosing one are about as varied as choosing your land vehicle. We got a new-to-us dinghy about a month ago and, rather than rehash all the different types of dinghies and propulsion methods, I thought I’d hit more on what was important to us and why we chose what we did.

WHAT WE GOT

We bought a 2010 9’6” AB aluminum floor hypalon tube RIB with a 2001 15 HP 2-stroke Mercury.

IMPORTANT FEATURES TO US

  • Ability to board from the water – we love to snorkel and being able to get into the dinghy from the water is critical. Most hard dinghies and Portabotes are very tippy to get in from the water. Inflatables are much easier – even so, we leave our fins on so that we can get an extra-hard kick to propel us into the dinghy.
  • Reliable – we want to know we’ll get where we’re going . . . and back.
  • Ability to get fuel – gasoline is generally much easier to get than propane.
  • Cover distance – we like to explore by dinghy, which means we make trips that are several miles long. We’ve had dinghies that would not plane and it was frustrating to us. Once we finally got a RIB and 15 HP motor (when we were on our previous boat), we realized that we’d missed even more than we thought. More power is also good in areas with strong currents.
  • Load carrying – when we’re making major provisioning runs by dinghy or getting jerry cans of diesel fuel, we need to be able to carry substantial amounts. Larger tubes on a RIB help with load carrying and RIBs are less tender than hard dinghies when loaded. If we have guests, we also want to be able to take them along without having an overloaded dinghy. With our davits, 9’6” was the largest dinghy that would realistically fit.
  • Dry – larger tubes and a high bow on an inflatable will keep the occupants much drier in chop. The two smaller dinghies that we’ve had (smaller tubes with less upturn) have both had waves break into the dinghy in severe chop; one of us had to bail while the other drove. A dry dinghy isn’t just more comfortable, it’s also safer. The tradeoff is that larger tubes make it harder to get it from the water.
  • Weight – we have dinghy davits and put the motor on the stern rail when underway (the motor is left on the dinghy and lifted with it into the davits when we’re in an anchorage). There are  considerations of what we can lift, what the davits will hold and what the outboard crane and stern rail will support. This led us to the aluminum floor RIB and 2-stroke outboard (in the islands and Mexico, it’s far easier to get parts and find mechanics for 2-stroke motors, too). A 4-stroke 15HP motor is too large and too heavy to put on our stern rail but a 2-stroke is do-able. The aluminum floor RIB weighs about half what a double bottom fiberglass RIB does.
  • Tough – we use our dinghy a lot. Hypalon is much more UV-resistant than PVC for the tubes on an inflatable dinghy. It’s also considerably more expensive. Cruising in the tropics, it’s well worth the extra money to us. Similarly, the aluminum hull is good for beach landings and not as likely to crack as fiberglass if we should hit a rock.

A lesser consideration for us is that a 15 HP motor can provide good emergency propulsion for the big boat (our six horse was once pressed into service and did the job in very flat seas), either on a stern bracket or with the dinghy side-tied to Barefoot Gal.

DOWNSIDES

The biggest downsides to our dinghy choice are the fact that the motor is heavy enough that we need an outboard crane to lift it (which was also true of the 6 HP 4-stroke we had previously), inflatables don’t row well if the engine doesn’t run, and a 2 stoke motor isn’t as environmentally friendly as almost every other choice (4-stroke, propane, rowing or sailing dinghies).

CONCLUSION

Not everyone cares about the same things we do. By no means do I think that our choice is right for everyone.

It’s hard to know what you really want until you’re “out there” – whatever “out there” may be for you. When we first started cruising – 14 years ago – we didn’t realize how our dinghy choice would affect our overall cruising enjoyment. But it does. And we’re thrilled with our new-to-us dinghy!

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Comments

  1. Enjoy guys. I’m enduring 40 knots wind.

    • Yuck! We’ve been keeping a close eye on Colin. The track moved just enough that we’re not getting any squalls or even the strong southerly winds that had been forecast. Hold tight!

  2. That’s a nice dinghy.
    I was looking at one on Craigslist in ft Meyers just missed it.

  3. I just wish someone would come up with a super ultra light rib. Those of us cruising in smaller boats (31ft) are restricted by weight and physical size to the little inflatables that don’t plane. We have a 7ft 6 inch mercury hypalon with inflatable floor that will sit 3, or 2 plus groceries and just putt around with a 2.5hp 4 stroke. Yes it means we can go cruising with this little inflatable as our tender, but would have to bum a ride out to the reefs from someone with a more powerful boat. But then again we have a water maker, so could help out that way! The concept of “go small, go now” does have its limitations…….!

    • Take a look at the AB Ultralight 8’5″ aluminum floor RIB — 68 pounds. I know it’s a foot longer than your current dinghy, but maybe it would work. It will take up to a 5 HP — maybe not plane, but definitely faster than what you have (and being a little bigger and faster are important for safety . . .)

      Here’s the link to it on Defender: http://www.defender.com/product.jsp?path=-1|215570|1794282|1831365&id=3099329

  4. Did you ever consider the OCTender? (http://octenders.com) They are the one that I would go with even though it is not an inflatable, it does seem to meet your other criteria. It can plane with a smaller engine and is lighter than what you have, I think. My other choices and research at http://www.adventuresonboats.com/dinghies.html

    Cheers,
    -johnny

    • I’ve seen those online and they look really interesting and yes, it would be a little lighter (16 pounds) than the one we bought. However, we had the chance to get ours used at a very good price . . . (there’s also the fact the I can’t seem to find any info on US dealers)

  5. D and Don says:

    Another way to go is via a Porta-bote. They come in 8′, 10′, 12′ and 14′ sizes. Ours is a 10′. Less expensive and less weight than an inflatable and never needs pumping up. They require a lesser outboard; ours uses a 6 HP Tohatsu 4 stroke and gets us up on plane. It will not get us up on plane when we have the water jugs filled, or with 4 people and their luggage. An item we added to help get us up on plane faster and with no bow of the boat up in the air, is a hydra shield. We can carry more stuff in the Porta-bote than a comparable size inflatable because there are no tubes to take up space. It is ugly, so no one wants it, another plus. Anyone is welcome to come give ours a spin if we are in the same anchorage! Currently in Oriental NC.

  6. John Alber says:

    We went the opposite way. We had a 10 foot AB inflatable with a 15 horse two stroke. We chose instead a 10 foot Trinka with a 2 1/2 horsepower Honda four stroke engine. The Trinka rows beautifully and that was a key motivator. We’ve been cruising for nearly a year and it’s sometimes quite difficult to get a healthy amount of cardiovascular exercise. The Trinka is a delightful way to do that. It tracks straight while rowing, unlike most inflatables, and it’s quick and maneuverable. We also have a sailing rig with it, and there’s no better way to explore bays on a good sailing day.

    The hard dinghy is slower than our AB. But we seldom find ourselves in a rush. And we cover miles in the boat.

    I’m a diver, but I usually dive off the trawler. But there is a way to reboard a hard dinghy from the water. You just have one person hold the opposite side. The first boarder then counterbalances the second.

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