Things to Carry in the Dinghy

What do you carry when you head off in the dinghy? That was the question that I got from some new cruisers who had a bit of a scare when their dinghy engine quit, the tide was taking them out and they realized they didn’t have oars, an anchor or any way to call for help. Luckily they were in an area with lots of other boats, someone saw them, and they got a tow back to their boat.

Here’s what Dave and I carry, as our basic kit on the dinghy . . . plus anything we need for our planned activities.


Everywhere has slightly different rules, but the bare bones usually includes (check laws as may apply to you):

  • Life jackets (PFDs) for each person
  • Sound device
  • Registration
  • If motorized, a fire extinguisher
  • Lights if you’ll be out after dark (the light requirements vary considerably from state to state and country to country, so be sure to check whenever you change locale)
  • Bailing device – many states have size requirements but if not, one to two quarts is usually a good size; cut the bottom out of a detergent or water bottle
  • Some places may require flares or other signaling devices

So that keeps you legal . . . and in places that may not have laws, it’s a good starting point. But you really need a few other things . . . and the more remote the area you’re in, and the fewer other people nearby, the more additional gear you’re wise to carry.


If you run out of gas or have engine troubles . . . and the tide/wind are going the wrong way . . . what’s to keep you from going out to sea? What if you fall out of the dinghy?

  • Engine kill lanyard (and wear it!)
  • Oars
  • Anchor and plenty of rode (we love our easily stowed Mantus dinghy anchor and rode)*
  • Handheld VHF; possibly cell phone in waterproof case
  • Way to get in the dinghy from the water – don’t just assume you can pull yourself in. It takes more upper-body strength than you think, and some dinghies (particularly hard dinghies) can be very tippy. Try your setup in a safe place before you really need it! And if you’re going to use a ladder of some type, make sure you can launch it from the water – should you go overboard accidentally when alone in the dinghy, you have to be able to get back in by yourself.

NOTE: To effectively row, you need a seat in the dinghy. Many people, such as us, take the seat out of the dinghy to make it easier to carry “stuff.” In this case, the oars work better as paddles – one on each side or if you’re alone, at the bow and alternating sides.


  • Cable and lock in places where there is a theft problem
  • Bow line – and we like having a stern line too as sometimes it’s helpful to tie up bow and stern
  • Water bottles (if your motor conks out or the current is too strong for you to row, don’t compound the problem by getting dehydrated)
  • Sunscreen (ditto with sunburn)
  • Roll of duct tape – it can make an emergency patch as well as an emergency bandage
Before heading out in the dinghy – particularly for a longer excursion – be sure to check your gas level and that the VHF is charged.

*FULL DISCLOSURE: Mantus sponsors The Boat Galley and we earn a bit on Mantus purchases through the links here. However, we wouldn’t be using Mantus products if we didn’t think they were the best . . . someday our lives may literally depend on our anchor choice!

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  • Diana K Weigel
    Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

    I had not thought about everything for the dingy. Thank you

  • Rob A.
    Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

    I have all of those things and just a bit more… I bought a snowmobile tool roll off of eBay and added the following tools/parts: a multi-screwdriver (the kind with both phillips and standard heads), small pocket knife, spark plug, spark plug wrench, pliers, cyalume stick, 10 ft of 550 cord, a dinghy patch kit, piece of sandpaper, solid aluminum gap tool (the small circular kind) and an adjustable spanner wrench. Then… all of the tools get a light coat of oil, back into the roll and the roll put into a ziploc bag with rubber bands.
    You can use the cyalume stick for light or attracting attention at night. To use an attractant, tie 3-5 feet of the 550 cord to the end of the cyalume stick and swing in a circle. It creates a large circle of light easily seen by all observing.
    BTW… love your site. We have used many of the ideas on our boat… Thanks again!

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

      Good ideas — tools are great if you have the knowledge to fix an outboard. And I love the cyalume idea — we have a bunch of those and I’m going to put one in the dinghy with some line!

  • Dave Skolnick
    Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

    One addition and a comment:

    An extra coil of 1/4″ or 5/16″ line to use as a stern line – sometimes you have to anchor the dinghy and tie the stern to a tree or something else on shore. Besides, when have you ever had too much line? *grin*

    The handheld VHF for your dinghy really should be waterproof. It is amazing how little water in the bottom of your dinghy will drown a VHF that is not waterproof.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

      Hi Dave! Actually, I did mention a stern line . . . and yes, good comment on the VHF being waterproof. Ours is and it just didn’t hit me to mention it!

  • Jonathan Caldwell
    Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

    All the items you mentioned plus additional stuff, we keep all this in a large Rubber maid Action Packer, plastic tote with a lockable lid. It fits snugly under the seat.

    Thermal protection aid, folds into tiny package, or Space blanket or plastic panchos
    Dinghy oarlocks
    Really loud whistle, like a Storm
    Spare dinghy drain plug
    Dry bag
    Dinghy registration, boating license
    Key for outboard lock
    Small set of repair tools, spark plug

  • Tom Kober
    Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

    Thanks for the list.. One thing I always have but did not see on your list is the foot pump. Am I being overly cautious? I like the anchor you mentioned.

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

      Foot pump is good if you have a leak and you could potentially fix a hole with duct tape . . . but there is limited space in the dinghy and the chances are that if you have a slight leak you’ll be able to get back to the big boat okay without putting more air in and if its a big hole, you won’t be able to patch it well enough that you can pump as fast as air is going out. Not bad to have, just may be that other items are more important.

      • Larry Whited
        Posted at 24 December 2016 Reply

        Cut gallon milk jug secured by the handle makes a great flat bottom bailer.

  • Janice Waldock Rowland
    Posted at 09 May 2016 Reply

    Happened to us. All we had were oars. Try rowing an inflatable against the current and wind in choppy seas. Fortunately we were rescued. No VHF, no anchor, no water, no food, no Mylar blanket, nothing. We would not have lived long adrift at sea. Now we have a full ‘ditch bag’. We were so inexperienced when it happened, but something like that doesn’t happen to you twice. You’ll be ready for the next time your engine dies! I would also add to travel the windward side of the island if possible, so you are blown to shore rather than away from it.

  • Hillie MacDonald
    Posted at 10 May 2016 Reply

    A Manus Dinghy Anchor is definitely on the Wish List for the next visit to the U.S.
    In a dry bag I also have a couple of energy bars, SlimFast/Ensure, Gatorade, moisture wicking socks, airline fleece blanket, poncho, small AM/FM radio and pet food. It gets really chilly especially overnight if showery even when over 70F.
    If in a really remote place a solar charger would be nice.
    If solo, having the anchor easily launched would help since are busy with the paddle steering in tide.

  • Erik Hajkowski
    Posted at 10 May 2016 Reply

    A cooler of adult beverages. 🙂

  • Sharon Foster
    Posted at 15 May 2016 Reply

    I had not considered the need for dingy fire suppression until my cranky outboard caught fire one morning in the marina. The float valve in the carburetor had stuck and the bottom of the cowling collected some fuel and then the engine backfired; instant fire inside the cowling. The gas burned off quickly but the lifting strap below the cowling caught fire and burned hot with open flames and was difficult to put out. Fortunately a neighbor saw my dilemma and threw me a bucket. One bucket of salt water and the fire was out. In retrospect a flaming outboard connected to a 5 gal. fuel tank is a real bomb waiting to happen..

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 15 May 2016 Reply

      In most states, a fire extinguisher is required in any vessel with an engine, no matter the horsepower. And the bailing bucket can serve double duty in case of a fire. I’ve seen two outboards catch fire in my life, and yes, it’s scary with all that gasoline!

  • Deborah Wright
    Posted at 22 May 2016 Reply

    We go FAR in our dinghy (like miles offshore sometimes) so we have it pretty loaded up on the “just in case” items. I’d like to share one item we have used several times-a handful of zip ties. Unlike tape, it’s okay if they get wet. They can make loops, splints, fasteners….. Zipping one to another, you can make them as long as needed and they won’t stretch. (They can even fix a broken pole spear 🙂 ). Good topic!

  • Tina Riley
    Posted at 13 March 2017 Reply

    This is terrific information. Do you just leave all this stuff in the dingy when you go to shore ? How do you prevent theft? Or do you cart it around? This site is terrific. We have just started to cruise (now in the Bahamas) and I refer to it all the time and tell any cruiser I meet that isn’t already a convertee! Thank you.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 13 March 2017 Reply

      Most of it stays in the dinghy (ours has a storage compartment — it doesn’t lock but things can’t fly away). VHF, light and cell phone go in a day pack, as do water bottles. Anchor is often deployed. Things like kill cord and oars are just in their normal places. If we were in a high theft area, we might put more things into the day pack (which goes with us when we’re ashore).

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