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Buying a dinghy: which is the best?


The dinghy can be vital. But which one fits? Wood? Plastic? Rubber? Fixed, inflatable or foldable? My advisor provides information.

Dinghies are the versatile helpers in all situations: to the pub in the harbor, to the bakery for bread rolls. For shopping in the supermarket or the wonderful beach in the bay: a good dinghy can get you almost anywhere, be it for fun or necessity. But there is an almost unmanageable number of different types, whereby the question arises: which is best for the individual purpose?


  • Intended use: Every boat is ideal for the purpose for which it was designed and built. This also applies to dinghies. So if you are often traveling with a lot of luggage or numerous people, you will pay more attention to space and stability than someone who is mainly traveling alone to do sports or to explore bays and lagoons
  • Hull material: Basically, you should decide before buying whether you want a boat with a solid hull or an inflatable boat. Both have advantages and disadvantages that have to be weighed against each other
  • Propulsion: Whether oars, paddles, sails, motors, there are many ways to move a dinghy through the water, whereby most boats are suitable for two types of propulsion (e.g. oars and motors)
  • Type of floor: There are different variants, especially with inflatables, all of which have an effect on stability, handling and the space that is required for stowing the boat on board or in winter storage
  • Driving license: For some years now, the legislature has allowed boats with up to 15 HP engine power to be driven without a driving license. An argument that could be decisive for many a buyer
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Do not be tempted to sacrifice this important factor in addition to storage space in favor of economy or compactness. Sure, you can go back and forth more often, but you’re tempted to take on an additional passenger, even if the boat is technically full. These are those dangerously overloaded dinghies that you can see on the water in every harbor or bay.
In any case, less loaded dinghies are lighter and faster, often drier and safer, regardless of which propulsion you choose, whether motor or rudder. And if you’re worried about space problems with a slightly larger inflatable boat, try not just to let the air out, but to pump it out. The boat can be folded and rolled really compactly, making it easier to fit into the locker.


With the dinghy you are often exposed to the greatest risks on the water. Statistically, dinghies are more dangerous than blue water passages. Adequate stability and sufficient buoyancy are therefore two very important criteria when choosing a tender. Filling and sinking often go hand in hand. Inflatable boats are hard to beat in both respects, and rigid hull things can sometimes be fitted with additional floats. The boats dinghies from Walker Bay could also be retrofitted with an inflatable “collar” that was attached to the bulwark and thus improved stability.


Small dinghies that have planing in their repertoire are particularly attractive because they allow you to cover greater distances between anchorage or mooring and the harbor or beach in a short time. Gasoline outboards with 2 to 10 HP are usually used for this purpose, but recently those that are electrically operated are more and more popular. The advantages are obvious: Less maintenance, clean, quiet and light. The last point in particular is important because a lighter engine can be installed or dismantled more easily and is therefore easier to protect against theft.

Those who like to be fast on the move with a small vehicle might be toying with the tiny but extremely expensive Williams tenders, which easily manage 25 knots and more with a jet drive. They even fit inflated into the rear garage on large sailing yachts, see e.g. Bavaria C57. However, there are also the downsides to consider: a larger engine, more fuel consumption and, of course, a higher price for acquisition and maintenance. In addition, many smaller inflatables can really only glide with a small load, which almost makes the discussion superfluous again.


You shouldn’t smile about that. A good pair of oars can save you from some unpleasant situations, especially when the engine gives up and there is a strong ebb current or it blows offshore. A boat that can be moved easily with muscle power therefore deserves consideration. Solid hulled boats in particular score highly in this regard. But even an inflatable boat that is one size larger than the absolute minimum that you need can often row quite well. Important: The shaft length of the oars supplied is usually too short. Oars should be at least 1.80 m or even better 2.40 m long on rubber dinghies in order to move the boat properly. Provided you have enough storage space.

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Inflatable boats should always be fully inflated, i.e. up to the maximum pressure recommended by the manufacturer, so that you do not waste a good part of your muscle strength deforming the tubes instead of rowing the boat forward. If you have any doubts, I can say that with my 2.9 m long Avon inflatable dinghy with two oars I am about as fast as a 2.4 m long dinghy with a motor. When I’m on board alone, I’m often faster. In Germany, the following applies: Under 15 hp no driving license is required!


Inflatable boats are king of popularity because they are versatile, stable and usually compact to stow when the air is out. But fixed-hulled boats are often easier to row and more robust when you hit them hard. Owners who have a tender on land and only need it to drive out to the boat that swims on a mooring buoy like to fall back on robust and inexpensive rigid hull boats because they have the boat. do not have to take it on board and stow it away. Blue water sailors are often fond of folding boats such as the banana boat because of their stability and the ability to easily stow them on board or a so-called nesting dinghy, which can be divided into two halves and therefore also takes up little space on deck.


Inflatable boat buyers have to ask themselves this question before purchasing, because this decision has a direct impact on weight, pack size and performance on the water. Boats with rigid wooden or aluminum floor protectors are stable, but also heavy and need more space when stowed. Inflatable keels are a good compromise because they give the boat a little extra rigidity and take up significantly less space when packing, because there are no boards. A new type of game are the 3D keels, which are integrated into the side tubes and give the boat a little more V-shape, which makes it better and better in choppy water. Moving with more directional stability. In this respect, of course, the best are rigid bottom inflatables, i.e. rigid inflatable boats with a keel and underwater hull made of GRP or aluminum. Such boats offer very good handling characteristics in waves and can be pulled onto sandy or pebble beaches without hesitation. However, they are much heavier and more complex to stow because they cannot be folded or rolled up.


There are essentially two tube materials for inflatable boats: Hypalon and PVC. The former is a very durable rubber, making it the best material for inflatable boats because it is robust and UV-resistant. It’s also relatively straightforward to repair. Patch it up and good. These are the reasons why you can still see a lot of old Hypalon inflatable boats that look flawless and do their job without complaints. The disadvantage: The material is relatively expensive, so it is only used in high-quality boats, but especially in large RIBs that have to be tough.

The slightly cheaper alternative is PVC, which is also quite resistant, especially if the seams are welded and not glued. However, PVC should be protected from the sun, which is not always practical or easy, especially in the Mediterranean and the tropics, and it is significantly more difficult to repair than Hypalon.


A small dinghy is therefore a valuable companion with which short but important distances between land and boat can be covered, regardless of the purpose. Unfortunately, these little companions, like bicycles in a big city, are a coveted object of theft, which is why long-haul sailors who are particularly dependent on their dinghy sometimes carry a second one in a locker so that in the event of an emergency there are no serious impairments to sailing operations and safety .


Let’s admit it: many experienced sailors hardly care about the equipment of the dinghy, e.g. with matching anchor gear. But this is exactly what is being saved in the wrong place, because if the outboard suddenly gives up its ghost and it blows offshore or the tide is just running down, an anchor is literally the last resort before you are washed out of the bay or the harbor at sea.

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