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The dinghy – size, type, material, engine and accessories


The dinghy

Anchoring is usually common during a blue water voyage. Whether in the Caribbean, the South Pacific or on the European coast. Anchorages are like sand on the seabed, and that brings incredible freedom. In order to be able to enjoy this freedom, we need a way to get ashore and that’s exactly what the dinghy can do. That is why it is one of the most important pieces of equipment on board a yacht.

If you look around the ports around the world, you will quickly find that almost every crew – and this is no exaggeration – relies on a rubber dinghy to get ashore. Of course there are alternatives such as a foldable banana boat, a classic rowing boat or variants with brand names such as Portland Pudgy, Walker Bay or OC-Tender that are more common abroad.

Dinghy size

Basically, of course, somehow the thought “the bigger the dinghy, the better it is” applies. If it is big enough, several people can be transported with it and a lot can be transported. Regardless of whether it is drinking water, food or fuel. In addition, a larger dinghy lies better on the water and takes on less water when driving against wind and waves. And last but not least, such a “large-capacity tender” can be motorized more strongly, which in turn a) brings us to our destination faster and b) gives us a greater range (apart from fuel consumption).

While short-haul sailors sometimes pull the inflatable boat behind at the stern between the ports, sailors have to stow the inflatable boat before a crossing. The other side of the “big” coin is therefore the storage and assembly area. What good is the world’s largest inflatable boat if it has nowhere to be stowed away on board, let alone set up? Dragging it across the ocean at the stern is at least not an option.

Incidentally, the subject of “assembly and storage” is often ignored when buying a dinghy. If the tender is not hanging in davits – and very few will do that because a wind vane control system can then no longer be attached – you should measure how much space on the foredeck, the aft deck or under the boom in the cabin before buying a dinghy is available to set up the dinghy. Otherwise, there may be a nasty surprise along the way. Catamaran owners can of course save themselves this task.

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Dinghy type

Inflatable boats are available with and without a solid floor. A solid floor has the advantage that the tender is more stable and consequently starts to slide more quickly. On the other hand, an inflatable boat with a fixed floor cannot be stowed in such a space-saving manner. Strictly speaking, such a dinghy is only used on larger ships because there is enough space there to stow it on deck when long sea stretches are pending. On mega yachts, the inflatable boat sometimes comes with an inboard engine and attached position lights.

As mentioned above, the banana boat is another variant that can also be driven on board to save space. The folding boat got its name because when folded it is reminiscent of a banana. We personally think banana boats are too wobbly to use on a blue water voyage. Which is perhaps one of the reasons why our banana boat has been in the shed for years and why we keep pulling out our inflatable boat every time we go on a trip. Motorizing a banana boat is also not that easy. Because when we talk about bigger horsepower, there is no suitable motor mount for this tender. The manufacturer specifies five hp as the maximum.

If I had to describe an ordinary rubber dinghy, the result would be: Length: 2.5 to 3 meters. Floor: Inflatable with solid floor boards above. Material: Hypalon. In other words: The boat can be folded up relatively small – provided that the bellows are used to get the last of the air out of it. And it can be reinforced by means of the solid plug-in floor so that it is stable in the sea.

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Dinghy material

Hypalon is widely used as a material in the scene. It is an extremely hard-wearing and UV-resistant material for inflatable boats, which is also called CSM. Due to its characteristics, Hypalon is the first choice of all crews whose voyage leads to the tropics. Of course, inflatables made of such a material are more expensive to buy. However, buying them pays off in terms of longevity and the associated resale value.

Important: A special glue is required for the repair of Hypalon inflatable boats.


The motorization of the dinghy should generally be such that everyone can get to land and back easily, even over longer distances and, if necessary, against the wind. In addition, groceries, diesel, water or other things often have to be transported with the dinghy. Not to mention trips to dive sites. Those who like to dive cannot avoid a well-motorized inflatable boat that can cover longer distances.

The motorization of the dinghy is usually done with an outboard. It should have at least five horsepower. Underneath, it can get tight from the front in wind and waves. On our long trip, we initially had five and later eight horsepower attached to the inflatable boat. What a difference! If only one of us was in the dinghy, you could always glide with eight horsepower. Which is a huge plus because the boat is calm, it’s twice as fast and it’s also pretty fun. In twos, it didn’t always work out with the planing at eight hp. That depended a lot on the wave, the wind and the load. Without gliding, many trips to diving spots became long. It just makes a difference whether you are traveling at five or ten knots.

Unfortunately, although very sensible from an environmental point of view, two-stroke outboards have been taken off the market. Their great advantage is that they do not weigh as much as the four-stroke engines that are now common. And that in turn made it much easier to get them from the pushpit to the dinghy. But that is also their only advantage.

The main advantage of the four-stroke engine is that it works without a mixture – i.e. the addition of oil to the fuel. That makes things very easy. Not so with the two-stroke engine. It has to be run dry during longer breaks, otherwise the carburetor will become resinous. It works like this: Either turn off the fuel tap with the engine running in idle or pull the hose off the tank on the engine (only works when using an external tank). The engine then continues to run until it has sucked the petrol out of the carburetor. This is important because otherwise the gasoline in the carburetor will evaporate over time and the remaining oil residues from the mixture will stick to the carburetor.

I have to admit that I didn’t take the issue that seriously during our circumnavigation. It happened during the Atlantic crossing. After arriving in the Caribbean, we had to have a new carburetor installed because the old one was gummy in the few weeks between Europe and America.

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Outboard with external tank

For the fuel, I would always choose an outboard with an external tank. On the one hand, the engine is easier to lift, and on the other hand, it has to be refueled less often. Which, by the way, often happens because the dinghy is usually used a lot. Regardless of whether the journey leads to shopping ashore or to a sundowner in the neighboring cockpit. It is also difficult to tip over the gasoline when the sea is rough, the dinghy is rocking and the engine is hanging on the dinghy. An external tank, on the other hand, can easily be filled in the cockpit.

Now there was talk of gasoline-powered outboards all the time. Of course, electric motors can now also be found in the blue water scene. Basically this is an interesting alternative. However, it is also important to ensure that the dinghy is not underpowered and that the associated battery capacity guarantees a range of at least one hour of driving time at full load. You also have to think about how the associated batteries can be easily recharged.

Dinghy lock against theft

Inflatable boats and outboard motors are sought-after theft objects and nothing is more annoying than their disappearance. How should a replacement be obtained quickly – depending on the location and infrastructure – and how should it be driven back and forth between land and ship if the mobile pedestal is missing? In other words: the dinghy belongs to a castle on land. Losing your dinghy is a huge nuisance.

To connect the dinghy, it has proven useful to use a wire that is twice the length of the dinghy with two pressed eyes. One eye is attached to the rear cross board of the inflatable boat with a lock and guided to the pier through the outboard motor handle, the tank handle and some thimbles on the boat. There it is secured with a second lock at the other end. In this way, the engine and tank are connected at the same time. We use an 8-millimeter wire, so it takes a powerful bolt cutter to “free” the boat.

Lift for pulling up the dinghy

At night, the inflatable boat should be lifted out of the water – either with the davits that are already available or alternatively on a halyard over a cockpit. A hook goes to the bow and a port and starboard to the stern of the dinghy. Therefore, when purchasing the dinghy, care should be taken to ensure that stable eyes are available to which such a cock’s cradle can be hooked.

If lifting out of the water with a mechanical winch is too strenuous for you, the following alternative can be mentioned. If an electric anchor winch with drum for cordage has been installed on board, a fall can be diverted to the winch. With us it is, for example, the replacement jib halyard. The inflatable boat is automatically brought up at the push of a button on the ship’s side. There it is finally secured with a fore and stern line. Two fenders between the dinghy and the ship also help. In this position it is almost impossible to steal the inflatable boat.

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Dinghy anchor

It is not always possible to moor the dinghy on land – for example, if you go diving and want to anchor the dinghy. And there is not a palm tree to tie on every beach. At such moments it is helpful if you can secure your dinghy with a small anchor.

Most often, however, we needed the anchor to prevent our inflatable boat from chafing in a laying wall situation. It is not uncommon for the dinghy to be moored at a pier or jetty with an onshore wind blowing. Then it must be avoided that the inflatable boat rubs against the pier all day long – for example during a tour of the island – because the wind and waves push it against it or even under it again and again. Sooner or later even the strongest hypalon will give way. In such a laying wall situation, the dinghy must be kept away from the pier with a stern anchor.

Usually a small folding anchor with four flukes is used. A chain lead helps (two meters is enough), but does not have to be mandatory. It is more important that the line has a little stretch so that the dinghy can be pulled to the pier without digging up the anchor again.

Dinghy wheels

Inflatable dinghy wheels can be a very useful aid in waters with high tides or in areas with long, flat sandy beaches. Boats with a solid floor in particular can easily weigh over 60 kilograms and allow a crew of two to reach their own limits when carrying them.

Even if these wheels look rather modest on the boat, they are very useful. When you arrive at the beach, they are folded down briefly and the boat and engine rolled onto the beach. We didn’t have any wheels and sometimes dragged, pulled or dragged the dinghy, cursing! We’d do it differently next time.

Dinghy lighting

At least one white all-round light should be used when driving at night. In the tropics in particular, it gets dark early and sometimes a little later with a sundowner on one or the other yacht. Not infrequently we were amazed at how many dinghies whiz back and forth between the yachts after sunset in the dark of the tropical night.

The engine noise on your own dinghy means that other dinghies cannot be heard when they approach. And a collision is anything but funny – especially when gliding. That is why every moving dinghy should have a white all-round light at night.

Amazingly, this is at least theoretically clear to everyone, but hardly anyone adheres to it in practice. One more reason to drive one yourself.


The dinghy is an indispensable piece of equipment on a blue water yacht. It creates freedom and independence. It is therefore advisable to talk to your loyal companion extensively before departure. I hope that the above will help you make the right choice in terms of size, type, material, motorization and accessories.

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