Dinghys - Dinghy Tender
A dinghy is either a small utility boat used to tend a larger
boat, or it is a boat developed from these tenders but now used
in its own right as a form of leisure sailing.
This article concentrates on dinghies as tenders for larger
boats. Most often, dinghies are rowboats, or have small outboard
motors. Sometimes a small sailing rig is available.
Dinghies are extremely important. Nothing can make a yacht so
inconvenient to service as a wrong-sized dinghy. Almost as many
yachtsmen are killed in their dinghies as in their yachts. This
happens because many people attempt to operate their dinghies in
states of exhaustion or drunkenness that they would never dare
on their main boat. Therefore, safety is extremely important.
Dinghies range in length from 2m up to about 6m. Larger
auxiliaries are called pinnaces or lifeboats. The best size of
dinghy for most yachts is about 4m, because this can carry a
complete family or a family's provisions for a month.
The favorite modern material for a dinghy is glass-fiber
reinforced polyester (GRP), because it requires the least care,
and never rots. Water penetrating the outer coat can cause
blistering and delamination. This can be prevented with a
barrier coat of epoxy resin.
Aluminum and marine plywood also work well. Carvel and
clinker-built wooden dinghies are beautiful, and have finer
lines and better handling, but they are usually somewhat
heavier. Favored woods, in decreasing resistance to rot, are
locust, mahogany, fir and spruce. Modern urethane varnishes are
sturdy and resist UV.
There are three common shapes for rigid dinghies.
Whaleboats are the classic premium rowboats, with a sharp bow,
fine lines and a flat transom. They tip slightly, row, motor and
sail the best because of their fine lines, but have less cargo
capacity than prams.
Dorys are sharp-ended boats made from sheets of wood or
aluminum. They cut the water well, but tip easily.
Prams are like wide dorys with flat bows. They don't tip and
carry a lot of cargo, but don't cut the water well.
Fiberglass boats are all molded, so whaleboats have supplanted
dorys, which were once less expensive because they were easier
For inflatable's, the Zodiac-type inflatable, with a rigid deck
and transom, have proven superior for engines. They row and sail
about as poorly as prams because of their blunt bows. Inflation
makes them tough, with large reserves of buoyancy.
Folding and take-down multipiece dinghies also exist.
Bronze is the best material for hardware, followed by stainless
steel. Working boats usually use galvanized steel, and replace
the hardware every few years.
Problems With Dinghy's
On yachts shorter than 10m there is not enough room for a
reasonable dinghy, but there is a genuine need for one, because
anchorages are far less expensive than slips or dock space.
Owners of small yachts compromise. They use a small rigid
dinghy, tow a larger dinghy or deflate an inflatable.
Rigid dinghy's for small yachts are very small (2m) dinghy's,
usually with a pram (blunt) bow to get more beam (width) in a
Larger dinghies can't be left on deck, so they are towed. A
towed dinghy should have reserve buoyancy, an automatic bailer
and a cover, or it is likely to be lost at sea. Most masters
prefer a tow long enough to put the dinghy on the back of the
swell, to prevent the dinghy from ramming the transom of the
Inflatables take extra time to inflate, and tow badly. During an
ocean passage, they fit easily in their place.
Some owners have experimented with a two-piece rigid dinghy
that's towed in harbor and disassembled into two nesting pieces
while off-shore. When the joining method was sturdy, these
reported good results.
Essential Dinghy Hardware
A dinghy should have a strong ring on the bow, bolted through
the keel in a position that will not score the yacht's deck when
the dinghy is inverted on deck. The bow ring is used for the
painter (tying to a dock), towing and anchoring.
The dinghy should also have two other rings, on each side of the
All three rings are for lifting, and securing the dinghy for
The only other essential hardware are the oarlocks (see rowing,
below). The boat can struggle along with a single sculling
oarlock atop the transom. The oarlocks should have ropes and
storage pockets, or permanent mounts.
The dinghy is generally inverted midships on yachts to avoid
unbalancing the boat, and to keep the dinghy secure from waves.
Inversion keeps water out of the dinghy. Most yachts launch
their dinghies by hand, or with a simple lifting tackle rigged
from the main mast. Davits over the transom are convenient and
look good, but sailing in a heavy following sea can cause the
loss of a dinghy.
When the dinghy is inverted amidships, many yacht owners prefer
it to have hand-holds on its bottom. These help launch it, and
also provide more handholds on deck.
On all dinghy's a name and identifying numbers should be
stenciled to prevent theft. The classic place is the bow, but a
good place for inflatables is the inside of the transom. The
name should not be that of the main yacht, because this makes a
dinghy tied to the dock an invitation to steal from the main
yacht. Outboards should be scruffy-looking, and locked to the
dinghy with a security cable. The dinghy should be locked to its
place when stored on deck in a harbor, or alongside a public
Conventional dinghies are rowed. Usually there is one set of
oarlocks for each thwart (seat). Sliding thwarts allow far more
powerful rowing. A removable thwart can permit standing rowing.
A sculling oar can substitute for several oars on a dinghy
normally moved by other power. A nice refinement is to place a
notch or oarlock in the transom (rear wall) for a sculling oar,
with a tie-down so the scull need not be pushed down by hand.
Outboard motors are also popular, though much more expensive.
Engines always swing up so the dinghy can be grounded without
damage. A horsepower per meter of length can move a dinghy
faster than oars. Two horsepower per meter can reach hull speed.
Ten horsepower per meter will put a flat-bottomed dinghy on
plane. Conventionally, the gas tank is placed under the rear
The transom should not be cut down for the engine. If it is,
then an engine well must be present. This prevents the boat from
flooding from a low wave over the transom.
The typical sailing rig for a dinghy is a "gunter." This is a
two-piece folding mast that can be stepped through a thwart and
rested on the keel. It is raised by pulling a rope. Generally,
it resembles a single-sailed gaff rig rather than a Marconi with
a triangular mainsail and jib. The gaff rig has a lower center
of force and a simpler rig. The bottom of the main sail is
usually untended (no boom) in order to avoid hitting the
passengers with a spar. A new, compact possibility is a power
Sailing dinghies for racing usually have a dagger board or
centerboard to better sail upwind. The trunk for these is
usually in the middle of the dinghy's cargo area. Traditional
working dinghies have a lee board that can be hooked over the
side. A lee board does not split the cargo space.
A sailing rudder is usually seized (tied by rope) to a simple
pair of pointless (hinge pins) on the transom. The bottom pintle
should be longer so the rudder can be mounted one point at a
time. The rope keeps the rudder from floating off in a wave.
Rudders and centerboards always have swiveling tips so the
dinghy can be landed. Rudders often are arranged so the tiller
folds against the rudder to make a compact package.
Other Dinghy Equipment
A dinghy should have at least a sculling oar, life-jackets, a
hand-bailer, a bailing sponge, a large flashlight, a mouth-blown
horn (not a loud-hailer, but a breath-blown fog-horn), signal
whistle, signal mirror and flares. This equipment should be in a
bag made of water-resistant materials tied to a thwart or inside
Anderson-style self-bailers are useful for engine-driven and
sailing dinghies. These are slot-shaped seacock's that project
into the stream below the hull. They are opened when submerged
and moving rapidly.
A dinghy's crew can rest or fish if it has a small anchor. A
rode (anchor rope) made of floating rope can't be cut by snags
on the bottom. The traditional dinghy anchor is a mushroom,
which does well in muddy bottoms. Folding grapnels weigh less
and work in currents, but don't anchor quite as well in mud.
Some persons prefer a small danforth or plow, the same as they
would use on a larger boat, but these have sharp edges, and need
to be pulled-on to set.
A dinghy should not be able to scratch the mother-boat's paint.
The traditional fender is a length of heavy rope seized (tied by
small rope) to the outside of the bulwarks (top of the sides),
and slightly loose to provide a handhold for launching, or men
overboard. Many modern dinghies mold in a ridge of plastic.
Many people prefer a dinghy to have a fitted cloth cover which
can shed seas, or act as a shade, cuddy, cargo cover or storage
cover. Traditionally it would toggle to the fender-rope or be
suspended from the gunter (small folding mast). These days it
might be tied to a few points and secured with snaps or velcro.
Acrylic canvas is a fine modern material that resists the sun. A
couple of battens and windows to make it a tent are wonderful.
A dinghy should have a locker to secure its equipment.
Traditionally this is under a thwart with a bronze padlock
that's opened at sea. The locker is generally arranged so the
boat's painter (rope to the front ring) can be locked around a
mooring by placing a loop over a dowel or hook in the locker,
and locking the locker.
Dinghies as lifeboats
Dinghies are sometimes planned to be expedient lifeboats.
Lifeboats should have enough fixed-displacement (i.e. foam)
buoyancy to be unsinkable. They also should have a boarding
ladder. It is very hard to enter most boats from the water. A
lifeboat should also have space for the crew to lie down and
enough room for emergency equipment.
A lifeboat should include an emergency position-indicating
rescue beacon, a parasail-type sea-anchor, signaling equipment,
medical supplies, food, clothing, shelter and water for at least
three days. It's reassuring to have a solar still to obtain more
water, and fishing lures and line for food. Include a manual on
Some persons plan to rescue themselves. They place a collapsible
sailing rig and simple navigational equipment (a plastic
sextant, a compass, a calibrated quartz watch and a nautical
almanac) in the dinghy. The rig should include a mainsail that
can be reefed for storms, and a sea-anchor. The sailing rig also
allows self-rescue if the engine quits and one grows tired, as
can happen if one is swept out to sea. A power kite
(kite-surfing kite) may be a compact substitute for a sail and
A lifeboat must have a cover. It should be able to keep out
rain, make shade, and open on a choice of sides for ventilation.
The cover and sail should be colors visible from the air against
The cover and/or sail should both be able to capture rainwater
to a container. The usual scheme is a fabric channel on the
bottom edge, held open with small balls of foam plastic. Many
groups' lives have been saved by collected rainwater.
The extra equipment can be stored in a bag that's tied to and
kept under the dinghy at sea, and brought into the cabin in
If you like wooden dinghy's then why not build your own, it
could be a lot of fun, checkout these
wooden dinghy plans