The Great Dinghy Debate

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 12:44AM - Comments: (17)

Darrell Nicholson
Darrell Nicholson

The Marlowe-Hunter 47 takes an interesting approach to stowing a hard dinghy.
Dinghies are the Rodney Dangerfields of cruising. They get no respect, or at least not as much as they deserve. The little boat that will see nearly as many sea miles as the mother ship is too often an afterthought.

Inflatables, and rigid inflatable boats (hybrid "RIBs" with inflatable tubes and rigid bottoms) have been the norm for years. I recognize the virtues of the RIB design, but when it comes to full time cruising, my allegiance remains with the hard dinghy camp. A hard dinghy is virtually indestructible compared to an inflatable or RIB. It’s economical, and it’s always ready to deploy.

There are almost just as many reasons why hard dinghies are the wrong solution. They are harder to stow, hard on topside paint, relatively unstable, and require more patience when getting from here to there.

If you’re an avid diver or surfer, like to explore, or prefer anchoring away from the crowd, having a RIB or inflatable with a turn of speed will be essential. Having that extra umph also comes in handy when setting kedges, playing tugboat, or rushing to help a neighboring boat whose anchor has begun to drag.

Ultimately, our dinghy preferences reflect our philosophies toward cruising. The romantic drawn to the idea of self-sufficiency (the person who rides a bike to work), will be inclined toward a rugged hard dinghy that rows easily and requires virtually no maintenance. The pragmatic RIB aficionado will recognize that having fast transportation is worth the hassles associated with an internal combustion engine.

Years have past since our last head-to-head dinghy tests (see PS November 2009, October 2008, and July 2008). Both focused on inflatables. Since then, there hasn’t been any significant advances in inflatables, but we have seen some interesting developments in hard dinghies.

A few years ago, West Coast designer Russell Brown came out with a kit for the PT11, a dinghy comprising two parts that nest inside each other. And the carbon-fiber Wing Dinghy, which we compared to the popular Trinka in October 2009, is so light that one person can easily load and stow it.

Since the wide introduction of the mass produced Walker Bay 8—a sluggish rower with a durable thermo-molded PVC hull—the more traditional fiberglass dinghies have been pushed to the fringes of the market. The familiar names—Bauer, Fatty Knees, Pelican, Trinka, Dyer, Gig Harbor—are still around, but the prices ($6,000 for a sailing Dyer) make an upwind slog in $600 Walker Bay 8 seem more tolerable. Kit boats like Brown’s  PT11 or those from Chesapeake Light Craft offer a cheaper path to a hard dinghy. It requires an investment in time, but the experience gained building your own dinghy can be more valuable than the boat itself.

As we begin another round of dinghy testing, we’d be interested in hearing from readers. How long have you had it? What problems have you had? And where the heck do you stow the thing? You can contact me at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.

Comments (17)

Did this review ever get done?

Posted by: Elzaar | June 25, 2019 4:12 AM    Report this comment

We have used our 12 ft Porta Bote since we bought it new in 2005. Infinitely customizable, you can drill through the tough polyethylene hull sides (I wouldn't recommend going below the waterline though) to mount hardware. Ours still folds as designed, but we don't routinely fold it. I have mounted folding rings inside and out to hold docklines, fenders, lifting eyes for the davits (where we normally carry it), and a low mounted bow eye for towing. I've got LED running lights, a fishfinder and rod holders to go fishing in the canals and mangroves here in SW Florida, seat cushions and underseat storage for life jackets and a pump, and a pocket that holds our wine bottle for booze cruises. We can plane with two people with our 6 hp Tohatsu, and we've carried seven passengers once during a club cruise - our fellow cruisers with bow-stored inflatables who didn't want to have to launch and recover their dinghies to go to dinner.

Posted by: gac1982 | April 16, 2018 12:27 PM    Report this comment

I keep a 2 person inflatable kayak (SeaEagle fasttrak) on the trampoline of my 28' trimaran, under a silver tarp to block the sun. Light and easy to handle, stable, very gentle on topsides, moves right along with two double paddles. Looking to get inflatable seats, to keep my backside a bit up off the bottom, where it can get damp.

Posted by: Sea Life | April 16, 2018 10:28 AM    Report this comment

I have two dinghies, a West Marine model RU3 rollup #7665516 (7.8' x 4.9') purchased new in 2007 and a Walker Bay WB8-M purchased used in 2009.

I use the Walker Bay often to row out to my Tayana Vancouver 42 that is on a perpetual mooring, not in a marina. I consider this dinghy my workboat and stable enough to complete exterior work on the boat and maintenance on the mooring including its overhaul every three years. I have never put an outboard on this dinghy as I think the weight would be excessive despite being rated for one. I have had to replace the oarlocks on it.

The West Marine rollup is just used when cruising during the summer and stored thereafter which means it is still in excellent condition. While cruising it is stored on the forward deck aft of the staysail during long legs or poor forecasted weather conditions, otherwise it is towed; I have had it overturn once (without outboard) in high wind while towing. I prefer using my Evinrude 2HP outboard rather than the oars that came with it as the oars are awkward to use and of minimal use. I used this dinghy during this past summer's cruise to, from, and through the Hawaiian islands.

~ ~ _/) ~ ~ MJH

Posted by: MJH | February 12, 2017 2:10 PM    Report this comment

I would like you to include two wooden dinghies from Chesapeake Boats in your tests. They are the Passagemaker and Eastport Pram. They can be made in "take apart" or "nesting" for easier transport. When they are made in these configurations, both parts float due to built in flotation. The thing I find most attractive is they can be rowed, sailed, or used with an outboard motor. I only wish that the Passagemaker "take apart" nested flat so it could be stowed flat on the front deck. Maybe you could test this or look for possible modifications. At 94 lbs it seems like a great dinghy.

Posted by: bpendergraft | February 11, 2017 12:18 PM    Report this comment

Wow! Thanks for all the comments. Yesterday, I chucked a Walker Bay 8 into the back of the truck and rowed about a mile out to visit friends in the anchorage, and realized I may have been a unfair to this little dinghy.
DHN

Posted by: sailordn | February 10, 2017 9:39 PM    Report this comment

Wow! Thanks for all the comments. Yesterday, I chucked a Walker Bay 8 into the back of the truck and rowed about a mile out to visit friends in the anchorage, and realized I may have been a unfair to this little dinghy.
DHN

Posted by: sailordn | February 10, 2017 9:39 PM    Report this comment

I have a 9.5 inflatable with a motor on davits, and I carry kayaks across the top. Perhaps 2 days out of three, the dinghy doesn't move and the kayaks do the work. Why? They are easier to use than a dinghy, even on davits, and way more fun.

If I did not have davits I would ditch the dinghy and just use kayaks.

Posted by: Drew Frye | February 10, 2017 2:22 PM    Report this comment

we have had a walker bay 10.5 ft RIB for 7 years. It is incredibly heavy and tows like a stone, as well as wandering all over under tow. The rubber handles/hand grips have also gone permanently sticky after using a recognized dinghy spray cleaner. I cannot recommend this product.

Posted by: archer | February 8, 2017 10:57 PM    Report this comment

we have had a walker bay 10.5 ft RIB for 7 years. It is incredibly heavy and tows like a stone, as well as wandering all over under tow. The rubber handles/hand grips have also gone permanently sticky after using a recognized dinghy spray cleaner. I cannot recommend this product.

Posted by: archer | February 8, 2017 10:57 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for all the comments! I should have mentioned one more advantage of RIB--at least during monsoon season. It won't sink when flooded.

DHN

Posted by: sailordn | February 8, 2017 6:40 PM    Report this comment

I have an Avon Redcrest that I bought new in about 1972. Used for 16 years annually in the Bahamas in the winters. Stowed in it's canvas bag when not in use. Have a new (to me) sailboat so got it out, pumped it up and it seems fine. Plan to use it again in the Bahamas this spring. I pair it with a 1965 1 1/2 hp seagull. Not fast but great to dive out of and extremely reliable.

Posted by: Petrel | February 8, 2017 6:40 PM    Report this comment

We have a restored 1986 Avon RIB equipped with a restored1959 Sea King 35 HP outboard. We love this boat! It's so much fun to dock at a marina and watch people walk by a million dollar powerboat to get a closer look at the "Flivver"

Posted by: Captainwoody | February 8, 2017 11:29 AM    Report this comment

I have heard many good things about the Portland Pudgy, hopefully you can include this in some future comparisons/tests

Posted by: Fred T | February 8, 2017 10:59 AM    Report this comment

I have a Caribe C-9X that is now about 18 years old, and has never been deflated. It has been up and down the east coast of the US, across the Atlantic on the foredeck, and then all over Atlantic France, Spain, and the British Isles. It will get up on a plane with my wife and me. Highly recommended. My outboard is a Honda BF8A, same era, which I do not like at all. Finicky and expensive to service by dealers who do not care, parts expensive and difficult to find, and my wife cannot start it. It does get the RIB up on a plane, but I would stay away from Honda in the future.

Posted by: rxc | February 8, 2017 10:37 AM    Report this comment

I acquired (with my Hunter) a well-used Walker Bay 8 RIB. Tough, easily maintained, but a bit overweight for hauling onto the foredeck. Tows well at 5-7 knots.

I must say, with one aboard, it actually rows very well, likewise with a 2HP Honda it scoots. Get someone in the aft seat, not so much. With aft drag, a real slug unless they are lightweight.

I can see no reason to replace it with something lighter and more up-to-date (whatever that might mean). The inflated buoyancy ring is quite wide, taking up too much deck walk-by space, but it makes for an extremely stable boarding platform.

Posted by: Arctic Pro | February 8, 2017 10:25 AM    Report this comment

We are still using a 1984 Achilles SE-11. It was our first and only dinghy. By today's standards, it is heavy at 130 lbs. However, it is stable and takes a beating. We have a few patches here and there and the three towing ring patches have been replaced over the years. It gets a good scrubbing after each season and a coating of UV spray.

The dinghy has wooden floor board which are heavy but get carried in a separate bag. The boat and boards fit nicely in a cockpit lazzarette. There is no way we can inflate the beast on our boat and therefore, must take into a dock. For anything less than an over-night, it gets towed.

Until recently, we utilized a 5hp Honda. Great engine but too much for us to easily handle. We've switched to a Torqueedo which isn't fast but still gets us back and forth and easily taken from the boat deck to the dinghy.

If and when the Achilles gives up on us, I'd be very interested in the new foldable RIB (FRIB?) that I've seen written up

Posted by: Bounding Home | February 8, 2017 10:06 AM    Report this comment

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