Make Your Own Dinghy Wheels

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photos by David Liscio

As refit projects keep us busy in the boatyard, we find ourselves rifling through back issues looking for buried do-it-yourself gems. This week’s blast from the past is a real back saver. It describes how to turn some scrap plywood, a few screws, and a lawnmower axle and wheel set into durable and inexpensive portable dinghy wheels. If rocky terrain is in your future, you might want to commit to our top pick for bolt-on dinghy wheels from Danard Marine. Subscribers have free online access to a full report of our test of dinghy wheels, which includes less expensive options.

For the do-it-yourself dinghy wheels, here’s what youll need:

One pair of lawn mower wheels, 8-inch diameter with axle, washers, and wheel caps. ($10 or less)

One pair of metal brackets to fasten axle to bottom of wood panel. ($3)

24 inches of rope, roughly a half-inch diameter; most any kind will do. ($1)

Wood glue. ($2)

One-quarter sheet of -inch plywood. Marine grade is best but not a must. (lumber yard surplus, $5)

A dozen self-tapping stainless screws, 2-inch length. ($2)

1. Cut two panels of wood, one 14-by-11.5 inches, the other 14-by-9 inches. Also cut three spacers, 14-by-9 inches each.

2. Glue and screw one of the spacers to the larger of the two wood panels, making an L-shape. The screws should be started into the wood panel and enter the spacer.

3. Glue and screw the second smaller wood panel, only this time, start the screws into the spacer, and then enter the wood panel. You should end up with what looks like a U-shape, with one wood panel slightly shorter than the other.

4. Screw the two axle brackets into place on the bottom spacer and fit the axle and wheels. Take one of the two remaining spacers, and glue and screw it directly onto the spacer already in place.

5. Then slip the entire device onto the transom of your dinghy to take a quick measurement. The wheels must not rub against the gunwale on the transom. To ensure clearance, screw the third spacer into place inside the U at a point that stops the transom from going any deeper.

6. Drill two holes into the larger (outside) wood panel for the rope. Tie knots in both ends of the rope. This will provide a carrying handle and an easy way to slip the device onto the transom, if the dinghy is stored in a rack or the back of your SUV. As you pull the dinghy from the rack, hold the device in place using the rope handle and slowly set down the dinghy.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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