The dinghy is the private taxi, the shopping trolley, the swimming and fishing platform of our cruising life. We used ours to hack million years old ice from the glaciers in Alaska for a G&T, shop for gull eggs on the moraine and to photograph grizzly bears catching salmon from a close but safe distance. Dinghies just as sails have a hard life they get scratched on coral and rocky shores and are left alone baking on sunny beaches. They need to be rugged and strong.
They are handled by our occasional guests who are not always so careful or capable as one would like them to be. They ferry us to our favourite snorkeling or diving location and thus need to be easily accessible from the water. Sometimes they are even useful as a fender between visiting canoes and a newly painted hull.
Most dinghies are of the inflatable type with air tubes around a hard bottom the so-called RIBs. The tubes have mostly 3 separated air chambers. They are relatively easy to row and tow but are heavier to lift out of the water and more difficult to stow on deck. Material of the tubes is either hypalon which is heavier and reasonably strong or PVC which is lighter but more vulnerable to UV. Both materials are easily punctured by sharp oyster shells growing on pontoons in marinas or on landing structures. Carry plenty of repair material with you.
The hard bottoms of ribs withstand landings on hard surfaces and are generally preferred over the soft bottomed dinghies certainly the ones with a double floor to keep your feet dry.
Wooden dinghies are favoured by cruisers who want to row more easily or use them as sailing dinghies but to climb into them from the water after a swim would be nearly impossible. They need to be well fendered when visiting neighbouring yachts if you want to remain popular.
An outboard is essential because distances between anchorage and shore or snorkel reef are often beyond rowing distance. Also with a good breeze over the anchorage and a loaded dinghy one needs more horsepower than a fit human can bring.
The choice is between 2-stroke and 4-stroke petrol engines. The 2-stroke is environmentally less acceptable because of the oil content of the fuel. The 4-stroke has the disadvantage of being heavier than a 2-stroke of the same horse power.
A 2 Hp outboard can be lifted by hand from deck onto the dinghy.
To safely lower and attach a heavier outboard one needs a crane and tackle or for a very powerful and heavy outboard one needs to use the topping lift on a winch.
To improve handling of RIBs on sandy or even rocky beaches one can add wheels making pulling the dinghy with motor higher up a beach much easier. For a small crew dinghy wheels are a must. Choose pneumatic wheels, the hard ones sink in soft beach sand or get stuck behind rocky grooves and are thus useless.
More powerful engines give the ability to plane the dinghy and shorten travel time but are heavier and have a separate fuel tank because the 2 HP engines have their tank integrated. The separate tank needs to be securely tied down in the bow of the dinghy.
A crane lift will be necessary to get a heavier outboard back onto the push pit.
On this yacht the boom is used to hoist the dinghy on and off the aft deck with the topping lift through an eye at the end of the boom.
The rib sits on chocks on the aft deck and will be tied down when sailing. The outboard motor is hoisted with the dedicated crane and tackle.
A small folding anchor with some light chain and a length of line would be useful to either secure the dinghy on a beach against a rising tide, anchor it in the snorkel area or as a stern anchor to keep the dinghy away from sharp oyster shells on a pontoon or landing. This dinghy was pushed under the pontoon and caught between the piles when the tide fell. A stern anchor, even a light one could have prevented this embarrassing situation.
Smaller yachts carry the dinghy, deflated or inflated on the fore or aft deck. Make sure the dinghy is well tied down.
Many, not even larger yachts use davits to keep the dinghy out of the way. This would be a problem for a wind vane which needs an uninterrupted wind flow.