What Is The Best Dinghy For Your Boat: An Inflatable Or Rigid Tender?

Cruising sailors will need a dinghy to get people and supplies from the mother ship to shore and to perform maintenance on their yachts. Here's a look at inflatable vs. rigid dinghies and yacht tenders.

Most people start their recreational sailing careers with small boats that can be easily beached or hauled out of the water on a trailer at the boat ramp. If your love of sailing leads you to move up to a bigger boat, however, you will need a small boat known as a "dinghy" or "yacht tender" to get between the mother ship and the shore. Most cruising sized boats have deep keels and cannot approach too close to land other than at deepwater docks. Even if you cruise in a shallow draft catamaran or a yacht with a retractable centerboard keel, you still need a dinghy. On any cruise there will be times that you'll want or need to anchor far from the beach, and a dinghy is an invaluable safety and maintenance aid on any yacht. You can use it to set extra anchors, to float around the hull of your yacht for the purpose of cleaning the topsides and the waterline, and of course, for its main purpose of ferrying people and supplies to and from shore.

Modern dinghies are available in two types: inflatable or rigid. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and the proponents of each type swear by them. Inflatable dinghies are sometimes called "Zodiacs," as this is the trademark name of a well-known manufacturer responsible for introducing these boats to the market. Rigid dinghies are built of wood or fiberglass, and are available from manufacturers or custom builders, or can be homebuilt by the user.

Inflatable dinghies have greatly improved in recent years and many are serious boats that can carry big motors and handle rough conditions. The biggest of these are only suitable for tenders on large yachts equipped with lifting davits to make them easy to carry and launch. The chief advantage of an inflatable dinghy is on the smaller cruising boat where space is at a premium. The inflatable can be rolled up and stored in a locker or on a small part of the deck during a passage and then inflated when you arrive at an anchorage and want to explore ashore. One disadvantage of an inflatable is that they don't tow very well, so if your cruising involves lots of short hops from one anchorage to the other, you will have to deflate and stow the dinghy or drag it behind with a resulting loss of boat speed because of its resistance in the water. Inflatable dinghies are quite expensive if you get one of good quality, and even the best ones will only last a few years when subjected to the rugged demands of everyday use in cruising. The cheap ones are so lacking in durability that they are not worth considering. Another disadvantage of inflatable boats is that they do not row well at all, so you will have to carry an outboard and its fuel to power the dinghy. On the plus side, however, inflatables can carry a lot of weight in people and gear, and with a good motor can cover a lot of ground if you want to explore far and wide from your anchorage.

Rigid dinghies are in most cases a whole lot cheaper than inflatables. You can buy a molded one made of plastic or fiberglass, or build your own of marine plywood or cedar strips. Wooden rigid dinghies are lighter in weight than the fiberglass or plastic varieties, so they are worth considering even if you don't have the skills to build one and must hire a boat builder to do it for you. There are many advantages to a rigid dinghy on a cruising yacht. Durability is a major plus, as rigid dinghies can be dragged over rocky beaches without fear of a puncture and do not break down from exposure to sunlight over time. You can safely carry sharp objects like anchors and spear guns in a rigid dinghy and the only maintenance it will likely need is new paint or varnish. The disadvantage of rigid dinghies is that they require more room to stow and some smaller yachts will not have the deck space for one. Although it's best to bring the dinghy aboard and lash it upside down on the deck for a sailing passage, rigid dinghies can be towed much easier than inflatables. Most present little resistance to the water and you will scarcely notice any difference in your sailing speed. Because of this lack of resistance to movement through the water, a well-designed rigid dinghy will be easy to row, so you can save the expense and weight of an outboard motor and its fuel and buy a good pair of oars. Rowing a dinghy is pleasant exercise and the simplicity of this arrangement has great appeal for serious cruisers visiting far-flung destinations.

Ultimately the type of dinghy that is best for you is dependant upon your own preferences and the type of yacht you have and how you will be using it. Some people try each type of dinghy for a period of time before settling on the one that's best for them. Use the above guidelines to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each type and decide for yourself based on your own personality and preferences.

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