Which Dinghy is Right for You?

Written by Bob Arrington

Whether you call it a dinghy or a tender, whether it’s on your “boat” or your “yacht,” that little boat you use to get to shore from a mooring or anchorage represents a substantial investment and an important part of your boating pleasure. The successful purchase of a dinghy requires a careful review of both how you will use it and how you will carry it. When considering a dinghy, it’s important to work with a dealer that won’t just sell you what you think you want or what they have in stock, but will work with you to determine what’s best for your use.

Dinghies are available in a variety of configurations, from purely inflatables to rigid-hull inflatables (RIB’s) to hard shells. RIB’s are overwhelmingly the most popular due to a combination of weight, durability and performance. Consequently, this guide will focus only on the RIB segment. The only thing all RIB’s have in common is the air used to fill them. Beyond that, they vary in hull shape/design, the fabric used for the inflated tubes and the features available. Understanding how the hull shape will handle sea conditions, how the tube fabric will wear against UV and abrasion, and which features are important to your use is the difference between making a successful or a regrettable purchase.

CARRYING OPTIONS

Vessels capable of carrying a dinghy will do it in a variety of ways. It could be a crane-style lifting device, a davit system on the swim platform, or the swim platform could be on a hydraulic lift system, which lowers the platform and dinghy into the water. How you will carry your dinghy needs to be the first consideration in your dinghy selection. That fast shiny tender capable of getting all of your family and friends to shore at 30 knots is going to be useless if it’s too heavy to carry or places your primary vessel out of balance when carrying. Successfully installing a dinghy on your boat is as important as the dinghy selection itself. The dinghy must be placed upon your boat so it doesn’t affect stability and can be held in place securely.

MATERIAL AND SIZE

The fabric inflatable tubes are made of a reinforced thermoplastic material. The two most common are PVC and a Hypalon/Neoprene laminate. PVC will cost less and will offer a reasonable service life. The Hypalon/Neoprene laminate will cost more, but will last longer and be available with a longer warranty. Each material also comes in different thicknesses and tensile strengths. Ask your dealer about their fabric options and select which is best for your use and budget. The rigid-hull portion of the dinghy can be made of fiberglass or aluminum. While fiberglass will cost less, aluminum will weigh less and wear better. Aluminum comes in an uncoated or powder coated finish. Like the tube material, research which material is best for your use.

The best size for a tender will be determined by your available carrying space and how you intend to use it. A typical recreational boater’s tender will range from 8 to 16 feet in length. Look for the required capacity plate to find out how many people and how much weight a dinghy can hold. Engine size is the next important consideration. The horsepower of your engine will go hand in hand with some of the other factors you’ve already determined, like the weight capacity of your lifting device and where on your boat you’ll be carrying your dinghy. A heavy dinghy and engine carried too high on a vessel can affect the vessel’s stability. The dinghy’s capacity plate will also list the maximum engine size the dinghy is rated to carry. Many smaller, lighter-weight dinghies are well suited to some of the new environmentally friendly electric or propane engines. The typical RIB has a V-shape planing hull — the deeper the V, the better the ride in choppy water, but it will also require more horsepower to get it on a plane with a given load.

SERVICE AND INSTALLATION

A well-built dinghy will provide many years of service, but it won’t last forever. A sign of a good-quality dinghy is the ease with which it can be serviced and even re-tubed when necessary. An example of a feature that could affect serviceability is the type and location of the fuel tank. Separate fuel tanks carried in dedicated compartments are easier to inspect or replace, but have limited carrying capacity; built-in fuel tanks may carry more fuel and be better balanced, but may also be difficult or impossible to repair without completely un-assembling the dinghy. Ask your dealer about ease of serviceability and preferably purchase from a dealer that also performs complete service on the dinghy and engine. Lastly, select a dealer with the willingness and knowledge to visit your boat to determine if a particular model can be carried, launched and retrieved safely.

DINGHY SELECTIONS

AB Inflatables
Size: 11 to 19 feet
Tube Material: Hypalon
Hull Material: Fiberglass or Aluminum
Manufactured in: Columbia
abinflatablesusa.com

APEX Boats
Size: 8 to20 feet
Tube Material: Hypalon
Hull Material: Fiberglass
Manufactured in: Costa Rica
apexboats.com

Brig Inflatable Boats
Size: 12 to 25 feet
Tube Material: Hypalon
Hull Material: Fiberglass
Manufactured in: Ukraine
siroccomarine.com

Flexboat Rigid Inflatable Boats
Size: 10 to 25 feet
Tube Material: Hypalon
Hull Material: Fiberglass
Manufactured in: Venezuela
aiboats.com

Walker Bay
Size: 10 to 17 feet
Tube Material: PVC or Hypalon
Hull Material: Fiberglass
Manufactured in: United States
walkerbay.com

Zodiac Nautic
Size: 8 to 19 feet
Tube Material: PVC or Hypalon
Hull Material: Fiberglass
Manufactured in: France
zodiac-nautic.com/en-us/