Ultimate Dinghy Evaluation Checklist | Become A Cruiser
Ultimate Dinghy Checklist

Ultimate Dinghy Evaluation Checklist

Don’t make the mistake we made when we got our first dinghy. After your choice of boat, may I be so brave as to say that making sure you buy the right dinghy for your boat comes in a close second?

A dinghy is more than just a tender to get to and from your boat at anchor. You will use your dinghy to go to far away snorkeling spots, on river tours, diving expeditions and so much more.

You will rely on your dingy to get your shopping and provisioning back to your boat and take your garbage to shore. In many ports, the easiest way to get diesel will be to take your dinghy to go to the commercial fuel dock. Carrying dozens of jugs of diesel to fill your main boat’s tanks.

There will be places where you need to beach your dinghy, as anchoring off of the shore is not a possibility. In other places, you will need to park your dinghy off of crowded docks which are three dinghies deep.

In most places in the world, you will need to raise your dingy each night to prevent theft. You will also need to lift your dinghy up onto your deck or pull the dinghy up on the davits for passages.

There will be times when you need to deal with the unexpected, such as a broken dinghy davit line dropping your tender into the water during a storm, or rowing home after the motor quits. Finally, don’t forget that your dinghy could also be used as an emergency means of propulsion should your main boat’s motor(s) fail.

The is no one size fits all approach for choosing the perfect dinghy for your boat. But there is a bit of a Goldilocks zone for you, your lifestyle, and the kind of boat you have. Yes, can buy a dinghy for your boat that is too big. You can be as unhappy with too much of a dinghy as too little of a dinghy.

Finally, remember how you use a dinghy is important. What works well for weekend trips from your home port may not work for you once you get to less developed locations without well-kept dinghy docks.

I hope that this dinghy evaluation checklist will help you decide what features are important to you when you choose your future dinghy.

Type of Material

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Hard – Wooden Most stylish look if you like classic lines
Normally heavy
Requires more love to keep it looking great
Requires fenders to protect dingy at docks and when visiting other boats
Most wooden tenders are designed to be easy to row
Some models have planing hulls
Some models convert to sailing dinghies
Often unstable when climbing in or out
Life span 50+ years
Hard – FiberglassHuge variety from heavy homemade, to sturdy skiffs, to lightweight new generation foam cored and carbon fiber models
Some models may be easy to row
Nesting dinghies for saving space are available
Some models convert to a sailing dinghy
Require fenders to protect dingy at docks and when visiting other boats (except for OC Tenders which has built-in foam sides eliminating the requirement for fenders)
Fiberglass and gelcoat are easy to fix and renew
Modern dinghies may plane with as little as 6hp
Planing Hulls
Lifespan 10 – 30 years
Hard – RotomoldedHeavy
Common models have poor hull performance
Low maximim engine HP limit
Most do not plane
Require fenders to protect dingy at docks and when visiting other boats – Fenders can be difficult to affix the sides
Requires a plastic welder to repair
Lifespan 5 – 20 years
Inflatable – HyperlonMedium weight
Relatively inefficient designs require increased HP to plane
Easy to repair with 2 part Hyperlon adhesive
Damaged by UV
Easily damaged by raised engines on other tenders, rough docks and sharp rocks on beaches
Lifespan 7 – 12 years
Inflatable – PVCMedium weight
Relatively inefficient designs require increased HP to plane
Easy to repair PVC adhesive, Contact cement or 5200
Repairs may not be permanent
Quickly damaged by UV
Easily damaged by raised engines on other tenders, rough docks and sharp rocks on beaches
Lifespan 2 -5 years (tropics)
Fold-upExceptionally light weight
Efficient hull designs
Low maximum engine HP Limit
Can be folded for easy storage
Light weight construction not very hardy
Difficult to impossible to repair
Lifespan 2 – 10 years
Different Materials Dinghies Are Typically Made Of

Center Console Dinghies

Comfortable (especially in rough weather)
Look Cool
Great for watersports
Centre console takes up a large amount of passenger or cargo room
Impossible to at best difficult to beach
Needs a bigger engine to plane
Heavy to pull up onto davits require winch or electric winch to raise at night
Difficult to pull to the dock amongst the other dingies when at a dock that is three dingies deep for parking
Reduced maneuverability at low speeds
More to break e.g. steering cables
More Expensive
High risk of damage to the center console when visiting ‘dingy eating docks’

Now you have an idea of the different types of dinghies and their pros and cons.

What Should I Think About When Choosing a Dinghy?

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Do you have davits, or will your dinghy have to fit on your front deck?

How Will The Dinghy Fit On The Boat?

I think the most important thing to take into account when buying a tender for your boat is what size tender will fit onto your boat.

Do you have davitsThe dinghy size may be restricted by the space between your back transoms if you have a catamaran
The maximum weight the davits can hold (this includes outboard weight)
Center Console – will the console fit between the davits
Is your dinghy stored on the front of the boat underwayThe space on the front of your boat will decide the maximum size tender for you
Do you have a dinghy cradle/ tender liftWhat size dingy fits in the cradle/ tender lift
How do you store your dinghy on your boat?
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How Will You Use Your Dinghy?

The next thing you need to think about is your lifestyle. How will you be using your dinghy?

  • Is your boat in a marina and used on weekends?
  • Are you a racer and you only need a small light fold-up dinghy that you can easily stow away?
  • Are you a full-time cruiser and your dinghy is your car?

We use our dinghy as our car and love the fact that it fits into our lifestyle so well. We have had a few different kinds of dinghies that didn’t fit our needs perfectly, but finally, we have found what we think is the Best Dinghy for Cruising.

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Is Your Tender Your Car?

If you are a full-time cruiser and your dingy is your car how and where do you cruise?

How will you use your dingyThings to think about Add-on’s you might want to buy
Are you close to dinghy docks that are easy to tie up toWhere and how will you lock up your dinghyBuy yourself a safety cable and a stainless steel lock that won’t rust
Are you in remote places Will you have to beach your dinghyA good set of dinghy wheels takes most of the effort out of beaching a dinghy especially on steep beaches
Are you a diverYou will need a bigger dinghy with a hard flat floor for dive gear
You will need a larger engine to get to far away dive sites
It is a great idea to get a portable pump to get the water out of the dinghy as it’s amazing how much water each diver or snorkeller climbing into the dinghy with their gear brings with them
Are you adventurous and you love going on long exploration dinghy tripsYou may need a larger engine to cover the distance get to remote spots easily especially when going up a river with significant currentAre you going to use your dinghy after dark, you will need lights for it. In certain parts of the world, dinghy lights are required by law. A portable headlamp does not meet this requirement
How close is the closest provisioningWhen provisioning for long passages or an extended trip. You will have to haul an incredible amount of groceries with you. A bigger engine will help to ‘Get provisioning back to the boat’
Are there fuel docks availableDo you need the space to carry diesel jugsYou may need a bigger engine for hauling diesel
Do you have a water makerHow close is the water stationYou may need a bigger engine for hauling water jugs
Is your dinghy your car and how will you use it?
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How Many People Will Be On Your Dinghy?

How many people are typically going to be on your dinghy at one time? If you will be carrying more than two people or heavy loads or if you want to do water sports with your dinghy you are going to want a bigger engine size, at least 15hp.

  • Do you have kids? Remember, kids, come with friends so add a few extra spots.
  • Do you want to ski, skirf, or tube with your dinghy?
  • Do you have frequent guests? How many at a time?
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Are you planning on using your dinghy for water sports? You may need a bigger engine if you are.
My son being pulled by our 9.8hp engine behind our OC Tender.

What Size Outboard Do You Want?

It is very important to decide on the size of the outboard you will be using. Dinghies have a restriction as to the maximum outboard you can use. If you want to kill a dinghy, put too big an outboard on it. We have frequently seen cruisers break their back transom off the tender by putting a huge outboard on it.

Too big of an engine also makes hauling the dinghy up each night difficult not to mention having to pull the dinghy up a beach.

The most common size engines cruisers use for dinghies other than center console tenders is between 2hp to 15hp with the occasional cruiser using 20hp. 10hp (9.8/ 9.9 hp) will be the most common outboard size you will see on cruising boats with 15hp engines on large ribs a close second.

Another thought with having too big of an engine is, how will the dinghy handle when operated by one person especially if the driver is a child.

When we first started cruising we had a dinghy with a 20hp motor on it. It was great but always way to heavy to deal with.

My husband and I both came back from trips to the shore and said that the dinghy nearly got away from us when taking off. I never felt comfortable with my son driving the tender with such a beast of an engine. When the time came that my daughter to start driving the dinghy we sold the big 20hp and bought a 9,8hp.

What Climate Will You Be Cruising In?

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Friends with PVC dinghies need to pump them up before leaving the beach.
  • In cooler climates, PVC dingies are good enough
  • In tropical climates, PVC dinghies don’t last. A few years is the most you will get out of a PVC dinghy in the tropics. Hyperlon is a much better option

If you decide on an inflatable dinghy and are going to be cruising in tropical climates, it is worth thinking about getting chaps for your dinghy. Chaps protect your dinghy from the sun and increase its lifespan.

We actually once saw a cruiser put sunscreen on his dinghy before he left on his Pacific crossing. He was adamant that it worked, I’m not so sure.

What is your Budgeting Plan?

  • Do you want to buy used or new?
  • Do you want to buy a cheaper dinghy with the plan to replace it?
  • Do you want to buy an expensive dinghy and keep it for longer?

I hope this is helpful and gives you some guidance or things to think about when going to buy the perfect dinghy for you. As cruisers, we spend about 97% of our time on anchor. When at anchor you will use your dinghy most days. Buying the right dinghy is as important as buying the right boat. If you hate your dinghy you will most likely miss out on adventures because you won’t want to use the dinghy and will decide against far-off snorkeling spots or visiting a distant Motu.

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Hi, I’m Nic! Our Family of four have been out cruising since 2016. We have sailed about 15,000nm, almost halfway around the world. We sold everything, took the leap of faith, and bought a 10-year-old Lagoon 380 ex-charter catamaran. We’ve fixed every system on the boat, often more than once. Cruising has been such a wonderful, positive experience for our family that I want to share my tips to help you Become a Cruiser.

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