The Great Dinghy Debate


There are as many types of dinghies as there are types of big boats. It seems every cruiser has their own idea as to what type of dinghy is the best. Different lifestyles call for different approaches when selecting your tender. If you never leave the dock it doesn’t much matter. If you live at anchor, or travel extensively, it matters a lot.
We prefer a ten foot RIB (rigid inflatable boat) with a 9.9 Mercury 2-stroke outboard. We can get up on plane easily and run 20 mph for long distance trips to the beach. It’s nice to be able to scoot in a hurry when trying to outrace those summer afternoon thunderstorms, or take a two mile run down to Cabbage Key. Inflatables are the most common by far amongst cruisers.

Here’s out boat. It’s also our station wagon, grocery getter and water taxi.

It’s a West Marine brand. I’ve taken an unofficial count here in Boot Key Harbor, and while in other anchorages. West Marine sells more dinghies to cruisers than any other brand. Why is that? They are the least expensive on the market for one. They are also readily available. There is a West Marine store nearby any place that boats gather in great numbers. No freight to pay. No wait for shipping. This is not to say that they are a high quality product, but we’ve been satisfied with ours so far. A good quality brand-named RIB will cost double what our cheapo West model cost. Avon, Apex, IAB, Caribe, etc., all make a nice little boat that will last for many years. Be willing to pay $3500 or more, not counting the motor.

Other inflatables come with a blow-up floor, or slatted wood or aluminum floors. This gives one the ability to “roll up” the dinghy for storage/stowage.

On the other hand, any boaters choose non-inflatable boats made of wood, fiberglass, or plastic. Sizes range from little six-foot rowing dinks to 12 or even 14 foot skiffs and Whalers. These are owned mostly by the people who’ve gotten sick of the leaks and repairs common to inflatables. Hard dinghy owners like to call soft dinghies, “deflatables.”





Motor sizes range from 2 hp on up to 40 hp. Some don’t have motors at all. Quite a few cruisers still row with oars back and forth to the dock. Many times for us, this simply is not an option. You can’t row in the current of Key West for example. I’d never attempt to row 3 miles to get to a beach.

Speaking of outboard motors, there are several differing schools of thought. Newer small 4-strokes in the 2 to 4 hp range are very light compared to my 9.9. They are easier to handle by far. Older couples seem to prefer the little motors. The downside is that they are very slow, and can even be dangerous in high winds or strong current. I remove our outboard when we travel so I can stow the dinghy. It’s hard work. Some boats have davits to lift the dinghy up, so the extra weight isn’t a concern. Some even have cranes! Those are the boats that can handle the bigger tenders like Whalers and skiffs. Other options are electric motors and even propane powered models.

Yet another type available, and we see these all over, are the fold-up boats:

I don’t understand the appeal, personally. I guess it’s another way to avoid the punctures and foot pumps that go along with deflatable ownership.

There is also the kayak/canoe option:
They are much easier to operate than rowing with oars. Easy to stow aboard too. Downside is that you can’t haul a lot of groceries or jerry jugs in them.

Anything that floats can be used as a dinghy. We’ve seen a bunch of different types and styles. Our favorite oddball tender is a paddle boat. It’s owner has well muscled legs.

Sooooooo . . . what do you have, and why did you select it?

9 thoughts on “The Great Dinghy Debate

  1. Ty Thurman

    Carolina skiff J12 with a 15 horse Honda 4 stroke. Why? Because it was cheap used. Beat up but big enough for guests, our dog, and plenty of freight when needed.

  2. sjreeves

    We towed a 11 ft Boston Whaler. No problems. We will tow a 18 ft Center Console this year. Whaler is nice but not for big water to fish and stuff. The Whaler is for sale. Had a WM Zodiac for 19 years on sailboat. Had it replaced on warranty 5 times for defects.

  3. sjreeves

    We towed a 11 ft Boston Whaler all over the Keys with no problems. Very tough boat. Very safe stable boat. But too small to fish out of offshore. It is for sale now. We will tow an 18 ft Center console fishing boat next season. We had a WM zodiac for 19 years on sailboat and replaced it 5 times for defects under warranty.

  4. George Balfour

    Had an Achilles 10.3 rib with a Honda 20hp 4 stroke with electric start and electric tilt, all way too heavy. Now have a 9.5 AB rib with 9.9 Yamaha 4 stroke. About have the weight of the original set up.

  5. Migrainegirl

    We have not yet made the move to boat life (but we are well into the planning!) so we don’t have a dingy. We have several pets -a dog and cats – that will be making the move with us and I’m concerned about dingys and claws. How well do the inflatables hold up under clawed feet?

  6. John

    Nouverania made of hypelon, with a two stroke 15h evinrude. I use my boom as a crane for it.
    It was cheap and hardly used. I also wanted to go fast and far if needed, and carry stuff while doing it.

  7. David landsman

    Absolutely the best dinghy ive had is a jolly boat which is now known as boss boats. it has all the benefits of a rubber boat and all the benfits of a hard boat. I crusied wiith an 10’6 that I carried on davits.I carried 2 motors one was a 25hp for long distances (top speed 32 knts gps verified) and a 3.3 for short hops.
    As everything in crusiing there are compromises. It took me almost an hour to rig it for passages , and I had to watch extra while docking. We also had survival gear stowed in one of the storage compartments since it was going to be used as our lifeboat, it is unsinkable of course. I am now traveling with an 8’6 and am looking for a 2 stroke 9.9. A lot of mechanic down island were not so up on 4 stroke motors. Keep your luck boxes filled and fair winds


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