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While making preparations to head out cruising, I know there are a great many people who do not understand just how important having a suitable tender will be once they’re out on the water. A vessel’s tender, the dinghy, is literally your link to shore. Because there are frequently no docks with which to land the mother ship, without a functioning tender, you are really stuck when you need to get to land to purchase provisions, seek entertainment or in more dire circumstances, medical care. But having a functioning dinghy, one that merely floats, is honestly not enough. Yes, you can get by with a little rowing dinghy, many have for centuries. Or you could get by with a tiny inflatable with a 4 HP outboard engine, we sure tried to when we first set out. In our opinion though, these are not ideal.

Going out to buy a dinghy today? Here is what we suggest:

  • A Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) of suitable size. This is, as the name suggests, an inflatable boat with a hard bottom, typically made of fiberglass but in some cases, aluminum. Some thought needs to go into how you will carry this boat. Do you have davits, as we do, to raise it out of the water? Will you tow it? Do you hope to store it on the foredeck? This will determine the maximum size that you can have. In our case, we can not fit a dinghy any larger than 8-9′ in between the hulls on our catamaran. It would not have been nice had we gone out and purchased a much larger one only to find that we couldn’t properly raise it on the davits. Also, if the weight of the dinghy is an issue, be aware that they do make some that are quite a bit lighter than others.
  • The tubes on the dinghy must be made of Hypalon, not PVC. Apparently, PVC will not stand up to the tropical sun. We didn’t wait to find out as we ditched our PVC dinghy back in Florida.
  • The size of the tubes is also an issue. We never really noticed the difference until we compared the size of the tubes on our RIB to those on our friends’. Larger tubes equals greater freeboard and thus a drier ride. In this case, bigger is better.
  • Now an important part… the outboard engine. Unless you have a very large dinghy, often seen only on huge cats or 60+’ monohulls, I would purchase a Yamaha 15 HP 2-stroke engine.
    • Why Yamaha? This is the standard here in the Caribbean and thus parts are plentiful. And they work!
    • Why 2-stroke? They are significantly lighter and smaller than their 4-stroke brothers. I know this becomes a bit of a problem for those in the US who can no longer purchase 2-strokes (we were lucky and bought one of only two remaining 9.9s in the store in Florida). They are available for a reasonable price in Nassau though (and points south) so if you’re heading this way, I would actually wait to make that purchase if you can’t find one back home.
    • Why 15 HP? Simply, you NEED an engine large enough to get you on plane when you want to go somewhere. With the crappy dinghy we started cruising with, I never even knew what being on plane meant. Now that we have a 9.9, Rebecca and I can get on plane easily in our little dinghy. In fact, it’s quite quick. With a third person in the dinghy though, it gets tougher. If that third person weighs more than 200 lbs, getting on plane just doesn’t happen. This is such a huge deal that when making runs that normally take us 10 minutes or so on plane, we would rather make two separate trips rather than plowing through the water slowly with three people on board (we did this several times last week). If the trip was going to be longer than 10 minutes, we might seek alliterate methods of transport. Getting on plane is not just a speed issue, it also keeps you drier. Because the 15 HP and the 9.9 are virtually the same size and weight, if we had to make the purchase all over again, we would get a 15 HP, even though it would be a bit oversized for our small RIB. The added horsepower would be welcome with the additional passenger(s).

There are often great distances that need to be covered in the tender (Stocking Island to Georgetown in the Exumas is just one example) and without a suitable tender/engine combination, you had better don full rain gear before setting out.

The above is just one couple’s opinion. If you want to read someone else say essentially the same thing (just for reinforcement), check out the Frugal Retirement Living website.

Although I’m smiling in this pic, I wasn’t really happy with the dinghy/engine combo shown here. In other words, don’t buy this… buy what I described above!


  1. Another great, educational post. I love to read what you guys have bought – and then see what did/didn’t work.


  2. Fantastic info! Thanks!

  3. the 9.9 & 15 are the same engine just change the jets to the ones that are in the 15

    • Although I have heard something similar I suspect that there is a bit more to it than that.

      • Mike, Parts Book list says Carberator and propeller show different part #’s. My experience in Caribbean is a new dingy powerplant replacement every 4 years ( Corrosion and Electolysisi )or so for those not mechanically inclined….( Provided someone does not ‘Borrow’ it from you before that time ). Keep up the Great Posts and Pictures……JmG

  4. Is there a dominant brand of tender you see in the caribbean? AB, Nautilus, etc? Thanks for the heads up on the Yamaha brand down south. You’re my morning coffee time most every morning! You do a terrific job!

    • Thanks MArk.

      I think Caribe and AB are very popular. If money was no object and we were buying new, I think I would go for one of those.

  5. Having bought our dinghy & 4-stroke engine in the US over a year before leaving to go cruising, I can only second your blog post.

    A few illumination points.

    2-stroke is the standard! When I took our 4-stroke to be repaired (at a HUGE Yamaha dealer, BTW), it took multiple trips to get the problem solved AND there were lengthy delays in getting parts, keeping the big boat in a somewhat undesirable port for way longer than desired.

    Bigger tubes are better – yup, size DOES matter. Therefore, don’t dismiss length. If it fits, a longer waterline offers a better ride.

    There is a fine line between the total dinghy/engine weight and the load carrying ability of the main ship and the davits, so here is where you might have to make some compromises. One of those might be giving up some money to beef up the davits.

    Also consider developing a “system” that lets you rest the dinghy on chocks. This allows you to use gravity to help secure the dink. It certainly won’t work with all boats, especially those with a short back deck and a low bridgedeck clearance.

    Finally Mike, I noticed you didn’t address the standing v. sitting controversy – another post perhaps?

    Fair Winds,

    • Nice comments Mike. Thank you. It’s also funny that you brought up the standing/sitting thing. That is definitely fodder for a future post. PS: we are sitters.

    • And yes, 2 strokes are the standard. I have heard that it is very hard to get someone to even work on a 4 stroke here. Perhaps that will change, I don’t know.

  6. I don’t have much time in RIBs, Mike. But I do agree that if you’re going that route, large-diameter Hypalon tubes are the way to go. (To be honest, I prefer fully rigid hulls.)

    If a two stroke 9.9 is out of warranty, it might not be too hard to convert it to a 15…. they’re usually the exact same engine, except the 15 will have a larger diameter carb and/or a different reed valve plate, plus a few tweaks to the throttle/timing linkage. It’s vastly cheaper to design and build one 15 hp motor, and de-tune a few of them for the 10-horse market, than it is to design and build two different motors.

    • Our 9.9 was out effectively out of warrantee as soon as we left the US. By that I mean that the warrantee is only good in the US and we’re not taking it back there.

  7. Mike,

    How are those LED running lights that you purchased for your dinghy working out? Would you still recomend them ?

    Cheers !

    • Working great. But…

      I have come to realize that the red/green/white light combo on the version that we purchased is really representative of a sailboat (not under power), not a dinghy under power. I think I would just get the all-round white version if I were to do it again.

      Regardless, it lights up great and people can see us. That’s all I care about down here.

  8. In Australia aluminium dinghy’s (“tinny’s”) have always been popular for cruisers, in fact we are big fans. They are much cheaper but don’t fit in well with the flash, shiny boats. We have just this week purchased a second hand RIB aluminium base (fibreglass is too heavy), and are having a reputable repairer fit new tubes. We decided on PVC tubes as Hypalon is TWICE the price, but we have having a cover made which will be on all the time from day one. We figured it would last well if covered all the time, and the dinghy could be stolen at any time. We also intend to purchase a 15hp 2 stroke, maybe not a Yamaha, (we liked our Tohatsu), once again due to the high cost compared to other brands. When we cruised for 7 years the dinghy was pulled up every single night, for a quiet night, drainage if it rained, a quick getaway from an anchorage and security.

    • One of the lighter models that I was referring to has an aluminum bottom instead of fiberglass. The light weight would be nice for us!

      We would also like to have some dinghy “chaps” made for ours. In fact, we were just speaking with a friend about that very thing this afternoon.

      I also agree that pulling it up each night is a good habit to get into, for the reasons you mentioned and for security. We raise ours in the davits AND lock it to the boat.

  9. This is almost a religion topic… OK, where do I start. First, it really depends on what your intended use is to find the perfect dinghy. Lets start with the dinghy and then move to the motor.
    First: Don’t consider anything made of PVC for an inflatable like Mike suggests. Ignore the marketing and low price, PVC = Crap. Not even good for a pool toy. You officially have been warned.

    For ZTC, a full time cruiser on a large boat the RIB with a 10HP+ may be best. Some would disagree (to be fair, most would agree if money wasn’t an issue). Lets talk about the downsides, the RIB is a big time target to thieves. I hope you are not a target but most long term cruisers eventually are. (Talk about security Mike)

    On my 27′ sloop that I hope to sail south to meet ZTC for vacation next year a RIB is just not possible. I won’t/can’t put a dinghy on the foredeck, so I am limited to folding, rollup etc. I know, not the best tender but anything towed behind the boat is the worst possible choice. For my use, the perfect dinghy is… one that can share the 3.5 hp motor that powers the boat, must be lightweight, durable, easy to deploy, etc, etc, etc…. To those readers who think I sail a toy boat, this model boat is a regular entry in the Transpac.

    Now the motor….
    Are the Yamaha 2 cycles the same as their 4 cycles? By that I mean, small 4 cycle Yamahas are made by Tohatsu, and also sold under the Mercury label. I have an older 2 cycle Mercury and it seems to be the same as the Yamaha. Don’t pay extra for a label, do some research. The 4 cycle engines seem to be more fuel efficient, is that a factor? Final thought, I am about to get a 2hp 4 cycle honda. The reason… it weighs only 28 lbs. Less is more sometimes.

    Irene just missed me,

    • First, I hope you do sail south and meet up with us!

      Second, your points are all valid. What I posted was our “opinion.” I would also love to have an additional small 2 HP engine that I could keep on the rail and use as a backup. If the situation arose that we only needed the engine on the dinghy for 1 short trip to shore, we could use it instead of deploying the larger, heavier 9.9 (we keep it on the rail for passages).

      2-stroke vs 4-stroke? I have virtually no knowledge of the mechanics of these things but I have been told that the 4 strokes are more sensitive to fuel issues. My experience leeds me to believe this is true as our Tohatsu 4-stroke was plagued with issues in the US (Ethanol?) while our Yamaha never gives us issues (knock on wood).

  10. Hi guys, i would just like to make a comment on the 2 stroke vs 4 stroke topic. I am not a qualified mechanic because i didnt finish my aprenticeship at the time but i worked a couple of years in car shops and a couple in bike shops and have basically made all my repairs myself from motorbikes when i was a kid to the truck i own now.. Basically if a mechanic cant fix a 4 stroke over a 2 he isnt a mechanic and i wouldnt leave my motor with him. The only real difference is the head which contains the valves and a cam. As for fuel, unless u cant get oil to mix with your fuel the fuel usage isnt worth worrying about. In my experience a 2 stroke engine is more prone to making mistakes with.. Too much oil/not enough and u gum your plug/flooding it etc but 4 strokes have more moving parts and a tad more torque.. So if i was going to buy an engine i would buy the one with the most parts and best reputation for reliabilty.. Good luck out there!

    • Hi J

      I am less qualified to speak than you perhaps but your comments contradict much of what I have heard.

      Two strokes are lighter which is a big advantage. Contrary to what you just wrote, I have heard that they have MORE torque than their 4-stroke cousins and as far as carbs go, are LESS likely to get gummed up.

      People should take that for what it’s worth but we intend to buy another 2 stoke when the time comes.

  11. Hi Jay,just goggled ‘hard cruising tenders’ to see what would come up.your blog popped up..great comments! We have just finished a 6 year circumnavigation and come home to NZ.After leaving witha 9ft rib I believe its time for the next generation and have set out to give it a shot. please check our blog,would like to hear your comments ….finished weight apporox 45 pounds ..if its not that we will walk away…sick of inflatable repairs and grovelling a heavy RIB up a beach
    google ; catamaran moonwalker and oc tenders

    cheers Russ

    • Hi Russ

      Not sure if this comment was directed to me or one of the commenters above (Jay). Either way, I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Good luck.

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