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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!