Tips for Choosing a Dinghy

Dinghies are those under-appreciated vessels people use as a “sidekick boat” to their main boat. The dinghy is typically reserved for short commutes and supply runs, a “chore boat”, so to speak.

Dinghy buying tips

What makes a boat a dinghy carries a broad definition, but for the purposes of this article, we’ll just define it as a small commuter boat. Deciding which dinghy works best largely depends on how you use it. Here are some tips for choosing a dinghy that’s right for you.

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Types of Dinghies

Dinghies fall into two main categories: inflatable boats and hard boats. There's a variety of subcategories as well, but in the interest of keeping things simple, we’ll focus only on the main two categories. 

Inflatable Dinghies

The most popular choice for dinghies is the RIB (rigid inflatable boat), which has inflatable pontoons and a hard structured hull, typically made of fiberglass. Inflatable boats are easy to board, and efficient for transporting supplies as well as people. 

Dinghy buying tips inflatable dinghy

They’re popular among fisherman and divers, and RIBs are renowned for their puncture-resistant quality. Inflatable boats can be RIBs or SIBs (soft inflatable boats). Both have inflatable pontoons that can be deflated, but the latter is more lightweight and less resistant to punctures, while the former requires a dedicated storage space because it can’t be rolled up. 

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SIBs are easier to transport and store, but are at higher risk of getting punctured by rocks or other jagged objects. They can also reach high speeds with smaller outboard engines, which makes them more affordable. One of the reasons inflatables — rigid or soft — are so popular is because both have high buoyancy, which makes them almost impossible to sink. 

Hard Dinghies

Simply put, a hard dinghy is any small boat made of plastic, hardwood, aluminum, fiberglass, plywood or PVC with no inflatable components. 

Buying a dinghy tips hard dinghy

Hard dinghies are ideal for short commutes in calmer water conditions. They typically have lower carrying capacity and stability than inflatables, and can be anything from a small sailboat to a rowboat, meaning they don’t necessarily need to be powered by a motor. 

However, hard dinghy hull designs can have very limited space, which can make transporting supplies like groceries and portable fuel tanks a challenge. Storage when not in use can also be an issue, as unlike inflatables they obviously can’t be deflated, so you’ll need a dedicated space for one as well. 

Dinghy Capacity

One of the most important things to consider is how much cargo and passenger capacity a dinghy has. In other words, you need to know what you’re going to use it for (supply runs, fishing trips, etc.), and factor in the storage and maximum weight capacity of the boat for transporting people and goods. 

Dinghy boat buying tips

If you're mostly going to use the dinghy as your “side boat” for running errands by yourself, you still need to think about how you’re going to haul it. Will you need and be able to lift it by yourself? Can your primary boat handle towing and storing a large dinghy? And even if it’s just for you, will the dinghy be able to handle the weight of cargo, the outboard engine and your body? All important factors to consider when choosing the size of your dinghy. Aim for a dinghy that has enough extra room for provisions, recreational gear, luggage, passengers, and anything else you think might get transported on it, plus safety and ease of use.

Choosing a dinghy tips towing

Dinghy Features and Extras

Even if it’s just a commuter boat, consider what features you want your dinghy to have. For example, if you plan on using it for trips not limited to just going back and forth from your boat to shore, you might want a dinghy with a driver’s console and a plush seat.

Boat dinghy buying tips extra features

You’ll also want to consider lockable storage space for valuables for when you leave the dinghy unattended. Storage space should also be available to accommodate personal flotation devices and a small anchor

If you plan on using your dinghy at night, you’ll want one with an integrated lighting system. And even a dinghy should have a VHF radio for emergencies, as well as a dinghy repair kit and a first-aid kit. For protection when it’s not in use, consider whether the dinghy also comes with a cover, has a warranty, and can be insured, as dinghies are easy targets for boat theft and outboard theft

Tips for choosing the right dinghy

Outboard Motors For Dinghies

Finding a suitable outboard engine for a dinghy can be a challenge if it doesn’t already come equipped with one. You’ll want a motor with enough power to get the dinghy on plane, but small enough to transport easily

Boat dinghy buying tips outboard

When it comes to horsepower, the most popular outboards for dinghies are between 6HP and 15HP. Even a small 3HP could probably cut it if you only intend on using your dinghy for puttering around. If your dinghy doesn’t already come equipped with an outboard, you’ll have to know the manufacturer’s maximum rating (max horsepower and/or max weight). Too much power can overturn a dinghy, so no matter how badly you want a bigger, faster engine, it’s important not to exceed those guidelines.

If you plan on using the dinghy only to commute to and from the shore, a smaller outboard should do just fine. However, a dinghy used for longer distances in rough conditions requires a more powerful outboard, provided it doesn’t exceed the maximum outboard rating. Some dinghies can handle larger, more powerful engines, but keep in mind that it’ll consume more fuel and add extra weight to the boat. 

New vs Used Dinghies

While dinghies are generally affordable, that doesn’t mean you need to go out and buy a brand new one. However, if you’re going to go with a used one, keep in mind that general wear-and tear can lead to handles falling off, seams coming unglued on inflatable boats, and also used outboard motor wear.

Dinghy buying tips new vs used

When making any major purchase, do your research by reading reviews and checking the forums to get informed about what you’re getting yourself into. Find out what problems certain manufacturer’s boats experience, and of course find out if the dinghy and/or its outboard are backed by a warranty.

Other Factors to Consider

  • Storage: Do you have enough storage space on your boat and/or on land to put away your dinghy when it’s not in use?
  • Transportation: Do you have an adequate towing vehicle and/or davits to get your dinghy in and out of the water? 
  • Beaching: Will you be able to beach your dinghy on sharp rocky or shelly shores without the hull getting punctured or severely damaged? 
  • Safety Equipment: Will you have enough room on your dinghy for extra personal flotation devices in case of an emergency?

How to choose a dinghy

At this point, you get the point: choose wisely when it comes to the size, weight and capabilities before investing in a dinghy. Do your research, keep safety and transportation in mind and of course, buy something that suits your budget in both sticker price and future maintenance and repairs