When using a large vessel, a dinghy can be an essential part of a good trip. From a safety standpoint, it is a lifeboat. When moored at anchor, it becomes transportation to and from land. When moored at a marina, it is a fun way for you and your crew to explore. However, an improperly stored dinghy can quickly become a missing dinghy when you are underway. There are a number of ways to store a dinghy. Listed here are some of the most common practices and the pros and cons of each.
For boats that are not large enough to have a designated dinghy berth, there are three main locations that a dinghy can be kept: atop the deck or house, behind the boat on the swim step, and towed behind the vessel. The size and layout of the vessel itself will be the thing most likely to decide the best location for you, without making modifications to your boat. The right location should be dictated by choosing a place that does not limit access to critical areas of your boat, that reduces aerodynamic drag as little as possible, and one that provides safe and easy access for storage and usage.
One of the easiest places to store a dinghy is on top of the boat. This may mean atop the house or sitting on the bow, stern, or side. This is one of the most common locations on larger boats to keep a dinghy, but it requires several key factors to be a sensible place. First, you need space. To store a dinghy on top, you need a large enough area, and this place must be out of the way of normal boat use. There may be enough storage room on the bow of an express cruiser, but if it blocks your access to the anchor, you have cut yourself off from the ability to safely moor. The same rule applies on side rails and anywhere atop a sailboat, where access to the deck is essential. The top of a house without a flybridge is a good option for access, as long as you are capable of getting the dinghy on and off the boat safely. This is a popular method of storing not only a dinghy but also kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. As long as you have a way to safely remove the boat and board it later, it can be one of the most secure ways of keeping a dinghy on your boat.
For boats with inboard motors and a swim step on the transom (the horizontal back/stern area of the boat), this ledge can be a great, out-of-the-way place to keep a dinghy. The swim step is one of the most popular places for boats that fit this qualification, as the swim step is not a safe place to be while underway, and it is an easy place to tie off and board a dinghy once you are at anchor. Most dinghies stored here are tipped on their sides to save space, and care must be taken to make sure that they are tied well and placed in an aerodynamic location to reduce drag. This is also an easy location to store a dinghy davit to assist with securing and loading.
If your vessel does not have a good place on top or back to store a dinghy, all is not lost. In calmer water and at lower speeds, they can be towed behind your boat at a short distance. This is seen most commonly with sailboats, though it can be done with a powerboat at low cruising speed as well. There is a more aerodynamic drag to this option, and the boat risks being flipped in choppy seas and at high speeds. However, if you are careful, towing behind can be a great way to keep the option of bringing a smaller boat on your journey.
There are three main components to security when it comes to attaching another boat that all boaters should ask each time they go out. The questions are:
One great way to keep a boat stored on the top, side, or back of a larger boat is a dinghy davit. These are an arm-and-pulley system that assists with both the storage and the safe loading of a dinghy. They come in several styles, from a single-arm that swings out over the water, to a pair of arms that secure the bow and stern over the water, to a full crane that extends to deploy the boat from the top of the larger vessel. The correct version for you will depend on the type of dinghy you have (hard versus inflatable, and sometimes the brand), the location where you want to store the dinghy, the size of your boat, and the way that the storage affects your speed and drag while underway. Not all davit types will work for all vessels. Some are designed for the hard top of a house or a swim step, and will not work on boats that lack these features. Others need the beam to be a certain width to work. For storage, some dinghy davits will suspend the boat on their arm or arms, while others will help strap the dinghy against your boat, and will require additional attachment points to be installed on your boat. Unless your boat comes standard with a davit, this will be a somewhat permanent add-on that you must buy and have installed. They are one of the simplest ways to board a dinghy, however, as they are designed to keep it secure even while in the water.
A less permanent storage method for a dinghy is to strap it down to the boat with rope or ratchet straps. Cleats and rails work as great attachment points, as long as you remember to consider accessibility and have enough room to safely tie your boat off with the dinghy attached. If you are using a tie-down system, it is best to keep the dinghy on top of your boat either upside down or on its side. The flatter the dinghy can be strapped to the boat, the more secure it will be, and the less likely to fly away during high winds or speeds. Choosing a tie-down system may mean rigging a system of lines to keep your dinghy securely attached while boarding.
One common use for a dinghy is as a life raft in case of emergencies. Because of this, not only is it common to store propulsion devices like small motors or oars on the dinghy but a small survival pack as well. This often has a little bit of food, water, a solar blanket, and flares. This is a great practice, particularly for longer journeys, but it does no good if the dinghy is not packed in a way that will keep things secure inside. (Do not forget to update these items when they expire, and keep the motor on the dinghy tuned, even if you never use it). Oars should be securely strapped against the seats or the sides. Waves and the process of securing and releasing the dinghy can release the oars if they are not properly strapped. The emergency bag should be small enough that it can be kept in a place where those using the dinghy for fun will not find it annoying and remove it for play. Strapping it securely to the bottom of a seat is one great way to keep it safe and out of everyone’s way. If the dinghy is secured on its side or right side up, a taut cover is an important way to not only keep it protected from water and reduce wind drag but to keep from losing parts on the rare occasions that oars or safety items do come loose.
Dinghies can be a fun and rewarding way to expand the use of your boat, particularly for long journeys or trips where you stay at anchor. Whether inflatable or hard, motorized or oar-driven, there are some wonderful ways to keep you and your passengers safe and exploring. Once you have discovered the best way to have a dinghy on your particular boat, enjoy exploring all of the new possibilities that having a dinghy will create. You can read about how to anchor a dinghy here.