Bringing a friend: Solving the dinghy storage dilemma

From Ocean Navigator #143
January / February 2005
Is it possible to go cruising without a dinghy? The answer from most cruisers is an emphatic no. The value and safety in carrying a dinghy is undeniable. Although their many uses are discussed frequently within the cruising community, it’s hard to imagine putting to sea without one. Everything from such mundane tasks as ferrying groceries, fuel and crewmembers to and from shore to more exciting undertakings like transporting a kedge anchor, being filled with seawater for ballasting operations during a grounding or as primary or secondary lifeboat (the Robertsons of Survive the Savage Sea fame initially used their hard dinghy as a slaughterhouse and then as a lifeboat when their inflatable life raft failed after 17 days at sea). The universal agreement among cruisers regarding a dinghy’s attributes appears to end, however, with the question of how to carry that dinghy.

Whether on a mooring in a crowded harbor or anchored in a remote cove, a voyager depends on his or her trusty tender for getting ashore.
   Image Credit: Steve C. D’Antonio

Depending on what type of dinghy you have – a hard traditional, inflatable, or a composite of the two, the rigid-bottomed inflatable boat (RIB) – stowing often presents one of the more perplexing challenges a cruiser faces. Unless you are prepared to deflate your non-rigid inflatable – stowing it in the lazarette, sail locker or lashed on deck – you are faced with finding a place for it where it will be out of the crew’s way and out of harm’s way, while remaining accessible. For hard dinghies, unless it can be disassembled or nested, even this option is unavailable.

Without broaching the delicate and often controversial subject of hard vs. inflatable, it’s safe to say they share many of the same difficulties where stowage is concerned. Looking at the various possibilities and techniques used by cruisers may help you decide what will work best for you.

On deck: the traditionalist’s approach

I took a cruise to Newfoundland with a friend several years ago aboard his 47-foot double-ended cutter-rigged sloop. He was the living embodiment of the words traditional and conservative (he wore a captain’s crush cap, had an autopilot but never used it, and his onboard library rivaled many maritime book stores). His theory was: A boat is only ready to put to sea when it can be inverted and shaken without any equipment or gear coming loose. Consequently, his 9-foot dinghy remained lashed securely on deck until the anchor was set. For any mother-ship voyage longer than a move across the harbor, the dinghy was stowed on deck and never towed.

There are several advantages to the on-deck stowage system. The dinghy is as safe and secure as it possibly can be. For the properly stowed and lashed on-deck dinghy, heavy weather poses little threat. In most cases, to reduce the risk of damage, it’s best to stow an on-deck dinghy in the inverted position. Large, boarding seas are less likely to inundate and damage a dinghy stowed this way.

Image Credit: Steve C. D’Antonio

This dinghy, stored on the foredeck of a 36-footer, is not secured well enough for sea duty and access to the deck hatch is impeded.

Some voyagers, particularly those on large vessels fitted with dedicated dinghy decks, will store a dinghy in the upright position and then cover it with canvas. This makes it easier to launch and stow the dinghy, and gear may be stowed aboard. In this configuration, the dinghy may be set up as an auxiliary lifeboat, with survival gear, water and the like securely stored aboard and under cover. Although not float free, it can be launched from a sinking vessel with less difficulty than dinghies stowed in the inverted position. However, unless the dinghy is stowed high enough to be immune from boarding seas – not a practical possibility except aboard the largest cruising vessels – upright storage makes for a higher profile, reducing visibility and increasing windage and susceptibility to damage from wind and wave.

The drawbacks to on-deck storage have been faced by nearly every cruiser who has prepared a vessel for an ocean passage and opted for this dinghy transport method. On-deck stowage occupies valuable real estate, often obstructs the helmsman’s view, and limits or nullifies completely the use of one or more hatches (the cutter I sailed to Newfoundland was equipped with a beautiful and functional skylight, which was completely covered by the inverted dinghy). This may be more than just a nuisance; these hatches often provide the only means of escape in the event of a rapid downflooding, during a collision or knockdown, for instance.

By Ocean Navigator