Captain's Tips

Dinghy Buyers' Guide

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July 2014
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By
Bob
Arrington

Not since Elvis Presley crooned an ode to his dinghy, "Love My Tender," has the world shown so much affection to our lonesome ship-to-shore transportation. Okay, so maybe I didn't fully understand the lyrics to that song, but our often abused and rarely waxed little boats are a very important part of our cruising lives, so let's pay a little attention to them.

For most coastal cruising in this country, you could happily travel from marina to marina without the need for a dinghy. But if you occasionally enjoy the peace and quiet of an anchorage, or if you plan to cruise to the Bahamas or the Caribbean, you will need dependable transportation to shore, and that can take several forms.

KEEP IT SIMPLE

The first lesson: a dinghy should be easy to use. If it requires too much effort to launch and operate, you will be reluctant to anchor out as often as you might like. Ease of use is determined by several factors, such as whether you have to inflate the dinghy, whether you have to mount the engine, or whether you need three people and a crane to lower it into the water. Many of these choices will be determined by the size and configuration of your boat, but regardless of your boat's size or your budget, you can create a setup that works for you.

HOW DO I CARRY THEE?

Let me count the ways. If you do not have the option of a crane-style lifting device, you may be limited in terms of the size and weight of your dinghy, but that does not mean you are relegated to the equivalent of a rubber toy boat. There are efficient davit systems that can be mounted on medium-size swim platforms. These will accommodate a variety of dinghy styles, both rigid and inflatable, and will allow you to keep the engine mounted to the dinghy. There are also hydraulic lift systems to carry a tender off your stern, but your transom has to be capable of carrying the device, and your boat has to be heavy enough to stay balanced with that much weight aft of center. If your boat meets those requirements, the hydraulic lifts are about as easy to use as it gets.

Now let's address towing a dinghy. While I'll admit to having done this in protected waters, I generally do not consider it a safe practice. There are too many documented cases of towing components fouling up props and leaving boaters stranded. If you travel to the islands you will see many cruisers towing dinghies, but please use extreme caution if you choose to do this. Learn where and how to safely attach the dinghy to your boat, and if there is any threat of rough seas retrieve the dinghy immediately and secure it to the mother ship.

HULL STYLE AND MATERIAL

Dinghies come in a variety of hull styles and materials, including plank-reinforced fabric bottoms, high-pressure inflatable bottoms, and rigid hulls of fiberglass or aluminum. Generally speaking, the soft-bottom styles are limited in terms of what they can do and endure, even if they have a high-pressure floor with a keel. If you are using your dinghy to regularly transport serious loads of supplies and people, a rigid hull is al- most a must. And if you are cruising in the tropics where you are as likely to be landing on a beach as tying up at a dock, all the more reason you'll need a rigid bottom.

Rigid bottoms can be part of a fully rigid boat, but more frequently they are connected to an inflatable top tube and are called rigid inflatable boats, or RIBs for short. These have become the ubiquitous tender of choice for most cruisers. You get durability and stability from the rigid hull, and buoyancy and lightness from the inflatable top tubes. The hull bottoms are typically fiberglass or, recently, aluminum, which also makes the craft lighter. The inflatable tubes come in a range of materials, including PVC, coated neoprene, and Hypalon. Hypalon is widely considered the best material for the inflatable parts of dinghy. Neoprene is also excellent, but does not have good resistance to UV. Very high quality dinghies are Hypalon-coated neoprene. Besides the material used for the tubes, the size of the tubes is also important. The larger the tube, the more freeboard you get and the dryer your ride will be.

An additional hull feature to consider is whether you want a single or double floor. A double floor provides a flat bottom on which to stand, but it also adds weight. And you'll need to decide if you want enclosed spaces for cargo or fuel, or a steering-wheel console instead of a tiller.

SIZE MATTERS

Of course another important question: How big a dinghy should you buy? In part this will be determined by your available carrying space and how you intend to use the dinghy. A typical dinghy is 8 to 16 feet in length. Look for the required capacity plate to find out how many people and how much weight a particular dinghy can hold.

Engine size is the next important consideration. The horse power of your engine will go hand in hand with some of the other factors you've already determined, like the weight capacity of your lifting device and where on your boat you'll be carrying your dinghy. A heavy dinghy and engine carried too high on a vessel can affect the vessel's stability. The dinghy's capacity plate will also list the maximum engine size the dinghy is rated to carry. Some of the larger dinghies may have an optional internal jet drive. Many smaller dinghies are well suited to some of the new, environmentally friendly engines that run on electric or propane. The typical RIB has a V-shape planing hull that requires a certain amount of horse power to get it on a plane with a given load. For instance, a 9 horse power engine will get an 8-foot dinghy on plane carrying two average-size adults, but not four. Most anchorages and mooring fields are located within no-wake zones, so if you are strictly using your dinghy for shore transportation, there is probably no need for it to travel at warp speed. But if your dinghy will double as a recreational vehicle for pulling skiers and water toys, you'll need enough horse power to perform those tasks.

IT'S STILL A BOAT

Meaning that dinghies are subject to the same rules and regulations as our primary boats. They require registration, running lights, life jackets, and, if there is an enclosed fuel tank, a fire extinguisher.

SUNSCREEN

Like automobiles, dinghies' lives can be cut short by overexposure to sun and general abuse. Just as sunscreen protects our skin, there are polymers and waxes to protect dinghies from the harsh sun and salt water. A regular application of these coatings will prolong your dinghy's life, as will a good cover. Most modern dinghy engines have hose connections to run fresh water through the internal components -- doing this regularly, and especially before any prolonged lay-up, will extend engine life.

A well-suited dinghy can add freedom and adventure to our cruising lives. The more clearly you can define how you will use your dinghy, the more accurately you will be able to match your choice to your needs.

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Solo Boating: Reasons It's not Worth the Risk
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From the social gathering of fellow boaters at yacht clubs and marinas to enjoying the pleasure of friends and family aboard a boat for an outing, boating is better as a shared experience. Yet I have encountered over the years, several boaters who choose to own and operate a boat by themself.

In boating parlance, “short-handed” means you’re operating a boat with fewer crew than is ideal. “Single handed” takes that one step further by running the boat
by yourself.

Beginning in the early 19th century, a small group of intrepid boaters began challenging themselves with (mostly sailing) solo journeys at sea. The concept continues to this day in extreme solo sailing competitions taking place around the world, which require entrants to follow strict guidelines in safety protocols and equipment. The vessels are almost always monitored and tracked by shore-based individuals.

This is unfortunately not always the case with less trained individuals operating recreational boats alone. Too frequently, these boats are not set up for single-handed
operation, and they are used in congested, popular boating areas.

This article focuses on the single-handed operation of medium to large cruising boats traveling long distances, not small runabouts. This is not addressing lone boaters out on the river or bay in their center-console fishing for the afternoon or an individual moving a large boat a short distance from the slip to get fuel and back.

Make no mistake, the single-handed operation of any boat comes with added risk, and the prudent solo boater takes extra safety precautions when out alone on the water. When operating a small boat by yourself in local waters, always file a float plan letting someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return, and always wear a life jacket.

Take advantage of modern communication technology by wearing a device that alerts other boaters or emergency personnel if you fall overboard or need assistance,
and always use a kill device that disables your engine if you fall overboard.

Many cite the difficulty of docking a large boat by themselves, as being the biggest issue with single-handed operation, but frankly this should be the least of your
concerns. With lines and fenders pre-positioned and the help of dock staff or a slip neighbor, docking can be quite manageable. Add the use of external control stations, or better yet using a wireless remote controller, and this should be the easiest aspect of running a boat by yourself. Especially when single handed, never attempt to dock in high winds or strong currents.

Having covered thousands of miles and countless hours at the helm of cruising boats, I can speak from personal experience that regardless of how well you’re prepared or how capable you are, when out on the water you must expect the unexpected. It could be a blocked thru hull causing an engine to overheat, an engine belt breaking, a critical hose clamp failing, a fuel filter clogging, or accidentally picking something up and fouling the running gear. The list of things that draw your attention away from the helm goes on and on. Handling any of these alone on a boat becomes difficult and potentially dangerous.

Even if we set the unexpected aside for a moment, everyone has to eat, drink and relieve themselves. Yes you can prepare snacks or a meal ahead of time, yes some boats have day-heads at or near the helm, but these are still distractions from operating the boat. Just staying alert for hours when single-handing presents enough of a challenge.

Also consider the thorny legal issue of single-handing a boat. The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) is an agreement between member countries, making up what boaters commonly refer to as “rules-of-the-road.” Any citizen of a country agreeing to these rules is legally bound by them. This is plainly stated in Rule 1(a): “These Rules shall apply to all vessels upon the high seas and in all waters connected therewith navigable by seagoing vessels.” Rule 5 presents your next problem — single-handing a boat. Rule 5 states: “Every vessel must at all times keep a proper look-out by sight, hearing, and all available means to judge if risk of collision exists.” Under normal circumstances, when everything is running smoothly, it is challenging to maintain the “at all times” part of this rule, let alone when something on the boat needs your attention.

Granted, single-handed skippers seem to find a way to manage these issues more than they should and most get away with it, but if an accident occurs at sea, solo boaters open themselves up to significant liability. If a vessel’s master is found to have violated one or more of the COLREGS, they may be found liable for all costs of
rescue efforts. This could also include property damages, loss of income, salvage costs and environmental cleanup costs. In the event of a death, even criminal
gross negligence charges are not out of the realm.

Anyone considering single-handed operation should also be aware they may not be covered by their insurance when doing so. According to Scott Stusek of Gowrie Insurance in Annapolis, skippers operating boats single-handed will likely have violated at least one provision of their policy. All insurance companies have an implied warranty that the vessel is seaworthy. In tested legal cases, seaworthy is defined as the vessel being reasonably fit to perform the services and encounter the ordinary perils of the voyage contemplated, which means the vessel is operated by a suitable crew for the voyage intended.

Further on insurance, in a paper written by Steven Wight from the Law Offices of Wright, Constable & Skeen, Wight states, “Whether a boat owner knows it or not, there are two occasions upon which he will warrant to his marine insurer that his vessel and all of its appurtenances are in tight seaworthy condition. No words need to be spoken and nothing needs to be written for these warranties to be conveyed. The warranties of seaworthiness are implied into every hull insurance policy by longstanding principles of marine insurance law. It is important for boat owners to understand these warranties, the manner in which they are conveyed and the moments
they attach, since the penalty for breaching a warranty of seaworthiness is loss of coverage and avoidance of insurance claims.”

Wight explains, “Two of the times the warranties are implied are the moment the insured accepts the policy and the second is the moment the insured pulls away from the dock.” If a boater gets underway single-handed, the insurance company may be within its right to say the owner violated the warranty of seamanship by operating the vessel contrary to International Maritime Regulations. That is a big risk to take. It’s important to reiterate, your policy may not specifically preclude the practice of operating single-handed, but it doesn’t mean you would be covered in an accident.

In one instance, a couple owned a boat and had secured insurance with both names on the policy. One day one of them chose to move the boat solo while the other traveled to the destination by land. An electrical fire broke out on the boat, and the owner operating single-handed couldn’t maintain the helm and fight the fire. The boat ended up a total loss.

Based on the owner’s negligence to maintain a seaworthy vessel, the insurance company didn’t deny the claim; they instead refused coverage based on “had we known” you were going to do this, we would not have written the policy. In U.S. courts, the absolute warranty of seaworthiness extends to the appropriate number of crew for the voyage intended.

In another recent sad case, a single-handed skipper suffered a heart attack while operating his trawler in the Bahamas. His boat was found grounded on a desolate stretch of shoreline days later with the engines in gear. Many cruising trawlers have enough fuel to operate for days. What if this unfortunate boater had not been in a confined chain of islands, but rather in the open ocean? His boat motoring along for days with no one at the helm would have been a hazard to other vessels around it.

Having interviewed several owners single-handing their boats, most report taking extraordinary steps to minimize time away from the helm. They prepare meals ahead of time and do everything they can to operate safely — but when pressed, they also acknowledge they are taking added risks. They all claim they are being careful but being careful in this situation is OK ... right up until it’s not, and you’re not the only one you’re putting at risk. A record number of recreational and commercial vessels are using our waterways and plying the open seas today. When out boating, regardless of where you are or what time of day it is, you will likely encounter other boats while underway.

If you want to single-hand your boat over long distances, stop and think about the consequences. A lone boater is adding not only risk for themself but putting all boats around them at increased risk as well. Find a friend or hire a mate to help move the boat. Not only will you be safer, but you may even find it’s more enjoyable.

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Making Your List and Checking It Twice
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Courtesy of Lukas on Pexels

The concept of a pre-flight checklist was developed following the fatal crash of a test flight in 1935. Leading up to WWII, the U.S. Army Air Corps was looking for a new bomber to meet the demanding needs of long distant flights with heavy payloads. U.S. aircraft company, Boeing, submitted a new plane model for the Army to consider. The Army agreed to try it and scheduled a test flight to see how it would perform.Flying the plane that day were two highly experienced Army pilots, Boeing's chief test pilot, along with a Boeing mechanic and a representative of the engine manufacturer. After takeoff the plane began to climb, but suddenly pitched up, stalled and crashed into a ball of fire upon impact. All on board were initially rescued, but both pilots died from injuries sustained in the crash.The accident investigation determined that before takeoff, the pilots overlooked a safety lock on the elevator and rudder controls, which kept them from controlling the plane's pitch or attitude. Following the accident, a newspaper stated that the Boeing plane was just too much plane for one man to fly.Fortunately, this was not the end of the story, but the beginning of a life-saving idea that would transform how highly complex systems can be operated by average people. Out of this tragedy came the simple and effective concept of the pilot's pre-departure checklist. Time would prove the Boeing plane was not too much for one person, but just too much for one person's memory. Using a simple checklist on future flights would ensure that important steps required prior to takeoff were not forgotten.Checklists were developed for more and more parts of a flight, for emergency situations as well as more routine situations. NASA adopted the use of checklists for almost every part of the Gemini and Apollo space missions, and all astronauts were trained in how to use them. Astronauts logged hundreds of hours familiarizing themselves with and learning how to use these checklists. In fact, checklists were so important to the success of the Apollo moon landings that astronaut Michael Collins called them The fourth crew member.

Safety from the Skies to the Seas

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Boat Towing Services
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The best advice I ever received about boating was from a salty old captain years ago. He said, "Safe boating is simple: keep the water out of the boat, keep the boat off the bottom, and everything else can be worked out." Truer words were never spoken, but despite their best efforts, boaters fail at one or both on a regular basis.For this reason, we are fortunate to have access to professional towing services, covering most recreational boating waters in this country. Whether boating in the ocean near shore, or in most large inland lakes and rivers, assistance on the water is just a VHF radio or phone call away.

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I absolutely recommend membership in one or both national companies. While Sea Tow and TowBoatU.S. have boats in most popular boating destinations, neither covers all areas. Having a membership with both assures you can access help in most locations. In joining, it is important to know what you're getting in return for your membership fee, what the service covers, and maybe more importantly, what it doesn't cover.

Although commonly referred to as such, a membership with a towing service is not insurance. Towing services offer no coverage for loss of your boat or boating equipment, nor do they cover personal injury or any sort of liability. Within the terms of their membership agreement, both national companies provide similar services to their members. While each differs slightly in what they provide, the basics they both offer are towing, fuel, jump starts for dead batteries and delivery of easily accessed basic parts for a mechanical breakdown.

It is important to understand having a membership is not a promise of rescue and is restricted to the services that can be provided by the equipment available in the specific area at the time of need. Each individual towing operator is an independent business, which provide services under an agreement with or as a franchisee of the national company. Their equipment could vary from small single engine center-consoles to medium sized commercial RIBs, or in some areas large offshore vessels.

For offshore assistance, all towing companies have limits on how far they can go to offer assistance, but it varies. In Sea Tow's case, they state: We do not have specific offshore distance limits. How far offshore Sea Tow will go to get you is only limited by the sea conditions, fuel capacity of our boats and our ability to communicate with you. If, for any reason, Sea Tow cannot respond, we will assist in arranging for an alternate provider and provide reimbursement up to $5,000 per incident. In most cases, if we are unable to respond no other commercial assistance provider will be able to either, so we will defer to the U.S. Coast Guard.

If you frequently boat offshore, know how you will communicate with the towing providers. In practicality, the offshore range they are capable of reaching could be up to 30 or 40 nautical miles from the towing company's base. Keep in mind this could be out of mobile phone or VHF radio range. It will do you no good if they can help you, but you can't reach them. Ask if the towing provider in your area can communicate with a satellite texting device like a Garmin inReach or a satellite phone.Occasionally a dispute between towing operators and boaters arises over the thorny issue of whether you simply needed a tow or whether the assistance is considered salvage. Both national towing services attempt to describe the difference in their agreement; however, despite their best efforts, it can still be highly subjective. If it is considered salvage, the terms of the assistance changes dramatically.

Your towing provider will likely ask a lot of questions before dispatching a boat in order to arrive properly prepared to assist. However, they cannot know the exact degree of assistance needed until they actually arrive on the scene and assess the situation. When they arrive to offer help, always ask the towboat captain if this is a tow or salvage operation. The difference in the cost and who pays the bill could be substantial.

Given the potential for subjectivity between towing and salvage, it is imperative that you know the nature of the assistance you're receiving. Salvage is historically and more importantly legally defined as the rescue of a boat from a peril at sea.

Sea Tow | Marinalife
Sea Tow | Marinalife

The definition of peril may take many forms. Typically, a marine peril involves a dangerous situation at sea, wherein a vessel may incur damage if it is left to the forces of wind, waves, weather and tide without prompt assistance. Any number of simple boating mishaps can quickly descend into peril if left unaddressed. What may have been a soft grounding on a sand bar can quickly become a salvage operation, with an ebbing tide and slight shift of the wind.

Marine salvage laws have existed for centuries. They were derived to incentivize salvors to come to the assistance of vessels in distress, thereby saving the loss of property and possibly life. Marine salvage laws date back to a time when most vessels at sea were commercial and have changed little with the growth of recreational boating.

Many boaters believe salvage laws do not apply to them and think salvage only applies to big ships, not their 33-foot express cruiser. Marine salvage laws apply to every vessel upon navigable waters, from a kayak to a 600-foot container ship. They are not limited to only vessels engaged in commerce. This opens all recreational vessels to claims for salvage rewards.

When selecting a towing provider, read and understand the terms you are agreeing to for dispute resolution. Many towing providers will ask the boat owner to sign a contract before towing. In signing these contracts, you may be agreeing to some form of binding arbitration, which is intended to provide for a quick determination of the appropriate amount of the salvage reward. You may also be acknowledging that the services provided will form the basis of a salvage claim, where the salvor could be entitled to a lien upon your boat in the amount of the claim.

Too frequently boaters discover the difference between towing and salvage when presented with a bill for something they believed was covered under a membership plan. Boaters also must be careful when accepting assistance from a passing boater. It is not necessary for a salvor to be a professional towing company. If you accept assistance from a passing boater, they may have the right to claim a salvage reward; legally these are referred to as chance salvors.

Assistance to boaters is offered regularly without any extraordinary needs or costs, but exceptions occur often enough. Read and understand the terms of service offered by your towing provider. The national companies offer excellent service within the terms of their agreements and individual towboat captains do their best to assist boaters for the least cost; however, sometimes assistance truly deserves to be salvage. Always protect yourself by knowing which you are receiving before you connect a towing company's line to your boat.

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