The Many Adventures of a Dinghy
June 9th, 2023 by team
by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor)
“Oh! Piglet,” said Pooh excitedly, “we’re going on an Expotition, all of us, with things to eat. To discover something.”
“To discover what?” said Piglet anxiously.
“Oh! just something.”
Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne
If you take your boat anywhere for the night, you almost always bring a dinghy. This sturdy little boat is handy to get you, your crew, and your gear in from a mooring or anchorage and back out for the night.
But you can do a lot more with it, especially if your dinghy has a little extra horsepower on the back. When out cruising, the dinghy is the family car, and just like the car, you can use it for more than just commuting. Even if you’re in a slip, you can drop the dinghy in and take off for the day.
Some anchorages are wide open and easy to see everything around you. But many are just one bay along the coast, with neighboring harbors just a quick hop away. Other locations, like the Chesapeake or the intra-coastal waterway, are long wending networks of creeks and rivers that are just calling for exploration.
Once you’ve set and anchored the big boat, you don’t want to pull it up just to poke around nearby points of interest. And draft limits you anyway, especially on sailboats. That’s where your dinghy steps up and shines.
We’ve taken dinghies to explore beaches, rivers, streams, go snorkeling and swimming, go fishing, and to visit new towns and find alternate places to go in for meals and supplies. The waters around your anchorage and the size of your fuel tank are your limit!
Parking your dinghy
If you want to get off your dinghy to explore or lay on a beautiful beach, you’re going to need a place to leave it. It should be safe, protected, clear of tidal risks, and permitted and legal.
When you leave your dinghy, always secure it as best you can. Pull the safety switch and take it with you, and if you can lock it, do so. Even if you can’t effectively lock it, sometimes you can cleverly make it look locked from a distance, which is still a deterrent.
Many public docks have dinghy parking spots, but others have short time limits for loading and unloading, and you can’t leave your boat tied up. But there’s a trick – for most public docks, it’s the outside, where the big boats come in, that’s regulated. If there’s no designated dinghy dock, you can often get your dinghy around to the back side of the dock and tie up there, and no one will care.
Just be careful that tides don’t sweep you under the pilings and damage your boat. You can sometimes tie the bow and put your anchor off the stern to keep it from swinging. Tie it up with the stern line snug before you leave the boat.
If there’s someone monitoring the area, ask for permission if there are no clear signs. But where it’s allowed, you can often see other dinghies parked out of the way, too.
Private docks are almost always a no-go, unless you know the owner. They are private property, privately maintained, and unless you’re invited, you should never tie up to a private dock.
Also, you may step off the dock into someone’s backyard, which is definitely trespassing!
Beaching your dinghy is a good way to leave it, but don’t just pull it up on the beach and walk away. If you don’t know the tides, you might find your dinghy afloat or gone when you come back.
Always tie the painter to something on shore, or run a dinghy anchor up the beach and dig it in firmly. You can use the longer anchor rode to tie up to a tree or pole farther from the water if there’s nothing close.
You can anchor a dinghy and leave it while everyone swims in, but you should watch it and not plan to wander too far. If it drifts away, you’ll have problems.
Using your dinghy for snorkeling trips is a great way to get off the boat and see the underwater sights. For example, from a mooring on Norman Island in the BVIs, you can easily dinghy to some underwater caves and the Indians, one of the best spots for snorkeling and diving in the area.
Many popular snorkeling spots place buoys for dinghies to tie up, and you should use them when available. Otherwise, you’ll need to either anchor the dinghy or leave someone aboard to make sure it doesn’t float away.
- If you anchor, find a sandy patch of bottom to drop. Don’t anchor in coral, it’s bad for the coral and may be illegal.
- Leave out plenty of scope; most dinghy anchor rodes don’t have chain.
- Getting back into the dinghy from the water isn’t so easy for everyone. A portable boarding ladder makes the process much easier, giving everyone a leg up.
- If everyone goes in the water, assign someone to monitor the dinghy to make sure it’s not drifting away.
What to bring
When you find some place cool with your dinghy, a short trip can turn into a pleasantly long journey. So don’t be unprepared. It’s always a good idea to bring water and snacks, at least a bottle or two for everyone on board. Avoid too many salty snacks unless you bring extra water.
Besides water, you may also want to bring:
- Beach towels
- Sun screen
- Bug spray
- Hats, rash guards, and other sun protection. Your dinghy is totally exposed and you will get loads of sun.
- Water shoes
- Small, waterproof first aid kit.
- Fishing and snorkeling gear
A waterproof gear bag or two packed with essentials will keep everything dry and ready.
Expedition Gear for the Dinghy
If you want to use your dinghy for exploring and adventures, a few extra pieces of equipment can make it much easier, safer, and more comfortable.
- Anchor and rode. A small grapnel anchor and 50-100′ of line will let you set the boat on beaches. It’s also good for water up to about 10’-12′ deep, and you can use it as a stern anchor to keep soft sides away from dodgy docks and pilings.
- Swim ladder. A collapsible ladder helps swimmers and snorkelers back on board.
- Running lights. You don’t want to get caught out late, but if you’re having fun an hour away from the anchorage and it’s getting late, you want a safe ride home.
- Floating cushions. Dinghy seats and tubes can be hard, and longer trips feel cramped. A few well-placed throwables can make things more comfortable.
- Security cables and locks. A long cable or chain with a bronze combination lock to secure your dinghy when you leave. Key locks work too, but if you drop that key in the water fumbling for the lock, you’ll wish it was a combo lock. (Don’t ask me how I know this…)
- Lockable dry box. To stow valuables, keys, and electronics in when you go in the water or to sandy places.
- Spare fuel can. It doesn’t need to be big, but an extra gallon of fuel will make a difference if you lose track of how far you’ve gone or forget to fuel up before you go.
Pick a destination and go
It’s not always easy to tell if something will be fun or interesting. But you’ll never know if you don’t go! If you’re out with kids, they love to explore, and almost any place will be interesting. It doesn’t have to be far. It has to be different.
Fill the fuel tank before you start for the day, and point your boat towards something cool!