Hard or Soft

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Jan 13, 2018
Vessel Name
Vessel Make
1978 Mainship 34 Trawler #95
If I have davits on my boat I have a choice of heavy hard dinghy or a light soft dinghy. Why would I pick either?
Pick the dinghy of your dreams.

Then deal with the davits.
The davits are already there.

Last boat with davits (Bruce Roberts 44) I had no dinghy, only an offshore capsule, life raft. I only docked at piers. Then I had a Gulfstar 36 with no davits and had a soft dinghy but it was carried on the swim platform and covered the aft window and stern ID.

This time I have a choice and wondering what is most practical. Maybe a sailing hard dinghy so I can "go home" if I lose the boat? Soft dinghys always have the possibility of loosing flotation at the most inconvenient time.
Ridged inflatable...best of both worlds.
They all have their good and bad. Hard dinghies handle abuse better and dont go soft when it hits a nail on the dock. Plus I think they can be pushed up to speed with a smaller engine.
Inflatables tend to be more stable in the water IMO but require more HP to get up and go.
RIB (ridged inflatable boat) is my preference.
Now if size didnt matter and we all know it does, a 21 foot Boston Whaler center console would be perfect.
I would consider a 21 foot ANYTHING too big for a 34' trawler... Besides it would make the boat sit too low at the stern when hanging on the davits....LOL
Jim I like hard sailing dinghies too. I have watched other cruisers with envy as they play around in the sailing dink. They are pretty slow though and if practicality is what you are looking for then one might not be the best fit. If you plan on cruising, you may find the need to run a mile through sloppy water to carry back a load of supplies.
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Our Chesapeake Light Craft Eastport Pram is exceedingly "light"; 60 lbs. Rowing distance across an anchorage, day or night, does not concern us.


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If you like out of the way fun , consider dragging or carrying the dink up above the high tide line.

We use a Grumman 9 ft sailing aluminum dink.

About 75 lbs with rowing positions for 2 so a heavy chop is no problem.

Hoisted in davits it is a good carryall , bagged, a weeks trash is no problem.
I like aluminum or fiberglass but then considered the safety aspect of a inflatable with 2 or more chambers and a aluminum shell.
Its the best of both worlds and can take a 15hp
Up here when the tide goes out you have to either pick it up and put it back in the water or wait... for the tide to come back in. 9'Achilles with an air floor is 65 lbs, even the grand kids can carry it above tide line or back down to the water. Putting them ashore I leave the motor off, get real close to shore, and put them off to row in.

I only pack a 6 hp outboard, it's enough to overcome tidal flows and will plane out with 2 people (but not with 3) on board. If you have to mount and dismount your outboard light is good!

Instead of davits how about towing? I’ve towed this 17’ center console hundreds of miles and through a lot of locks with out any problems at all. The 50 Merc two stroke gets several of us anywhere we want to go pretty quickly. We anchor out a lot and use it to run to a nearby town for provisions, usually my daughter and son-in-law do this after leaving a anchorage. They shop and then are able to catch up , transfer the provisions and get the tow rig back on without much lost time.
My original post starting this thread was made because I already had a boat in mind that had davits already installed. I have towed in the past. There are several disadvantages to towing that Davits remove.
I suggest one that won't make your stern squat. Pick one that is the style you prefer (do you prefer to row, sail or use an outboard).

I prefer a rigid inflatable with a small outboard. Easy to move around, easy to haul up/down a beach myself, somewhat easy to row if the outboard craps out. Plus, your stern isn't going to squat with it. I picked up a very lightly used Walker Bay Genesis with a 4HP outboard on it. She rows well and gets around the anchorage or marina easily under power. It won't get up on a plane with this size motor, but I am not in a hurry. Can easily move 4 people at a time with gear.

I had a fiberglass Livingston on my last boat. It was Lite, stable and quick to row or use the outboard on. Not as stable as an inflatable, but I liked that boat (I like the inflatable I have now better)

Good luck with your choice.
The problems with towing a tender are in big seas you may loose it and every time you dock and lock through you pay more.
Towing is also problematic if you fish while underway and when shrimping or crabbing. At those times if you have a soft tender you can let it bump your hull, a hard one not so much...
The problems with towing a tender are in big seas you may loose it and every time you dock and lock through you pay more.

Dave, I'm not sure what locks you have around Saginaw Bay, but out here in the PNW locking through is free.

Also, if you hip tie it to the mother ship when you dock you're not taking up any more dock space. If you're docking in a slip it may fit in the slip with the mother ship.

It is a bit more hassle to tow than it is to use davits but not a heck of lot more.

AKDoug, why not anchor the mother ship and check your pots in the dinghy???? It has to be much easier to maneuver around your crab pot lines than a big boat.
In 2016 we went through 75 locks. They charge by the loa and add in anything you are towing. It would have been a huge PITA to have been towing anything. Some of the locks were full and some we were the only boat in the lock, but it would have been a huge hassel trying to tow through them. Crossing Lake Ontario the waves were 4 to 6’ off the starboard quarter and I suspect that we would have lost any tender if we had been towing. I have about 29 years towing for the Coast Guard and with just me and my wife aboard it would have been very unsafe to try and adjust a tow under those conditions. The constant speed variations would have probably parted any towline. Most of the slips we stayed in on that trip any tender would not have fit into.
Back to the OP, look around and decide which compromise suits your usage. The hard dinghy will give you more interior space for the same overall size. But if not something like a Livingston or Whaler, less stability and regardless harder when making contact with the mother ship (or you for that matter).

Crossing Lake Ontario the waves were 4 to 6’ off the starboard quarter and I suspect that we would have lost any tender if we had been towing.....The constant speed variations would have probably parted any towline.

We towed a 13' Whaler in those type of rough conditions several times. Your speculation is wrong, in our experience with our type of boat at least. But I'm in the camp that having the tender hoisted is much preferable. We towed when the davit was being refurbished, or when we were going to be arriving at a dock with a starboard side tie up and couldn't lower the Whaler to use while in port. Also agree that going through locks with a tow is a PIA.
Yes went through the Erie, Oswego and TSW. It was wonderful. Loved the TSW. Especially the Big Chute. Had a lot of weeds though. They cleaned our shafts on the railroad car in the Big Chute. I thought we had damaged a prop and had scheduled a haul to swap them, but the lockmaster in Big Chute cleaned off a bunch of weeds and the vibration went away. Great people. Our dog loved the locks since they gave him treats. He started drooling when we would pull into the lock...
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