Dinghy Selection

It seems to go without saying that cruising on a boat will require a dinghy for access to many locations. When we bought our first Maringret there was no dinghy onboard and so we went looking for one. In the ensuing years we seem to have experience most types of dinghies.

Dinghy #1 – Inflatable

The marina we were in at the time found most almost all the boats with inflatable dinghies although some of the bigger boats had rigid dinghies. We asked around and the common wisdom seemed to be that you look for a used inflatable going for a good price and buy that. We checked out bulletin boards and newspaper for our first summer but never did find an inflatable dinghy for sale. We ended up buying a budget priced 2.1 meter inflatable with a fixed transom and floor boards. It was alright as things went but took a lot of time to inflate (we didn’t buy any of the extra toys available for quicker inflation). It took quite a bit of space onboard once collapsed and was not quickly available for use if it was deflated. Probably the biggest problem we encountered was the buckling that occurred when two (and sometimes even one) persons were in it. This allowed water to come over the top which quickly made the whole experience a wet one. This was happening inside a calm marina, we never did use it outside of the marina. It was fully inflated so increasing the inflation pressure was not really an option. Also we never hooked up an outboard engine to it, that may have changed things.

So we found ourselves with a dinghy that was slow to get into the water (from its deflated state), bulky onboard, managed to get us quite wet in the calmest of waters and was rather bulky to manhandle around the boat while inflated. In fact its hard to think of any good features.

So we started to look around for options. Other boats had rigid aluminum dinghies, but on a 9.5 meter boat this seems to dominate the foredeck (as well as making exiting from the bow a real challenge). Wooden boats tended to have wooden dinghies which looked great together but really didn’t seem to be an option for Maringret. Then we noticed the Porta-Bote in a magazine article on dinghies.

Dinghy #2 – Porta-Bote

Luckily we were able to find a dealer and try one out. The story behind this is, we actually bought our Porta-Bote in Canada and flew it to England where Maringret was at that time. The airline carried the Porta-Bote as “sports gear” after we reasoned with them that it was basically the same as a wind surfboard. We were flying into London on a Friday afternoon and due to various delays enroute arrived there at about 17:00. Oh joy, crossing London with a Porta-Bote in Friday rush hour! We carried it onto the train from the airport which took us straight into London Bridge station. From there we sent the box holding the seats and transom home by taxi but the boat hull itself was too big to fit in one. So off on foot across the financial district of the City of London in Friday rush hour I went. A couple of hours had passed since we landed and luckily people were starting to come out of the pubs. They probably thought I was some tradesmen moving materials for weekend work in the City. The next day we continued by plane north to Sweden, once again checking it in as “sports gear.” The check in staff were quite curious about wind surfing, about which we knew nothing.

So that got the Porta-Bote to Maringret. We now store it on the deck, lashed against the lifelines. The only time there is noticeable windage is in a real blow so it is usually not of concern. To launch it we take the halyard or topping lift and attach that to the painter of the Porta-Bote. Once it is hanging stern down we move it into the cockpit (still hanging vertically from the halyard) and fix the seats and transom to it. Once it is assembled (which is less than 5 minutes once you are used to doing it) we then hoist it over the life lines and lower it into the water.

There are 3 sizes of the Porta-Bote, we got the smallest which seats 3 persons. There is an option to fit a mast for a sail to it but we thought that if we sail somewhere in Maringret then we don’t really need to sail around in the Porta-Bote once we get there.

The warranty offered and product recomendations on the Porta-Bote website offer more information on this product.

Dinghy #3 – 2.5m RIB

This came with our Hallberg-Rassy 41, it was about 15 years old when we got it and fairly perished from UV. We judged it to be not worth carrying down the Danube river and left it with friends.

Dinghy #4 – ‘Pram” Style Dinghy

We bought a fibreglass “pram” style dinghy off of eBay. Good things: it’s is incredibly easy to row. Bad things: it’s incredibly unstable, the payload is OK (not great) but loading and unloading the thing are a risk of swimming with what is in the dinghy.

Dinghy #5 – Injection Moulded

We have tried these out and they are both easy to row as well as very stable. They tend to be quite heavy so not something you want to lift out of the water repeatedly by hand. We were to try one out in 2019 but the dealer stopped carrying them.

You can read as many product evaluation reports as you want, taking a test drive (OK, a test row) is much more relevant. Had we been able to try out our inflatable dinghy before buying it we would have learned it was too small for us and not the right product.

Sometimes following your own research as opposed to buying what every one else buying is the right thing. After years of living on the water, we now know that the dinghy is three things:

  • potential life saving device
  • recreational equipment
  • extension of the main vessel for ferrying and hauling goods, supplies, equipment, passengers, waste, water, diesel, etc

Our view is now that a rigid dinghy (and not a pram hull shape) is the best fit. It rows well, has an excellent payload, and can be used as a safety vessel in an emergency. The Porta-Bote may not exactly fit the description but in hindsight, it is a lot better than the others we have owned. Were we going through this selection process a second time, we would definitely have stayed with the Porta-Bote.

In calm water our Porta-Bote is very easy to use, both to store and to row. It assembles quickly and easily. We do not have an outboard engine but they claim incredible speed if the Porta-Bote is planing. This does not happen at the rate we row. The hull itself is unsinkable due to bouyancy materials used in its construction. This is an added safety factor as should there be a capsise, the occupants can still hang on to the hull for safety. The folding structure yields two “keel like” ridges on the underside of the hull which act as a keel would and keep the Porta-Bote tracking straight. Also the flat bottom combined with the bouyancy in the construction makes the hull very stable when you have to stand in it. Yes we all know that you never stand in a boat but when you come into a dock that it waist height or higher there really isn’t much choice but to stand up to grab it.

Check our 18 month system report to see further evaluation of our Porta-Bote


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