A dinghy is perhaps one of the smallest and most common boat types and learning how to use it might even be a walk in the park. Dinghies offer a vast range of uses, including water sports, commuters, and can even serve as training boats.
However, choosing one of these versatile boats is not the easiest thing in the world. And the reason for that is quite glaring. There are a plethora of builds, makes, and even construction materials available. And that’s beside the wide range in price point, depending on what you are looking at.
In a nutshell, deciding on the best dinghy can be daunting, even for the experienced boater, but especially for the newbie.
This post will show you the important considerations when you’re in the market for the best dinghy. You’ll learn a few of the popular types and their uses, but most importantly, you should be able to make an informed decision about one that suits your purpose.
Now, let’s dive in!
What is a Dinghy?
In simple terms, a dinghy is any small boat that can be towed or carried by a large boat. Usually, they measure about 6 ft to 20 ft long. By this definition, dinghies can include inflatables (the most common types), rowboats, kayaks, sailing dinghies, and many others.
Traditionally, dinghies serve as tenders to yachts and other bigger vessels. Tenders are used to shuttle people and small cargo to and from shore since large boats can’t navigate shallow waters. But these days, it is common to find dinghies designed purely for recreation. Boaters and fun-seekers hit the beach with inflatables and zoom off with powerful motors to feel the ocean breeze on their faces.
Whether you are looking to buy a tender for your cruising boat or looking for a small dinghy for the weekend outing on the waters, a dinghy is a great choice.
Inflatables are by far the most popular of all dinghies. Their portability, speed, and ease of transport are among the things that make them the preferred choice. They come in a variety of designs, including those with wood or aluminum floors and air-filled floors. They are mostly used for recreation but are also excellent as tenders.
- Versatile: Inflatable dinghies can be used for a lot of water activities, including fishing, diving, and snorkeling.
- Speed: With an outboard motor, inflatable dinghies have incredible speeds and can get you from one place to another as quickly as possible.
- Luxurious: Inflatables, especially high-end options, come with many features such as windshields, steering consoles, navigation lights, bow lights, stainless-steel handrails, and lots more.
- Towing: Inflatables may be small, but with the right motors, they can tow large sailing vessels to port.
- Stability and comfort: Because they are built to have high buoyancy, inflatable dinghies provide stable and comfortable rides that will keep you dry.
- Large carrying capacity: For a small boat, an inflatable dinghy has a considerably large load capacity. It can convey a good number of people and pets and even carry a fair amount of groceries, too.
- Pricey: They are quite expensive compared to kayaks, sailing dinghies, rowing dinghies, and paddleboards. Besides the initial high cost, there is also an additional cost of buying and maintaining an outboard (which is quite high, too). You will also need to purchase chaps and covers for protecting the Hypalon or PVC material.
- Less durable: The durability of inflatable dinghies depends on their construction material, which basically is either PVC or Hypalon. In either case, they are not as durable as rigid dinghies. However, Hypalon-constructed inflatables last longer than PVC options. And as expected, Hypalon costs more.
- Storage space: If you choose one with an outboard, you will need to have enough space to store fuel and other spare parts on board, particularly if you are using it as tender.
Our Top 2 Picks:
1. Newport Vessels Dana Inflatable Sport Tender Dinghy
From Newport Vessels comes the Dana Inflatable Sport Tender Dinghy – a high-performance sports dinghy with an inflatable V-shaped keel that makes planing easy-breezy. The boat is fitted with twin 18-inch tubes for improved stability and maneuverability.
This dinghy is built from 1,100D UV coated PVC and features high-quality wood floors with aluminum framing. It also features a self-bailing drain plug, three stainless-steel bow D-rings, sturdy carrying handles, extra D-rings at the topside, a grab rope, and marine plywood transom mount.
It comes complete with aluminum/wood floor panels, two aluminum oars, one aluminum bench seat, a foot pump, and a carrying bag. The inflatable dinghy is backed by a 30-day guarantee and a 2-year manufacturer warranty.
2. Intex Explorer Inflatable Boat
If you are looking for the best dinghy for calm waters and pools, the Intex Explorer Inflatable Boat might be your best option. This single-passenger inflatable dinghy is a great choice for teaching kids how to paddle.
The small boat has a capacity of 120 lbs and features an inflatable floor, welded oarlocks, a grab rope on the bow, and two air chambers for added safety.
These types of dinghies are less commonly used due to their design. They don’t come with seats or have the depth for sitting on an edge. They are simple boards floating on the water, and the rider stands or kneels while paddling it.
However, a paddleboard is the best dinghy if you want the added advantage of a full-body workout while playing on the water. Paddle-boarding has come to be an outdoor water sport activity enjoyed by many.
So, while this option might not be your typical passenger-type dinghy, it offers great fun on the waters.
- Easy transportation: One of the top reasons for choosing a paddleboard is because they are extremely easy to transport. They are really small and compact when deflated and can fit perfectly into large backpacks or carry bags. You can conveniently take them anywhere.
- Requires small storage: You don’t need a storage shed or garage to stow this compact dinghy. If you don’t have a lot of storage space, this might as well be the best dinghy for you.
- Stable: Their size and design make them very stable on the water. They don’t tip easily, even with unsteady movements on the board.
- Durable: Inflatable paddle boards are extremely durable. They don’t get dinged even when they crash into rocks. They’ll simply bounce right off. They are typically constructed with tough and durable materials. You will have to deliberately jab a sharp object into them to damage them.
- Cost: These boats are a bit pricey considering their size. But that is to be expected since they are built from quality materials.
- Maneuverability: Paddleboards are not the easiest boats to maneuver. They are not as easy or as quick as other options and don’t respond fast, too.
- Flex: Some designs tend to have a slight sinking or a flex in the middle, and that can limit performance. However, inflating the boat to the proper level can solve the problem.
Our Top 2 Picks:
1. Peak Expedition Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
This paddleboard is built for exploration. It features a hybrid nose for snorkeling, touring, fishing, spear-fishing, and recreational paddling.
It is constructed using a 6-inch tough military-grade PVC, making it puncture resistant. With a weight of only 19.5 lbs and a wide stance when fully inflated, the Peak Expedition Paddle Board is safe for paddling in all weather conditions.
The paddleboard comes complete with a paddle, high-pressure pump, coil leash, and fin. There is a 30-day free return policy and one year warranty on materials.
2. FunWater Inflatable Stand Up Paddle Board
This paddleboard is constructed from ultra-light dual-layer PVC. It weighs only 17.6 lbs and has a maximum carrying capacity of 330 lbs. The FunWater Inflatable Paddle Board is relatively stable in most conditions and suitable for boaters of all skill levels.
Accessories include a high-pressure pump, coil leash, adjustable aluminum paddle, travel backpack, three removable fins, a waterproof dry bag, and a repair kit. It comes with a solid one year guarantee on materials and a 30-day return policy.
Kayaks and Canoes
Kayaks are known for their traditional narrow design and double-bladed oars, but a lot of that has changed. While the oars are still double-sided, they now come in a variety of designs that include wide options for conveying three or more passengers, just like a traditional canoe. In fact, modern inflatable designs have blurred the distinction between a canoe and a kayak. So, it is not out of place to see a “kayak canoe” dinghy.
Inflatable canoes and kayaks are great options for shuttling groceries from shore and also make excellent recreation dinghies.
- Lightweight: Hulling on and off-board is quite easy because they are constructed with significantly lighter materials.
- Affordable: The average cost of these boat types is generally inexpensive.
- Rugged: You can make difficult landings, including rocky beach landings, and access more remote areas with these boats fairly easily than most inflatable dinghies would.
- Great for adventure and exercise: It might not seem obvious, but the mere act of paddling a kayak or canoe offers good exercise. These small boats are also perfect for fun adventures on the waters but on warm, sunny days, under the starry skies, or full moons.
- Low capacity: Typically, kayaks don’t have enough room for conveying more than one or two persons at the same time. Also, they are not suitable for transporting large items. However, modern designs that combine the functionalities of canoes can take more load and a few people.
- Not comfortable: You are likely going to get wet in a kayak or inflatable canoe. It might not be the best choice for an offshore adventure in a cold climate as water getting into the boat can become extremely cold and uncomfortable.
Our Top 2 Picks:
1. Jesticam 2-Person Inflatable Boat Kayak
This is the perfect inflatable kayak for parent-child activities because it is designed as a 2-passenger dinghy. It has a maximum load capacity of 440 lbs, making it a great choice for bringing all the gears you need for fishing.
The Jesticam 2-Person Inflatable Boat Kayak has a double valve design, which makes it pretty easy to inflate and deflate the boat. It is constructed with high-quality PVC material. Accessories include two oars, a bed rope, and one air pump.
2. BRIS Inflatable 4-Person Kayak Canoe Dinghy
This boat is built from heavy-duty 1,100 Denier PVC material with polyester support. It is equipped with two 17.5-inch diameter tubes for added stability and buoyancy. The floors are very stable; you can even jump on it.
The BRIS Inflatable 4-Person Kayak Canoe Dinghy offers seating for three adults and one child with a maximum carrying capacity of 992 lbs. It features a drop-stitch air floor, two aluminum oars, three marine plywood bench seats, a carrying bag, a foot pump, and a repair kit. The dinghy comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee and a solid 3-year manufacturer warranty.
If you really want a dinghy that will allow you to row, then a hard dinghy is your best choice. Inflatables may be fast, but they don’t compare with good hard dinghies when it comes to rowing.
For many boaters, the ability to manually row their boat gives them a greater sense of control, as the dinghy will tow obediently at the rider’s preferred speed. Besides, it is a lot quieter and offers good exercise, too. Also, it eliminates the need for fuel jugs or the hassles that come with an outboard.
These types of dinghies are excellent for towing short and calm runs. It is best to keep them out of the water, either upside down on the deck or on davits for long passages. The best hard dinghy types for towing and rowing come with a shaped underbody and skeg or keel. If you choose hard dinghies, you want something that will track straight. So avoid flat-bottom scows.
- Inexpensive: Hard dinghies generally cost less and are cheaper to maintain.
- Durable: They are constructed from fiberglass, making them sturdy and hardwearing than inflatable options. They last longer than inflatables. Rough landing on rocky beaches or bumping into corals will not hurt a hard dinghy.
- Slow: There are not the best boats for races. Their hulls are designs for rowing, so even if you mount an outboard, a hard dinghy is not likely to be good for planing. Hard dinghies are meant for rowing, and that means they are designed to be slow.
- Heavy: Hard dinghies are a lot heavier than inflatables. This is obviously because of the construction material. Getting dinghy wheels, lifts, or davits, can help move and haul the boat in and out of the water.
If you want the best dinghy for sail training, look no further than a sailing dinghy – it’s even in the name! Sailing dinghies are typically equipped with a few sails, including the mainsail, spinnaker, and jib. Some models even have fewer sails.
Sailing dinghies come in a few different categories, including:
- Training dinghies (perfect for beginners and kids)
- Single-handed sailing dinghies
- Double-handed sailing dinghies
- Dinghy cruising boats
- Versatile: Sailing dinghies can be rowed, powered, and sailed to any destination. They can work as life rafts, commuter vessels, and even recreational boats, depending on your activity.
- Rugged: They are usually constructed with hard plastic or fiberglass. This material makes them withstand many harsh conditions and lasts long.
- Fun and easy to ride: Kids, as well as newbie boaters, can learn how to ride boats with sailing dinghies, primarily because the boats can be sailed singlehandedly.
- Pricey: Sailing dinghies don’t come cheap. And that is quite understandable because of the various options that come with them.
- Not enough onboard space: Typically, sailing dinghies have too many clutter onboard (additional gear for sailing). This takes up valuable space and compromises storage, as well as the comfort of passengers on board.
Whichever type you consider as the best dinghy for you, take some time to consider these important factors before you place your order.
What Purpose Will Your Dinghy Serve?
Riding on the water, of course!
Indeed, while that is quite correct, a handful of activities happen on the water, and each dinghy type will work best for a specific activity, such as exploration, fishing, water sports, and others.
You may want a dinghy that you will use mostly for water skiing and exploring secluded beaches on warm, sunny days, or you want to go scuba diving. Perhaps, you just want something stable enough to get you to shore for dining and shopping without getting wet. Deciding what your major water activity would be is the first step in choosing the best dinghy for your purpose.
If you want something for water sports, consider a dinghy with adequate size and more power. On the other hand, if you simply want a boat that will comfortably convey you to shore, you may want to look for the smaller and more quite options.
Figuring out the right-sized dinghy is crucial because, although a dinghy is a small boat, it will be frustrating and almost useless to buy a boat that cannot convey the number of people you want to shuttle back and forth.
An inexpensive dinghy might be attractive because it is affordable, but if you can go bigger, why settle for less? Whether you want to use a dinghy for recreational purposes or as a tender for a larger boat, think about the average number of people or the load you intend to have onboard.
Transport and Storage Space
Where you plan to stow your dinghy will determine which type to buy. If you want a tender, you need to consider the dinghy size that your vessel can carry. Measuring the tender storage or the carrying capacity of your dinghy davit will give you a good idea of the dinghy size you can buy for your larger boat.
If you want a hard dinghy solely for recreation, consider the storage space you have in your garage before you buy one. You also need to consider how convenient it would be to move the boat from land to the water unless you want to spend extra money on slip rentals and storage fees.
On the flip side, if you are buying any inflatable boat type, storage might not be a problem, as they can fit nicely into carrying bags when deflated and can be conveyed easily in your car’s trunk.
Pricing Vs. Quality
With dinghies, you usually get what you pay for. Keep in mind that you are not just buying a small boat that will convey you from your large vessel (if that’s what you are using the dinghy for), but you are equally paying for a boat that will be a huge part of your boating experience.
Although a good-quality dinghy doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, it is important to invest good money to get a dinghy worth having.
Questions to Ask Before Buying
Here are some questions that can help you determine the best dinghy for you.
- Do you need to transport a fair amount of provisions or head out to a dive spot? Dinghies with center steering columns might not be your best choice, as the steering takes up space.
- Do you need to shuttle guests from the boat to shore and vice-versa? (Consider a dinghy with seats instead of seating at the edge).
- Would you be using the dinghy for recreation with family and close friends? (Getting wet while sitting on the edge doesn’t matter!)
- Are you planning on dragging an inflatable up the beach? A rigid-bottom dinghy is your best option.
- Do you want the benefit of exercising? Consider a canoe, kayak, sailing dinghy, rowing dinghy, or a paddleboard.
- Are you planning on making more of beach landings with inflatable dinghies? A durable rigid-floor inflatable dinghy is more suited for such purpose than an air-floor type. Inflatable dinghies with an air-floor are best used for dock landings alone.
- Do you want a dinghy that will last very long? Consider one with hard plastic or fiberglass construction. They cost less and are more durable.