Inflatable dinghy anarchy


Super Anarchist
Victoria, BC
We are weekend cruising our Ranger 29, two adults and a 50 lb dog. At some point this year we are hoping to take a few weeks and head up to Desolation. We have had the use of a plywood dinghy, but that's too unstable to onload and offload the dog. So we are looking to get an inflatable.

PNW, so rocky and pebble beaches. This means we probably don't want a soft hull. 

One big considerations so far is where to store it:

  • on the foredeck, with an easy lift-on/lift-off block and tackle solution - max size appears to be 9 feet - with motor storage on the sailboat transom
  • not-on-the-boat storage option - pay for a water-level dinghy spot at our yacht club, which would only consume about 1/3 of a boat-buck annually but allow for a bigger dinghy and a heavier motor, with bonus of not having to lift it on-off the foredeck on a regular basis, and make day-sailing more convenient

Open to either used or new. How big a size do we need for 2 adults and dog? What's the pros/cons of aluminum hull and fiberglass? What brands should we look for? Do we need to mitigate UV degradation over time?

Anything else I should know?


Huggy Bear Brown

We made the decision to go with a Highfield Classic 340 w/ a 15 HP Tohatsu EFI 4 stroke as it best fit our intended use.  We've had it since June 2018 and use it almost everyday as we are liveaboards.  Here are some thoughts and feedback on our experience:

  • We've been pleased with the quality and value of Highfield.  We're glad we bought it.  It's an aluminum powder coated hull with a flat deck interior which is nice.  The hull is listed as 156 pounds.  If weight is a concern for you their UltraLite product range might better suit your application as its weight comes in at 117 pounds.  The UltraLite does not have the flat deck interior.  You'll find out the fiberglass hulls tend to be heavier.
  • The forward locker is nice for storage or fuel tank.  It's also a nice step that my wife likes in order to get off on a dinghy dock.  Your dog might like this feature also.
  • We have the Hypalon tubes for UV protection (we're in the tropics).  This might not be a big deal in the PNW.  Maybe with the dog the PVC tubes and chaps might be a better solution for you.
  • We like the welded aluminum gussets on the transom as it makes the RIB quite rigid with the outboard.
  • As far as the size, the 340 is the smallest we would want for our purposes as even with only my wife and I when we provision everything fits well in the RIB.  It also gives us enough room for two additional guests.

Hope this helps with your search.



Super Anarchist
Land of the locks
I understand the storage options but if you go larger will you end up towing full time? Rigids are not truly deflatable with regular use and towing a big dink behind your small boat will not work so well. Once you head north and start to cross larger bodies of water and deal with rips wind and currents towing may not be an option at all.



Super Anarchist
Kent Island!
I have a an Avon 340 RIB with a 15 HP engine. It looks like this:


It is a fantastic dinghy. It can hold kids, it can hold dogs, it goes about 18 knots with a 15 HP Evinrude 2-stroke, and the bow compartment is a nice step up.  I have taken it as far as 40 miles round trip to get some part from a distant town quickly. It tows well and I have never had an issue in any Chesapeake Bay weather with it.

Why you might not want to go this way:

Tows well means doesn't capsize, not low drag. It is significant drag, probably knocks 1/2-3/4s of a knot off our speed. It goes in the water in March and comes out in December on a trailer. It isn't something you hoist in and out on whim unless you have a crane. It is not suitable for offshore passages, there is no way to bring it aboard. It is an actual boat with its own maintenance, it needs bottom paint every year, engine work, etc. etc ;) Dragging it up on gravel beaches slowly ate through the hull about a foot aft of the bow, now it has a couple extra layers of glass epoxied on. Not a big deal, but it is not rock-proof.

I once had a small inflatable with a little engine I could remove from the boat and take aboard. It wasn't a good dinghy, but it sure was less drag and I could roll it up if I didn't want to tow it.

* WARNING - A RIB will tow well engine on. Do NOT tow a flat bottom inflatable engine on and do not flat-tow it either. I always pulled the bow up.



Super Anarchist
The Gorge
Re: Rocky beaches.  The only big problem I've run into was with a club-owned Avon Hypalon deflatable.  Two insufficiently-clued members checked it out one weekend and deflated it to come home by laying it out on the cobbles and stomping around on it.  :huh:   

Thereafter, it had dozens of tiny patches on the bottom, where they stomped it against the rocks.  But I've never worn a hole from carrying one over the rocks, despite a few bumps and scrapes.  Maybe the moral of the story is don't get one bigger than you can carry?  

The only feasible way to carry the current Zodiac 340 on my 29er is to deflate it and lash it down.  Then find someplace to stash the motor and accessories. I used to have a Walker Bay 8 that could sorta fit on the bow, but you couldn't sail with it that way.   The only really feasible "daily carry" auxiliary craft I've come up with are a kayak or a SUP racked outside the lifelines.

But yeah... a Very Large Puppy has recently entered my life and I am at a loss as to how to boat him, if it becomes permanent.


Max Rockatansky

holy fuckfarts!
In regards lightweight RIB, have a look at the Walker Bay 270 superlight. Foam core fibreglass, weight 70lb. Carries weight well.

I had a Taka Lite that I liked very well but the PVC meant it lasted three years and some. 



I know the title is inflatable but I prefer my folding portabote mainly because it is so durable for those sharp rocky or barnacled beach landings.  It also planes better and rides a bit smoother in choppy weather, (I've had a 8' inflatable Achilles).  It also folds neatly against my cabin top and out of the way which many monohullers appreciate also.  Because you have a 29 footer the 8' bote likely is the best fit if you can lash it to the cabin sides and still walk by it .  If a 10 footer fits ok I'd definitely would get that.   There are things l like less about it, mainly seaworthyness, but around our parts this is rarely a concern.  Here is a link to my long take on the porta bote and a long thread about them.  Have fun dingy shopping.



New member
Chester, NS
You can get an inflatable collar for a Walker Bay that makes it much more stable and it's still light enough to hoist to the foredeck pretty easily. I have a Walker Bay 8' that I was very happy with until stability became an issue (friends didn't feel comfortable with it), now I have a Walker Bay Genesis 310 with an outboard - and while it's a great boat to zip around in, and can carry five people safely, it's a pain in the rump to go any distance with, since it's a sea anchor to tow (relative to a hard dinghy, at any rate) and it's a lot of work to put on the foredeck (hoist heavy 4 stroke dinghy onto the stern rail, hoist heavy RIB onto the foredeck, lose the use of the foredeck in the process).

I've concluded that there is no perfect solution, but if you're considering RIB and will be hoisting it, a light motor and a light boat will likely make you happy. A couple and a dog will fit in a pretty small boat, especially one that is surrounded by a floating tube!



The Loyal Opposition
 How big a size do we need for 2 adults and dog?
Since you ask about fiberglass and aluminum hulls, I'm assuming you're asking about a RIB.  Any RIB on the market will have enough room and enough weight carrying capacity to work.

The trick is figuring out which configurations will plane.  I have been keeping notes from conversations on the internet and elsewhere.  There are some isolated reports of people being successful getting inflatables to plane with 6 HP outboards with two adults aboard, but mainly it's with HP floors which are lighter and easier to get up on the step.  Most people find that they need a 9.9 HP outboard.  Most RIB manufacturers don't officially recommend putting 9.9 HP on anything less than a 3.1 meter RIB.

Some people use outboards larger than manufacturers recommend.  I don't have a RIB so I am not tempted.

If you don't care about planing and are content to putt along at 4 knots then you can use a little 2-3 hp outboard and get any size RIB you want.

Finally, there are a handful of jurisdictions (I'm in one of them) that do not allow anyone to ride on a boat's gunwales and that interpret the law to disallow riding on the sponsons (tubes, pontoons, whatever) of an inflatable.  If you're in one of those places and don't want a ticket, you will need a RIB large enough to have two seats in order to carry two people with proper weight distribution.  A second seat can be added to most 2.7 meter and larger RIBs.

What's the pros/cons of aluminum hull and fiberglass?
The aluminum hulls are more durable in environments with sharp rocks and are somewhat lighter.  The fiberglass hulls are easier to repair (unless you're a past master with a TIG welder and carry one with you wherever you go), and are cheaper.

What brands should we look for?
There is widespread variation in quality apparently due to the fact that the major brands switch suppliers frequently.  I have encountered reports of poor warranty service across all brands.

Highfield, Achilles, and AB have been variously held out to me as being high quality boats or cheap junk, depending on the individual experience.

Do we need to mitigate UV degradation over time?

Anything else I should know?
Dinghy chaps will extend the life of dinghies kept in the sun but add to the overall expense and total weight, and are one more thing to maintain and keep clean.

Inflatable boats are consumable, depreciating items that fail with time and use and that are prone to theft.  There are differences of opinion regarding the best way to lower the overall life cycle cost.  Hypalon will last longer than PVC especially in hot, sunny environments but it costs more upfront and is more porous and will therefore require more frequent top-ups with the air pump.  It is also more difficult to patch.

On a 29' mother ship you may be better off with something besides a RIB.  50# dog may pose problems with the dog's toenails puncturing a high-pressure floor, reports vary.  You could try an old-school donut dinghy like the LT-2 or LT-4.  They will not plane but they are easier to deflate and store than a RIB, and are lighter.

I am planning to build a wood dinghy next winter after considering all the choices.

I recognize that this won't work for situations that involve frequent long dinghy rides, as would be the case with a larger, deep-draft mother ship in some place like the Bahamas or the South Pacific.  If I'm in that situation at some point I'll get a RIB and keep it until the situation changes.

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Why is it so hot, and why am I in this handbasket?
I understand the storage options but if you go larger will you end up towing full time? Rigids are not truly deflatable with regular use and towing a big dink behind your small boat will not work so well. Once you head north and start to cross larger bodies of water and deal with rips wind and currents towing may not be an option at all.
We always tow our inflatable dinghy, never with the motor on. Went around Vancouver Island like that. Never had a problem except for one williwaw that hit while we were going through Hole in the Wall, resulting in the dinghy spinning in midair behind us. That tought us to snug it up to the transom when the breeze is up. Currently on a Zodiac airdeck and happy with it.



Super Anarchist
How big a size do we need for 2 adults and dog? What's the pros/cons of aluminum hull and fiberglass? What brands should we look for? Do we need to mitigate UV degradation over time
For an inflatable about 2.8m. UV is always there. PVC dinghies suck if left outside all the time, even in the PNW. So cover them.



Monterey, CA
With that small of a boat I would look at an inflatable that could be rowed like a Kaboat or a Catamaran. At ~70lbs these can be carried so you wont need to drag them up sharp rocks. Most of us can use the exercize. I have a small one for my F-27 that can carry two adults and to 50lb kids. We typically inflate and deflate it every weekend.

We have had all sorts of dinghies ... hard rowing dinghy, boston whaler, RIB and currently have a soft bottom inflatable.  Maybe the simplest dinghy yet and we are on the biggest boat we have had.  There is some logic to this, so let me explain.

We have a big enough foredeck to allow a Zodiac 310 to be carried on the deck without deflating it.  We use a spinnaker halyard to raise it - I can toss it over the side when we drop anchor by hand.

We have two outboards onboard - both can be stored in lockers.  A 2.5 hp with internal fuel tank we use to putt around or take the dog to shore.  My wife can carry it with one hand, so getting it on and off the boat is easy.  We also have a Yamaha 15 HP 2 stroke when we need to get somewhere.  It swings out on the boom and lowered on to the dinghy.  Both work great with this tender.

We are in a northern area with lots of rock/boulder/sand beachings.  If you lift the boat, not drag it, there is little wear on the keel.  

I hate towing a dinghy.  Slows you down.  Complex in tight situations.  I have had davits before, and they are ok.  Limit access to the swim platform in an emergency.  We love it on deck.  Takes us less than 5 minutes to raise it.  A minute to toss it over when we arrive somewhere.

Every dinghy is a compromise.  So far, this one is working out best for us.


olaf hart

Super Anarchist
Around ten years ago I lucked on a used Tinker folding RIB,  a light three piece folding glass bottom, with hypalon tubes and a storage bag.

They are not in business any more, but someone is making a sort of copy as “Folding RIB”.

only rated for a small outboard, but we use either a 2.3 Honda or a 2.5 Tohatsu, suits us.

it even rows reasonable with real oars.

store on foredeck, launch with spinnaker halyard, attach light outboard, voila...

the ability to fold easily and store in a bag is gold for the tropics, there is no UV damage at all.

its in the blue bag on the cabin top in the pic




Super Anarchist
If you don't care about planing and are content to putt along at 4 knots then you can use a little 2-3 hp outboard and get any size RIB you want.
And there is the decision you need to make from which all else follows;

Do you want to plane or putt?

If you want to plane, get a 3m plus hard bottom Rib and a 10+ hp outboard and tow it.

If you are happy to putt along then a 3hp motor and a ~2.8m inflateable floor is light - easy for 2 to carry up the shore, easy to pack away onboard.

We tried the compromise with a 3m HP inflateable floor and a 9.8 hp 2 stroke. Could plane easily with 1 adult 2 kids, struggled with 2 adults 2 kids plus gear. But was too heavy for me and the 11 YO to carry any distance, and getting the outboard onboard the big boat needed a halyard and 2 people. For ~80% of what we did, a 3hp would have been fine. But, longer trips were only practical because we could plane at 15 knots rather that putt at 4. Inflateable hulls are tougher than you'd think - we scraped over coral and rocks without more than cosmetic damage a few times.

None of them row that well - anything more than about 1 Nm is very slow and tiring, but doable.